Happy Labor Day!

Wishing you + yours a wonderful Labor Day weekend. The office pups already have their plan in place (and we figure this might apply to some of our human colleagues as well). Hope you enjoy the holiday!


I don’t see anyone smoking a cigarette or drinking a sugary beverage, do you?

Niche Before Niche was Cool: Thoughts from Dragon Con

“Being a geek is all about being honest about what you enjoy and not being afraid to demonstrate that affection. It means never having to play it cool about how much you like something. It’s basically a license to proudly emote on a somewhat childish level rather than behave like a supposed adult. Being a geek is extremely liberating.”

Simon Pegg

Every Labor Day Weekend, downtown Atlanta is flooded with football fans dressed head to toe in football paraphernalia and people dressed as their favorite characters from anime, movies, books, and television. Often both groups are also looking at each other with almost identical expressions, looks that say “Why would you spend so much time and money on something so  . . . silly?!” I plan to attend Dragon Con this weekend, putting me firmly in allegiance with the people letting their geek flags fly. As a reader of this blog, you know that Banyanites see intersections with our work all over the place, and my plans over the holiday weekend are no exception.

What does Steampunk Star Wars have to do with Health Communications?

The same hotel that hosted the National Conference on Health Communication, Marketing, and Media (NCHCMM) just a week earlier is holding a session on race and gender in science fiction down the hall from where there was a NCHCMM session on gaming and tobacco prevention. Both conferences include academic studies, discussions of multiple media formats, and tips on getting your story out there. One significant difference is that while NCHCMM was in the Hyatt Regency, Dragon Con is in the Hyatt, the Hilton, the Marriott Marquis, Westin Peachtree Plaza, and the Sheraton; covering much of downtown Atlanta. At NCHCMM, there was a lot of talk about getting messages “where the eyeballs are,” but it’s obvious that Dragon Con knows a good bit about that as well.

photograph courtesy onceuponageek https://www.flickr.com/photos/onceuponageek/

photograph courtesy onceuponageek

It’s become increasingly difficult to explain exactly what Dragon Con is. Science fiction convention is the lazy answer. Dragon Con is about books, comic books, movies, television shows, web series, and games of every kind. There is science fiction, fantasy, anime, animation, hard science, skepticism, technology, and a whole track devoted to engineering and invention. Think of an interest, and I bet you will find a place to learn more and/or talk about it with fellow enthusiast.

In health communication, we have embraced targeted messaging and careful consideration of the specific audience for changing health behaviors. As someone who never misses the Annual Dragon Con Parade – even if I often skip several years between attending the actual convention – I’ve been amazed at how much the topics and tracks continue to grow over the last 20-odd years. Niches abound at Dragon Con, and there may be no better place to learn about how to engage a small but devoted following.

Holy Crossplay, Batma’am!

For my money, the people watching and the costumes are the best part.

That’s why the parade is a must-see event for me. Fans take their passion about their entertainment incredibly seriously; spending massive amounts of thought, energy, invention, imagination, time and money on their fandom.

photograph courtesy the nerdy girls flickr.com/photos/thenerdygirls

photograph courtesy the nerdy girls

I can appreciate a meticulously rendered reproduction of something seen on a movie or somewhere else. However, for me, the ones who take a concept and make it their own are the best. How could you not be inspired by the creative mash-ups you see at Dragon Con? Steampunk versions like the Star Wars picture have become pretty common in the last few years, but you will also see re-interpretations like the Box Heroes (see picture above) and the woman who came dressed as a knitted hat from the short-lived Firefly TV show (below).

So, what do I want to bring back to my work at Banyan from Dragon Con 2014? Here’s my list:

  • Inspiration- I will definitely want to come up with some of my own ideas that are even half as ingenious.
  • Courage– I may choose less revealing ways than wearing that much spandex in public, but I will try to be brave.
  • Grace– I wouldn’t make it down the hall in those heels much less a whole parade route.
  • Passion– When people love something, it changes them.
  • Vocabulary– Every fandom has it’s own language, and I love new words. I’ll learn more portmanteau words than I know what to do with.
  • Fun– We should all have some. In life, in our spare time, at work (after all, health communications can be fun, too).


2014 NCHCMM Exhibitors

What’s Your Story?

Last week – as has been the case for the last eight years – people from across the country with a vested interest in public health and effective communication converged in Atlanta.

2014 NCHCMM Program

2014 NCHCMM Program

For the second year in a row, I’ve had the opportunity to join them. Between networking opportunities, workshops, presentations, and plenary and poster sessions, the National Conference on Health Communication, Marketing and Media provides an opportunity to compare notes, be inspired, and use lessons learned to do a better job in your corner of the world.

Conference organizers chose “What’s Your Story?” as the theme for this year’s event.

