Advancing Health Equity: A Marketing Approach with Nikki Hopewell of Susan G. Komen

Join us in this insightful episode of the Health Nonprofit Digital Marketing podcast as we explore the intricacies of health equity and how to advance it, specifically from a marketing perspective. Our guest, Nikki Hopewell, Director of Multicultural Marketing at Susan G. Komen, shares her experiences and strategies in overcoming barriers, fostering trust, and promoting inclusivity. Learn how inclusive language, storytelling, and authentic representation can lead to meaningful change. Discover practical takeaways to implement in your organization and make a difference in the realm of health equity.

About the guest

Nikki Hopewell (she/her) is the director of multicultural marketing for Susan G. Komen. She earned her undergraduate and graduate degrees in journalism from Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism. Nikki has spent more than two decades developing marketing strategies and crafting content in digital marketing and health care marketing and is a passionate diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging advocate. She’s also a former OpEd Project fellow penning national pieces on racial equity in health care and bias in sports. Nikki is committed to creating connections through storytelling, bringing marginalized folks into the mainstream and championing health equity for all. 


Contact Nikki

Full Transcript


Welcome to Health Nonprofit Digital Marketing, a podcast for nonprofit marketers in the health space. Join us as we discuss how to use the web to drive awareness, engagement and Action for Health causes. This podcast is part of the thought education of Brooks digital, the web agency for health nonprofits. Now, here’s your host, Spencer Brooks.

Spencer Brooks 00:25

Hello, and welcome back to another episode of Health Nonprofit Digital Marketing. My name is Spencer and today I’m joined by Nikki Hopewell. Nikki is the Director of Multicultural marketing for Susan G. Komen. She has spent more than two decades developing marketing strategies and crafting content in digital marketing and healthcare marketing, and is a passionate advocate for diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging. Nikki is committed to creating connections through storytelling, bringing marginalized folks into the mainstream and championing health equity for all. So, Nikki, first of all, I’m really excited to have you on the show. Thanks for being here. We’re going to talk about health equity today, specifically through the lens of marketing. But I’d love to kick this episode off with just having you share a little bit about Susan G. Komen, the mission of the organization and what your role there is.

Nikki Hopewell 01:23

So, thank you so much, Spencer, for having me on. I’m really excited to talk with you today. And the mission at Susan G. Komen is to save lives by meeting the most critical needs of our communities by investing in breakthrough research to prevent and cure breast cancer. As for me, at the heart of it, I am a storyteller and a thought connector. I love how stories have the ability to connect us not only to one another but make us more receptive to ideas. My role as Director of Multicultural marketing at Susan G. Komen is to ensure that equitable resources and support that Komen provides reaches multicultural audiences through digital marketing efforts and drives them to take action in support of their breast health. And oftentimes we do this through storytelling.

Spencer Brooks 02:10

It’s really interesting when I was looking at profile as I was considering reaching out about a podcast episode that just the title of Multicultural Marketing, I think immediately made you such an intriguing candidate for me, especially because we’re here to talk about health equity today. So, to just kick this conversation off, Nikki, would you be able to provide a concise definition of health equity? What is health equity? And how is it different from the concept of equality?

Nikki Hopewell 02:40

So, I love this question, because so many folks conflate the two. So how I like to explain health equity is that all people have a fair and just opportunity to attain their highest level of health, which means they get the resources they need to do so. Now, health equality, on the other hand, means that all people receive the same support services and treatment. So, the difference, health equity acknowledges that different individuals need different supports and resources to achieve similar health results. So, let’s paint a picture like an example that’s often used as imagine four individuals. There’s a tall man, a petite woman, a child, and a person with a disability who only has use of their hands. If you give each of these individuals the same exact two wheeled bike, the tall man probably be fine. But the petite woman may have trouble reaching the pedals. And the child may have trouble reaching the handlebars. And the person with the disability can’t ride the bike at all. That’s equality. So, an equitable distribution of bikes would be keeping the tall man’s bike the same, giving the petite woman a bike with a slanted bar from the seat toward the pedals. Giving the child a smaller bike and giving the person with a disability, a recumbent bike that can be pedaled by hand. So, each person has a bike suited to their needs. And that is equity.

