Agri-what? The Route to Your Roots 

Tourism is growing at an exponential rate in Wild & Wonderful West Virginia – from cave and river adventures, to resorts and spas, there is something for everyone to try and love. But what about the opportunities to connect with local communities and learn about the heritage of Appalachia? Businesses like farm-to-table restaurants, farm stays, u-pick farms and distilleries offer family-friendly adventures and hands-on experiences that are uniquely Appalachian. 

The challenge, however, is that people are largely unaware of the more than 200 agritourism and farm based experiences found only in the Mountain State. To overcome this, MHA and WVU Extension partnered to craft a campaign that takes visitors and residents alike on a route to the roots of Appalachia.

What we learned

To determine the best path, the account team looked to other states to learn how they were promoting the industry and conducted interviews with tourism authorities, agritourism business owners and experts. Recognizing we needed to pilot the ideas we generated, the group identified three main regions that were positioned for growth: the Eastern Panhandle, Potomac Highlands, and New River Valley/Greenbrier regions. 

We also learned a lot about what the businesses felt were the best first steps to achieve the campaign goals, as well as who would be most likely to enjoy the deeply rooted traditions of the Appalachian experience. To be successful, we also needed to recognize a few key insights: 

Who we connected with

While we knew that farm-based fun wasn’t the experience for everyone, we learned that there were some audience segments that were craving a unique experience and new family tradition. 

The first audience segment was the sustainably conscious young mom. The primary goal for this audience segment was to bring awareness to the many family-friendly agritourism experiences that the eastern part of the state has to offer. 

The second audience segment identified was the adventurous, retired couple. The primary goal of targeting this segment was to show those who have the time to travel and are seeking memorable experiences that there are many relaxing and novel agritourism opportunities throughout the eastern part of West Virginia. 

The last audience segment that the group identified were busy, enthusiastic business owners in eastern West Virginia. The main goal of pursuing this audience segment was to show that agritourism businesses in eastern WV cultivate environments to pursue passions. 

What we created

Based on our research, we knew the first step was to cultivate relationships with a variety of businesses ranging from lodging to farms and restaurants to breweries. For these businesses we wanted to provide them a way to connect with one another, while also elevating visibility of their own business.  To accomplish this we created a variety of digital and print assets.  

Meet Me in The Mountain State Guides

Digital and downloadable travel guides were published on the WVU Extension website.  This one stop destination for all things farm-based allows tourists and travelers an easy to find list of businesses in the region.  To drive traffic to the site, window decals including a QR code were provided to all partner businesses. 

To increase awareness of agritourism in general, attractive posters were also created as a fun and artistic way to demonstrate the Appalachian roots of farm-based businesses.   

Brochures were created for distribution at visitor centers throughout the state and through partnered businesses. The brochure included information about agritourism in general and a helpful map highlighting what was in each region. 

Enlisting the Support of Influencers and Travel Writers

To increase our reach and awareness, the team developed a list of micro influencers with a passion for travel and an engaged following.  Targeted influencers ranged from people who loved to share their passion for the Mountain State to those who were known for finding exciting outings in unique places. We also reached out to travel writers and bloggers at respected publications ranging from The Washington Post to WV Tourism and WV Living to Virginia Travel tips. These experts offered another way to connect audiences with the rich stories, deeply rooted traditions and tapestry of farm-based opportunities in the eastern portion of the state. 

Optimizing Businesses Digital Footprints

Our research also indicated that many of the farm-based and agritourism operators didn’t have extensive knowledge of how to promote their businesses online.  As a first step to improve their searchability, the team developed instructional SEO tutorials, keywords lists and optimized content. These resources were provided to businesses so that they can easily implement these strategies and improve their digital footprint.  

What we accomplished

While the work is never done, the team accomplished many things that lay the foundation for ongoing success. A few highlights include:

  • Partnering with nearly a dozen businesses in the Eastern Panhandle New River-Greenbrier Valley regions. 
  • Securing 133 page views on the Eastern Panhandle guide and 104 page views on the New River-Greenbrier Valley guide 
  • Confirming interest from two influencers, four publications and one podcast.
  • Presenting SEO strategies to 21 owners and operators with many committing to implementation 

“The mountain state holds such a significant part in the history and culture behind apple cider. We want to recognize, celebrate and educate others on West Virginia hard cider stemming from Appalachian roots.”

Dee Singh-Knights, Associate Professor of Resource Economics and Management Extension Specialist

The Challenge

In the 18th century, when clean drinking water was not guaranteed, apple cider was America’s beverage. At the time much of that cider came from right here in West Virginia. However, by the beginning of the twenty-first century, the Mountain State’s deep roots in the cider industry became less prominent, leading to fewer cideries and a lost connection to the Appalachian traditions ingrained in the production of the tasty beverage. 

To cultivate increased pride in West Virginia’s cider traditions WVU Extension turned to MHA to develop a campaign to increase visibility and interest in the rich stories, culture and production of hard cider. 

