This post originally appeared on Josh Robbins' Blog
Conversation-starting think tank behind “Knowing” and “Open” partner with top visual agency for new engagement platform and interview series by wanting everyone to say “my status is not a secret”
The creative collective The Advisorie Group, the peeps behind “Knowing” and “Open“, never cease to get my happy-wheels turning easily. But, this time, the championship HIV campaign might have just been taken when they partnered with Parker Trewin (AIDS/LifeCycle participant) and the hot creative agency Column Five to launch “My Status Is Not A Secret.”
“If people are going to be motivated to get tested and, if needed, get treatment, we need to bring conversations about HIV/AIDS out of the dark and into the light,” Trewin says. After living with HIV for 10 years, Trewin only recently came out to his family as HIV-positive. He adds that, “We can each play a part, which is just one reason for me to finally tell my story—and why my status is no longer a secret.”
This year, Trewin rides in the AIDS/LifeCycle with an ambitious fundraising goal to give back to two organizations that have existed since before HIV had a name: the San Francisco AIDS Foundation and the LA Gay & Lesbian Center. To support Trewin in his efforts, the My Status Is Not A Secret site offers opportunities for visitors to help fund AIDS/LifeCycle participants.
But that’s the obvious of the new HIV campaign launched 4.2.14.
For me, I’m always interested in the “why” of things. Maybe it’s the inherent reaction I have that dates back to my childhood, when I would always ask my parents the question: “But, why?” and they would always answer: “Because.” — driving me insane. But, I’m curious. So, I asked the team to answer my “why” questions. They agreed.
Here are the players chatting– Parker Trewin (Inspiration for the site), John Saint-Denis (The Advisorie Group), Ian Klein (Senior Producer, Column Five and all around cool guy) and mentions of Jason Lankow (the King guru/CEO/Co-founder of Column Five). And, well, I’m Josh Robbins– and I run a cool HIV blog.
ISJ: Why the campaign? Why the website?
Parker: The campaign started from an ask for the AIDS/Lifecycle – a 545-mile charity bike ride. I asked Jason if Column Five, who I had worked with, would donate some funds to get me on my way. Jason said he thought it would be more powerful to donate some time. (Actually a lot of time.) He assigned me Ian and Andrea Bravo and we investigated two reasons why I was so passionate about my efforts: getting a second chance at life and combating stigma. We thought “stigma” was the more powerful theme and what started out as a fundraising site grew into something we think is much bigger. What makes it unique are the stories, which are incredibly powerful and are told from a very personal perspective – from gay, straight, positive, negative, men, women, white, latino, african american, middle eastern. It was important to me that we explore in the widest range possible why people (and why people don’t) know their status and share their status. I was interested in not the choices people make but why people make those choices. And if we lead by example couldn’t we then help people be more empowered to make better choices? It was a way to give back.
"What makes it unique are the stories, which are incredibly powerful and are told from a very personal perspective – from gay, straight, positive, negative, men, women, white, latino, african american, middle eastern."
ISJ: Where did the tag come from? Who came up with it (My Status Is Not A Secret)?
Ian: Once there was a boy and his whiteboard…no really, I was holding a brainstorm session with our copywriter Katy French and Director of Production Andrea Bravo and it was still at that point in the meeting wherein the room wasn’t quite heated up. We were still discussing things like “desired outcomes” and company mission statements—important cornerstones to be sure—but we didn’t quite know what structure we were building. At these types of meetings, I can usually be found at the whiteboard with a pen in hand. I started writing out some of the commonly shared statements one might come across in dating applications—particularly gay ones as Parker had previously shared one he didn’t like seeing: DDF UB2 (drug and disease free, you be too). He felt that this “requirement” was a result of precisely the kind of stigma we were looking to help eradicate with this campaign—the kind of stigma that precluded people from not discussing status openly. I thought, “what would be something I’d want to hear someone say in regards to their status?” “My Status Is Not A Secret.” I wrote it without saying it out loud. Nobody said anything at first. Katy, Andrea, and I all looked at it, each other, and finally said, “Yeah. This is it.”
