Why SPOT? Why now?
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How the AAD’s skin cancer awareness campaign positions dermatology with the public and policymakers

Over the past 30 years, the American Academy of Dermatology has come a long way in its development of public awareness programs and resources, with mainstays like providing skin cancer screening programs and developing public service announcements (PSAs) recently joined by creating educational videos and sharing the stories of those who have had debilitating skin disease, including some celebrity personalities. Recently, the Academy has shifted focus to increasing the visibility of its skin cancer programs in a new way one that not only increases awareness of skin cancer, but also brands dermatologists and the specialty in connection with the disease and has the potential to become financially self-sustaining over time through partnerships.

On May 7, 2012, Melanoma Monday®, the AAD launched a broad-based public health initiative unlike anything the organization had ever taken on before. The idea for SPOT Skin Cancer was developed within the walls of the Academy’s Schaumburg, Ill. office. “This campaign was conceived by the Academy staff in cooperation with the physician membership, and I think that makes it more forceful, more effective, and more meaningful,” said Zoe Diana Draelos, MD, a clinical and research dermatologist in High Point, N.C., and chair of the Council on Communications. Once the idea garnered approval from the Board of Directors, the council helped bring it to life. [pagebreak]

What is it all about?

The SPOT campaign is about educating the public about the prevention and early detection of skin cancer. “Our ultimate vision is a world without skin cancer, and we are working to reduce the incidence of and deaths from skin cancer through this initiative,” said Elizabeth Martin, MD, a Hoover, Ala., dermatologist and deputy chair of the Council on Communications. “Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the United States, but still, many people do not understand their risk and are not taking steps to protect themselves. Programs like SPOT help to highlight the problem and encourage the public to make positive changes to protect their health,” she said.

Skin protection is something that individuals should be thinking about on a daily basis, Dr. Draelos said. The SPOT tagline, “Prevent. Detect. Live™,” focuses on the positive actions people can take to protect themselves from skin cancer, she said. People fear cancer because most forms are unseen, without obvious symptoms. People need to understand that they can take an active role in the prevention of skin cancer, Dr. Draelos said. “Most people who get pancreatic cancer don’t have specific risk factors. But when it comes to skin cancer, people can stay out of tanning beds; they can put sunscreen on. There are many things they can do to reduce their chances of getting skin cancer,” she said. SPOT is a call to action for people to examine their own skin and the skin of loved ones, Dr. Draelos said. [pagebreak]

The campaign was first unveiled to Academy members in March 2012 at the Academy’s 70th Annual Meeting in San Diego. Attendees couldn’t miss the campaign’s big splash, as the convention center was peppered with orange spots. The council agreed that the orange spot was the best visual representation of the campaign because of its bright, eye-catching color and the color’s connotations. The word “spot” itself is also significant it has a dual meaning. Spot, as a noun, has many associations with skin cancer, including moles that are different sizes and colors, like the various sized and colored spots that are part of the SPOT branding. But spot is also a verb that encourages people to identify potential skin cancers early and take preventative action.

The SPOT Skin Cancer campaign is an umbrella for all of the AAD’s programs aimed at eradicating skin cancer from advocacy, supporting research, public awareness, and education to providing access to screenings and shade grants. “People have embraced the campaign because it’s a fresh and consolidated way of looking at a lot of the Academy’s public service messaging,” Dr. Draelos said. The concept for SPOT originated from a review of the Play Sun Smart™ program, a public education campaign with Major League Baseball and the Major League Baseball Players Association to educate baseball players, team staff, and fans about the importance of skin cancer prevention and detection. As more research was done, it became clear that the Academy’s skin cancer efforts could have greater impact by raising the profile of all of its skin cancer programs and public awareness under one cohesive brand identity, which became SPOT. [pagebreak]

Having a single identity for all of the AAD’s skin cancer programs helps dermatologists, according to Dr. Martin.

“I am enthusiastic about SPOT because I have always had a strong interest in teaching my patients and the public about skin cancer prevention and early detection,” she said. “It is wonderful to have all of the AAD’s skin cancer-related public awareness initiatives under one visually identifiable umbrella.”

