WASHINGTON (July 21, 2021)—Today, Hager Sharp announced the appointment of Katherine Nicol as executive vice president to lead its health practice. Nicol brings more than 25 years of strategic communications experience to the role. During her nearly 16-year tenure with Hager Sharp, she has led numerous health client engagements and national campaigns, including COPD Learn More. Breathe Better®, Million Hearts®, and HPV Vaccine Is Cancer Prevention, among many other notable initiatives.
“Throughout her career, Katherine has led with integrity and conviction, and her success over nearly 16 years with the company reflects her client and team leadership, her many achievements leading public health campaigns on many of the most challenging public health issues of the past two decades, and her commitment to our founder’s legacy of communications for the public good,” said Jennifer Wayman, Hager Sharp’s president and CEO. “Katherine has proven herself exceptionally qualified to lead and grow the company’s health practice.”
“I am delighted and proud to lead and build on the important work in Hager Sharp’s health portfolio,” said Nicol. “I have been extremely fortunate throughout my career to work with so many wonderful clients and to oversee national public health and safety initiatives that have helped millions of Americans lead healthier, safer, and happier lives. I am excited to expand this commitment to mission-driven communications at the helm of this exceptional health practice with colleagues who believe, as our founder Susan Hager did, that you can do well by doing good.”
Since arriving at Hager Sharp in 2005, Nicol has contributed strategic counsel and communications leadership to efforts around challenging health topics including ALS, cancer, cardiovascular disease, chronic lung disease, diabetes, nutrition, vaccination, and tobacco control and prevention for the firm’s nonprofit, association, government, and private sector clients. She has led the firm’s work with the President’s Cancer Panel since 2009, overseeing coordination and execution around the national release of the Panel’s report. She is also project director for Hager Sharp’s engagement with the Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, including the “The New Nutrition Facts Label: What’s in It for You?” campaign, and the Feed Your Mind agricultural biotechnology education initiative. Katherine led Hager Sharp’s award-winning work on the HPV Vaccine Is Cancer Prevention campaign for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, providing strategic counsel and oversight for a national social marketing effort that effectively changed the conversation around the HPV vaccine from transmission to cancer prevention. Prior to joining Hager Sharp, she worked with clients including the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, American Academy of Dermatology, National Institute of Mental Health, Recreational Boating and Fishing Foundation, PBS/Reading Rockets, American Planning Association, and Department of Homeland Security’s SAFECOM initiative to improve public safety interoperability.
Katherine is a member of the National Press Club (NPC) and NPC Communicators Team, National HPV Vaccination Roundtable, Society for Health Communication, Social Marketing Association of North America, and International Social Marketing Association. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in journalism from the Donald P. Bellisario College of Communications at The Pennsylvania State University and a Master of Science in television, radio, and film from the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University.
Hager Sharp is a full-service integrated marketing and communications firm with in-house research and evaluation; strategic planning; creative; digital, paid, earned, and owned media; partner and stakeholder engagement; event management; and campaign development and implementation expertise. Since Hager Sharp’s founding nearly 50 years ago, we have worked solely with organizations that take on critical issues like fighting for equity in education, improving public health, empowering vulnerable populations, and transforming communities to create and execute ideas that make a difference. Visit us at www.hagersharp.com.
Chadwick Boseman. We all know his story. He was a Howard University alumnus, respected philanthropist, and multifaceted actor, who gave us James Brown, Jackie Robinson, and Thurgood Marshall, before he took on the role that crossed political lines, racial and ethnic backgrounds, and language barriers across the world. Chadwick Boseman passed away at just 43 years of age on August 28, 2020. He had been diagnosed with colorectal cancer.
“Black people in this country are 20% more likely to be diagnosed with colon cancer and 40% more likely to die from it. The age for routine screenings has recently been lowered to 45, if you are 45 years of age or older, please get screened,” said Taylor Simone Boseman through tears as she pleaded with a virtual audience tuned into 52nd Annual NAACP Awards. “Don’t put it off any longer, please get screened. This disease is beatable if you catch it in the early stages and don’t have any time to waste even if you have no family history. And even if you think that nothing is wrong.”
Just prior to accepting her late husband’s posthumous NAACP Image Award the clips rolled, highlighting a lifetime of achievements in the film and entertainment industry, cut short all soon. An already gut-wrenching moment for many, to see once again on-screen, and hear the voice of a talented, young Black actor who played one of the most iconic characters of all time as Marvel’s Black Panther, was met with the equally difficult task of seeing his wife pleading with her people, his people, my people, to take back our power and get screened for colon cancer.
