Centering Equity at the Heart of a Campaign: Strategies and Lessons Learned from Development of the Live to the Beat Campaign

Kinetra Joseph, MMC, Non-Infectious Disease Programs, CDC Foundation, Atlanta, GA

Background: Cardiovascular disease (CVD) is the leading cause of death in the U.S., and Black communities continue to bear a disproportionate burden. The heart disease death rate for Black adults is twice that of white adults and Black adults have 2 to 3 times the risk of stroke. CVD is also the leading contributor to all racial disparities in life expectancy — making cardiovascular health an important priority for addressing health disparities more broadly.

Program background: When CDC’s Division for Heart Disease and Stroke Prevention (DHDSP) engaged CDC Foundation to develop the first ever national CVD prevention communication campaign for Black adults, both organizations recognized the importance of an equity-centered approach. The “Live to the Beat” campaign was designed to support a vision where all people understand their personal risk for heart disease and stroke, believe in their power to change it, and take steps to protect their heart health — and the health of their families.

Evaluation Methods and Results: Throughout campaign development, CDC Foundation centered the priority audience and advocated for diversity and authentic representation. This was accomplished by:

  • Identifying up front what is (and isn’t) possible to change through communication. Campaign planners agreed to focus educational resources on the CVD risk factors, within the audiences’ locus of control, to help navigate external factors and social determinants of health that contribute to CVD disparities.
  • Prioritizing representation in hiring and media planning. Engaging professionals who represented the same racial minority group and lived experiences to lead the campaign planning; and requiring the supporting research, marketing, and media agencies to prominently feature Black representation in the teams assigned to lead and support the work.
  • Involving the priority audience in key decisions and campaign milestones. Planning for 3 waves of iterative research with the priority audience (Black adults ages 35-54 who have at least one CVD risk factor), including 30 focus groups, all led by Black moderators, engaging a total of 149 participants. The audience directed key campaign decisions about theoretical constructs (i.e., self and response efficacy), messages to use and avoid, and the overall tone and brand to ensure cultural relevance.
  • Recognizing the diversity and intersectionality of the priority audience. Findings were analyzed to identify and develop unique personas that represented a range of human difference within the priority audience. This empowered the creative teams to develop content that would be impactful and relevant for all audience segments and avoid demographic-based stereotypes and tropes.
  • Selecting Black-owned and Black-led distribution channels. “Live to the Beat” directly funded Black influencers and content creators; placed campaign ads in Black media channels; sponsored campaign outreach in Black community spaces; and established a Community Ambassadors Network to distribute campaign materials for free to local Black community leaders, business owners, and public health champions.

Conclusions: N/A

Implications for research and/or practice: CDC Foundation’s "Live to the Beat" Campaign is a strong example of how to approach campaign development through the lens of health equity. Additionally, the campaign's first year outcomes prove this approach delivers tangible outcomes for captivating and engaging audiences in an increasingly fragmented media landscape.