Spencer Brooks 03:57

Yeah, it strikes me and as you were explaining this just now and even in our conversation before this, just the concept of, you know, equal inputs doesn’t equal the same outputs, equal inputs doesn’t equal outputs. That’s what I was going to say that doesn’t work out so well. But I think you get what I’m going for there. So in your line of work, what are some of the barriers and challenges that you’ve encountered in promoting health equity right, because I think as a concept that’s really fascinating. And when you’re thinking specifically about your work with Susan G. Komen, how is that played out in terms of your work and the things that you’ve seen where there might be some level of equality but there’s not equity? Are there any specific examples or challenges that you could share?

Nikki Hopewell 04:47

So honestly, first thing that comes to mind is brand perception. Right? So, Susan G. Komen, being perceived as an organization that’s dedicated to advancing and ultimately achieving health equity is not how it’s been perceived. by audiences in the past. So, I think what’s interesting though, is that Komen has always been an organization dedicated to health equity, when in fact, I’d even call it a pioneer in this area. So, it was launched in the early 80s, at a time when no one was talking about women’s health, particularly in the area of breast cancer. So even saying the word breast was taboo. So, Komen actually started out as a gender equity organization, advocating for women to get the resources and support they need when diagnosed with breast cancer. But because health equity wasn’t necessarily sexy, back then if I can say that, I mean, it wasn’t a term, folks really threw around. That’s not how the organization was really billed or promoted. But we’ve been successful in changing that and getting diverse populations to understand that we are a trusted Breast Health Partner committed to breaking down barriers to care for everyone. So fast forward to 2015 when Komen discovered that although black women are getting screened at the same rates as white women, their outcomes were far worse. We as black women are about 40% more likely to die of breast cancer than our white counterparts, we’re also more likely to be diagnosed at a younger age at later stages and with more aggressive types of breast cancer than white women. So, after Komen published, its closing the breast cancer gap landscape report that found there were like 10 US metropolitan cities where breast cancer disparities were the greatest for black women Komen recognized this is simply unacceptable. And so it doubled down on its health equity work and began to focus efforts on addressing disparities in the black community. So in response to that, Komen launched the program stand for HER and it’s capital H, capital E capital R, which stands for a Health Equity Revolution in 2021. So, this health equity focus program was designed with specific interventions that break down barriers to quality breast health care for members of the Black community so they can get access to the resources, services and support needed for breast health and breast cancer treatment. Okay, so what did we do to get people on board? To raise awareness about the program, we promoted it in patient exam rooms and provider offices in the 10 most affected cities and drove folks to our Komen Breast Care helpline to get support. And in these clinics, we were able to significantly make patients aware of our messages. We surveyed them to determine their awareness about the program and they said yes, you know what, you struck the right tone when we found that we reach the audience we needed. In terms of other digital marketing, our social channels provide educational information and patient stories through like promotional blogs and engaging content that connects audiences to our Patient Care Center, which provides direct patient care support through the Komen Breast Care helpline. So, the helpline offers patient navigation from the moment a person calls the helpline and provides behavioral health support. financial assistance, information, clinical trials, genetic counseling and testing resources and just culturally responsive patient navigators plus a ton more. And I will say to another challenge, we found posting health equity messaging on our social channels, interestingly enough, particularly our national channels, sometimes proves challenging because many mainstream white audiences simply don’t understand the barriers to care, like systemic racism, because they don’t experience this type of treatment. So, they don’t understand like, why don’t you have a dedicated program to support the black community. And so, we get some pretty caustic comments on social, to be honest, but lucky for us, we have an incredible social team that is responsive. And so, we come together as a marketing team to identify thoughtful and appropriate responses that educate folks on these dire statistics. And that sometimes the group, hardest hit just have different needs, so we’re responding to those needs. And we just also hosted a health equity summit that spoke to how we’re working with partners to advance health equity through research and community and outreach, and advocacy. And we received an incredible amount of great feedback from attendees who were just pleasantly surprised about the amount of work we’re doing in so many areas to advance health equity, so that was a win. And then we also just launched a white paper that takes sort of a closer look at our patient care center data, which reveals that women like whose access to care and treatment outcomes were improved by Komen’s financial assistance program. So, it’s a great proof point that says, hey, look, we saw this problem. We put energy and programmatic resources behind it to break down the barriers that are causing terrible outcomes. And here’s how we’re making progress. It also says, but there’s still more work to be done. So, I think all these efforts combined to sort of reinforce Komen as a champion for health equity, that’s out in the world actually doing the work and is a trusted Breast Health Partner for multiple populations.

