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Still exhausted from Vienna, I boarded a flight to Johannesburg, South Africa to meet with the MTV Networks Africa team to start talking about Shuga 2 – some meetings you can’t do any other way, but face to face.

The idea was to go through the evaluation and lessons learnt to do even better – hard, but there’s always ways to do better. In true MTV style the meeting was done in less than three hours and we have a plan.

The evaluation results for Shuga were good – really good, actually they were good for all our programmes. So the problem became, how do you top something so good?

The results from the evaluation weren’t enough to answer this question, so we looked at the lessons learnt from the campaign – and boy were there lessons! And then we said if money wasn’t a factor, what would we do?

We had a great conversation about the digital side of it. One of the things that came out strong in the evaluation was the need to integrate social networking and mobile. Dina, the lead evaluation professor from Johns Hopkins threw out the idea of us capitalising on the ‘next’ big thing in technology – I tried not to laugh when Richard said that VOD was the next big thing for the continent. His point was that Africa is moving fast with digital media, but not that fast. What’s big in the west now, can still be adapted and be big for Africa. But realistically, for our audience, what’s bigger than facebook right now?

We discussed the parameters of our work. Dina and the Hopkins team had some great ideas on reaching rural areas, health workers and parents, but that’s not our primary work and I don’t believe we should be doing more than our core competence or we’ll be doing a disservice to our audience, the campaign and even our partners.

After the meeting Chris Torline (my go to man in the team) and I went to catch up and discuss work and life on a rooftop sushi bar in Hyde Park – it really was such a relaxing moment – why don’t I work in Africa, I thought to myself.

But as I boarded the plane back to London, I realised we’d forgotten the biggest part to all of this – what is it that our partners want? What are their objectives? We’re really good at making these programmes, but if our partners and others don’t use them, then what’s the point? There’s only so much a broadcaster can do, the rest is up to the implementing partners on the ground.

While I guess that will be figured out in planning meeting two in Nairobi. Unfortunately, or not, I’ll be sunning myself on a beach in Cancun, followed by some more sun in sin city!

Oh and I’m now on Twitter – finally caved, follow me @cathyphiri

I’m trying not to feel jaded. It’s hard not to when I try to think of the good tv programming on HIV/AIDS – that isn’t a predictable, done before format.

Is it because HIV/AIDS is such a difficult issue with loads of political ramifications? Is it because people don’t care? Or people are too scared to offend some people?

I really don’t know what it is, but sometimes, I wonder what the end goal is with some programming ideas. I’m not talking about any shows in particular, just generally thinking of what I’ve seen in the last few years.
I did like the story line in Greys Anatomy which was set back in the day when AIDS was called GRID. That was good because it looked at it from the stigma point of view, but then brought into perspective other discrimination/stigma from the day i.e. inter-racial dating, black and female doctors being the first of their kind etc. (not first, but you know what i mean). And I thought that was good because it put it into a context that people could relate to. It just made HIV/AIDS more accessible i think.

That’s one of the things I struggle with – definitely for the audience I have to reach – how do you make HIV/AIDS accessible? The reality is, that while there are millions of people living with the virus, and countless other affected by it, there are even more who are not infect and seemingly unaffected. That’s the audience I want to reach, because in this day and age, in the global world we live in, how can you think you’re unaffected?

I want to re-establish the African thinking of ‘it takes a community’. We, as a people, inhabiting this planet are the community. Call me the eternal optimist (in all my cyniscm), but I do believe that if humanity comes together we can stop the spread of HIV and at the same time create an environment that protects and supports those already living with the virus. But people have to want to do this, people have to be moved to do this. We need a new generation of people who care about us and not about me – the ‘we, not me’ generation (as coined by someone in the office). And I do think that media has a big role to play in making this happening. Aaaah if only had had loads of cash myself, the programming i’d make! one day…

