How to Be a Public Health Advocate in the Media

PHX Perspectives | December 10th, 2019

If you read my post, Public Health Advocacy on Live Radio, you might be wondering, how can I do that?

This past summer I was a guest on Hometown Radio with Dave Congalton, a live radio show that broadcasts from San Luis Obispo, CA on online every Monday-Friday. We created a monthly public health series on different pressing issues, discussed current events, and took calls from community members. We discussed vaccines, sugar overconsumption, paid parental leave policies, and the opioid epidemic.

How did I get the opportunity to join the radio show for this series of four public health episodes?

  1. Relationship building
  2. Having something to say
  3. Developing my voice (and taking feedback)
  4. Boldly asking

Relationship building. I have known the host, Dave Congalton for almost a decade. The first time I joined his show, it was on behalf of the company I was working for at the time. I didn’t stay long at that company but I made sure to stay in regular contact with Dave and come back on the show a few times a year. Because he hosts 4 guests a day, 5 times a week, he’s always looking for people with whom to have engaging conversations on pressing topics.

I always make sure to post our upcoming radio conversations to social media, send out information to my 700 person email list, and post on my Instagram account with 9,000+ followers. You will be more likely to be asked to join podcasts, radio shows, and other events as a speaker if you bring a following with you and promote the event. This is valuable to the media producer.

I send thank you cards, birthday cards, get well soon cards, and invest time and emotional labor into relationships I enjoy. There are always going to be media producers who are people you genuinely like. Invest in those relationships. The radio conversations I have with Dave are so fun to listen to because we genuinely enjoy talking about and debating ideas.

Having something to say. I read, on average, a book a week. I’ve always loved reading but after learning that Warren Buffet reads a book a day, I realized that I could step my game up. Reading so much, including news articles, and listening to podcasts, gives me a little bit of knowledge on a wide array of topics. I seek out authors who represent different cultures and viewpoints. Reading activist authors such as Gloria Steinem, Rebecca Solnit, Naomi Wolf, Ta-Nehisi Coates, Arun Gandhi, Sallie Krawcheck, and others has given me an example of how to use my voice persuasively to advocate social justice causes.

Developing my voice (and taking feedback). Social media influencer Gary Vaynerchuk recently posted that if he had to choose between quality and quantity, he would choose quantity. We never know which message is going to resonate with others so it’s important to practice creating content and putting it out there. I have been blogging since age 16. Over time, writing blogs week after week, year after year, I have found the intersection of what I’m passionate about, and what others like to read. I was given the opportunity to write a few articles for the Huffington Post after writing regularly about kindness on my personal blog called The Kindness Challenge. A curator of a kindness column at Huffington Post Good News reached out to me to submit pieces.

It has been important to put myself out there imperfectly. I have been teaching workshops for the past 5 years at conferences, events, and corporate spaces. Sometimes I would just wing it and see how it went! Putting a bunch of workshops to teach on my calendar allowed me to sift through my ideas and find the best ones over time.

I always ask for honest feedback of my work. Once, after writing a blog I was particularly proud of, I sent it to a mentor who writes for the New York Times. She didn’t think my blog was any good. Ouch. But it was feedback I needed to hear so I could get better. Some early feedback I got as a regular guest on Dave’s radio show was, “you were laughing a lot”. “Hmm,” I thought, “while I certainly want to sound like I’m having fun, I wonder if I’m portraying nervousness”. I practiced speaking more powerfully, with more pauses, and less laughing. This felt better and the feedback I’ve gotten has been that I do sound more confident now.

After every workshop I teach, I email the participants and ask what was valuable and what could have been better. Not only does this help me improve but now I have a stack of testimonials about my work. I use these when I pitch future content!

Boldly asking. In 2015 I got to teach a workshop at the Bulletproof Biohacking Conference in Los Angeles. This is a conference put on by Bulletproof owner (you know, the weird butter coffee fad) and #1 health podcast host Dave Asprey. Attendees paid $1,000 a ticket to attend this conference about how to improve their health. A fellow health coaches asked me, “how did you get that gig?” My response: “I asked”.

I emailed the event producers and said, I’d like to teach my workshop. Here is the value it is going to bring. Here’s what your attendees will love about it. Here’s what past attendees have said about my workshops. Here’s some links to my work in the Huffington Post.

“Yes, we want that,” they said.

This opportunity led me to meet successful people who connected me with other successful people and pretty soon I was teaching my workshop at a mastermind event of entrepreneurs looking to grow their multi-million-dollar businesses.

To pitch your article, workshop, speaking topic, or radio content:

  1. The media rewards timeliness. In 2016 I posted a video to YouTube about women speaking out about sexual assault days after the news of the Brock Turner case appeared in the media. It wasn’t well-produced, it wasn’t particularly genius, and I would not share it with you today, but because of the quick timing, it came up on the side of “other videos of interest” when people watched other mainstream videos on the subject. Within a few days my video had 800+ views. Stay current on events and be ready to create content about news that is happening literally now.
  2. State your offer in a few, confident words. A book that helped me learn this skill is The Fire Starter Sessions by Danielle LaPorte.
  3. State value. Use numbers if possible. Are you saving people time or money? Are you helping people be happier and healthier in a tangible way? A great way is to state the problem first and how your solution fixes it. “Over 70,000 people a year die of opioid overdose in the US. This issue is important to residents of San Luis Obispo County, many of whom have lost family members and friends to this tragedy. We should do a segment on your show. I’m bringing my expertise as a public health professional.”
  4. What content is missing? Can you fill that space? In 2014 I spoke at a conference about the Sharing Economy in Paris on behalf of the company I was working for at the time. I looked at their 2013 topic schedule and assessed what it was they didn’t have. “Wow, they have spots on business, economy, futurism, maker-spaces, and technology, but not one thing about interpersonal trust. How can the sharing economy exist without interpersonal trust?” That was my pitch. “Yes, we want that,” they said.

Boston University attracts and produces advocates for big change, from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. We all have the power and permission to, even in small ways, use our voice to improve health outcomes, work for social justice, and to create a happier, healthier world. I hope that you will consider putting your voice out there. It is worth hearing and your voice can and will make a difference. Whether you have just one reader or listener or 1 million, your voice can create positive change. You never know who was waiting to hear your message in the way only you could tell it.

The PHX Perspectives blog is a platform that creates an opportunity to share public health stories and viewpoints. Anyone interested in submitting a piece, which should be 600-800 words long, should contact Population Health Exchange reserves the right to reject or edit submissions. The views expressed are solely those of the author and are not intended to represent the views of Population Health Exchange or Boston University School of Public Health.

Photo by Richard Clyborne