Spencer Brooks 09:36

Yeah, I wanted to touch on something that you mentioned kind of at the very beginning that you’re sharing about brand perspective, right. And I think all the efforts that you’ve described, to promote health equity have also as a byproduct probably shifted the brand perspective as well. I wanted to ask specifically because I know that you know, in the beginning, I can imagine that Komen as an organization wasn’t intentionally excluding the black community or other communities, right. But that nevertheless, there probably was a perception, a certain brand perception that they had. And so, could you explain a little bit of, you know how maybe other organizations can be looking for that and how they might be able to identify when there is a brand perception that may not be helpful? Are there any signs or signals or just tips that you can give to folks who might be considering? How do diverse communities perceive our brand? And what are some things that we might not be doing or that we should be considering from a brand perspective?

Nikki Hopewell 10:47

Sure. That’s a great question. So, I think it’s really about listening very closely to your audience, right. They’ll sort of always tell you, what they think of you, whether you like it or not. We find that, again, in those social media comments, people are very vocal about their perception, right. And it requires not only thoughtful listening but being mindful and intentional with responses. So, I think it’s important that you not sort of take it personally. Because people feel they’re gonna feel a way about their brands, right, the things, the brands that they trust, but I think it’s important for you to engender trust, to really be authentic and transparent. If you’re not transparent, it just breeds so much hostility, and they’re not sure what you’re hiding. So, if you are good about disclosing, like, for example, I don’t understand what you’re focusing on the black community, this is every person’s problem cancer’s everyone’s problem. Yes, breast cancer is, it can affect everyone. Absolutely. But unfortunately, there are some folks who are, you know, experiencing greater disparities and terrible outcomes, because they’re not getting equitable treatment. And so we have to sort of dive into that piece of it. And we constantly have to be willing to repeat it again and again, and again. I learned in a DNI course, a while ago, that it’s the repetition that really hits the mark, when people are constantly messaged with the same idea, the same concept until a certain point, right, it reaches a tipping point, and they’re like, Oh, I get it. Now I get it okay. So, I think it’s just being transparent, being thoughtful with responses, checking in on your brand, from the perspective of your audience, making sure that you’re listening to them, hearing what they’re saying, and then going back and saying, Okay, how can we address this? What approach do we need to take that will show them that we are actually who we say we are, we’re walking the talk. And you know, we are, we are authentic and a trusted brand. I think that that can help. Does that answer your question?

Spencer Brooks 13:12

Yeah, it does it also strikes me that what you’ve kind of described is this persistent showing up in in an authentic way, despite the fact that people are not nice, especially on social media. And it occurs to me that that takes a lot of strength. It takes a lot of level headedness, I would imagine to continue to send a clear, consistent, authentic kind message, despite the fact that many people probably won’t be kind. So, do you have some thoughts or advice on how to do that? I’m sure that you encounter on a day to day basis, you and your team, people who aren’t kind, people who may not get it. And so how do you go about staying consistent, authentic and showing up even when you might be dealing with people who are not treating you kindly?

Nikki Hopewell 14:10

Oh, that’s a really great question. I think what you need to do, and it’s sometimes hard to do, is you just have to show people grace, right? Because they, how do I say this? So, everyone’s lived experience is not the same. And so sometimes when you get a glimpse of another person’s lived experience, and it doesn’t match up with your own, there’s tension, there’s friction. And so, you sort of have to step back and say, Okay, I can’t take this personal, because nothing is personal. It’s really everyone just sort of projecting from their own space. And you have to say, okay, how can I get them to understand that even though it’s not your lived experience, it’s very much valid and important. And if I just show you that, that other person matters as well, then hopefully you will extend me some grace. And I think it’s, it’s just really sort of taking a deep breath, and recognizing that folks simply don’t understand one of those lived experience. And so you have to just breathe out and not take it personal and just, it really is about extending grace. And if you do it enough, and in the right way, people will understand, okay, you know what? Now I think I get it. I think storytelling is a great vehicle for that too, right, like encouraging folks to just dive into people’s stories. Because once you get a glimpse again of another person’s lived experience, then I think you’re better able to understand why an organization is doing what they’re doing. And then you may not be so vitriolic and hateful on social media, because the brand is really just trying to support folks who, who need it.

