By Cancer Communications Committee Chair Jyoti D. Patel, MD. In September, ASCO’s Cancer Communication Committee (CCC) met for its annual fall business meeting. While I’ve been on the committee for several years, and am now honored to serve as Chair, I am continually struck by just how much good work ASCO has done on so many fronts. By extension, and because of my particular committee role, I am further struck by just how much it takes to ensure people know about ASCO programs, publications, and priorities that affect members and the wider world of people affected by cancer.
As I prepared for the meeting, I couldn’t help think of Mark Twain’s quip, “The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and the lightning bug.” Certainly, that sentiment couldn’t be more true than for the CCC. The CCC’s primary responsibility is to develop and oversee all communication programs that strengthen ASCO’s role and reputation as the authoritative resource on cancer. It is essential that the CCC works to build upon ASCO’s position as the leading voice for professional and public discourse of cancer science, policy, and patient care.
We meet as a committee three times a year. In addition to the recent fall business meeting, we have the Annual Meeting news planning meeting in the spring where we select the abstracts to be highlighted in the Annual Meeting press program. We have a another session onsite at the Annual Meeting to prepare committee members to moderate ASCO’s press conferences and serve as ASCO spokespeople to provide context and perspective surrounding the highlighted research.
At this year’s business meeting at ASCO headquarters, the committee engaged in robust discussion as we reviewed the Society’s communication goals, new strategic Board initiatives, ASCO’s vision for 2030, and the results of ASCO’s communications programs this year to date. These specific programs include communications for ASCO’s educational offerings, including meetings and journals; ASCO’s policy priorities, including NIH funding and reimbursement; ASCO’s quality initiatives, including Clinical Practice Guidelines and QOPI®; ASCO’s patient information resources, including Cancer.Net and ASCO Answers; as well as strategic Board initiatives, such as CancerLinQTM and ASCO’s 50th anniversary.
The sheer quantity and quality of ASCO programs, publications, and priorities is truly impressive, and the efforts to communicate about each are targeted to specific audiences. Because news travels at lightning speed, any one program may be communicated with multiple messages to multiple audiences through multiple channels… the outreach model looks like spirography!
ASCO’s members are our priority audience. ASCO members can receive the ASCO Express, Daily Cancer News, and The ASCO Post to stay abreast of new breakthroughs and professional offerings. (For those who may be wondering, ASCO Connection is overseen by another ASCO committee, the Integrated Media and Technology Committee.) Over the past two years, social media channels have become an increasingly important part of ASCO’s communications mix, including Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. ASCO now has a total of 11 social media channels.
The CCC also serves the patient audience through ASCO’s patient information resources. Robert Miller, MD, is the new Editor-in-Chief of Cancer.Net, ASCO’s patient website, and his Editor’s report to the committee highlighted the fact that traffic to this award-winning site continues to grow by leaps and bounds each year. Demand for the ASCO Answers print materials for patients continues to increase as well. During the meeting, the committee raised the question as to why ASCO couldn’t provide the printed pieces to ASCO members for free like some other organizations. While the Society’s resource constraints prohibit that option, staff shared the fact that ASCO provides these materials at cost plus shipping for its members. The committee was also supportive of expanding efforts to provide ASCO’s patient information materials to international audiences as well. This new effort dovetails nicely with the expansion of ASCO’s other international programs under the new “ASCO International” umbrella brand, which we have been actively promoting over the past year.
The third major audience for ASCO’s communications programs is the news media. We were pleased to hear that an external consulting firm found that ASCO is now considered the leading authoritative resource on cancer by the majority of health and policy reporters surveyed, and that, according to these same journalists, ASCO is the highest-ranked source for cancer experts. This achievement by the Society speaks to the work of literally hundreds of ASCO volunteers who have served on the committee, in leadership roles, and as subject matter experts for ASCO since the Society first established the communications function within the organization 16 years ago.
Throughout the course of the day, the members of the committee were engaged in thoughtful, productive, and energetic discussions that will lead the direction of ASCO’s communications efforts in the coming year and beyond. In fact, we had so much good dialogue that I was continually challenged to keep the meeting running on time… a good problem to have from my perspective! I am truly humbled to serve as the Chair of this talented, dedicated, and dynamic group of volunteers, and look forward with great eagerness and anticipation to our Annual Meeting news planning meeting next year.
Dr. Patel is an Associate Professor of Medicine in the Hematology Oncology Division at the Feinberg School of Medicine at Northwestern University. An ASCO member since 2001, she has participated in the Society's Leadership Development Program and also serves on the Professional Development Committee.