AHFter Hours Podcast

More than Marketing

Episode Summary

AHF’s marketing, event planning, and communication efforts aren’t like the sales and marketing arms of businesses, which are geared toward increasing profits. At AHF, marketing is about spreading the word and saving lives. Today, we learn more about that process and its key voices.

Episode Notes

More than Marketing

Insights into AHF’s communication and events wing


Kevin Makdivichit is the Director of Marketing for AHF in the United States. 

Ebonni Chrispin is the Director of Legislative Affairs and Community Engagement for AHF.

Max Alvarez is AHF’s Director of Events and Community Engagement. 


[2:18] - AHF as Event Host

Why AHF is taking an active role in in-person events

International Condom Day. World AIDS Day. Marches, protests, and more. AHF is more active in life, in-person events than ever.

Why? Because it’s important for people to engage. They say that birds flock, fish school, and people tribe. AHF is committed to using our tribe mentality to connect on potentially sticky subjects like STIs, AIDs, and safe sex. When we gather to openly discuss these issues in public, we remove the power of silence to keep us complacent and uncomfortable and we make these topics something that can be addressed openly and effectively.

[4:56] - Starting with Greatest Need

How AHF chooses events and locations

How does AHF choose which events to host or participate in? It all starts with statistics. For example, the efforts surrounding International Condom Day centered around data about where STI rates were off the charts. All planning focused on using those numbers to go where public conversation and education was most needed. 

[7:10] - The Next Phase: Finding Partners

Ebonni shares the importance of partnerships for events

AHF isn’t an island. In every event, Ebonni stresses the importance of considering small nonprofits, community leaders, and even local, statewide, and federal elected officials to become potential partners. In order for people to become advocates, they need to have a reason to believe in the cause. That starts with bringing them onboard and making people and organizations of all sizes and backgrounds feel that they’re a part of something historically significant and vital.

[14:57] - Keeping Events Free

Why AHF makes their events free to the public

Kevin relates how the “why” of AHF’s free events is more important than the “how.” Every event, show, protest, and gathering is all about a specific cause or message. It’s about getting more people in seats so they have the opportunity to learn something. The fewer barriers there are to people attending, the more opportunities there are for that learning and transformation to take place.




AIDS Healthcare Foundation is the world’s largest HIV/AIDS service organization, operating in 45 countries globally. The mission? Providing cutting-edge medicine and advocacy for everyone, regardless of ability to pay.

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Learn more at: https://www.aidshealth.org


Lauren Hogan is the Associate Director of Communications for AIDS Healthcare Foundation, and has been working in a series of roles with the Foundation since 2016. She’s passionate about increasing the public visibility of AIDS, the Foundation's critical work, and how everyday people can help join the fight to make cutting-edge medicine, treatment, and support available for anyone who needs it.


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Episode Transcription

Lauren Hogan:

Get unfiltered lessons from our leaders at AHF as we uncover real raw stories of where we came from and where we are going. Join us for an unscripted look at the connections our senior leadership have to our mission core values and hot initiatives. AHF is the world's largest HIV/AIDS service organization operating in 45 countries globally, 16 states domestically, including DC and Puerto Rico. Our mission is to provide cutting edge medicine and advocacy regardless of ability to pay. Hello and welcome to the After Hours podcast. I'm your host, Lauren Hogan, serving as your liaison to take you through this journey to learn more about AIDS Healthcare Foundation. Before we start the show, please make sure to remember to check out the show notes so you can follow along. Now let's get started.

Hello everyone and welcome back to another episode of our After Hours podcast. As always, I'm your host, Lauren Hogan, and today I have got a beautiful group of people with me, probably know them a little too well. We're going to be discussing a few topics of what happens internally on our marketing and communication side. So welcome to the show you guys. So really quickly, I'm just going to go around the square, just have you guys introduce yourself and just tell us a little bit about your role at AHF. So Kevin, go ahead and start.


Kevin [inaudible 00:01:23]. I am the director of marketing for AHF in the United States. I've been with the company for six years and basically me and Max and a couple of the other directors in this department just we do all the events, the marketing, the advertising, client engagement, et cetera.


My name is Ebony [inaudible 00:01:42]. I am the director of legislative affairs and community engagement for [inaudible 00:01:50]. So I cover the southern part of the United States, [inaudible 00:01:55]. In South America and I have been with the organization for about eight years.