We all have one to tell. And here at Banyan, so much of what we do involves crafting and telling a compelling narrative. We work on a wide variety of public health-related projects, many with a prevention focus and even more that involve a component of storytelling, in one way or another.

Given my interest in social media (not to mention my work-related responsibilities) I gravitated toward sessions related to measurement and analysis; data-driven health communications; and using new media storytelling and entertainment to reach at-risk audiences.

Figuring out where to be in the social media can be a challenge in and of itself: how do you decide among / between Facebook, Google+, Instagram, Pinterest, Twitter, Vimeo, Vine, or YouTube?

One presentation provided some simple ground rules to keep in mind. For instance, do you have:

  • Access to design?
  • A paid media budget?
  • Staff with the time and knowledge to create and manage content?
  • Capabilities to measure effectiveness?

The points above relate specifically to Facebook, but they are worth considering before establishing a presence on any social media platform.

Other simple takeaways anyone can put into place as part of a social media strategy (regardless of how simple or in-depth it might be):

  1. Understand Your Audience Figure out what moves them – what are they passionate about?
  2. Understand Their Preferences What type of content would they most like to receive?
  3. Edit Content Ruthlessly Enough said.
  4. Evaluate Are your efforts effective in the way you want them to be?

NCHCMMTweetIn addition to the breakout sessions, keynote and plenary presentations on storytelling and maximizing inspiration provided new ideas and tips to help conference attendees craft and hone effective messages.

Given the conference was taking place in the midst of the Ebola outbreak, I also took advantage of a last-minute session on prepping public health folks to discuss the disease in their communities. A “how-to” session quickly became a dialogue about how CDC handles an outbreak in which misinformation and lack of understanding can prompt fear. Toss in NBC’s former chief science correspondent Bob Bazell (now a professor at Yale) asking tough questions and you have a conversation custom-delivered for the former reporter and CDC health comm specialist in me.


I’m looking forward to 2015 already.


Let’s Get It On!

When I used to teach filmmaking (summer school) to bright young students who wanted nothing more than to be the next Spielberg/Scorsese/Cameron – mainly because they’d never heard of Lean/Kubrik/Kurosawa – I was invariably asked, “What is the most important thing to remember when making a movie…the one thing that will separate you from all the other struggling artists vying for the public’s attention?”

My answer was always that same: “That which you seek can be found in the last scene of High Fidelity.”

In case you don’t know, High Fidelity is a film released in 2000, starring John Cusack and a female lead named Iben Hjejle – whom I’ve never seen in another film (although she is a lovely actress and I hear she’s quite popular in Norway). The premise of said film is…

Rob Gordon (John Cusack), a self-confessed music geek with a poor understanding of women. After getting dumped by his current girlfriend Laura (Iben Hjejle) he decides to look up some of his old partners in an attempt to figure out where he keeps going wrong in his relationships.

Now, to be fair, this storyline has nothing to do with the answer to my student’s question. To gain this enlightenment, you must venture to see the last five minutes of the movie. This is where Barry (Jack Black) is asked by Rob’s girlfriend to play with his band at a record premiere party.

(Remember records?)

Rob freaks out because Barry has significant self-control and anti-social issues he’s working through – and Rob is very concerned that Barry and his band (Sonic Death Monkey aka Kathleen Turner Overdrive) will ruin the event. So the night of the party, Rob (very reluctantly and expecting the worst) introduces Barry and asks everyone not to leave. And that’s where the magic happens.

You can watch it here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1V_-iZYIofU

That’s because Barry has taken the time to know, understand and respect his audience (which in this case is a room full of corporate lawyers). As he takes the stage he announces that, for tonight only, his band will be known as Barry Jive and the Uptown Five. And then, without any hesitation, launches into a soulful, fun, engaging and surprisingly talented version of Marvin Gaye’s “Let’s Get It On.” And as Rob watches Barry belt out this song, on his face you can see him slowly come to understand the power of the ultimate lesson I share with my students, which is as follows:

You’ve grabbed the microphone – you’d better have something to say.

Too many people seem to think that just the act of ‘getting up there’ and sharing your opinion, or data, or story will make people want to listen. (This is why so many karaoke bars still exist). But when it comes to successful communication nothing could be further from the truth. Today, there is so much competition for people’s time – and some many venues through which this competition is delivered – that any poorly developed, hastily packaged, awkwardly delivered message is quickly lost in the “clutter” of digital media and doomed to failure. You want people to sit up and listen to you?  Have something interesting/relatable/relevant to say!

Take the time to know (and respect) your audience.

And speaking of relevance – there is a common tendency, when developing and delivering digital media to any target audience, to assume that “what I say is important” and people will automatically understand how important when they hear my message. This seems to be especially true of people who have lots of data and research to back up their message. Is this the basis for successful communication? Again – not so much. Most digital audiences have become much too savvy to spend their time being talked at instead of talked to. Showing both respect to your audience, and sharing your message in a way that shows you understand who they are and what they feel, are keys to any successful communication effort. Remember, you’re playing in their sandbox. It helps to know in advance if they have a cat.

