Awareness Awareness

by Michael Boyink / mike@douglascountyherald.com

Awareness.

Defined as “knowledge or perception of a situation or fact” or “concern about and well-informed interest in a particular situation or development.”

One of the job benefits of being a newspaper editor is that I am often approached by private parties, public relations firms, or corporations wanting to get the word out about an issue that’s important to them.

They want me publish an article to “help raise awareness.”

A quick search of “awareness” on the Herald website returns a long list of issues that we’ve helped raise awareness of.

Youth Vaping. National Disability Employment. Severe Weather. Careers. Breastfeeding. Elder Abuse. Child Abuse. Head Start. Colorectal Cancer. Cervical Cancer. Diabetes. Domestic Violence. Illegal Human Trafficking. Diaper Need. Suicide. Healthy Snacks.Hospice. School Choice. 

That’s just what we’ve covered.

March is also the month for awareness campaigns that we haven’t (yet) covered: Brain Injuries, Liver Disease, Hemophilia, Mouthguards, Muscular Dystrophy, Epilepsy, Kidneys, Multiple Sclerosis, Nutrition, Ovarian Cancer, Prostrate Cancer, Sleep, Aplastic Anemia and MDS, Endometriosis, Salt, Down’s Syndrome, Poison, Arthritis, and Tick Bites.

That’s just March. 

If you think there are more awareness campaigns now than ever, you are right. A study by the American Medical Corporation found that the number of yearly awareness campaigns (for disease-related issues alone) increased from 44 to 401 over the years from 1996 – 2016.

On the one hand, the issues are important. And I am by no means saying that the Herald will stop publishing articles about these issues.

But on the other hand, I might push back.

Because increased awareness isn’t always enough.

Awareness campaigns use the “information deficit model.”

The attention deficit model assumes we believe or act a certain way because we don’t know any better. Give us the right information and facts and we’ll happily, logically, and generously change our behaviors. 

For example, I notice many drivers in Missouri don’t wear their seat belts.  If I ran a front-page story showing the research about how many people die in car accidents because they don’t wear their seat belts, you would start religiously wearing your seat belt, right?

Right?

Probably not. We’ve already run dozens of accident reports that mention the deaths of people who weren’t wearing seat-belts and the survival of people who were.

And yet the issue persists.

We’re humans, not computers. Our behaviors aren’t always logical. We suffer from dozens of biases when we process information – from how it’s presented, to who is presenting it, to how it fits with our existing worldview.

Because of those biases, awareness campaigns can fail. In many ways. 

Use humor, and people may not take it seriously. Target the wrong audience, and a campaign may only “preach to the choir.” Use of a clever smartphone app may normalize the very behavior the campaign is trying to prevent. Religious or political issues can actually suffer from increased awareness.

Have an issue you want to “raise awareness of” by publishing an article in the Herald?

First, make sure the we have the right audience. 

This week, I was approached by a PR firm trying to raise awareness about a state-wide shortage of a certain type of healthcare workers due to lack of funding. I just couldn’t see how a solution for a state-wide issue was going to come from Douglas County. 

 Seems like a better idea would be to talk to law-makers to find more funds. Or target the schools and get them lower their costs. Or reach out to almost-graduated students and convince them to move here. Something.

Second, pursue solutions. 

Learn from Michelle Obama. Rather than campaigning to “raise awareness of childhood obesity”, Obama focused on getting kids to choose water over soda. She worked with the school food industry to make healthier meals, and worked to change food labeling laws.

Marketers talk about a “call to action.” Once people know about the issue you are promoting, what should they do? 

Third, think past Mayoral Proclamations. 

Nothing against Mayor Loftin, but is a lookalike photo of a signed piece of paper held between two people at City Hall really the best way to promote your cause?

Fourth, re-read this Snoop. I wanted to do more than just raise your awareness of awareness campaigns, so I also provided ideas to do better.

And now you are aware of that.