His is just one story…What about the stories of…
- Shannon Sylvain, 32, a vibrant young woman, who dared to live out her dreams in television and film production. Sylvain later founded Brown Sugar Rehab as a resource to educate Black people on the signs, symptoms, and prevention of the disease.
- LaToya Wright, 31, a friend, daughter, cousin, professional and young, talented liturgical dancer who performed often for her church. She became a wellness advocate and blogger to share her journey with others.
- Ahmad “Real” Givens, 33, brother to Chance and reality television star that came to rise in the era of VH1’s reality television reign. A beautiful man who wanted a real chance at love.
- Lawrence Meadows, 43, husband to Angela, his childhood sweetheart, father of two children ages 11 and 7, Baptist minister, entrepreneur, and according to his brother, NBC News’ Craig Melvin, “…one of the best human beings you would’ve ever know,” who was diagnosed with colon cancer at age 39 and died of the disease in January.
Some names you will recognize, others you won’t, yet these four share the common thread of being young, Black people diagnosed with colorectal cancer, more commonly known as colon cancer.
We must remember their stories too.
Colorectal cancer is the 3rd most common cancer among men and women in the United States. According to the American Cancer Society, not only are African Americans more likely to die from the disease, but research now shows a rise in colorectal cancer rates among young Black people that fall outside of the recommended screening guidelines. As with all health disparities, there are many reasons for the higher incidences of mortality and morbidity including socioeconomic status, systemic and institutional racism, and epigenetic changes. But screenings can aid in catching precancerous polyps before they mutate into cancer or finding cancer early when treatment works best.
According to the National Colorectal Cancer Roundtable, a few of the overall barriers to screening are procrastination, misinformation on the preparation process and actual screening, financial impact if screenings are not covered by insurance or perception that screenings are expensive, and misconception that colon cancer is primarily hereditary and persons without a family history need not get screened. As a health communicator and a Black woman, I have personal and professional motivation to help my community make more informed decisions, become their own advocates, and do what’s in their power to take control of their health.
So, how can health communicators effectively combat misconceptions and misinformation to reduce stigma surrounding the disease, aversion to screening methods, and convey the importance of colorectal cancer screenings among Blacks living in the U.S.? In the same way Taylor Simone Boseman issued her powerful and compelling call to action – Tell the Stories!
Storytelling is an integral part of the Black experience. Emanating from deep in the diaspora, through the journey of our ancestors brought to America, to the role of religion and spirituality, to Friday night game nights and kickbacks with friends, stories are part of who we are. Storytelling is one of many cultural traits shared by Black people across the globe, and used as a method not only to entertain but to inform and teach life lessons. All too often however, health is not one of those life lessons. No longer can we be a people that is silent and keeps our health issues in-house. We must rise up and tell our stories as a method of saving ourselves and our communities.
Effective storytelling will incorporate messages that increase awareness, understanding, and adoption of colorectal cancer screenings and:
- Underscore the urgency of the need to get screened and not procrastinate prioritizing health.
- Underpin prioritizing personal health.
- Explain the benefits of colorectal cancer screenings, signs, and symptoms of disease.
- Foster a peer-to-peer approach which can help reduce stigma, personalize the call to action, create a sense of community, and reduce the idea that people are alone in getting screened.
- Share the experiences of those who have been screened to reduce misinformation around the prep and screening process.
- Showcase a variety of screening options.
- Incorporate calls to action that encourage listeners, viewers, and readers to start a dialogue with their doctors, loved ones, and friends, and share their stories.
Effective storytelling normalizes uncomfortable conversations and helps to make them more comfortable for us and those around us. Often, topics that center around the restroom, regularity, bowel movements, and the like are considered taboo subjects that no one wants to talk about. But the more we talk, the more we share our stories, the more we normalize taking control of our own health and putting our health back in our hands. The more we see ourselves telling our own stories, the more empowered we are to continue the conversation in our homes, with our friends and families, and with our doctors.
“Fearlessness means taking the first step, even when you don’t know where it will take you,” Chadwick Boseman.
It’s not the strength of our silence. It’s the power of our stories.
Angela Young, MPS
Senior Account Supervisor
“Please stop calling me brave.”
I wrote that in a Facebook post in the fall of 2019, after I’d been diagnosed with late-stage colorectal cancer. I didn’t mean it as an admonishment. Friends and family from across the globe had reached out, sent gifts, and generally showered me with more love and support than I ever expected. But some people called me brave, others reminded me that I’m a fighter, a survivor. I saw this echoed by members of online and in-person support groups I’d joined. Even my dentist told me that she was a cancer survivor and, soon, I would be, too! We were Cancer Warriors and we would win this battle!