Specialty positioning

As the program gains momentum, SPOT will continue to position dermatologists as the experts in skin cancer prevention and detection, Dr. Martin said. “I think it helps raise awareness of the importance of seeking out the skills of a dermatologist to care for your skin; it helps brand dermatology as an important field of medicine, which includes seeking a dermatologist as a part of regular health care,” Dr. Draelos added. The SPOT campaign also helps brand dermatology’s value to other physicians and aids in federal and state advocacy efforts by demonstrating the compassion and care dermatologists have for their patients, she said. [pagebreak]

The Academy is uniquely positioned to provide targeted skin cancer messaging because of its physician backing, Dr. Draelos said. Former Academy President Stephen P. Stone, MD, a Springfield, Ill. dermatologist and member of the Council on Communications, spoke to the importance of the Academy backing the SPOT program. As the most broadly representative organization of dermatologists, the Academy is the organization that can provide the most effective and engaged home for SPOT, he said. “For non-specialty groups, it’s not likely that skin cancer would be as much of a priority. While melanoma causes many deaths, there aren’t a lot of deaths due to cutaneous squamous cell carcinoma or basal cell carcinoma; it’s not a sexy issue for larger groups.” Dermatologists, though, see preventable cases of skin cancer every day and understand the impact a campaign like SPOT can have.

For Nancy Ali, senior director of the Academy’s philanthropic programs, the most critical aspect of the SPOT program is connecting the message back to the membership and the Academy. “One of the questions that I kept asking myself about this campaign is why. Why are we doing this? What is the reason?” The answer Ali kept returning to — the answer that differentiates the Academy from the many other organizations that have similar campaigns, in her view — is that “it’s our members — the medical experts on skin — who are providing the information about the prevention and detection of skin cancer and treating patients with skin cancer. That’s the link that validates why we are the best messengers as the Academy.” [pagebreak]

The big picture

By now, most everyone is familiar with the pink breast cancer ribbon that has become synonymous with Susan G. Komen for the Cure. “We envision SPOT Skin Cancer to inspire a movement — a campaign very similar to other successful movements currently out there,” said Thomas Rohrer, MD, a dermatologist in Chestnut Hill, Mass. and member of the Council on Communications. “They all have a positive message of hope and finding a cure, and they are easy to embrace and recognize,” he continued. It is this level of recognition that the AAD hopes to achieve with SPOT Skin Cancer —and it is the connection back to dermatologists as the skin experts that will make the campaign sustainable, Ali said.

Cause marketing campaigns, like SPOT, exist to inform the public and raise awareness of a particular issue. “There are about 25,000 professional membership organizations that exist,” Ali said. “So the question becomes, how do you cut through the clutter, and how do you differentiate yourself?” Part of what these campaigns do is to help with breaking through the clutter in a way that is specific and tangible, she added. [pagebreak]

Ali also spoke to the increasing significance of social responsibility to the public. Recent research by Cone Communications, a public relations and marketing agency, has shown that the public want to see businesses and organizations engaged in philanthropic efforts more than ever. “Defining a responsibility mission and purpose is no longer enough for companies today ... Consumers and other stakeholders are now challenging their favorite brands to show evidence that their efforts are making a difference,” said Jens Bang, CEO of Cone Communications.

The research reveals that 69 percent of consumers say they are more likely to buy from a company that speaks publicly about its corporate social responsibility (CSR) results, versus one that only talks about its CSR mission or purpose. Eighty-six percent of respondents wish companies would talk more about CSR results and are more trusting of companies that do. And while this research may be geared toward businesses, it points to a greater public consciousness surrounding community impact and humanitarian work and the consumer’s desire to see results from that work. [pagebreak]

It also strongly positions the Academy’s SPOT partnership efforts, as companies that partner with SPOT Skin Cancer will be able to tangibly show consumers that they are engaged in social responsibility efforts. For more information about the Academy’s SPOT partnership development, see “Partnering with the Academy” sidebar. 

Laying a foundation

As a new program, one of the initial goals of SPOT was simply to raise awareness of the campaign. The Academy’s 2012 skin cancer media placements generated more than 110 million impressions, an increase of more than 11 percent from 2011, and the 2012-2013 PSAs have generated more than $12.5 million in free advertising value to date. They are a hit in the social media universe as well; the 60-second “Born” PSA on YouTube has over 17,000 views. To view the AAD’s PSAs online, visit www.aad.org/psa.

As successful as individual components of SPOT have been, the program is still in its infancy and has room for much growth. To put campaigns of this scale in perspective, the Susan G. Komen for the Cure campaign started in 1982 and took about 10 years before it became the worldwide phenomenon it is today, Ali said. [pagebreak]

The campaign’s ultimate objective is to translate these education and awareness efforts into impact on individuals and communities, Ali said. For example, she continued, even more than getting people to show up for skin cancer screenings, the Academy strives to get people to take the next step to visit their dermatologist and give themselves regular skin examinations. It is these life-changing behaviors that will have the biggest impact on skin cancer detection and prevention, moving SPOT closer to fulfilling its mission. 