I’m really excited that next week I’ll be participating in the Hollywood Health and Society research conference in LA. And not only because I’ll be in LA and getting away from this lovely British weather!
The conference aims to bring together top researchers to discuss the challenges and limitations and way forward with research on entertainment education and global health policy. Ok written down it does seem quite boring.
It is fascinating though. For some of us who have been doing entertainment education for well over 10 years (scary but true), this really is interesting. Instinctively you know it works (entertainment education that is), and you can do focus groups, and survey people on intentions/actions as a result of the programme or track feedback, calls to helplines, traffic to sites etc, but is that enough?
So what is the research you need to be doing and if its self-reported, how do you know its true? Other limitations are the obvious ones with focus groups – how do you know participants aren’t telling you what you want to hear? I’m not a researcher so those are the thoughts that come to my mind but I’m sure a good, qualified researcher knows how to combat this… I guess.

But when you work in a global environment where people are different, they receive and respond to messages differently, and indeed even the message delivery is different, how do you measure it in order to do effective comparisons? These are the questions I ask myself whenever we air a show globally. Is it ineffective if people in one part of the world didn’t like it, or if it didn’t move them to act or engage? Or is it all good as long as someone somewhere in the world got it?
The more I work in this sector – of entertainment education – the more I want to make sure we’re getting it right, so I’m excited to go to this conference, just at the thought of learning something that might positively impact my work – that and the fact that I’ll be near the beach!

Travis’ One at a Time track getting some love with some support from friends over at Social Vibe.
Check it out!

I do love the combination of working with media and a social issue like HIV/AIDS. It’s an opportunity to explore different ways to communicate to our audience – young people in my case. And the latest challenge is how do we capitalise on the ‘new’ era of social media and community engagement. They are also the latest buzzwords. Ok not that latest, I just always seem to be slow to the party 🙂
But more than just coming to the party, is actually figuring out how do we do this so it works, so it’s impactful? That’s what we spent the afternoon discussing in the office – there’s got to be a way to really make online engagement work and have an impact. It’s obviously a great opportunity for dialogue, but we want to take it to the next level.
I have to admit we are working on some really exciting initiatives and will be interesting to see how they all pan out. Will keep you posted. If you know any really cool initiatives that are coupling social, and more importantly public health, with social media, I’d love to hear about them.

Bono has been championing the Red campaign for a few years now. Like most initiatives it has its critics and it has its supporters. I’m not sure where I sit on this one. On one hand it’s a great example of innovative financing – allowing consumers to contribute to the fight against HIV/AIDS. But I’m not a fan of the message.
I get that HIV/AIDS is having devastating effects across Africa, but to have the tagline of Buy Red, Save Lives (in Africa)?
As an African I hate it – again I get that you’ve got to portray an extreme picture to pull on the heart-strings – and therefore the purse-strings – but for the millions of people who’ve never been to Africa, it only tells one story. And that story is that us poor, starving, disease ridden Africans can’t do anything for ourselves and always need the West to bail us out.
I can see how this story can help raise cash for Africa – and I’m not saying we don’t need it – but isn’t there a way we can do this so the world can see that Africa does do some things on its own too? And this is what should be supported?
And now Bono’s the mouthpiece for Africa? I know I should be happy that someone as important as Bono has made it his mission to do something for the world’s poor (in Africa), but I just hate that it also perpetuates this air of hoplessness of Africa. But maybe that’s Africa’s fault too.
In most place – bar Rwanda and Liberia and a handful of other countries – we need new leadership. Not the old guards who are from the independence days, but younger, people with fresh perspectives – we need our Obamas. Young Africans also need to take up the challenge, with social media sites there is no reason why the work and advancement they are doing can’t be communicated and spread.
For now, I hope that campaigns such as OneLove Kwasila – though paid for by the US government – but implemented by young Africans can be one of many examples of the not so futile situation in Africa.
Maybe I’m just cynical or patriotic to a fault. (Oh, I forgot to mention the ridiculous ad spend to support Red products as well – in 2007 alone it was $100 million and guess how much they raised? $18million. I’m sure that ratio is better now…) Ok maybe I’m just a little bit mad at my own foolishness of getting a Red credit card and despite the money spent on it, I’ve only contributed about £50 to the global fund – I should have just given them the money instead – hell, I should have donated to a charity in Africa directly!