Research Insights

In interviews with cidery operators, and experts who grow apples and understand the legislative landscape we learned that the history, connection to community and unique experiences offered at cideries offered opportunities to elevate awareness and increase interest.  

Target Audience 

An analysis of travel reviews and conversations with cidery experts pointed to unaware West Virginians and travelers as the ideal audiences to target. West Virginians who take pride in their state, culture, businesses and community would appreciate the local tradition and stories behind West Virginia hard cider. Travelers from surrounding areas, including Washington D.C., seek to escape the busy city life to experience memorable adventures that West Virginia cider can provide.


Once we better understood the challenge and who we needed to communicate with, it was time to determine what we needed to say to help reconnect with these audiences. Our governing brand idea was born.  We wanted to share the Roots of the Appalachian Experience.

A message stemming from West Virginia cider being deeply rooted in Appalachian culture, history and traditions allowed us to present hard cider as more than a beverage; it is an Appalachian experience that can be learned about or enjoyed with friends and family. 


To educate West Virginians and out-of-state travelers about the important stages of Appalachian hard cider creation, we created the central tagline “Seed. Swig. Smile.” We later incorporated this slogan into all of our deliverables to convey a consistent message. Each word of the tagline holds meaning to West Virginia cider traditions. 

  • Seed unites the rich farming and horticulture native to the state
  • Swig embodies the cider-making traditions passed down from generation to generation
  • Smile represents the community-oriented nature of the mountain state’s cider industry and how it gives back to West Virginians

U.S. Apple Cider Day 

Nov. 18th marked both U.S. Apple Cider Day and the official launch of our campaign. We promoted the nationally celebrated holiday by building excitement and interest in West Virginia cider while directing audiences to learn more. 

WVU Extension Cider Website Page

To share the rich traditions, the team developed content that was shared on WVU Extension’s website. Narratives included the history of West Virginia’s hard cider, hard cider creation process and information about West Virginia’s hard cider industry (cideries, distilleries and orchards). A short-form documentary was also produced that included interviews and footage shot at the WVU Animal Husbandry Farm, Hawk Knob and Swilled Dog.

Social Media

To connect with our local audiences and drive traffic to the website, we also shared content on WVU Extension’s  Facebook and Instagram pages. Here’s a sampling of what we shared.

Email Marketing 

To further drive traffic to the website while inspiring pride and involvement in the hard cider industry, our team utilized email marketing targeting individuals who had an existing relationship with WVU Extension. 

Educational Displays

For in-person contact, we also created educational banners that allow viewers to learn more about West Virginia cider culture at events where the displays are showcased. Those who are able to remember the key points receive a sticker to remember the campaign’s message.

The sticker given to educational display viewers

Success and Results

West Virginia cider stems from centuries of Appalachian tradition passed down from generation to generation. Our campaign bridged the gap between the past and the present, opening a door for future growth and continuous elevation of the West Virginia cider industry. 

Here are a few successes:

  • Total cider landing page views: 788 viewers
  • Instagram: reach of 8,621 people; 295 total likes
  • Facebook: 80 new page likes; page reach of 40,064 viewers (57.8% increase) 
  • Email marketing: open rate of 4,744 people (28.7%); 122 cider website clicks

News Coverage

Educational Displays

  • Showcased at Swilled Dog’s Home Grown Event, an agritourism networking event for West Virginia businesses
  • New asset for WVU Extension that can be used at future events and opportunities
Educational displays showcased at Swilled Dog’s Home Grown Event

In West Virginia, pride and heritage are the foundations of the culture. Agritourism offers a unique, uncharted experience for West Virginians in their home state. Yet, most residents are unaware of the presence of more than 220 agritourism businesses operating within the state. Just as concerningly, most are not familiar with the term “agritourism” and what it encompasses.

To combat this unawareness, we partnered with WVU Extension to increase West Virginians’ awareness of the state’s agritourism industry and equip agritourism businesses with resources to promote themselves and agritourism effectively.

Research Insights

In August 2022, we began to conduct primary and secondary research to learn more about the interests of travelers and the needs of agritourism business operators. We studied campaigns that benefited the agritourism industry in other states, and analyzed their approaches. Then, we conducted two focus groups with WVU Extension agents deeply familiar with West Virginia’s agritourism.  Then we analyzed the feedback provided by visitors on popular travel websites and business pages.  Finally, we conducted five-in depth interviews with agritourism business owners and operators.

From this research, we learned:

Notably, most agritourism owners and operators expressed that they strive to create an educational, down-to-earth experience for travelers. Based on that finding, we decided that the campaign should be simultaneously educational and evocative.

Target Audience

From our research, we identified two target audience segments to engage throughout the campaign. The primary audience comprises West Virginia travelers, ages 55 and older, who live in the Potomac Highlands and are unaware of nearby agritourism businesses. The second target audience includes agritourism business owners and operators whose businesses are operating within West Virginia’s Potomac Highlands.

