Merck hops onto HBCU network to step up its brand in the African-American community

You can't accuse Merck ($MRK) of ignoring diversity. The drugmaker's marketing team is adding another arrow to its quiver of community-oriented campaigns: A partnership with HBCU Connect, a niche media network targeting alumni and students of historically black colleges and universities.

The drugmaker is working with HBCU Connect to offer health advice and information via a dedicated microsite. It's essentially a broadly based awareness push that puts Merck's name in front of a specific target group. On the home page, a banner proclaims that the site is sponsored by MerckEngage.

With 1.5 million followers on its own site--plus Twitter and Facebook--HBCU offers Merck a solid audience for its targeted content. The group doesn't soft-pedal the effort with altruistic protestations, either. It's a business deal that gives Merck a chance to show its stuff with HBCU members--and profit from it, albeit indirectly.

Will Moss, CEO of HBCU Connect--courtesy of HBCU Connect

"Our readers are smart, conscious consumers and offer our partners a personal link to the most powerful movers and shakers in the African-American community," Will Moss, CEO of HBCU Connect, said in a statement. "[We] look forward to a beneficial business relationship that will benefit both of our institutions as well as our website visitors."

For HBCU Connect, the Merck deal adds a health and wellness channel to its current offerings in job hunting, career development, scholarship info, networking and the like. The co-branded site will focus on health issues common in the African-American community. Members can also access MerckExchange, the company's more broadly based health and lifestyle site, which includes disease management tools, along with tips and advice for dealing with everything from long-term caregiving to insurance claims.

Just last month, the drugmaker announced a partnership aimed at a different demographic group. Latina chef and cookbook author Leticia Moreinos Schwartz signed on to promote blood sugar control and healthy eating in the Hispanic community, which has a disproportionate share of type II diabetes cases. Schwartz will headline a series of events where she'll cook recipes designed for diabetics and talk up disease management.

- check out the microsite from HBCU Connect and Merck
- see the release from HBCU Connect

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