One of a series of animations from the OneLove Kwasila campaign

People, especially in the health sector, claim that scare-mongering doesn’t work when trying to communicate prevention messages. I’m not so sure I agree with this. Time and time again the ad that people, certainly in the UK, remember regarding HIV is the Tombstone PSA. You watch it today and think it’s just plain ridiculous – the grim reaper killing people like it’s a bowling game! But something about it worked.
Then today, you read about the woman in Detroit who created the hoax video about how she had slept with 500 men and infected them all – people’s boyfriends and husbands, just to drive home the message that you could be the partner of one of these men. People called it in, fear of a public health scare. But the testing clinic in Detroit saw its numbers jump significantly after over 17,000 viewed the spot. Surely that’s done more for HIV than some other more pc campaigns have done?
I do think people respond to basic emotions and fear is one of them. Yes you have to be careful not to preach the HIV+ = Death message, but the reality is, unfortunately, that if you have HIV you are going to die. Having lost relatives and still have relatives afflicted with this virus, I hate to say that, but we’ve got to be realistic. This isn’t a nice virus we’re dealing with, when it’s bad, it’s bad.
I think you need to use different tactics/messages to reach different people and some people do respond to fear, we can’t get away from that.
Messaging is really hard to deal with, but I think I’d focus more on longer formats, like documentaries and films or drama series, because then you can focus on the complex nature and issues that surround the virus. Maybe there’s a way you can tell people that if they get HIV they will die (eventually) without telling that that they will die and putting the fear into them.

During our brainstorm we were addressing issues/themes we should focus on and someone suggested living positively. And this is where i’m going to be (slightly) controversial. I wasn’t totally sold on the idea. I think it’s something we need to promote, for people who are already positive, but I have concern about promoting it to people who aren’t infected. Having recently lost my brother to this deadly virus and seeing what he suffered through, I believe that it’s time to go back to talking about the reality of living with HIV/AIDS. I don’t mean scare tactics, though in some cases, is there a difference?
I think we need to get people, especially young people, to understand what it truely means to live with the virus. How your life changes, your family and friends want to support you, but don’t know how, the complexities of dating, when to disclose your status and to who? The implications of the medicines, if you have the opportunity to access them in the first place. I think it’s important to support our brothers and sisters living with the virus, but being too politcally correct, i.e. ‘we don’t want to offend PLWA’ is also irresponsible in my opinion. Complacency is partly a consequence of pushing the ‘living positively’ message.
I’d like to see us handle it in a different way, to show a rounded picture of living with the virus – the good, the bad and the ugly. Let’s see if we can get the funding to do that, hmmm.

Final day of our strategy for the staying alive campaign and i’m shattered. It was good, but i’m beat. Not even sure if today was a productive as the other days. We re-did our mission statement and set goals/objectives for this year. We even managed to think up some ideas for our on-air programme this year. It wasn’t easy.
TV trends are changing. There is scripted reality, drama, documentary, all sorts of formats you can use, but which one really works the best? I know we should probably get more research on this issue, but discussing it among ourselves was a useful first step.
Next week i’ll pull together the full strategy and hopefully we can get our workplans together and start looking for funding. i think this is going to be a good year.

We figured it out – we now know who our clients are! It seems like an easy enough task, but when you think about what we do – produce content, funded by different organisations, and then distributed to broadcasters to air, for young people to watch – well any of those could be our clients. Then you break up what we do, how we do it and who it serves and then you figure out who the clients are. It was a really interesting process and the debates led to even more understanding.

From there we’ve done (or will do by tomorrow) three half days of strategic planning. It’s been really interesting as we’ve done a SWOT analysis – both internal, and external, identified our competitors and even our core competence (you can see i’m putting my MBA training into good use). The good thing was getting the input of the whole team and not just leaving it to ‘management’. And it’s a pretty good team – they get along, they’re passionate about the issue, they’re ambitious and they’re constantly striving to be better!

The candid discussions made us all think that as a campaign we’ve lost our edge a little bit and now we’ve got some distance to go to get back to being the absolute best – which is of course what we always strive to be.

Hmmm what will tomorrow bring?