Based on these demographics, we created the following target audience personas to help guide the campaign’s tone and outreach strategies:

For our primary target audience, our goal is to familiarize them with agritourism and connect it with the concept of what it means to be truly local. Most importantly, we want West Virginians to be aware of local agritourism businesses and the special family-oriented experiences they have to offer. 

For our secondary target audience, agritourism business owners and operators, our goal is to help them build connections with one another. Secondly, we wish to provide them with marketing resources to promote agritourism throughout West Virginia.

The Message

The agency developed a governing brand idea, an overarching concept based on research insights, to serve as the foundation of the semester’s campaigns.

“Roots of the Appalachian Experience”

Further, the campaign seeks to answer this seemingly fundamental yet complex question: “What does local mean to you?” To help answer this question, the campaign messaging aims to draw a connection with these adjectives:

  • Unique
  • Educational
  • Traditional
  • Valuable
  • Close-by

“Meet Me in the Mountain State” Agritourism Trail

To ease the planning of weekend getaways and afternoon adventures, the account team designed a portion of the “Meet Me in the Mountain State” agritourism trail, accessible from WVU Extension’s website. The trail provides a list of farm-to-table restaurants, farm markets, u-pick farms, breweries and other agritourism businesses and experiences throughout the state.

The trail includes helpful guides for West Virginia’s Potomac Highlands, Eastern Panhandle and New River-Greenbrier Valley. 

This all-encompassing online trail is promoted with decals featuring QR codes distributed to agritourism businesses throughout the region. The trail enables travelers to search for prospective destinations with ease.

Promote Local WV Communications Toolkit

Supporting the promotional efforts of agritourism owners and operators, the account team created the Promote Local WV Communications Toolkit, which includes social media templates, radio scripts and posters, among other valuable tools.

This user-friendly, free resource will provide a competitive advantage for business owners and operators with limited time, funds and marketing expertise. Furthermore, the toolkit helps the agency and WVU Extension to enable agritourism businesses to promote agritourism and educate West Virginians about opportunities “right down the road.”

An example of a Facebook post template available to agritourism business owners and operators within the Promote Local WV Communications Toolkit.

Home Grown Networking Event

On Thursday, Dec. 1, the account team and WVU Extension hosted a networking event for agritourism business owners and operators at Swilled Dog, a cider distillery in Pendleton County, West Virginia. At the event, the account team presented the Truly Local WV Communications Toolkit to attendees and demonstrated how to use it.

The event also featured catering and beverages from the local market and two giveaways. Additionally, attendees were asked to share what local means to them, giving the account team and WVU Extension further insight into how to continue the campaign.

Paid Advertisements 

As an additional tactic to raise West Virginians’ awareness of agritourism and generate interest, the account team created Facebook advertisements promoted throughout the Potomac Highlands.

To provide a resource for WVU Extension to continue the campaign, the team also developed traditional paid advertisements, including newspaper and radio advertisements with scripts included. 

An example of a potential newspaper advertisement designed by our team

Success and Results

The concepts and strategies piloted in this campaign provide a foundation for future work. For instance, the Home Grown networking event achieved positive results from participants. Seventeen agritourism businesses were connected at the event, and 90% of attendees indicated they would utilize the Promote Local WV Communications Toolkit to support their companies’ promotional efforts. Moreover, 28 Meet Me in the Mountain State decals were distributed.

Additionally, the digital advertisements reached over 30,000 people and received a total of 735 engagements, including nearly 650 link clicks and six shares.

“We are so lucky to have an opportunity to bring students into our communities where they can showcase their skills and provide tangible tools for West Virginians.”

– Tara Curtis, Director of Communications and Marketing at WVU Extension

A group of women wearing jeans and red t shirts standing outside, next to a sign with a QR Code that reads "Scan to Eat"
Members of the Martin Hall Agency Team encouraging WVU students to stop by their “Taste of Freedom BBQ.”

The First Amendment— the foundation of American democracy as we know it— is under attack. Students at West Virginia University showed a general lack of understanding and knowledge about the First Amendment. Most concerningly, students did not seem to care about their freedom of speech, press, religion, assembly and petition, with most students unable to name all five.

Thus, it was our goal to educate students on WVU’s campus about their protections guaranteed by the First amendment and educate them on why they should care about them. Our challenge: shifting attitudes on the First Amendment from misconstrued and undervalued to understood and appreciated. 

Research Insights

After a deep dive into academic and trade literature, as well as reviewing other campaigns and organizations with aligned missions, we found that many people viewed the First Amendment as a political or partisan issue. We also found that students simply lacked knowledge of what the First Amendment was or how to apply the freedoms within it. Further, we understood that while the campaign needed to be informative, it also needed to have an element of fun and engagement that appealed to self-interest.
To move from national insights to better understanding the WVU environment where our campaign would be launched, we also conducted extensive primary research including:

  • Expert interviews with WVU College of Law professors
  • Man-on-the-street interviews in front of WVU’s student union
  • Focus group with questions about First Amendment knowledge and perceptions of other campaigns
  • Quiz testing WVU students knowledge of the First Amendment. 