“Yeah. This is it.”
ISJ: Why won’t this campaign become more of the same (i.e.: similar messages to HIV campaigns already launched and already at times exhausted)?
John: The campaign is to educate and to open hearts, not to throw out a bunch of cold facts without context. We sought to educate through testimony, through story, and that makes it different. Especially in that we assembled a group of such engaging and honest participants, both for the videos and for the written testimonies. I think de-stigmatizing HIV while still encouraging folks to keep themselves and their sexual partners safe can be achieved best through compassion, and I think it’s very easy to feel compassion and love for the people revealing themselves on this site. I also think that keeping the people in your life safe isn’t just about preventing HIV transmission, it’s about fostering safety to be honest, to feel safety in support, in being taken care of and in being loved unconditionally. Is that fluffy? I hope not. I found out my negative status for the first time in 1987, and have tested negative over and over since, but I am quite sure that we are all living with HIV. I’ve had long time partners who are positive. I’ve lost many friends. I’ve learned about living in the moment and of living in courage like no other generation of gays. We are all in this together.
"Is that fluffy? I hope not"
Parker: I think its the perspective and the vulnerability of those that have stepped up to share their stories.
ISJ: Why the social element of sharing reader submissions? Where does it all go?
Ian: Knowing one’s status is an act of taking responsibility for one’s body and mind. Gay or straight, positive or negative, the ability to own that knowledge is empowering. With that knowledge an individual has the choice of whether to share one’s status with others. We wanted to have a place where people of any race, gender, sexual orientation, or HIV status could go to demonstrate that power and self-confidence. At the moment, those quotes live on the My Status Is Not A Secret site as a repository for diverse thought and opinion on knowing and disclosing status. Who knows—in the future, there could be even more paths for those stories to take.
Parker: For me it’s all about sharing. This is one way people can engage and make their own statement – which is the most powerful of all.
ISJ: From the agency perspective, share the ‘creative’ process and how you hope it resonates.
Parker: We started with a lot of trust from the get go. And I’m not the easiest client. I have a lot of opinions and it’s not easy for me to let go of control — especially control of my story. But I had a lot of faith in the team.
John: The Advisorie Group, which is my agency that partnered with Column Five, came in late in the process, when we got to the videos. We decided early on that this was only going to resonate if I were to personally sit with each of the interview participants, one on one in a small room and develop a relationship with each of them on film. In the editing process we removed my voice asking the questions to make it all about them. I hope that makes viewers feel like they are the ones interacting with the folks on the films. Although that was the overlying creative process, each person’s interview was a very different experience. Some talked nearly non-stop for up to an hour each. Others had conversations with me and asked me questions about my own experience, which I loved. Who could ask for a more satisfying creative endeavor?
Ian: We approached the project in a similar fashion to other projects gathering inspiration, wireframing*, scaling and rescaling to budget, and many rounds of content, but always with a conscious eye toward elevating the human element and a respect toward people’s personal choices when it comes to HIV treatment and prevention efforts. I’d enjoyed working with John Saint-Denis of The Advisorie Group before on a series of short films for the Impulse Group so I brought him on board as soon as it became clear we were going to be producing video. It wasn’t until the day of shooting that we decided it would be more than just one short piece. We realized in the midst of interviews that the richness and honesty contained in the stories people were entrusting us with were too precious to relegate to one video. Out of that a 45-minute documentary was born along with individual interviews that will be rolled out over the first few weeks of the campaign. My hope is that people start to think differently about HIV in that testing doesn’t have to be so frightening, that HIV can be a manageable disease for those with access to care, and that having conversations about status can lead to more intimate experiences.
"My hope is that people start to think differently about HIV in that testing doesn’t have to be so frightening, that HIV can be a manageable disease for those with access to care, and that having conversations about status can lead to more intimate experiences."
My Status Is Not A Secret was designed and built by Column Five. Interviews were produced by The Advisorie Group, Mimi Fuenzalida, Ian Klein, John Saint-Denis and Parker Trewin.
Thank you to Josh for allowing us to share this post. If you would like to know more about Josh's work you can follow him on twitter here.