Behavior campaign mobilizes the community around a common goal

Cyclones Care image with swans and like a good neighbor line

The Cyclones Care team designed a variety of images to promote the four behaviors.

By Rob Schweers, Provost's Office

It began with a simple question: “How do we get people to do all this stuff?”

As plans began to take shape for a fall semester that included some face-to-face instruction, students living in residence halls, and faculty and staff returning to work, Iowa State University leaders knew success would depend heavily on everyone keeping themselves – and others – as safe as possible.

Specifically, success depended on the ability of the university community, as well as Ames and Story County residents, to practice four key healthy behaviors: wearing a face covering, maintaining six feet of physical distance, washing hands frequently and staying home when ill.

This daunting challenge fell at the feet of two Iowa State communications professionals: Erin Rosacker, communications specialist in Strategic Relations and Communications; and Jed Findlay, creative services manager for ISU Extension and Outreach.

Rosacker pulled together a team of colleagues from across campus with expertise in marketing, design, health promotion and printing to craft a succinct message that would resonate with students, faculty, staff and the broader community.

Lauren Carter, a graphic designer on Findlay's ISU Extension and Outreach team, was charged with creating a look and feel for the campaign that was not only eye-catching, but could be adapted to everything from posters to floor stickers to hand sanitizer stations.

The result was Cyclones Care, a comprehensive behavior messaging campaign to help limit the spread of COVID-19 and keep both the campus and community healthy.

Tens of thousands of items have been designed and printed for the campaign. Cyclones Care materials can be found in campus facilities, CyRide buses, area businesses and even Ames city hall. In addition to general and digital signage, the Cyclones Care message has been used on water bottles distributed to countywide schools, light pole banners, yard signs, marquees and a community billboard. The campaign also produced a series of short videos featuring students.

Enlisting faculty support

One of the benefits of a university campus is that there is no shortage of experts. Several faculty participated in the development of Cyclones Care, representing diverse disciplines such as marketing, kinesiology and psychology.

According to Alison Phillips, an associate professor of psychology who advised the campaign, behavior change is more difficult when people don’t feel the effort is worthwhile or that others won’t comply, or if they have trouble making the behaviors habitual.

“One of the goals of Cyclones Care was to generate a shared responsibility for and habits that would contribute to keeping our community safe, from our own families, to peers and neighbors, and anyone we might encounter during the day,” Phillips said. “I wear a mask out of habit, now, to protect myself, but also to do my part as a member of the community.”

A community campaign

Signage outside Ames city hall promoting cyclones care behaviors

Signage outside Ames City Hall. Photo courtesy of Susan Gwiasda.

Vibrant college towns depend on a positive “town and gown” relationship between the university and community in the best of times, but even more so during a global pandemic. As Cyclones Care was unveiled in June, Ames, Story County, the Ames Chamber of Commerce and other community partners enthusiastically helped take the campaign to every business and beyond.

“We have experienced unprecedented, incredible collaboration not only between the city of Ames and Iowa State, but bringing together community partners including medical providers, public health, school districts, senior living facilities, Story County government, Ames Chamber of Commerce, nearby cities and towns, emergency management and others,” said Ames Mayor John Haila.

“It’s been a hard year, but I’m so impressed with our efforts, and I’m proud of the work we’ve accomplished in educating all of our citizens.”

Sharing Cyclones Care campaign materials freely with the community also helped maintain a consistent message.

“University communicators created clever, easy-to-understand public health materials in a variety of formats, and made them available to anyone who wanted them,” noted Susan Gwiasda, City of Ames public relations officer. “In my years in communications, I can’t think of another campaign I’ve worked on that has been so important, meaningful and universally embraced.”

Making it fun

Rosacker, who also manages Iowa State’s primary social media accounts, used her expertise in Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram to create digital messaging for the campaign. Social media graphics reminded students that if they wanted a football season (they did), then they needed to wear their face coverings. References to Star Wars, Harry Potter and other pop culture icons continue to help keep Cyclones Care fresh.

"We want to reinforce healthy behaviors and habits. The pop culture references are fun, positive and easy to share on social media, which helps broaden the reach of the message," Rosacker said.

Rosacker continues to work with her team to create new content and reinforce the need for healthy behaviors.