The Manasota Black Chamber of Commerce (MBCC) is in the process of implementing a COVID-19 vaccination campaign created by students in the USF Zimmerman School of Advertising & Mass Communications. For their year-end project, undergraduate students in Advanced Public Relations and graduate students in Strategic Communication Campaigns collaborated to create a mass communication campaign for MBCC that would assist in its efforts to encourage communities of color to get vaccinated.
They created the “#VaxUpManasota” campaign, in which students designed graphics that incorporate the MBCC logo and imagery that represent COVID-19 and the vaccine. The imagery, hashtag and materials will be utilized across social media, through video and on printed materials that contain information about the vaccine, helping dispel myths. Prior to creating the visual assets, students conducted extensive research, interviewing members of the community on how to effectively influence their targeted audience.
“The campaign opportunity with MBCC and COVID-19 itself offered the opportunity to help students see how their skill sets can be used to positively influence communities of color’s health and well-being,” said Associate Professor Kimberly Walker. “Through the collaboration, we were able to hone and build on core skill sets to improve understanding of cultural competency, design of racially and ethnically sensitive messaging, and crisis communication in a real-time setting. It is my hope that students left the class with pride in their accomplishment, and most importantly, walked to graduation with the big picture of how their degree and skills are absolutely needed and useful for impacting social change and well-being.”
Each semester, Walker selects a different organization or company to serve as the students’ client. After connecting with MBCC President and Founder/CEO Tarnisha Cliatt, together they selected the subject of vaccine hesitancy. Cliatt attended the class presentations and later invited some of the students to present their campaign plan at the MBCC’s June board meeting. Cliatt said while they may be young in their careers, she emphasized the importance of recognizing that students are part of the community.
“This is something that has affected us all, so they all have a vested interest in creating something that is going to potentially help everyone across the board to reach herd immunity and so I believe it becomes a natural instinct for one to put their all into it because everyone has a direct tie,” Cliatt said. “It is evident that members of the African American community are not the first ones in the lines to get vaccinated. We’re the lowest demographics as of yet to continue to get vaccinated, so it’s a continuous effort on all parties who have a sphere of influence to encourage our community get vaccinated.”
The “VaxUpManasota” campaign is in alignment with the Mask Up Manatee!/ Vax Up Mantee! coalition, of which the MBCC is a member, as is USF. Kevin Sneed, senior associate vice president of USF Health and dean, and Angela Hill, associate dean and professor, from the USF College of Pharmacy, have been actively involved in reaching out to communities of color emphasizing the importance of getting the vaccine. Both are currently collaborating with Walker on the class survey to continue to monitor the community's perceptions about vaccination.
Brenda Santos and Ramya Harika Pucha led the MBCC presentation. Santos graduated in the spring with a bachelor’s degree in integrated public relations and advertising and is in her final round of job interviews to become a marketing project specialist in Tennessee.
“Being a young, female Hispanic professional, it allowed me to represent my community and have a voice in a campaign that would greatly improve the quality of life for my family and friends,” Santos said. “It was such an honor to have the MBCC allow us to create and learn during the making of this campaign. This collaborative effort between the undergraduate and graduate class, all while being in an online setting, was unique because students learned through a hands-on experience and being able to adapt to real-life changes during the campaign.”
Pucha said her personal goal for the project was to build a greater understanding of the Black community’s hesitancy toward the vaccine and to strengthen her skillset in acquiring actionable results. She says she was thrilled to experience the development of a campaign from the planning stage to execution.
“Having MBCC actively listen and value our work towards the goal was incredibly fulfilling,” Pucha said. “It was an honor to work on this very important project which was life-changing in every way possible. Moreover, I am now certain that I want to work in public health and study people’s health behaviors.”
Pucha expects to graduate in December with a master’s degree in mass communication. She says she aspires to pursue an academic career in public health education and behaviors to help improve women’s health in her home country of India.