Spencer Brooks 16:02

Yeah, well, let’s talk about that for a bit then. Let’s talk about how you are utilizing storytelling. And I know you mentioned within the realm of storytelling, you’re trying to really have authentic representation as well to connect with your audience. So could you tell me a little bit more about how you are using storytelling and authentic representation to connect with folks?

Nikki Hopewell 16:25

Sure. So, we have a Komen health equity revolution monthly podcast series that features multicultural, and unique first person stories of folks going through the experience of breast cancer from a multitude of angles. So, in addition to their stories, it’s voices of providers, researchers and other experts, which helps foster connections with others going through similar experiences and offers up education and resource information in sort of this much more personal and accessible way. And the multicultural marketing team really has made a commitment to ensure that we’re reaching out to and featuring voices from diverse populations all year round. We don’t just want to hit those cultural tentpole moments that the calendar says we need to hit. And we’ve also recently introduced revolutionary Thursdays. And Thursday, by the way is spelled T H E R S D A Y, which references our health equity revolution, ATR. And it’s a regular feature on our Komen health equity revolution, social channels, which highlights health equity champions who are influencers and advocates and survivors and previvors and thrivers. Along with caregivers and providers, and so many more, we may do an IG live or share an IG reel or even a static posts featuring the champion we’ve identified. And these collabs just great community building opportunities that allow us to sort of share and educate audiences on what others in the breast health space are doing, and how we’re all working together toward one end goal, which is to end breast cancer, because ending breast cancer needs all of us.

Spencer Brooks 17:04

Yeah, it strikes me that that is probably effective on multiple levels, you know, effective in the sense that people whose lived experience is different than others are going to get exposed to a variety of perspectives, which is good.  That other folks are going to see themselves in there, especially from I would imagine underserved populations in particular or marginalized communities, being able to see yourself in the stories is good. And unify folks, I think especially in a place where social media can be a divided place. And so it occurs to me that being able to tell a diverse range of stories is really recentering people on the common goal and building a form of of unity in that, which I think is really, really cool. So, I wanted to go back to what we were talking about a little bit earlier, because one of the things that I definitely wanted to ask you about Nicki was just any examples, and you’ve actually shared so many, but I wanted to touch on incorporating inclusivity into your marketing and messaging efforts. Are there any other thoughts or examples that you can share? I think particularly when it comes to messaging, because we’ve talked about marketing, as a whole, I mean, particularly in the social media space, but when it comes to maybe messaging in particular, or anything else that you’d like to share, what are some of the ways that you’re fostering and incorporating inclusivity into that?

Nikki Hopewell 19:31

Sure. So first, we’ve developed a dedicated inclusive internal style guide to ensure that any language we use in our materials and messaging does not cause harm. So the guide was vetted by multiple individuals from a variety of backgrounds in the organization and then we did a lunch and learn on inclusive language and the guide to explain to internal staff how to use it and why it’s so important. So, this style guide then informs all of our marketing messaging. So, for example, we have a partnership with a well known Spanish language TV Network, which includes a match campaign. So, there were digital display ads and other marketing collateral pieces that promoted the campaign on both channels. So, we made sure that we refer to the Latino community the same way consistently throughout along with conversational Spanish, the conversational Spanish term for breast cancer based on the style guidelines. And then every piece featured a member or members of the Latino community. And we even did Spanish language videos featuring Komen researchers with English subtitles on our channels, and wrote the posts in Spanish as well, which was a big hit for our Spanish speaking audience. We’ve also developed other materials tailored to specific populations. So, for example, the Black community is less likely to receive genetic counseling and testing than the white counterpart parts for a variety of reasons. So we decided that genetic counseling and testing materials tailor to the Black community would prove helpful. So, we developed two educational fact sheets on genetic counseling and testing that feature images of Black family members of Black researchers, and Black breast cancer survivors, and it shares their personal stories from their own lens, and just speaks in an authentic tone.