Max Alvarez:

My name is Max Alvarez. I am the director of events and community engagement for AHF. I've been with AHF for five years and I work together with all the local team in the region to coordinate all events that take place for AHF.

Lauren Hogan:

So just going to dive right in. Why do you guys feel that AHF felt the need to start hosting events like International Condom Day and World AIDS Day and various marches and protests, et cetera. Ebony, do you want to start and kind of talk about the South Florida perspective?


Sure. I think certainly now, but even before COVID, it was important for people... It's important for people to engage. I heard it said once that birds flock, fish school, and people tried. And that's the reason we [inaudible 00:02:55]. Go to spiritual institutions because we want to gather together and have a good time and have fun. And I think when you're talking about sticky subjects like STIs, checking AIDS obviously, super important that when you can make it a way for people to be able to engage.

And I think specific topics like the use of condoms, for example, in National Condom Day, which is always, from my experience, it's spearheaded by Max, it's always been so cool to have these kind of events done so people can have a good time, but also learn in this case the importance of wearing condom. There's so many events like that, that I think are great [inaudible 00:03:39]. Coming up soon. National Black Awareness Day for HIV. This is also an opportunity to be in collaboration with other organizations that do the kind of work that we're doing to help to educate folks about the importance of being tested, treated, knowing your status and et cetera.


And I think that AHF is an advocacy driven organization as much as it is anything else. Fighting for people who can't fight for themselves, it's in our blood. It's part of every day who we are. So protests, social media, rallies, marches is our obvious avenues for that.

Max Alvarez:

But just to hit point, like Lauren asked, in regards to why we do events, I mean events and engagement is the best way that as people we learn, it's a lot easier to really get to education. You're trying to convey to people, health is a very taboo topic for everyone and through events it's a way for us to really make it lighthearted, make it fun, and people are more receptive to learn about stuff that they might not feel comfortable talking about otherwise.

Lauren Hogan:

And so what is the brainstorming process like when we put on these large scale events and how do we come up with themes and things like that?

Max Alvarez:

From our end, one of the things we really focus on and we really try to make it first, is really looking at statistics where we're needed the most. I know for instance, ICD, we look at where STI rates are going off the roof and we kind of try to focus on that utilizing statistics and numbers that we've been able to gathered and then really go where we're needed, which is also something we strive with. We are located... Our map is cut in three regions, north, south, and west. So we really tried to look at out of those regions where we're needed the most. And also where we're located too, it's a form of marketing and it's a form of advertising our services but also coming to places where we're needed the most and the information is required. So that's kind of like how we start to look at the map in regards to where we're going to go first. And also the message, I know we work with Michael in regards to the campaigns that we're going to be using and really utilizing. And we utilize that all through data.


We also take into account different things that are happening, current events that are happening in the world right now. So we had a theme that was the other pandemic because of what was happening at that point.

Lauren Hogan:

Ebony, I also want to get you involved into this part of the conversation too, because I think a huge component to some of our events too is the partners that we have. We all know when we go to Florida, anytime we have a press conference or things like that, you're really instrumental in getting politicians to show up and those local folks in the community, even case in point, we have the privilege of doing a podcast with some of your folks from [inaudible 00:06:59]. Which I didn't even know that you did. So you have row roots in the Florida area when it comes to community engagement and community partners. So how are those relationships built and what goes into them?


Well, first I'll say [inaudible 00:07:12]. Foundation. It's important to sort of note the history of the work that's been done way before any of our times. And I think as we evolve and look to the future, I think you have to consider small nonprofits and community leaders and local, statewide and obviously federal elected officials that may not be well versed on what is going on in the service organization space. I think you also have to consider that in order for people to be an advocate, whether you work for the organization or a partner for the organization, people need to have a reason to buy into some of the work that we're doing. And I think it's important to be able to do so by working with community leaders and what's important to them. So it could be the [inaudible 00:08:10]. For example, that may not have any programs that are specific to HIV/AIDS, but maybe they're do doing work in low income housing, maybe they're obviously doing work within the black community and within the black diaspora.

Maybe it's a lesbian led organization or an organization for the 55+ community. I think it's important and statistics show that when you work in collaboration with organizations that have intersectionality but may not be exactly alike, you reach a wider audience. And so that's the reason why we sort of have looked to strategic partnerships as a way to be able to build stronger relationships with AHF.