Our research confirmed that college students lacked a general understanding of and emotion towards the First Amendment and the attacks against it. Specific findings included the most commonly unknown or forgotten freedoms were assembly and petition. We also found that many students remain hesitant in speaking out about attacks against the First Amendment due to fear of not knowing enough or seeming too political. Finally, we found that the knowledge of students within the College of Media was not significantly greater, and in some areas less than, students in other university units.

Research Findings

Two red circles with white text that reads "Many students were unaware of their rights and could not name the five freedoms guaranteed by the First Amendment" and "Many students felt that anything involving the First Amendment was a political or partisan issue"

Target Audience

Based on our research, we also identified three audience segments for the campaign: uninformed, informed and hesitant, and informed and initiated. 

The first segment, uniformed, referred to students who had little to no knowledge of the First Amendment and the freedoms it protects. The primary goal for this segment was to change this lack of knowledge into informed WVU students who are aware of the First Amendment and the freedoms it entails.  

The second segment, informed and hesitant, was made up of people who are aware of the First Amendment’s five freedoms but did not take action to defend them or educate others. This complacency may be due to fear of social backlash or not knowing “enough.” The goal for this segment was to give this group confidence in their knowledge of the First Amendment and make them care about attacks on the First Amendment.

The third segment, informed and initiated, is a group made up of students familiar with the First Amendment and who take action to educate others and themselves on the topic. We knew that this segment would be crucial in garnering support for our campaign and its goals. Since the awareness of the First Amendment’s attacks against it are a familiar and personal issue for this group, it was important for our team to get them to participate in our campaigns and these students have the power to influence and educate their peers to do the same.

The Message

Building on our research insights, we developed a governing brand idea that would serve as the media agnostic key message throughout our campaign.

“Complacency is Compliancy”

Governing Brand Idea

Creating First Amendment Protectors

We wanted our campaign to educate WVU students about the importance of the First Amendment and why they should protect it. To increase student awareness of the First Amendment, we executed both digital and event based strategies with tactics that included a scavenger hunt, an online First Amendment Credential certification, a First Amendment magazine and a “Taste of Freedom” barbeque. A website was developed to serve as a central hub for all aspects of this campaign. 

Digital Scavenger Hunt & Badging Program

The purpose of the First Amendment credential is to ensure that college students are aware of their First Amendment freedoms and can practice and protect them in their daily lives. This badge will prove a student’s knowledge and awareness of the importance of the First Amendment and why it needs to be protected. To earn the badge, students are required to complete a digital scavenger hunt that introduces them to compelling information in a fun and engaging way.  After completing the scavenger hunt, there is a short quiz that tests their knowledge. Successfully completing the quiz results in a certification and badge being emailed to the student. Additionally, we submitted a badge proposal to the WVU Teaching and Learning Commons to award students a credential if they successfully completed a First Amendment quiz. 

White badge with a red outline on a blue background. The badge has an American flag on it and text that reads "Freedom Comes First, 1st Amendment Awareness Completed"
An example of the badge students receive after completing the First Amendment quiz.


In order to further our educational efforts, digital and print magazines were produced and distributed to target classes as part of encouraging students to earn the badge. These magazines showed students current real-world circumstances where the First Amendment had been under attack, including the Russian citizens having vital speech, expression and press rights stripped during the Ukrainian war.  

An image of people protesting with their fists in the air. The text reads "Freedom Today" "Say goodbye to your First freedoms. An inside look of how the First Amendment is dissolving in a world of social media and censorship."

The Taste of Freedom Barbeque

To garner even more awareness and participation, we hosted a Taste of Freedom Barbeque in the Free Speech Zone on April 20, 2022. Before entry, students scanned a QR code that launched a quiz. They had to obtain a perfect score to get a five freedoms stamp and their free barbeque. Also on display were banned books provided by WVU libraries. 

These posters helped spread the word about our event while also displaying American flag colors, synonymous with the campaign branding. Our team hung the flyers around campus on doors, walls, windows and bulletin boards. The event was also promoted on Instagram by Martin Hall Agency and team members shared the post on their Instagram stories as well. The QR code on the bottom of the graphic also takes you directly to our website, where students could see what the event was about and find more information on attacks against the First Amendment. 

Success and Results

At the onset of our campaign, we set a strategic objective of securing at least 150 certified protectors of the First Amendment.  As the following results illustrate, we exceeded initial expectations. 

  • 412 certification quiz responses 
  • 167 certified protectors
  • 120 event attendees
  • 146 social media impressions

“We no longer take for granted that young media professionals have a full understanding of the First Amendment – an essential foundational amendment for our democracy and our profession. A certificate that demonstrates 1a competency in media and civic contexts would be a welcome addition to cite on a resume.” 

Dana Coester, Professor, WVU Reed College of Media

Special thanks to the Free Speech Center at Middle Tennessee State University for providing financial support through a 1ForAll grant. 

“We believe that by learning and understanding the problem, we can discuss opinions and solutions in a proactive way. By improving the services offered to the community, everyone in it can benefit. The community is rich with people, and everyone is deserving of a quality life.”

