BrianCarolOne of the biggest challenges in addressing problem gambling in Minnesota is creating awareness about the issue. There are still many people who do not know that problem gambling exists, that it can be prevented and that it can be treated. While the responsibility for educating the public about “the hidden addiction” falls on many shoulders, one of the more significant partners is Russell Herder, a marketing agency and longtime partner in Minnesota’s efforts to highlight gambling addiction. Northern Light sat down with Carol Russell, partner at Russell Herder, to discuss the challenges of communicating messages about problem gambling.

Has educating consumers about disorders such as gambling addiction changed over the years?

In some ways yes, in some ways no. The key messages for educating the public – things like prevention, treatment and recovery – are substantially the same. What’s changed, however, is the way people consume information. It’s important to communicate with people in the way they prefer, meaning using an assortment of online strategies in addition to traditional mass media advertising. It’s also important to target communications to make it relevant to someone’s personal experience and their level of awareness.

We also need to focus on building a community of awareness, so we’re not just talking to people who may have a problem with gambling but also to significant others, employers, physicians, friends and everyone else who needs to be aware.

What are some of the vehicles and strategies Russell Herder has employed to increase awareness?

In the advertising realm, we’ve produced ads for online, billboards, movie theatres, pump toppers and radio. From an educational perspective, we’ve created a lot of collateral, such as brochures, flyers and informational displays. We’ve also helped treatment providers directly, both with newspaper ads and presentations for civic organizations.

Video is an also important tactic we’ve used, both for intervention, such as teaching people how to have a conversation about the topic, as well as for sharing the personal stories of problem gamblers now in recovery.

We use social media extensively as well, especially Facebook. We’ve done a lot of research in this area and understand the market well, both for college students and the general public.

Are there any tactics that stand out?

One of the more unique things we’ve done is street marketing in the college community. We once used a magician to appear in popular college hangouts. He did tricks and eventually wove in the concept that “things aren’t always what they seem,” which then evolved into a discussion about odds. This was a very effective tactic but it’s limited as to the number of people it can impact.

What are some of the greatest opportunities you see in creating awareness about problem gambling in Minnesota?

As the population of Minnesota continues to become more diverse, it’s important that we communicate to communities in ways that are culture-specific. It’s not just a matter of translating a brochure but looking at it with a fresh perspective. This is an area we’ve researched for other entities and we look forward to bringing this knowledge to bear.

What are some of the bigger challenges you face?

The biggest challenge in communicating the issue of gambling addiction is simply the vastness of how many people you need to reach with a limited budget.

You’ve worked with the state of Minnesota on this issue for nearly a dozen years. What can you say about the state’s approach to problem gambling?

We have talked to other states to learn about their approach. Minnesota is very progressive in many areas with its initiatives and the things it’s undertaken. One of the strengths of the program is that it’s truly a collaborative effort between the state, Northstar, the advisory committee, providers and recovering gamblers. It’s a positive environment that helps leverage everyone’s best efforts. The state is open to new ideas and ways of doing things, and is supportive of our trying different initiatives and to refine them.

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

We truly find this work extremely fulfilling, both personally and professionally. It allows us to use our skill set on every level – from strategic to creative. We feel very connected to this issue and want to do everything we can. It’s a chance for us to really make a difference.