So far what you mentioned was an advisory board I started about a year and a half ago now with different people from the community that do that deal with unionizing sex work and creating better political framework for the transgender community, et cetera. And so it was important for us to be able to bring these communities together to highlight the word [inaudible 00:09:16]. But also highlight these other nonprofits that are doing great work again in these intersectional spaces so that we can better inform communities of color and teenagers, young people in general, older people about where the disease is headed, where medicine is headed, how they could be better advocates if they want to, things like that. So that's part of the work that we're doing here in South Florida. But in general when it comes to coalition data.

Lauren Hogan:

And that really I feel like translates across the board because a lot of what you guys do in South Florida we end up doing in the north and in the west as well in terms of community partners. So the next thing I want to get into is what exactly goes into events when we put on something like World AIDS Day? So Max, I don't know if you want to take this and kind of walk through a start to finish or ICD, whichever you prefer, and just kind of go from start to finish.

Max Alvarez:

I mean, once we start planning really the strategy of where we're going to go first, usually we sit down with Michael and we kind of go over what are fun ways and ideas that we can bring into life and incorporate our advocacy message and component to it. And then we start really honing in on songs or plays. For instance, this year we're doing the West Side Story and as we did last year as well. So we kind of take that idea and we try to incorporate our message in it. So we try to turn songs into parodies, utilizing the message, kind of keeping on the entertainment part of the event. And then we really start to, once the message is clear, then we start to looking into dance agencies for ICD and then we start really honing in the promotion aspect of it.

And then once the that's all built and we have our cast and crew then we start to rehearse, usually it's about a three to four months process. And then the fun part really begins the last three weeks, which we're kind of in now, which things start to pick up really quick. There's a lot of fittings, costumes, all the fun parts and making sure things are ready to go. And then we kind of come into the region and put the shows together. But within the whole process, the whole right, setting up the budgets, looking at venues, really looking at community partners.

This is where from my end. We kind of go in, we really work with these venues that are really understanding of what we're trying to convey and that are willing to work with us so that we are not charged as a regular event producer. And then it's kind of the heavy load of the work where it comes is really kind of pinpointing those community partners that are willing to join the mission and the message. But overall, it's a fun process that we all engage and love in doing. And I know you kind of share some of that when it comes to the World AIDS day in regards to finding the venue and dealing with all the stuff that comes along that route.

Lauren Hogan:

Yeah, I think for me when it comes to World Aids Day, I do enjoy doing production at the end of the day. So that is very much the process is figuring... It always comes down to the budget at the end of the day, we can't do anything without the budget. We know that. So once that gets finalized and we get Michael's insight to what his vision is, always adapting it is always a fun process. I think the one thing that I always have to deal with is the talent piece of everything. And it's always interesting because people kind of ask me, "What's dealing with talent? What's that like?" I started it about four years ago with Max actually when I was in events and it was kind of just something where we realized we had a lot going out in terms of money and we needed to save some money.

So we kind of had the discussion, well you kind of know some people so can you just figure it out? And in the true AHF way you figure it out, right? It's sink or swim. So throughout that process I actually was like, "Oh, I actually do know some people in the industry." And it's kind of morphed into part of my role and it's been four years, but people always kind of think, I think that talent is greedy or some of their prices may be high and things like that. But one thing that I learned is that it's really a business kind of just like what we do. Artists have employees and staff that they have to pay. So they have lighting directors and audio engineers and all these different people, costume designers, hair and makeup.

And so it's all these different people that are involved. So it's interesting to see their business and breakdown in relation to what we're trying to do in terms of messaging. But it's always really fun when it comes to show day when you finally see all the hard work come to fruition and then you get that positive feedback from the audience and the message was understood and they walk away with a good feeling. So they're always fun to plan and to kind of get to the finish line for sure.

Max Alvarez:

It's definitely fun. It all starts with a number and then event day is this huge structure.

Lauren Hogan:

Exactly. Exactly. So since we were talking about budgets, I'm going to turn it over to the budget man here, Kevin, how are we able to keep such huge events free to the public? How do we do this?


