An Interview with Bobby Heagerty
An Interview with Bobby Heagerty

March 12, 2012

Bobby HeagertyBobby Heagerty
Director of Community Affairs and Education
Oregon Health and Science University Brain Institute
Portland, OR

Dana Foundation: You have developed one of the most far reaching, successful Brain Awareness campaigns over the past decade; however, not everyone is in a position to implement programs on such a large scale. Any advice for Brain Awareness (BAW) partners who want to participate on a small level yet still make an impact?

Bobby Heagerty: When I first began working on Brain Awareness Week (month/season), I went to several department and institute heads at Oregon Health and Science University Brain Institute and asked for financial support for neuroscience outreach. I used language and ideas from the Dana Foundation website. I then asked the Oregon Museum of Science & Industry (the director was an old friend) if they would partner with us, providing free space, PR, etc., for the events that year. These three things were instrumental for that first year.

I also convinced my boss to let me attend the annual Society for Neuroscience (SfN) meeting, where I connected with Washington University Professor Eric Chudler, Ph.D., whom I invited to Portland to help me with the first Oregon Health and Science University (OHSU) Brain Fair. I also asked a local science television personality, David Heil, to host the events. I was able to get OHSU’s media relations person excited about the brain awareness program and we were covered in several local media stories (both print and broadcast).

DF: Has it been easy to garner support for your efforts from your institutional leaders?

BH: The OHSU leadership has been supportive from the beginning—modestly at first but bit by bit individual leaders got on board. It really took personal communication–about their goals, interests, and concerns–and then figuring out how BAW could help them leverage internal or external support more effectively. It does take good salesmanship to speak to their interests and not just focus on the public or health benefits of the program. I’ve kept the leadership regularly engaged, and I always report the political, financial, and branding benefits.

DF: The Brain Institute’s volunteer organization, Brain Research Awareness and Information Network (BRAINet), plays an important role in fostering awareness and support for the Institute and for neuroscience. How do you recruit volunteers and what roles do they play in your BAW program?

BH: BRAINet has grown from 8 interested friends of a few neuroscientists (13 years ago) to 116 paying members (and 600 people on the organization’s mailing list). We attracted new members by providing a great speaker and asking each individual to invite two friends to the talk. It was “each one reach one” for several years. This way we could manage the consistency and collegiality of the group. They have always paid for their own lunches, and membership dues help with mailings, etc. They have a board that meets monthly, they volunteer at our brain awareness events, and they get to know personally our neuroscientists and clinicians. BRAINet now has a major presence at all the lectures and do their own recruiting. BRAINet feels that the Dana Alliance for Brain Initiatives is their national parent!

DF: Your program draws several thousand people each year. What publicity methods do you find to be most effective?

BH: The most important aspect of publicity is the development of a good mailing list. From the very beginning, I would take sign-up lists wherever I went or sent one of our neuroscientists to go to give a talk. The list has grown over time to more than 28,000 names. Direct mail to this group is very important; they feel like they are the ‘brainy community’ and they are told about all the events before the general public. We also have an e-mail list of 6,000+ (we’ve done monthly BRAIN E-tips for 7 years).

Our second most important publicity tool is the OHSU Brain Institute (OBI) ‘friends’ group that meets monthly for a luncheon featuring an OBI neuroscientist talk. This group was started at the same time as the Oregon SfN Chapter and the Dana BAW campaign, and they have all ‘grown up’ together. The OBI ‘friends’ are community leaders, retired teachers, and physicians, and they are well-connected and totally committed to supporting OBI outreach. They link us to many other aligned groups, such as the Oregon Symphony, Oregon Public Broadcasting, Children’s Institute, and the Alzheimer’s Association, with whom I develop mutually beneficial activities.

Finally, I made the relationship with the OHSU media relations and marketing departments a priority. I convinced key individuals of the advantage of this enhanced community presence (for donor development, patient recruitment, student recruitment, voter encouragement, and especially political connections). “Constituency development” is my currency of value for my institution.

DF: What do you feel are the benefits of your brain awareness outreach both externally and institutionally?

BH: BAW was instrumental in the development of the OHSU Brain Institute. This was huge for OHSU. Prior to awareness activities such as the brain fair, expert panels at the Oregon Museum of Science & Industry, and community presentations, OHSU did not even realize that it was a major player in the neurosciences. Once our folks started participating, getting to know each other, and enjoying translating their neuroscience, they began to realize that they were a large percentage of the research community at OHSU. Now, the Institute is well known; OBI has the fifth largest amount of neuroscience research funding from the National Institutes of Health. Over 40% of OHSU’s research activity is neuroscience. This has helped leverage local donor and foundation dollars. It has also helped position OHSU clinical neurosciences as the top provider in the area. The strength of this community—both internally and externally—has brought attention and support from our congressional delegation and our state government. Congressman Earl Blumenauer started the Congressional Neuroscience Caucus three years ago as a result of this effort.

Full house at the Newmark Theater for the 2010 Brain Awareness Lectures.
(Photo courtesy of OBI)

DF: What are some of the events you’re planning for this year’s program?

BH: For Brain Awareness Season 2013 we have a six-part lecture series, which always includes nationally known Dana Alliance for Brain Initiatives members, a brain awareness teacher workshop, a brain fair, and many ancillary events at OMSI, local pubs, schools, the state capital building, and advocacy group events.

March 2013