Spencer Brooks 21:03

That is very helpful. And I like to ask, you know, sometimes about those details, because it really is sometimes the day-to-day stuff that really makes a difference there. As we’ve been talking, one thing that has occurred to me is that I’m assuming it sounds like there’s more than one person that is contributing to these efforts. Not all organizations have the luxury of having a person that’s dedicated to multicultural marketing. And so for the organizations that are listening to this and thinking, you know what this is like, we’re behind this, we want to do this. But you have the, in many cases, the one person marketing department, the two person marketing department, what are some, what’s some advice that you can give to those folks on how to start including the health equity lens, in their marketing, when maybe they don’t have the resources that a bigger organization does?

Nikki Hopewell 22:06

That’s hard. I mean, I think you’re going to have to take initiative and sort of be an ambassador and take up the mantle for the work. And just doing a little bit of research and making sure that you become an advocate an internal advocate in your own organization. I think it’s challenging when you’re a lone ranger, and you have this idea. So, you kind of need, you know, you need compatriots in the game, right, you need some folks who, who can rally around you. And you can come to the table and share ideas. And, you know, for us, I think it’s a little bit easier, because we have made health equity a strategic imperative in the organization, which means that it’s a thread that runs throughout the entire organization. And I think that’s really important, it sort of has to start at the executive leadership team level, they have to understand its value to the organization and to the organization’s mission and be allowed to advocate for it all of the time. And that’s internally and externally, so that when that leader shows up, you know they won’t miss an opportunity to discuss the importance of health equity. And their leadership messaging, you know, has this thread woven into it constantly. And they also have to do the work so they become the model that the rest of the organization follows. So they have to show up in spaces to advocate for health equity. So, it’s not just lip service, but they’re also walking their talk. I mean, it doesn’t, ideally, it comes from the leadership level. But it’s also possible to come from other areas of the organization who are just loud. And they message it up to, you know, they ladder it up to the muckety mucks and say, Listen, this needs to be a priority for us. I also think it’s really important that your internal team understands what health equity is, and how their roles help to advance it, because everyone in the entire organization has a responsibility toward advancing health equity, whether they realize it or not. And if they don’t understand what it is and how their work contributes to it, then they won’t become ambassadors for it internally or externally, which is what you need, because as we all know, all boats rise with the tide. And so to do this, you know, to get internal folks who have engaged you know, you need lunch and learns and they need to be educational and engaging and where folks can actively participate in the discussion and make sure they understand what role they play, have town halls that address health equity with those first person stories of how people experience inequitable systems, again, getting people to understand, right, that other lived experience so internal folks understand what’s at stake. And then partner town halls are also useful, right. Where you invite your partners in to get a view into your health equity approach, all the work that you do programmatic, mission, whatever it is, and what’s working well and then what needs additional support because then they understand Okay, I see that you’re making progress. But maybe you can make even more progress if we can help you in this area.

Spencer Brooks 22:21

Yeah, that’s a great actionable takeaways. Really appreciate you sharing those. And, you know, going back to what you said, one thing that stood out to me was just like starting with being an advocate, right? It may be that if you’re listening to this, and you’re responsible for marketing at your organization, that leadership may or may not have this on their strategic radar. But being an advocate is a really important step, because I think what I’m hearing you say, Nikki is that, that ultimately, this is going to be most effective when it’s a strategic imperative from leadership. And then from there, of course, then funds get allocated, and people get hired and stuff is built into the operation of the organization. But having someone who’s an advocate to get that on the radar, it sounds like a good first step. Are there any other pieces of advice, steps, takeaways that you’d want to share with listeners?