Well, thank you. I think how we do it is less relevant than why we do it. So the why we do it is really because all of our events, all of our shows, all of our what are protests and everything for a reason, they're for a cause. They're for a message. So what we want to do is get more people in the seats because then they're going to learn something. I know one of my favorite things when we throw our events is to kind of listen to the crowds afterwards. And when you hear somebody talking to their friend and they say, "I didn't know that about herpes." That's the point of what we're doing. So that's why we make sure that they're accessible to everybody.

Max Alvarez:

Just to add to that, it's always fun. I need from the new show to hear people hum and sing the parody. I mean you did your job right? There's singing the song that is not the original version and there's singing the verses, which is talking about the protection and that our main message for ICD is, "Safer is sexy." So you've done your job if people are coming and singing the words to the songs afterwards.

Lauren Hogan:

So I wanted to ask too, do you guys have a favorite event or a favorite memory from an AHF event? And it can be from any year that you guys have been here or maybe we're just a volunteer at the time or worked in a affinity group capacity. So Kevin, you want to start?


Yeah, I guess going back to what I just said, it was an affinity group event and we had a guest speaker that was talking about the different ways that you can get STDs, STIs, and I heard somebody afterwards say to their friend, "Oh, the more sex you have, the more likely it is you could get one." And it just changed that person's life. And so I thought that was great.

Lauren Hogan:

I said common sense isn't always common so. Max?

Max Alvarez:

I have a few, but actually one of my most favorite events is our pride activations. It goes along with why I'm here with AHF and having the opportunity to provide testing to people while we are at pride, it is definitely something that, it's always good when you see someone that wasn't aware that they were positive and now we're able to really point them towards the right directions. The message is definitely is not the end and we have ways to continue to thrive. And that opportunity that we provide to the community is always something that I enjoy providing or being part of that.

Lauren Hogan:

Ebony, what about you for your favorite memory?


I would say over the years, there've just been so many, I mean honestly it's sort of corny, but I think that they're... When you see how, to Kevin's point, people sort of light up when they have aha moment, whether it was obvious or not, it's sort of cool to see how educating people could impact their lives. And I think because we're sort of in the work every day, you forget that to a certain degree this is purpose work. You know what I mean? It's very meaningful, people's lives could be completely altered because [inaudible 00:18:41]. That they went to an event, got a condom and didn't get an STI because of the work that we're doing or educated themselves and got on [inaudible 00:18:51]. As a result. I mean so many things take place that we may never be aware of and I am hundred percent sure that happens because of the events that we put on day after day or participated with other organizations. So I don't know that I could pinpoint one.

Lauren Hogan:

So for me, I think mine would be our 2018 World AIDS Day show that we did in New York. I always find it really interesting how Michael's able to incorporate different communities in very unique ways back to the message. So the fact that we did something like in the Apollo, the iconic Apollo Theater in New York, and we kind of paid tribute to those who died of AIDS on Broadway was just kind of very special. And you guys all know I'm the theater and dance kid too. So it was just kind of a full circle moment for me. But it was very heartfelt I think that night. And plus we had some of our patients come up on stage and kind of share their stories. So it was just really special for sure. So I think that will be my favorite.

But so we are pretty much at time. So I do have one final question and it's probably going to go to Max, Kevin or Ebony you can jump into. But how can people get involved? We know we have staff that volunteer for our events and participate in those things, but how are people that are going to hear this episode that may not be directly within the AHF hemisphere, but outside of it and want to get involved and participate?

Max Alvarez:

So we have two answers for you. We also, we have a link at AHFevents.org page. If you want to volunteer, just click on the volunteer link, submit your information so that when we are locally we can reach out to you for participation. And then for our staff, we are starting our ambassador program and basically we've been looking for local team leaders that can really help us spread the words so that we can also get other staff involved. I know Kevin's team, the engagement team spearheading that and he can tell more about it. But it's definitely something that we are always striving to include everyone, the community and our staff.


And just make sure to look out for any volunteer opportunities through the Inside Scoop newsletters or the Inside Scoop email blasts. And we always do welcome if anybody wants to bring their friends or family to come volunteer as well.

Lauren Hogan:

Well thank you guys so much. This has been another great episode and we will see you guys next time. Thank you so much for joining us. If you enjoyed this episode and you'd like to help support the show, please subscribe, share it with your friends, like, post about it on social media or leave a rating and review, follow us on Instagram at After Hours and see you next time.