The truth is this kind of language makes me very uncomfortable.
For some people, underscoring their strength and resilience helps them in the dark moments, when it feels like the treatment is worse than the disease. Focusing on all that we have to live for—to fight for—can make it easier to endure the myriad indignities of testing, prodding, and poking that are inherent in cancer care. But for some of us, framing the disease experience using violent fight language leaves little room for nuance and raises more questions. Are people who have hit five years with no evidence of disease somehow better warriors than those who don’t? If my treatment doesn’t work, does that mean I’m weak or didn’t fight hard enough? If I die, am I less worthy of being remembered as a strong person, a role model, or a good friend?
Cancer is a complex set of diseases, and different people living with it have different preferences for how to describe themselves. I prefer people-first language that emphasizes me over my disease. Phrases like person with cancer versus cancer warrior highlight humanity over condition and hold space for the person involved to be more than one thing. It also allows the person to have multiple feelings about their cancer as things change over time. A year and a half after my initial diagnosis, my feelings have only become more nuanced and complicated; saying I’m “fighting” cancer reduces my experience to the days I have treatment or the drugs I take, rather than encompassing the whole of my emotions, struggles, and accomplishments.
As marketers in the health space, this presents an interesting challenge: How do we reach our target audience without inadvertently alienating a segment of it by using language some appreciate but others don’t? We do what we always strive to do: We listen. It’s important to remember that knowing your audience is one thing; listening to your audience is another. Do we hear people with cancer using these metaphors when they talk with one another? Do oncologists and clinicians use these metaphors? Or do we mainly hear them used in the mainstream media or among the general public? It is our responsibility as communicators to actively listen and take our cues from the audiences we are wanting to inform, educate, and empower.
I find myself in the role of both health communicator and target audience. It’s a surreal place to be sometimes, but it also offers me an opportunity—an opportunity to inform the way we communicate with people with cancer, by improving the way we listen. People-first communication requires intentionality and action. As health communicators it’s time we listen to understand and then incorporate what we hear. In the simplest terms, there are three steps to incorporating a people-first approach:
- Listen to the patient audience—actively and with the intent to understand;
- Value their experiences and their perspectives—as they are shared, not necessarily as you assume them to be; and
- Reflect those learnings in your messaging and outreach.
I value being heard as a person with cancer. And I value the opportunity to bring that experience to my work as a health communicator by both incorporating and promoting messages that put people first.
Digital Content Strategist
Over the last few weeks, we’ve seen an unprecedented number of Americans cast early ballots—by mail, by drop-off box, and by waiting in long lines to vote in person. A week before Election Day, 75 million Americans had already voted and that number continued to rise, with more than 93 million casting votes by the eve of the election.
At Hager Sharp, we believe voting is crucial, regardless of political party. It ensures all our voices are heard, all our viewpoints are represented, and all our elected officials meet the needs of our communities. We also believe that voting should be easy. Every American should have access to plain-language information, alternative means of voting, polling facilities, and reliable transportation.
That’s why many members of the Hager Sharp team have spent the last few months volunteering their time to get out the vote. In total, we’ve dedicated over 250 hours to increasing voter participation, defending voter rights, and ensuring a fair election. We’ve supported organizations such as Vote Forward, MomsRising, Reclaim Our Vote, Fair Fight, Election Protection, and others by writing nearly 700 letters and postcards, sending hundreds of texts, and making dozens of phone calls to voters. We’ve also worked with our local election boards and precincts across the District of Columbia, Georgia, Maryland, and North Carolina to serve as election judges, poll greeters, and poll watchers.
Hager Sharp is incredibly proud of our team’s dedication and is committed to reducing work-related barriers so our staff can not only support these efforts, but also have the opportunity to cast their own votes. As staff have volunteered their time, we’ve encouraged them to use Hager Hours (company-paid volunteer hours for each employee, provided annually), and we’ve also encouraged staff to use Hager Hours or flextime so they can get to the polls at a convenient time, without worrying about their workload or other personal responsibilities.
All of these efforts are one of the many ways we turn ideas that make a difference into actions that matter—and on the eve of this important Election Day, we are hopeful that our team’s efforts have made a positive impact on voter turnout so that each American’s voice is heard and every American’s vote is counted.
Hager Sharp is pleased to be featured in O’Dwyer’s PR Magazine 2020 Healthcare Edition. Page 20 features our take on the on the critical role health communicators play in building trust and combating vaccine misinformation. You can also find our health practice profile on page 59.