May 19, 2012

There’s No Cure Except Community. ~ Eric Elkins

Pink Tent

I’m pretty selective about the clients my agency takes on.

Not only do I want to work with organizations or products or services my team believes in, but I also know that social media strategies aren’t always the best approach, and I won’t take on a project where our expertise isn’t actually going to be helpful.

I also consider the subject matter and target audiences before making a decision about working with a new client.

So when I received a call about meeting with someone who was taking on herpes awareness, I had to give the matter some serious thought.

I couldn’t shake the subtle twinge of discomfort as I drove to the home of Dr. Kelly Schuh and her husband Richard (whom I knew from my start-up days).

The “H” word is a toughie—my friends who’ve been diagnosed with it tend to feel shamed alienated.

There’s no cure, it can go undiagnosed or symptom-free, and the fear surrounding its contagious nature can go far beyond rational thought.

Of course, just about anything involving genitals, pain and sex is going to make people squirmy.

But I’d read about Dr. Kelly’s background on her website and I was taken by her open and honest language. There was something fearless in the way she embraced her story and shared it with the world.

Kelly was diagnosed with herpes in her early 20’s while hiking through Nepal. The news fundamentally changed her life; she was far from home and devastated. Finding out you have herpes from in your hometown would be bad enough, but imagine being 7,500 miles away from everyone and everything you know.

After returning home, she started to research herpes. Instead of consistent, helpful content, she only found her fears exacerbated by the lack there of. Would any man ever love her, now that she had herpes? Would she be able to have a healthy child someday? Was her life ruined? Nobody had definitive answers for her.

As Dr. Kelly became increasingly more aware of the lack of resources for women in her position, she gained strength. In the years since, not only has she run a successful chiropractic and natural health practice, but she fell in love with my old pal Richard.  They now have a healthy and gorgeous baby girl together.

In the last few years, Kelly and Richard have been working to fulfill her dream of creating an online community—a pink tent—for women with herpes—a place where women can connect, get support, and learn how to manage the disease naturally. She wants to help women with herpes learn to “live, love and thrive.”

So when I sat down with Dr. Kelly and Richard to learn more about her Pink Tent project that day, I sublimated my disquiet by asking a lot of questions about their plans, their target audiences, their needs and goals—all the stuff that I ask every potential client before putting together a proposal. They were wonderfully honest and passionate about the important work they were doing.

Despite this, I still couldn’t help wondering how we could create a plan that would resonate for women, with and without herpes, and the men who love them.

The question for me was, how can we promote the women’s health aspect of what Dr. Kelly was building, without diluting the more difficult and world-changing subject of living with herpes?

Herpes is an important global issue.

Genital herpes affects at least one in four women, yet 80 percent of people who have it don’t know it. It’s not even part of a standard STD test.

The more I thought about it and the more time my team and I spent with Dr. Kelly, the more I believed that we needed to take on this project.

It hasn’t been an easy road—between researching the subject matter, trying to identify online communities, and reaching out to people to discuss a disease that many are embarrassed to talk about, getting traction has been challenging.

How do you mobilize a target audience that doesn’t want to be identified?

The more we learned and the more challenged we were, the more we resolved to bring Pink Tent to fruition. The need for a safe, informative refuge for women with herpes and the people who love them became ever more evident as we worked on it.

That’s why I wrote this piece for elephant journal—to inform you about a Boulder resident who is doing important work in women’s health, and to ask for your help.

The first part of the Pink Tent project is Dr. Kelly’s book, Live, Love and Thrive with Herpes: A Holistic Guide for Women, which is written and ready for publication.

Once the book is produced, work will begin on the community platform at PinkTent.com. But none of that can happen without some assistance.

So we’re all helping to build donations toward that end via Dr. Kelly’s IndieGoGo campaign, which is now in its last two weeks of fundraising.

Full disclosure—what, if anything, my company gets paid for our work on the project based on the funds raised. I fully believe in the importance of what Dr. Kelly is building, but it’s important to disclose that we get paid based on how much money comes in from the IndieGoGo campaign. It’s a risk I was willing to take, and we’ll keep working with Pink Tent whether or not we hit Dr. Kelly’s ambitious goal.

But that’s not the point.

The point is this—if you or someone you know has been diagnosed with herpes, becoming part of Dr. Kelly’s community will be a true gift to you and to others.

Whether you donate to the campaign and get a copy of her book as a thank you, or add your story to her website, or just like her Facebook page, you will learn something valuable while contributing to a larger cause.

You’ll help Dr. Kelly “shine a bright light on herpes, sparking conversation and eradicating the stigma of one of the most universal infections.”

Not a bad thing, right?


Eric Elkins owns WideFoc.us, a Denver-based social media agency. He blogs about the joys and challenges of single parenting at DatingDad.com. He is also the author of a young adult novel, Ray, Reflected. Connect with him on Twitter.


Editor: April Dawn Ricchuito 

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