School of Public Health

Sally Crocker wins international award for story about opioid crisis

April 24, 2022 • News

By Eric Griffey
Sally 1

Sally Crocker knew immediately when she heard her “ah-ha” moment.

While the associate director of academic communications for the School of Public Health at The University of North Texas Health Science Center at Fort Worth was interviewing Dr. Scott Walters — steering committee chair of a National Institutes of Health opioid crisis initiative — about his efforts to combat this U.S. epidemic, the conversation turned to how he was drawn to his career path.

“He said, ‘You know, now that I think about it, when I was growing up in California in the ’80s, my family found out the kid next door was running a meth lab out of his house,’” Crocker recalled. “And, of course, a light bulb went off in my brain. I said, ‘You have to tell me more about this, because this is going to be the opening for the story.’”

The resulting piece, “The realities of ‘Breaking Bad’ — How one HSC researcher is attacking the opioid crisis,” recently netted Crocker the prestigious Hermes Creative Award, an international award administered by the Association of Marketing and Communications Professionals. In the Print Media, Writing, Brand Journalism category, Crocker’s story won the platinum prize, the highest honor awarded by the AMCP.

“It meant so much because it’s an international award,” she said. “To have the story judged that way was really special. I hope this award will shine an even brighter light on the opioid crisis and the great things Dr. Walters and his fellow researchers are doing to fight it.”

The Hermes Creative Awards is one of the oldest and largest creative competitions in the world. Winners range in size from individuals to media conglomerates and Fortune 500 companies. This year marked the 16th competition.

Every year, the competition’s judges evaluate the marketing and communication fields’ best publications, branding, collateral, websites, videos, advertising, marketing and communication programs. Winners are chosen by a panel of industry experts, who pour over thousands of entries from around the world.

In her award-winner, Crocker elegantly unfurls a story about Dr. Walters’ role in the HEALing Communities Study. The story harks back to Dr. Walters’ younger years, as the illicit methamphetamine trade worked its way into his California suburban neighborhood and so many others like it. Throughout the piece, Crocker weaves in details about the NIH study, vital statistics on how drug use has increased across the U.S. and now Texas and the grassroots efforts of Dr. Walters and his cohorts, nationally.

Crocker’s trophy case already houses her awards for being named PR Daily’s 2020 Nonprofit Communications Professional of the Year for her public health reporting during the COVID-19 outbreak, as well as her 2019 Ragan Communications Health Care PR and Marketing Award for Best National Article for her piece on the toll domestic violence inflicted on one faculty member’s family.

The Saint Louis native has worked at HSC for more than 13 years. She graduated with a degree in journalism from Texas Christian University before attending graduate school at Southern Methodist University, where she earned her master’s degree in liberal arts.

Crocker said her passion has always been storytelling, and she considers herself a journalist by nature. She immediately understood the potential in Dr. Walters’ story.

“You write a lot of stories in your career, but there are those that really hit you, and you go, ‘Wow,’” she said. “What this person is doing — and what these researchers are doing — is so powerful. I want to be the one to tell this kind of story. To be able to do that and then receive such a prestigious award on behalf of HSC feels very rewarding.”

Dr. Walters, a Regents professor in HSC’s School of Public Health, called Crocker’s award “remarkable” and noted the degree of difficulty she faces in her job.

“In public health stories, you have to educate,” he said. “You can’t just write to entertain, and you can’t just tell the news. It’s a harder task.

“Sally has a real talent for taking individual ideas and weaving them into a story,” he said. “It’s lovely to work with someone who can help you connect the dots to explain your message. She’s able to phrase it in a way that helps people understand the most important points.”