The most important thing members can do is to educate themselves about SPOT and find ways to contribute, whether it’s downloading free educational materials to pass on to patients or providing skin cancer screenings in the community, according to Dr. Martin. “Members can visit www.SpotSkinCancer.org, where they will find all the information they need to join the movement,” she said.

“For the foreseeable future, skin cancer is going to be the most serious thing that we take care of as dermatologists,” Dr. Stone said. He noted the difficulties that his home state of Illinois has had in trying to pass a tanning ban for minors despite the amount of research available about the dangers of tanning. “As successful as we are right now, we have a lot of public educating ahead of us.” 

Look at the history of the Academy's public service campaigns in this month's online-only slideshow.


How dermatologists can get involved

While SPOT Skin Cancer is aimed at educating and empowering the public, the movement cannot be successful without members taking an active role and becoming faces for the initiative. When SPOT launched in San Diego last year, one California dermatologist drew immediate inspiration. Dale Westrom, MD, PhD, found the campaign to be a very simple and effective way to get across one aspect of what dermatologists do — interpret spots. He went home after the meeting and changed his license plate to “SpotDoc.” “Of course some people may think I have a dry cleaning service,” he joked. Dr. Westrom and his staff also wear the SPOT badges at work each day, showing that even the smallest actions are part of a collective effort to educate and engage the public.

To assist in that effort, the AAD prepared a variety of free downloadable toolkits for members and the public. “Members can use the AAD’s SPOT-branded resources to educate their patients, and they can volunteer as part of the SPOT campaign, giving skin cancer screenings, participating in public education events, or by sponsoring a shade structure application,” said Elizabeth Martin, MD, deputy chair of the Council on Communications. For more information about participating in SPOT programs, visit www.aad.org/spot-resources. Members can also help SPOT Orange™ on Melanoma Monday®, May 6.

Public outreach is becoming increasingly important in medical fields, especially for smaller specialties like dermatology. “It’s my hope that more dermatologists join the movement and consider public education part of what it means to be a dermatologist,” said Stephen P. Stone, MD, another member of the AAD’s Council on Communications.

PSAs a part of AAD history

SPOT is a natural progression of the Academy’s efforts to educate the public about skin cancer over the past three decades. In 1985, the Academy launched its national skin cancer screening program, and the organization has continued to develop its skin cancer awareness programs and resources, including reaching out to the public with powerful television, radio, and print PSAs. To get a glimpse of how Academy PSAs have evolved over the last 15 to 20 years, view the PSA slideshow.

The Academy’s public service advertising campaigns are part of its history. As the AAD turns 75, it is celebrating that history. To learn more about it, visit www.aad.org/75th.

Partnering with the Academy

In November 2012, the American Academy of Dermatology’s Board of Directors approved the development of partnerships for SPOT Skin Cancer™. Partnerships are a natural and essential element of the program, said Thomas Rohrer, MD, a dermatologist from Chestnut Hill, Mass., chair of the Academy’s Sports Committee, and member of the Academy’s Council on Communications. “Partnering with like-minded organizations is key to success, not only for raising awareness because it expands the reach of the campaign to other audiences, but also to offer the opportunity to generate new revenue for future programming, research, and many other program enhancements,” he said.

The Academy has already attracted two sponsors, Coolibar and Kaenon. Coolibar, a company that produces sun-protective clothing, is selling SPOT sun-safety shirts in both adult and youth sizes. For every shirt sold, the company will donate $10 to the Academy. Kaenon, a company that sells polarized sunglasses targeted to athletes, will also be donating a portion of its sunglass sales to the Academy. Kaenon will also be promoting SPOT at stand-up paddling events this summer. Information on how to purchase Coolibar’s and Kaenon’s SPOT merchandise can be found at www.aad.org/spot-skin-cancer/shop-spot.

All items purchased from SPOT partners will benefit the Academy’s SPOT Skin Cancer program. A partnership with the Academy does not imply an endorsement of any company or brand. Rather, said Nancy Ali, senior director of the Academy’s philanthropic programs, “the intent is for the sponsors to be able to reach out to their constituents and contacts and to showcase the Academy and its members’ commitment to decreasing the prevalence of skin cancer.”

While the Academy has begun the partnership program on a small scale, the organization is currently in discussion with larger companies to create even broader partnership opportunities in the future. These are still works in progress, Ali said.

Funds generated by SPOT partnerships will be used to support current and future skin cancer programs.



How dermatologists can get involved
PSAs a part of AAD history
Partnering with the Academy