Humans Of Morgantown (HoM)
Orange sign with white text that reads, "what is a neighbor?"

The Challenge

Morgantown, W. Va. is home to a diverse array of neighborhoods, businesses and people; however, one community of residents is often neglected, overlooked and dehumanized. The unsheltered population or people experiencing houselessness are often misunderstood and subject to scorn. To turn the tide, our mission was to work alongside the Morgantown Special Committee on Unsheltered Homelessness to create an open and honest dialogue about housing concerns in Morgantown, with the hopes of creating a more empathetic, understanding and welcoming community for all of our neighbors. 

Research Findings

Through secondary research, as well as ethnographic research and expert interviews, we found several factors that contribute to the unwelcoming and often unsafe realities for individuals experiencing houselessness.  The factors include: 

  • a lack of dialogue between members of the unsheltered community and elected leadership; 
  • the use of harmful and insensitive language in news coverage; and 
  • public discourse focused on negative stigmas surrounding houselessness.

Target Audience

For this campaign, we decided to focus on city council members, police officers and individuals who live in the Morgantown area who may have some influence over their communities (i.e. neighborhood association presidents). These audience segments were targeted because of their proximity to the unsheltered community and their ability to impact positive change in the way the unsheltered community in Morgantown is viewed. 


We wanted our campaign to send the message that people experiencing houselessness were not a nuisance, but neighbors. They are not “homeless” their home is here in Morgantown and they are valuable community members worthy of respect. To this end, we used this message throughout our multifaceted education and awareness campaign.

“Neighborhoods have people, communities have neighbors.”

The Governing Brand Idea

The Exhibit: Neighbors Beyond Neighborhoods

To better understand our neighbor’s passions we launched the Neighbors Beyond Neighborhoods art exhibit. The exhibit recognized our neighbors’ passion and creativity through works including original live music, photography, paintings, poems and ceramics of, about and by people experiencing houselessness. 

The exhibit was open to the public over the course of three weekends, with an opening reception that took place during a downtown street fair type event and an invite-only closing reception. To get our target audience involved we reached out to community leaders, business owners, city council members and police officers and encouraged them to join us in highlighting the unsheltered community’s work. 

The exhibit provided a safe space for community members to share their thoughts and opened room for dialogue. During the event, visitors were asked to share their reflections on the art exhibit. These written testimonials shared reflections on what it means to be a neighbor, the shared sense of community in Morgantown, the inspiration gleaned from the art and a general sense of compassion.

White poster board covered in rainbow sticky notes
Man talking to man and woman standing in front of an art exhibit
Yellow canvas paintings on a black backdrop
Statue of a man sitting on a wooden block
Man wearing a suit jacket talking to a man in a brown sweater
Man wearing a brown sweater and jeans talking to a video camera


Highlighting the fact that a neighbor isn’t just someone who has a physical address, we also created window and yard signs to let people show their support for their community members. Signs were given to event donors, local businesses, community groups, and elected leaders who displayed the signs in front of their homes and business. 

Exterior of a building with a sign in the window that reads "hello, neighbor"
Orange sign with white text that reads "hello, neighbor"

Media Language Guide

To elevate the use of person-first language and coverage, a media language guide illustrating examples of proper ways to report on houselessness was developed and distributed to local news agencies. 

Pop-up Exhibit

Four pop-up banners created in the fall of 2021 were also used as a way to break misconceptions and increase awareness.  The banners, displayed in local businesses and churches, include quotes from Morgantown residents, both sheltered and unsheltered, with a question asking viewers to identify which residents were housed and which were not. In most cases, viewers are not able to do so, reinforcing the idea that people experiencing houselessness are not much different than those who are housed. 

Digital Assets: Social Media & Website

Humans of Morgantown (HoM) Facebook and Instagram pages, launched in the fall of 2021, were used to introduce followers to different people in Morgantown while also promoting the exhibit. Specifically, Instagram and Facebook highlighted stories of the unsheltered population along with photos of people and fun facts about them. The stories demonstrated our similarities while focusing on the humanization of our neighbors who are unsheltered.

black and white picture of hands
orange background with white text that reads "I'm someone that people can talk to"


The HoM website was used to provide information about the Neighbors Beyond Neighborhoods art exhibit, services for those experiencing houselessness, ways to get involved, the campaign’s message and the steps for reserving the pop-up exhibit. The HoM website is meant to keep our community informed, reach a wider audience digitally and provide additional ways to learn. 

As Seen in Neighbors Beyond Neighborhood

Three black and white photos. One of a woman with short blonde hair and tattoos, one of hands and on of a man sitting in a chair


One of the most successful results from this campaign was the elimination of the word “homeless” from any of the news coverage talking about the Humans of Morgantown campaign. In addition to this Humans of Morgantown also saw an increase in social media engagement, as well as funds raised for local charities benefiting people experiencing houselessness.