Nikki Hopewell 25:06

I think it’s important to also do the research. If you recognize that you’re a nonprofit that’s serving a need, and maybe you could be serving it a little bit better. Or you’re recognizing that the outcomes aren’t what you thought they were like, for example, Komen did the landscape report, right? When they realized this requires a great degree of self-reflection, right, as an organization, you are going to have to take a good hard look at, okay, are we doing what we say we’re doing? And if we’re not what’s in our way, what are the barriers? So I think that’s important too, to be self-reflexive. And to recognize that we may have to take a good hard look at ourselves as an organization to determine where our opportunities for improvement are, where we could drive a little bit harder. Who can we collaborate with to improve these outcomes? Where do we need to dig a little bit deeper? I think that’s kind of critical too or else you, you can’t really, you don’t really know what your purpose is. I mean, our mission is very much tied to the strategic priorities of you know, advancing health equity and ending metastatic breast cancer, right? These things are imperative. So, we did the research and found those are the critical issues affecting this community. And so this is where we’re gonna dive in deep. So being, you know, reflexive enough to look, take a good, hard look at your organization and see sort of where the opportunities are to advance health equity for your population.

Spencer Brooks 27:26

Yeah, I’m really glad that you mentioned that, Nikki, thank you for pointing that out. I did want to move into part of the interview where I ask the questions that I ask every guest, the first one of those questions is, what’s one thing in digital that you’re working on right now that consumes a lot of your brain space? And what takeaways can you share with listeners who might encounter that same challenge?

Nikki Hopewell 27:49

So, I guess what’s keeping me up at night is how to reach a younger audience with the right digital messaging and platform. I mean, how do we authentically engage with this audience? I’m learning that it definitely requires outside of the box thinking. And you have to really understand how to reach people where they’re at in the digital space, so what does that look like? And then I feel like storytelling really is an opportunity. And finding new ways to tell stories are really kind of where it’s at. It also requires you to sort of reinvent yourself as an organization right, in your in your marketing strategies without blowing up what you know already works, well, just refining it, so it suits a younger audience. And then lastly, don’t be afraid to experiment and be innovative, gather those creative thinkers around the table across the organization and outside of marketing, to get at what can really make an impact.

Spencer Brooks 28:42

I love it. Thank you for, thank you for sharing that. I know that’s it’s quite a tough challenge. I’m sure there’s some other folks out there that are probably thinking along the same lines. I also wanted to ask you, Nikki, what are two or three resources that you regularly use to keep up on news and trends in your work.

Nikki Hopewell 28:58

So a favorite of mine is Harvard Business Review, because it’s great for thought leadership in business and marketing. So that’s kind of my go to, but then I sort of follow other social media accounts of breast cancer influencers and other similar nonprofits in the space and honestly, direct competitors. There’s nothing new, really under the sun. But there are some fresh takes on everything, so keeping an eye on the universe, I think helps spark inspiration.

Spencer Brooks 29:32

Yeah, I think that’s a that’s a really good point, especially for space, like cancer, I think is a particularly good example where there’s, there’s a lot even when you know, when you’re in a smaller subspace, like breast cancer, there’s still a lot of other organizations and so I think that’s, that’s really good advice. It’s a good reminder not to necessarily stay just in your little box. So, thank you for sharing that. Nikki. I just wanted to close by asking how listeners can get in touch match with you if they’d like to learn more about your work?

Nikki Hopewell 30:02

Sure. So, I do have a LinkedIn profile, you can find me on LinkedIn, I also can be reached at So, feel free to reach out if you want any insights on multicultural marketing and Health Equity at Komen. And I would be remiss if I didn’t promote our health equity landing page And to learn more about our stand for her program, it’s

Spencer Brooks 30:30

Awesome, I will make sure that we get those in the show notes for folks so they can get those links. And yeah, that wraps up our show today. So as a listener, if you liked this episode, please consider rating and reviewing us on Apple podcasts or whatever platform you listen on. The show is also part of the thought leadership of Brooks digital. We’re a Web Design and Development Agency for Health nonprofits. So, if you’d like this podcast, feel free to check out our website at, and you can find more of our insights and learn about our work. But with all that said, Nikki, really appreciate you coming on the show today. Thank you so much.

Nikki Hopewell 31:06

Thank you, Spencer. It’s been a pleasure. I’ve had a great time.


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