Reflections on the 2nd European Social Marketing Conference by Jeff French

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I was delighted to attend the second European Social Marketing conference on the 25th and 26th of September this year in Rotterdam. The event was attended by people from 27 different countries across Europe and also further afield. It was practically gratifying to see the energy and enthusiasm for social marketing that is developing across Europe and the many examples of great projects and some of the policy initiatives that are also starting to be influenced by social marketing principles and concepts such as the inclusion of social marketing in the new European Heath 2020 strategy and the shortly to be published European Centre for Disease Control guide to social marketing. The conference programme was also diverse covering issues across the health sector, environment, military training, urban design, water safety, pet safety, sustainability and social policy.

One of the most interesting aspects of the conference was the way that the City Council of Rotterdam that hosted the event has adopted an approach that is ensuring that social marketing principles are being routinely built into many social intervention programmes. It was also great to hear Vincent Roozen the CEO of the Municipal Health Services in Rotterdam talk about the development of social marketing in the city and endorse it as a core element of the health service in the city. It was also great to hear Julie Huibregtsten talk about her experiences of encouraging the uptake of social marketing across the Netherlands which is fast becoming a leading country in the application of social marketing in Europe. A great example of this application was presented by Lejo Van der Heiden the Head of the Public Health Care Unit in the Netherlands and the work of JOGG positive lifestyle programme, described by Ellis Koster, which has adopted social marketing as one of its key design approaches.

Other highlights of the conference programme were Ken Peattie’s presentation on the changing nature of consumer demand in response to environmental challenges and the positive implications of this for a more marketing informed social response. Irina Dinca from ECDC also spelled out the importance of applying social marketing principles when seeking to tackle infectious diseases but also the challenge to reach out and encourage everyone to embrace social marketing principles. Arie Dijkstra gave us all a timely reminder of the need to use the science that underpins social marketing and Richard Forshaw reminded us of the need to use citizen insights to ground social marketing interventions in the reality of people’s lived experience. Richard also gave us some great examples about how new digital technology and networks can help us to do this in a more continuous way. Rene Kural’s presentation as well as being highly entertaining reminded me that environmental design is a powerful way to influence people’s lives but also that the same principle of engaging citizens in the design process is key to success.

My final memory of the event was Ed Mayo’s call for us to work together to tap the rich potential of community based social marketing. Ed encouraged us to work with communities and across sectors to develop social coalitions and social movements to deliver improved individual experience and also social development.
I left the conference feeling exhilarated and exhausted. I also felt saturated with new ideas and enthused to go back to work and seek to learn more about many of them and apply some of these new insights. I can’t wait for the third European conference in 2016.

Jeff French

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