  • Instagram: 37% increase in following; 194% increase in number of accounts engaged
  • Facebook: 86% increase in following; 604% increase in post engagements
  • Total follower growth across all platforms: 65%
  • Total visitors to our website: 781


  • Estimated 500 visitors to the Neighbors Beyond Neighborhoods Art Exhibit including the Mayor and Deputy Mayor of Morgantown.
  • 30+ yard signs and business decals distributed
  • Money Raised for Friendship House: $1600

News Coverage

Client Testimonial

“The Humans of Morgantown (HoM) campaign undertaken by the Martin Hall Agency surpassed client expectations, produced measured actionable outcomes, and directed future growth options. The creative team listened, gathered data, pivoted to meet and influence targeted objectives. Throughout the process they learned, genuinely exhibiting sensitivity and dignity to a controversial subject and those involved. The team’s judgment and marketing skills are evident in the campaign.” 

-Colleen Lankford, Director of Christian Help

The Challenge

Around the United States, there are people who do not experience or have access to the healthcare system in the same ways others do. The COVID-19 pandemic brought light to these health equity challenges experienced by marginalized populations in the United States. 

Our mission was to help WVU health science students better understand the health disparities and inequities experienced by marginalized populations in order to improve the future of patient care. In partnership with our clients across WVU Health Sciences including the WVU School of Public Health, the School of Pharmacy, the HSC Office of Interprofessional Education and the STEPS Center, we set out to create a simulation that provided students with the opportunity to step into the shoes of a marginalized person living with a health disparity or inequity. 

Research Insight 

The Impact of Health Disparities and Inequities

Research has shown that marginalized people experience health disparities and inequities at higher rates than other groups within the United States. These disparities can be exacerbated through interactions with healthcare professionals including doctors, pharmacists, counselors, specialists and even office receptionists due to a lack of awareness and understanding. 

In order to begin best addressing how these disparities and inequities can be improved through education and future patient care, we learned through further research that immersive and emotional experiences such as simulations foster the best environment for impact. 

Target Audience 

As part of the partnership with our clients across WVU Health Sciences, it was decided that targeting health science students at WVU would be the best way to reach future healthcare professionals. Health science students across all majors were targeted to be participants and volunteers within the simulation. 

The Message 

Improving the future of healthcare through life-changing experience (place this in italics in large text before the text underneath) 

We understood that while we couldn’t change healthcare practices and interactions immediately, we could provide students and future health professionals with a life-changing experience that has the opportunity to positively impact future patient care. The governing brand idea: Improving the future of healthcare through life-changing experience, provided a basis for messaging surrounding the project. 


Stepping Into the Shoes 

In order to provide an accurate and immersive experience, we created personas of people and families from marginalized populations within the United States living with health inequities and disparities. We spoke with experts across different fields to ensure each persona was crafted with careful consideration and accuracy. These personas were the lives that participants of the simulation would step into over the course of the two-hour experience. 

Creating Interactions 

In order to provide participants of the simulation with a deeper understanding of how interactions with different facets of the healthcare system can exacerbate these disparities and inequities, we created “stations” within the simulation that acted as doctor offices, speciality clinics, pharmacies, employers, schools, daycares and grocers. Throughout the simulation experience, participants would have to interact with these different stations in order to receive necessary care and successfully complete a week (represented by 15 minutes) in the life of the persona they have taken on. 


Along with gaining an increased awareness and understanding of how health disparities and inequities impact marginalized populations in the United States, we wanted participants of the simulations to have something to take with them as part of their experience. A certification for all participants was created and signed by Gina Baugh, director of the WVU Office of Interprofessional Education. 

Health Disparities Simulation Pilot 

After several weeks of preparation, run-throughs and recruitment of volunteers and participants, we launched the pilot of the Health Disparities Simulation on April 20, 2022! 

Upon entering the simulation, participants were assigned their new identities and completed four weeks in the life of their persona (four 15 minute weeks). In order to successfully complete each week, participants had to ensure their family had adequate food, went to work or school and addressed any health issues they may have. Each participant also received a “Luck of the Draw” card at some point during their simulation experience that delivered good or bad news such as car repairs or monetary gifts. 

Success and Results 

The Power of Discussion 

After the simulation, participants and volunteers were guided through a discussion by a simulation facilitator in order to express their experience and what they learned from the simulation. This time provided a safe space for everyone to discuss the implications of health disparities and inequities on marginalized people in the United States and what can be done by health professionals-in-training to positively impact future patient care. 

“It was an absolute pleasure to work the MHA.  The team members were professional, knowledgeable, and accountable through the project development and implementation.  I was very impressed with their abilities, and their skill set was a complement to the Health Sciences Center focus of healthcare delivery.”

-Gina Baugh, Pharm.D. Director, Interprofessional Education, WVU Health Sciences Center

WV PRSA Crystal Award Winner- Event (7 Days or Less), Research Tactics

Our Challenge

Everyday, healthcare providers treat patients who are living in poverty and are trying desperately to receive sufficient care. Understanding the challenges and barriers faced by often marginalized populations is not something you can learn in a textbook, though. Our mission was to help WVU health science students understand disadvantaged populations and prepare them to be the change these patients need.

