Posted: April 21, 2015, 10:18 a.m.
by Katie Vette.
Mark Hunter has worked in the public relations industry for more than 20 years. He grew up in Tallassee, Alabama, and attended The University of Alabama at Birmingham. During his time at UAB, he earned his B.S. in medical record administration. Hunter worked in health care in Alabama for several years before following his dreams and moving to New York City.
Hunter was hired by Cooney Waters Group (CWG), an award-winning healthcare communications agency, because of his previous experience in the medical field.
Hunter had the opportunity to work on his first big case in the late 1990s when the National Foundation of Infectious Diseases (NFID) approached the team in need of raising awareness to the influenza, or flu, vaccinations for young children.
“Our main objective was to bring awareness about child influenza vaccinations to target audiences, such as parents and guardians,” Hunter said.
According to preventchildhoodinfluenza.org, “Influenza is a serious illness that leads to approximately 20,000 hospitalizations, most in children younger than 5 years of age, and an average of 100 pediatric deaths in children less than 18 years old.”
The NFID and the CWG team collaborated, and by 2007, the Childhood Influenza Immunization Coalition (CIIC) was created.
“The overall goal of this campaign was to change parent attitude and impact public policy on childhood influenza vaccinations,” Hunter said.
Hunter realized that the majority of parents who were not vaccinating their children were uneducated about the flu vaccination or scared of the side effects of the vaccination. The key strategy of this campaign was to reach these parents and change their minds. This strategy was easier said than done.
“In order to change these parents’ minds, we had to get healthcare providers on our side,” Hunter said.
Healthcare providers were an entry access line of communication to the public. Healthcare providers would provide the CIIC with the tools they needed to communicate with its target audience on a day-to-day basis.
The American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Medical Association and the Hispanic Medical Association were just a few of the healthcare providers that were a part of the growth of CIIC. Having its programs backed resulted in many other healthcare groups joining the CIIC’s push for a healthier nation.
Once healthcare providers came on board with the CIIC, communication pathways to doctors, nurses, patients and even schools were accessible. All of these people could now be spokespeople for the CIIC, thus creating even more awareness in communities.
Healthcare providers also had professional spokespeople who were sent to back-to-back interviews across the nation while the campaign was booming.
In addition, Hunter was a part of creating a successful website for the CIIC in hopes of reaching more of the targeted audience. Preventchildhoodinfluenza.org is an active website that has been published in Spanish and in five Asian languages. The website includes testimonials, resources and Q&As to connect with targeted parents.
As the years went on, Hunter was able to gain invaluable experience and grow in his profession. While gaining this experience, he found a passion for video producing. He followed his career to RCM Health Care Services where he was hired as a the head video producer. RCM was then hired by CWG for video production.
“I was lucky enough to work on this campaign from every angle,” Hunter said.
Hunter was a part of producing countless media tours for the CIIC and was pleased when an interview aired on the “Today Show.”
“We blanketed the country with satellite media tours, from TV to radio to PSA’s,” said Hunter.
The CIIC continues to bring awareness to the importance of getting children influenza vaccinations.
Thirty-two public healthcare and parents groups have become a part of the movement to end adolescent deaths caused by the lack of vaccinations. This campaign succeeded in reaching more than 672 million people around the world through mainstream media, trade media and ethnic press.
There was a 30 percent increase of vaccinations in children six to 59 months, as well as an overall increase of 57 percent in vaccinations of children six months to 17 years old.
Not only did vaccination percentages increase, but the CDC now also recommends annual influenza vaccination for all people age six months and older.
“I am extremely proud to have been able to work on an issue as important as flu vaccinations. There is nothing better than knowing your efforts have saved lives,” Hunter said.