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FlakeHQ Interviews:

Catie Coman
Director of Communications
for the National Psoriasis Foundation

 Interviewed by Ed Dewke
in February, 2009

Catie Coman joined the National Psoriasis Foundation in 2006 to manage the organization's membership and annual giving program. In 2008, she became the director of communications. She does not have psoriasis, but, as a type 1 (insulin dependent) diabetic, she is no stranger to autoimmune disease.  Catie says her diabetes “has helped me tremendously in my work here. It has given me a kind of sensitivity in communicating that I might not otherwise have cultivated.”

I met Catie Coman in August, 2008, when we were co-panelists at the Psoriasis Web Sites session at the Foundation’s annual meeting in Orlando. Her aspirations for Foundation communications projects — which she talks about in this interview — excited all of us on the panel. I attended two strategic planning meetings and the panel session and left Orlando feeling I was part of a team that included the National Psoriasis Foundation.

Coman has more than 15 years working in the nonprofit sector, focusing on organizational development, communications and fundraising. Ms. Coman has a Bachelor of Arts degree in public relations from San Jose State University and a Master of Arts in communication studies from University of Portland. At the moment, she is embroiled in a complete redesign and rebuild of www.psoriasis.org, the National Psoriasis Foundation’s award-winning and very popular web site. -Ed

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DEWKE: What specifically constitutes the Foundation's communications

COMAN: We produce both print and electronic communications. Specifically, we have a patient magazine, Psoriasis Advance; a professional magazine, Psoriasis Forum; we have a large — both in the number of visitors and pages — Web site; four topic-specific e-newsletters on advocacy, research, treatment and disease management, happenings in the Foundation and walk for awareness updates. We also do direct mail campaigns for fundraising and to announce specific events and activities. We have a presence on Twitter, Facebook, and other social networking sites; and we've dipped our toes into the great ocean of YouTube as well. Additionally, we have a range of informational booklets, fact sheets and other printed educational materials on psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis.  

 

DEWKE:  What are the most important changes being made to the Foundation's communications strategies and projects?

COMAN: We’ve done quite a bit of changing, but here are some of the highlights. We are focusing on cementing our reputation as the “go to” organization for all things psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis. Therefore we are being much more proactive in our communications; e.g., reporting on the science and medical breakthroughs as they happen, serving as a clearinghouse for psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis information and generating our own data and trend information — in particular the psycho-social impacts — of psoriatic diseases.

We also are opening up our communications to include what I call “citizen journalists” those people in the community who want to talk about the Foundation and issues in the psoriasis community either on our Web site or on their own. We are embracing the whole Web 2.0 idea as it translates to helping people get connected with others, manage their disease and work as a community toward finding a cure.

Finally, we are working to communicate to those “niche” audiences: parents of kids with psoriasis, people with psoriatic arthritis, pregnant women, teens, etc. We’re moving away from the “one-size-fits-all” message to much more targeted communications in response to the immense variability of our constituents and their particular information needs.

 

DEWKE:  How much of the Foundation's communications are directed to non-members — the public at large — and how does that happen? 

COMAN: We do quite a bit about psoriasis that is directed to the world at large. This takes the form of letters to the editor, blog posts, press releases, pitch letters to reporters and white papers. Our overarching message to the general public is to take psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis seriously: Psoriasis is a noncontagious, chronic, autoimmune disease that affects as many as 7.5 million Americans. For millions of people it is a painful, disfiguring and life-altering disease that deserves increased resources to find better treatments and a cure.

 

DEWKE: The new look for the Foundation's web site — psoriasis.org — was unveiled late last year. Other than design, what do you consider its most significant improvement?