Our clients from across WVU Health Sciences tasked us with promoting a Community Action Poverty Simulation for their students. The challenge we then faced was this: convince busy health science students to attend a poverty simulation. We needed to convey to them the importance of understanding how poverty affects their patients.

Understanding Patients Facing Poverty

Imagine having just written a prescription for a patient, and the first question you receive is if the pills can be cut in half. You don’t understand. Why does that matter? What you don’t know is that your patient cuts the pills to stretch the prescription as long as possible. They can’t afford refills at the normal rate; this is the only way they can receive the medication they need.

Before we could think about how we were going to message this sentiment, we had to find exactly who we were messaging to.

The Target Audience

Through primary research focus groups, we discovered two target audiences: socially motivated and academically motivated students. Socially motivated students were cause-driven and willing to spend their time supporting organizations or ideals that combated inequities in the medical field. Academically motivated students preferred to spend their time and mental energy only if it provided direct benefits to their grades or careers. Now that we had our target audience, we needed to find the right messaging to reach them.

An Important Message

“An experience that fosters personal, professional, and social understanding.”

— Governing brand idea

We realized that messaging for the simulation needed to address how it could help students be the best health care providers possible, while also making them competitive in their respective fields. The idea we settled upon to govern our messaging for the simulation was: An experience that fosters personal, professional, and social understanding. The next step was finding a way for the students to show off the understanding they would receive through the simulation.

Getting Certified

We wanted to provide a tangible benefit to complement the sense of understanding attendees would gain. A certificate! Everyone that participated in the simulation would be eligible for a certificate of completion signed by Gina Baugh, director of the WVU Office of Interprofessional Education. We were now ready to launch our messaging campaign.

Print and Digital Promotion

For our messaging campaign, we designed both physical and digital designs to be used to reach our target audience. We created a 24” x 26” foam poster and two different 8.5” x 11” paper flyers for tabling at Pylons Commons, as well as two social media posts for digital marketing.

Community Action Poverty Simulation

We launched our messaging, opened the sign-up for the simulation, and watched the names roll in!

Participants were assigned new identities and families, and then had to complete goals such as reporting to employers, ensuring their child attended school, paying utilities, and securing food. Simulation facilitators would randomly hand “luck of the draw” cards to families that brought either good or bad fortune. These factors represent the hand of fate that often throws a wrench into the lives of families living in poverty. By comparing the pre and post surveys the attendees took, as well as listening in to the post-simulation discussion, we could see that the health science students now had a better understanding of how poverty affects their patients.

Let’s Discuss

Through a post-discussion, it was clear that the poverty simulation had a drastic impact on the health science students. Our team heard from many health science students and faculty about how this experience affected them, and that they needed more simulations in the future. One medical student even emailed our team saying that the simulation was exactly the type of thoughtful education they wanted most in their medical career, and that this certification was invaluable to individuals in the healthcare field.

“It showed me just how hard it is to live off of and do what is necessary with the income and life situations. My experience has really shifted. I feel like I already had some idea, but I never imagined how frustrating it would be even in just a simulation.”

– Medical Student

“It is very stressful living paycheck to paycheck and not being able to do much about our situation.”

– Pharmacy Student

“Poverty is a very oppressive cycle that takes an incredible amount of resilience and persistence to maybe one day come out of—the stigma around it needs to be changed.”

– Public Health Student

The First Amendment: Banned, Canceled, Censored

2022 WV PRSA Crystal Award Honorable Mention- Public Service Campaign

The First Amendment is a pillar of American society, and therefore a fundamental facet of democracy. However, it has been under attack in recent years following a series of challenges launched on the five protections of the amendment. The Free Speech Center at Middle Tennessee State University, with their 1 for All campaign, tasked students at Martin Hall Agency with raising awareness and understanding of the First Amendment on West Virginia University’s campus.


We completed secondary and primary research, focusing on understanding the current attacks on the amendment and college students’ perceptions of it. Some team members interviewed experts from Pen America and MTSU’s Free Speech Center to better understand how to launch a campaign targeting college students. We also conducted 55 man-on-the-street interviews at various locations around campus in order to grasp students’ understanding of the First Amendment. Through this, we found that college students take their First Amendment protections for granted.

Key findings



Because we found students to be complacent in understanding and exercising their First Amendment rights, we decided to take them away. To show students how the First Amendment influences their time on campus, we drew attention to things that couldn’t happen without the amendment.

Canvas the Campus

We hung targeted fliers across campus buildings with events and figures which were banned, canceled or censored according to their specific protection of the First Amendment.

  • Historical and literary figures were banned in the campus library and English/History building
  • A playlist was censored in the student recreation center and the College of Creative Arts
  • A First Amendment mural was covered in the media college with an upside down flag and newspapers were chained 
  • Digital graphics were shown on the Reed College of Media infostations

Every group of print and digital materials have a unique QR code leading students to a page about a certain aspect of the First Amendment. 

