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|| Merck Pharmaceuticals

In the United States, African-American women are three times more likely to get cervical cancer than white women. African-American women are also twice as likely to die from cervical cancer than both White and Hispanic women. One of the main causes of cervical cancer is human papillomavirus (HPV), which CDC placed as #4 on their Top Five Health Threats list in 2014.


MEE was contracted by Merck Pharmaceuticals to developed and implement a grassroots Community Education Campaign designed to increase awareness about the link between HPV and cervical cancer. The pilot campaign focused on African-American mothers and women in Philadelphia, targeting zip codes with high HPV rates. A dozen beauty salons in North and West Philadelphia were recruited and trained to participate in the project, serving as the venues for one-on-one and small-group HPV information sessions. Using MEE-created promotional materials, along with a customized curriculum, we directly educated nearly 250 women of color about HPV, its potential short-term (genital warts) and long-term (cervical cancer) effects and how the virus can be prevented; we exposed hundreds more women to basic information about this important sexual health issue. Salons and their stylists (credible and trusted opinion leaders) received financial incentives for their participation, supporting small businesses that have been negatively impacted by the nation’s tough economic conditions.


The two target audiences for the campaign were mothers or primary caregivers of girls ages 9 to 17, along with young women 18-26 years old. Evaluation data showed that we were able to substantially increase knowledge about HPV from the pre-test (given before the start of the education session) to the post-test (given immediately following the education session) among all participants. More than 90% of the women reported that they planned to talk with their own doctor or their daughter’s doctor about what they learned in the salon. During a telephone follow-up survey conducted about a month after the sessions, two-thirds of the women (66%) reported that they shared what they had learned or their HPV education booklet with someone they know.


The campaign was not designed to push a “vaccine agenda,” but focused on helping women make informed choices for themselves and their daughters. The campaign received major local TV news coverage, helping to highlight this unique and effective approach.


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