COMAN:  That's a tough question because we essentially redid our site from top to bottom — so there are a lot of changes I consider significant. Probably the most significant is that we are in the process of bringing online a whole new backend to our site. This has a robust content management system (CMS), which will allow us to present the user with information and news that he or she has indicated is of interest. So for example, if you tell us you have psoriatic arthritis and are interested in becoming an advocate, we can push information to you on those topics. So the experience the visitor will have at our site is much more personalized, much more relevant to his or her issues and interests. Additionally, in the spirit of being the "go-to" organization on all things psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis, we are constantly updating our site; e.g., through the newsfeed found on our homepage. It is our goal for people to come to our site not just to get disease information, but to learn about events in their community, latest breakthroughs in the world of psoriasis and how to be an advocate for a cure.

 

DEWKE:  The idea of being able to “tell” psoriasis.org that I want to be kept current about this, that, and the other is exciting. What will I — the member-user — have to do to make that happen? 

COMAN: The number one thing the user must do to make it happen is to go on psoriasis.org, create an online account and tell us your preferences by answering some questions. Then to see the information of interest to you, you must log onto the site when you visit. Otherwise, we won’t know who you are and subsequently, what you like.  

 

DEWKE:  How does the Foundation stay in touch with its membership? What are the mechanisms in play for hearing from us?

COMAN: We encourage people to talk back to us at almost every juncture. We post our e-mail addresses, encourage letters to the editor and monitor the blogosphere. We are expanding into social networking on sites such as Facebook and Twitter. We read the message boards often. Overall, it is a priority for us to provide a place for people to discuss their psoriasis and/or psoriatic arthritis and to give us feedback on the activities of the Foundation, alert us to what's going on in their area and tell us their story. We respond to almost every e-mail and call we receive. Because we are limited in resources, it's a priority for us to cultivate citizen journalists — people with psoriatic disease who can take our message out in their communities and to the wider world. A diversity of opinions is also very important in this type of work and very important to understanding these diseases.

 

DEWKE: What would you consider the most important consequence of a well-informed membership? 

COMAN: We want people to live well with psoriasis, to know the risks and to take charge of their health. We want people with psoriasis to feel a sense of control and power by knowing that there is something they can do about it — whether it be go see a dermatologist to try a different treatment or get involved in advocating lawmakers for more federal attention to these diseases. We want people to go out in their communities and say, "Our time is now! We need more research on these diseases; we need better treatments; we need access to health care; and we need people to understand that psoriasis is serious."

 

DEWKE: One of the things that came up in the Psoriasis Web Sites panel at the 2008 annual meeting in Orlando was the use of rich media, meaning video, audio and interactive technologies like “webinars.”  Is any of that planned for psoriasis.org? If so, what applications have you in mind and how soon do you think we’ll be enjoying them?

COMAN: Yes, we have an education webinar planned for March 31st. Check out www.psoriasis.org in early March for more information. We are expanding into video with our YouTube channel and plan to implement other Web 2.0 technologies as appropriate and as our resources allow.

 

DEWKE:  You participated in the web sites panel with us at the annual meeting in August and joined us in conceptualizing a gateway called “PSites.” It would be a single separate psoriasis site with the express purpose of holding links to the diverse and growing number of “alternative” psoriasis web sites, blogs and online communities. Our hope was (and is) that the Foundation will find a link to PSites warranted. Do you still think this is a likely way for alternative psoriasis web sites to be noticed by the tremendous international audience of users who tap into psoriasis.org?

COMAN: It is our plan to link to PSites to provide our users with other opinions and experience regarding psoriasis. We know that people with psoriasis are active online and we want to encourage our users to explore other sites to get a more “well-rounded” understanding of psoriasis and how it affects people physically as well as emotionally. We will be finished with the full launch by May. At that time you may expect to see a revamped “online resources” page that will include PSites. Right now, we are still finessing our site content — with approximately 1,400 pages, it is quite a job!

 

DEWKE: Catie, thank you for your time and the uplifting vision you bring to National Psoriasis Foundation communications. For all of us, it is a brighter future with you in the picture.

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Visit, join and create an online account at http://www.psoriasis.org
For more about PSites, visit http://flakehq.com/psites

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