Skip to the content


Fors Marsh Group (FMG) attended the National Conference on Health Communication, Marketing, and Media (NCHCMM) last month in Atlanta, GA. The event, held from September 11 to 13, attracted individuals and organizations from academia and public health to discuss and shape the future of health communication, marketing, and media practice. In previous years, NCHCMM sessions increasingly focused on using digital methods in health communication, to the extent that other methods of building awareness and changing behavior were somewhat overshadowed. This year, however, there was a wider representation of the kinds of interventions implemented in the health communication space, including sessions on audience segmentation, message development and testing, and evaluation, all of which are critical to the foundation of health communication.

Two critical themes emerged from this year’s conference for health communicators: the importance of knowing your audience and finding new and effective ways to break through the noise to reach target audiences.  

Knowing Your Audience

U.S. Surgeon General Jerome M. Adams, MD, MPH, opened the conference with a keynote on the importance of knowing your audience. Reaching your audience requires more than just a strong message—health communicators need to deliver the right message, at the right time, to the right person. He noted that traditional messaging methods or messages that worked in the past may not be effective with today’s target audiences, as audiences change. Health communicators first need to listen to their audience and then find a way to speak their language.

When FMG health communication researchers conduct qualitative or quantitative research, understanding the audience is the most critical component woven into all of our processes. From creating effective research questions to determining the right groupings of people to talk with to conducting discussions, FMG’s audience-centric approach ensures research yields actionable insights.  

Reaching Your Audience Where They Are

Dr. Katherine Lyon-Daniel, Associate Director for Communication at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), presented the keynote address, which stressed the need to communicate to people where they are in terms of the type of media they consume. With today’s news cycle, people take in a large amount of information, some of which is untrue. Health communicators need to be aware of where their audience is receiving its information and craft messages that stand out. Health communicators can’t assume that the audience will come to their site or seek out their messages, so they need to implement strategic communications efforts to reach out effectively.

Fors Marsh Group Presentations

Also at this year’s NCHMM, FMG had four presentations accepted on topics such as understanding smokeless tobacco use by youth, improving asthma outcomes in youth, reducing alcohol abuse among adults, and improving oral health among diabetic patients:

  • An Examination of Adult Smokers’ Understanding of Electronic Nicotine Delivery Systems as a Quit Tool: Results from a Literature Review, Focus Groups, and Public-Use Dataset Analysis

Claire Constance, researcher, presented a poster on a mixed-methods study that FMG conducted around e-cigarettes and harm reduction. In this study, FMG found that both current smokers and the general public are deeply confused about the relative harm of e-cigarettes in comparison to traditional cigarettes. Not only do a significant number of people think that e-cigarettes are more harmful than traditional cigarettes, they also think that the public health community doesn't have conclusive evidence regarding the relative risks of consuming e-cigarettes versus traditional cigarettes.

  • Developing Effective Communications about Asthma Self-Management: Results of Qualitative Formative Research and Concept Testing

Panne Burke, senior researcher, presented the results of qualitative formative research and concept testing for key messages and an application geared toward helping youth manage their asthma. The findings focus on educating and giving youth the tools necessary to overcome barriers of asthma management such as environmental triggers and physical limitations. This effort is part of the CDC's National Asthma Control Program's (NACP) initiative to reduce asthma-related emergencies.

  • Developing Effective Messages about Excessive Alcohol Consumption: The Results of Formative Qualitative Research and Population-Level Knowledge Surveillance

Caitlin Moynihan, senior researcher, presented the results of FMG’s formative qualitative research for the CDC’s alcohol program, which examined the knowledge, attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors toward excessive drinking. FMG found that excessive alcohol consumption is:

(1) Quantified by effects versus amount consumed;

(2) Accepted and even encouraged or expected in social situations; and

(3) Normalized by media, particularly alcohol industry messaging.

  • Improving Oral Health Care Practices Among Diabetic Patients: A Stages of Change Approach

Leah Alley, researcher, presented the results of how FMG’s pro bono SERV initiative work improved outcomes at a local free clinic. To increase the number of diabetic patients receiving dental care at the clinic, FMG developed and tested targeted messaging and materials. Messaging emphasizing the benefits of oral hygiene and professional care—including the long-term cost savings of early preventative care—was implemented to help patients overcome perceived barriers to accessing care. This project demonstrated how development and dissemination of appropriate educational materials for low-income individuals living with diabetes can help increase awareness of the need for good oral health practices, and it provides a blueprint for researchers and practitioners in similar settings.

The health communication field continues to grow and change as public health issues in America evolve. FMG looks forward to contributing to this growth and further incorporating key lessons from this conference into our ongoing work. As an American Marketing Association Gold Top 50 firm, FMG has always emphasized that our work should center on the idea of being better. One way we are creating a positive impact on the world is through our work in public health. Our team of health and risk communication researchers and strategists design and execute rigorous studies and innovative activities to develop strategies that drive action and improve outcomes.

To learn more about Fors Marsh Group and our work in the health communication space, visit our Health page

About the author

Ronne Ostby and Caitlin Moynihan

Ronne Ostby is an experienced social marketing and health communication professional with more than 19 years in the field. She has proven expertise in applying communication and marketing principles to consumer campaigns on a range of health concerns, including illicit drug and alcohol use, tobacco use, prescription drug misuse and abuse, suicide prevention, youth violence prevention, and adult immunization. Her skill set includes primary and secondary research, situational analyses, strategy development, creative planning and oversight, campaign execution, and project leadership. Read Ronne's full bio here.


Caitlin Moynihan is a senior researcher with a background in advertising and marketing research. Since joining Fors Marsh Group in 2009, she has worked on a number of projects focusing on behavior change and decision making in the youth market with both quantitative and qualitative components. Caitlin has overseen and been involved in several multi-stage projects for clients including the Department of Defense, Food & Drug Administration, and DC Department of Health in addition to several partner advertising agencies. Her current focus is research in support of the entire strategic messaging process from formative research through concept and creative testing to evaluation. Read Caitlin's full bio here

Let's Work Together

We’re here to help, so ask us anything.

Insight Delivered

Subscribe to our newsletter to stay up-to-date on our latest news and outlook.

Please enter a valid Email address