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August 2016
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The Public Manager

April Brubach

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At the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's Center for Tobacco Products, April Brubach works to educate the public on the effects of tobacco use. One of the award-winning projects she spearheads, The Real Cost, aims to talk to teens about what can happen to them if they decide to start using tobacco products.

About April Brubach

After running a small publishing company, April Brubach decided it was time for a change—and ended up with a health communication fellowship at the National Cancer Institute's Tobacco Control Research Branch at the National Institutes of Health. Brubach has long had a passion for tobacco prevention, having lost her father to lung cancer caused by smoking, and was motivated to find ways to make a positive difference in people's lives.

Currently, Brubach works at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's Center for Tobacco Products, where she directs the Division of Public Health Education in the Office of Health Communication and Education. One item in her portfolio, The Real Cost media campaign, reaches more than 90 percent of teens in the United States with its potentially life-saving tobacco education messages.

How did your previous experience prepare you for this role?

Beyond the technical knowledge and skills gained on every project, my experience has taught me to recognize the value of strong support from senior leadership. With this, and the power of a dedicated, talented team, big things are possible. This combination allowed us to build our Public Health Education program from the ground up, starting in 2009 when Congress created the FDA Center of Tobacco Products. Fast forward to today and we've developed and launched a number of groundbreaking, historic campaigns to reduce the disability, disease, and death caused by tobacco use.

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What is the ultimate goal of The Real Cost? How are you going about achieving it?

If the current trajectory of smoking rates continues, 5.6 million children alive today will die prematurely as a result of smoking. The Real Cost campaign was designed to interrupt that deadly trajectory by educating youth about the dangers of smoking in thought-provoking, visually compelling ways that are relevant to their concerns and passions.

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The campaign launched in February 2014 across multiple media platforms, including TV, radio, magazines, and online. First, we focused on reaching teens who were either open to trying smoking or are already experimenting with cigarettes. In April 2016, we expanded to include new advertising for rural boys at risk of smokeless tobacco use. Take a look at some of our ads that motivate kids to stay tobacco free.

What challenges did you face when it came to creating a specific voice for The Real Cost?

Tobacco can be a low-interest topic for youth—they think they already have all the information they need. Breaking through this mentality with a message that speaks to teens in ways they can identify with, that reflects their cultural norms, that is distinct within the marketplace, and that changes their beliefs is a challenge.

The art and science of creating the brand voice for The Real Cost included detailed analysis of consumer data sets, social listening, and focus groups across the country. The unique brand voice is candid, respectful, and empowering—we give teens new information to empower their decision making when it comes to tobacco use. We provoke them to reconsider what they think they know about the "costs" of tobacco use.

What lessons have you learned from your time working in the government?

Staying focused on the desired outcome and gratefully accepting the expertise and advice of team members and stakeholders are some of my key takeaways. With so many competing demands, it's easy to get lost. When I've focused on the big picture, trusted myself, and followed my passions, I've found the most meaning in my work and the best results! Also, there's a lot of truth to the Albert Einstein adage, "The more I learn, the more I realize how much I don't know."

About the Author

The Association for Talent Development (ATD) is a professional membership organization supporting those who develop the knowledge and skills of employees in organizations around the world. The ATD Staff, along with a worldwide network of volunteers work to empower professionals to develop talent in the workplace.

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