Engage them on an emotional level.

Remember the famous scene from Braveheart – where Mel Gibson rode a white Charger up and down in front of his men telling them how important the battle they were about to fight is to their families and future? Now, imagine him trying to do the same thing – trying to get his men worked into frenzy – but this time using an infographic instead of a sword. It’s important to remember that, at their core, people are simple creatures. If you can engage their emotions – primarily through ideas, narratives and stories – you can then bring them to a place where they will be immersed in what you have to say. People want to be engaged – you just have to give them a reason. Just like Barry Jive and the Uptown Five.

I’m proud that these are the same precepts we always embrace when developing digital content for our clients. We understand the power of story; the impact of data translation; and the purpose of motivation. At Banyan, we believe that “creating change for good” means we have a responsibility to engage, educate, and communicate with our audiences, so we will ultimately be successful in helping our clients achieve their communication goals and hopefully enhance people’s lives. And just like Barry Jive, we’re always ready to grab the microphone and get people moving to our beat.

Now – who’s up for karaoke?

Drawing Characters

The development of an illustrated character is a team effort that involves a lot of brainstorming, research, and discussion.  You have to think about what’s been created before, the characters people are familiar with, and what’s being created elsewhere.  But then there is the moment that it is just you, the illustrator. And you have to start moving a pencil around on a blank piece of paper and bring the character into existence.  As much as I love the many other moments of the illustration process, this is my favorite.


One of Bill’s First Character Designs.

I’ve been drawing characters since I was a little kid.  This was the first character I drew when I was just a couple years old:

Funny thing is, I still do it pretty much the same way three decades later!  Of course, this is just the first step in the process…the sketch.

I still sketch on notebook paper most of the time.  I’ll doodle on an iPad or computer, but when I really need to draw, it helps my thought process to do it the old fashioned way.  Some of the best drawing decisions come from the mistakes you make along the way and the best mistakes come from an actual pencil or pen.

So, after rounds of sketching, erasing, revising, and more sketching…I finally get the character sketch to a point that I — and the rest of my creative team – can consider it scan-ready. Then I’ll scan it onto my computer, or if I’m in a rush, I’ll just snap a photo on my phone and email it to myself (but you lose some detail that way).

Once the sketch is scanned, I pull it into Adobe Illustrator and trace it using a Wacom drawing tablet and pen.  My left hand is always on my Mac’s Command-Z keys to take care of those mistakes, which are not usually welcomed at this stage of the process!  Once the lines and/or shapes are traced, I color it the same way; adding textures, gradients, shadows, highlights, brush styles, and backgrounds as needed for the particular style.

But it’s probably easier to understand all of this if I just show you:

Once I clean up the layers, the illustration is ready to be brought to life in animation using Adobe After Effects.

But that’s another story.

Life of an Activity Tracker

Dear New Recruits,

Thank you for dedicating your talents toward helping others less fortunate: in this case the species we have come to call “humanity.”

A treadmill. To help the humans walk.

A treadmill. To help the humans walk.

As you know the humans are much different than us. Unlike us, they do not run off a single battery that can simply be recharged when needed but rather a complicated set of organs, muscles, and tissues. It’s a real mess in there. And you can imagine the difficulty in keeping it all working appropriately.

There is, of course, basic maintenance that helps the humans operate better and longer. Exercise is one of the most important things they can do and one of the easiest forms is walking. They just have to put one foot in front of the other. Literally.

I know. It sounds simple, but it’s a real challenge. These humans love their sitting. Sitting at the office. Sitting in the car. Sitting at dinner. Sitting on the couch. They take their sitting very seriously.

Alas, knowledge alone is not enough to save the humans. They know how to walk. They know what walking can do for them. Yet, they sit.

This is where we come in. It is our job to transform this information into motivation. It must be customized. We must track their steps so they can see how woefully short they are of their goals.

A chart. To help motivate the humans.

A chart. To help motivate the humans.

But it’s not enough to just spit out this information. We must visualize it. They must see real-time progress in pretty, changing colors. They need graphs, charts, and illustrations.

They need to invest. They must set their own goals. Be rewarded for accomplishing them. Get reminders from us to keep going (even when they’re not nearly as close as they should be). Share and compete with friends, family, and people they want to brag to.

And we must work with their phone. Yes, the phone is the key to the humans. They don’t do anything without it. We must be useful there or we will be of no use at all.

Our job is a tough job. We know how to save them, the humans. But we cannot do it for them. It is up to them to save themselves. But what we can do is educate them. Empower them. Motivate them. Inspire them to create their own change for good.

In my humble opinion, there is no higher purpose. Thank you for taking part. I look forward the great things we will accomplish together.