Student Org Lock-Out

In continuing our deprivation of the First Amendment, we targeted student organizations to remind students of the importance of the right to assemble. With the help of WVU’s chapter of the American Advertising Federation (AAF), we locked students out of a regularly-scheduled organization meeting with the help of AAF’s executive board. Team members also spoke at the student government’s public forum session on the importance of the First Amendment on campus. These events paired with our banned, canceled and censored fliers began a conversation among students about how the First Amendment is serving them at WVU. 

Free Speech Zone Closure

The heart of our campaign set out to show students what their lives look like without the First Amendment, and that’s exactly what we did when we shut down the Free Speech Zone outside of the Mountainlair. The Free Speech Zone is a designated area on campus for demonstrating one’s First Amendment rights, so we decided to ‘close’ it as part of an experiential activation. 

  • Traffic cones and caution tape were used to block the area off 
  • Signage explaining why the zone was closing with a QR code leading students to our landing page 
  • Team members were present to answer students’ questions about the purpose of closing the area 



As part of our work in generating awareness of the First Amendment, we worked on creating and promoting educational events on campus to engage students with the topic of the First Amendment and misinformation. 

Panel Promotion

WVU’s Reed College of Media and College of Law are working together on “A Year of Reckoning,” an educational effort to promote understanding of the First Amendment on campus. Part of our task involved getting students to attend “Who Informs the Citizenry? Finding Trust and Truth in a Fractured Age,” a panel discussion with four experts on the spread of misinformation.

Panel Attendance

Trivia at Up All Night

Through research our team identified that a fun, incentivized activity is one of the best ways to engage the student body, so we held a First Amendment trivia night at WVU’s Up All Night on Nov. 12. The team hosted a booth with raffle prizes, goodie bags, and an interactive Kahoot with the hopes that participants would be able to name the five freedoms of the First Amendment upon leaving. After conducting a post survey, we found an improvement in general knowledge about the First Amendment among the students that participated.


With over 32,000 media impressions between social platforms and earned media coverage, this campaign has started a real conversation about the First Amendment’s role on WVU’s campus that will continue in the coming year. The “Year of Reckoning” began with this campaign to promote awareness and understanding of the First Amendment, and this agency’s involvement will continue through spring 2022. The initiative will end in September 2022 with an in-person panel and additional events will be shaped by the research and success of this team’s work.

Morgantown Unsheltered: Shifting the Stigma

2022 WV PRSA Crystal Award Winner- Community Relations Campaign

The Ask—

Unsheltered populations throughout the country are often heavily stigmatized, and it was no different in Morgantown, West Virginia. As a result, the Morgantown Special Committee on Unsheltered Homelessness needed help with a creative approach that would address this stigma.

Our team completed both secondary and primary research on the issue, looking at academic articles and previously successful campaigns, conducting expert interviews in Morgantown, and completing ethnographic research. During the course of our research, we found that Morgantown residents had a lack of understanding about the unsheltered population that led to ignorance about their situations and their role in the community. We also found that there was a fear in certain community members about raising concerns regarding the unsheltered population and their experiences. Finally, there was a difference in perceptions among housed community members and the unsheltered population. While the unsheltered population felt like they were part of the community, not all community members felt the same way.

These issues could all be traced back to a lack of conversations between different community groups about the unsheltered population.

Our Solution—

Create a multifaceted campaign that educates Morgantown residents about the complexities of poverty while also increasing public empathy for the unsheltered population. Research showed that targeting community leaders with a combination of emotions-based and information-based strategies would be the most effective way to capture the community’s attention as a whole. This led us to focus our attention on City Council members, neighborhood association leaders, business owners, and police officers.

“The unsheltered population is not homeless; their home is here.”

— Governing Brand Idea

Pop-up Exhibit

With Humans of Morgantown, we encouraged community members to embrace the unsheltered population as their neighbors and discussed that “Houses don’t make neighborhoods. Neighbors do.” To accomplish this, we created a pop-up exhibit, website, and social media pages.

The Humans of Morgantown pop-up exhibit, which is available for community groups to book, provided educational statistics about the unsheltered population and shared the stories of sheltered and unsheltered individuals side-by-side, asking people if they could tell who’s sheltered and who is not. The inability to distinguish the stories humanized the unsheltered individuals, showing that they are not an “other,” but are instead normal community members. This pop-up exhibit was presented at a Morgantown City Council meeting, and is currently on display in a local church where our message is being heard by a large portion of our target audience.

Social Media

The Humans of Morgantown social media pages shared the stories of unsheltered community members over Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter posts while also providing educational statistics via Instagram stories. These posts provided more in-depth stories about the individuals than was possible on the pop-up exhibit. The social media posts provided the community with a consistent flow of stories from members of the unsheltered population and provided human faces to the stories being shared, helping our target audience to further connect with the stories of these individuals and continuing the work to humanize the unsheltered population.

See more from Humans of Morgantown

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