As the nation’s COVID-19 vaccine rollout accelerates, vaccination remains top of mind for a range of audiences. But even as shots go into arms in record volumes, researchers continue to investigate new COVID therapeutics. To that end, a creative campaign is aiming to boost the number of trial participants via targeted outreach in and around marginalized communities.

Klick Health’s Rise Above COVID effort is designed to recruit a more diverse set of participants into the ACTIV-2 study, which is currently examining several coronavirus therapies. The agency recently helped launch a pilot program that brings the campaign into Black-owned barbershops and salons, with the goal of increasing the number of Black participants.

Klick executive creative director Samantha Dolin said the effort will trumpet the importance of recruiting participants within communities of color, given the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on those populations. “We wanted to find a campaign that could break through this really tragic, horrible time and offer a sense of hope, a sense of possibility and a solution,” she explained.

Working with community advisors who shared an on-the-ground perspective, the Klick campaign team tailored nuanced messages that expressed notions like “I’m a discovery waiting to happen.” The messages, disseminated in English and Spanish via social media, encourage Black and Latino individuals to view participation in clinical trials as a means of helping themselves and their communities.

“We wanted to show this as, ‘You might have COVID, but you are not a victim. You have the agency to change the future for you and your community,’” said Klick SVP, diversity strategy Amy Gómez. “That’s really what animates this.”

As part of the program’s focus on Black-owned barbershops, Klick coordinated a Zoom call connecting the field team with doctors working on ACTIV-2. This gave the leaders a better perspective around the impact greater trial participation could have on members of the Black community. It also offered them a chance to ask questions that specifically addressed community members’ concerns, such as whether the trial was safe and how it worked.

“We gave them access to our doctors to get the real answers, and then they went out and trained the salon and barbershop owners,” Gómez explained. “We knew that the trust-building was critical, because trust isn’t once-and-done. It’s a very incremental process.”

As part of the campaign, “Rise Above COVID”-branded masks and hand sanitizer were distributed to barbershops. The goal: For such items to serve as reminders that, should individuals or someone from their families fall ill with COVID-19, they would have trial and treatment information at their fingertips.

“Once you fall ill, you don’t have time to research and figure out what’s available to you,” Dolin said. “You need to be armed and equipped with that knowledge in advance of falling ill, and that’s what this was all about.”

ACTIV-2 is sponsored by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and is being conducted at more than 160 sites across the U.S. It is currently investigating four interventions for mild to moderate COVID-19 symptoms. Last year, ACTIV-2 tested an Eli Lilly monoclonal antibody, which was later granted Emergency Use Authorization by the Food and Drug Administration.