Health communication in need of a check-up

The extreme changes experienced by the health sector in recent years are sufficient to set the blood pressure of any PR and communications team soaring. At its broadest, the health industry contains many different public and private players who are jostling for position within its ever changing structure. Health trusts, wellbeing providers, medical insurers and intermediaries, charities and health service providers all exist within a new market dynamic with different PR challenges. Proving your capabilities and credentials to both the public and the purse holders is critical.

And the pressure is on. Against an economic backdrop that requires people to be extra resilient, happy and hard working, we are facing endemic health and societal challenges that each turn the screw. Obesity, stress, heart disease, ageing workforce, pension crisis; the list goes on. Failure to prove performance, build brand and change attitudes could be life threatening for these organisations.

The new symptoms of PR and communication in the industry require new thinking. The general changing relationships and dynamics of the sector mean greater complexity and change in the type and number of stakeholders that must be communicated with. The breaking up of responsibilities for health provision and promotion between different and often competing organisations is also increasing the need to market and sell services in order to win business. PR teams are likely to be faced with new horizons in terms of target audience, subject matter, message, the proposition they must communicate and the means they must use to do this (including for many the move into social media).

It is not all bad news though. The current topicality of health issues means that there is plenty of content to go at, whether in PR led B2B thought leadership programmes or using social media as part of your services for patients. We think there are a number of particular specific PR challenges facing various health industry stakeholders.

GP commissioning presents an obvious challenge for any organisation looking to provide front line health services or hospital trusts competing increasingly for referrals. Communication with the GP community is critical, both in terms of relationship building, developing trust and proving the value that your services can provide. Funding as well as business success will be based on their ability to use a range of B2B communication means, including B2B content-driven marketing and PR.

As community health services become outsourced or break away from the NHS, these new providers must find and develop their own brand. This is essential in maintaining a relationship with the health service as well as building trust with local stakeholders and getting the local community using its services to the full. Social media is critical in this area of health provision too – as it provides the ability to engage in dialogue with patients in both a private and public setting to enhance service. It also creates a window into the organisation’s services to make people aware of its service to them.

Charities involved in health promotion also have a new communications challenge. Alongside PR and social media being key public promotional elements of their service, B2B PR and marketing to health bodies is vital in competing for work and funding when donations are increasingly dry.

But not all of the responsibility falls on public health. The government is keen to stress that we are all in it together, and employers are likely to be feeling the pressure of this. They are seen as owning a role of promoting health in the workplace so that the benefit spills over into to society too. This doesn’t stop at providing medical insurance, but working with their employees to locate and prevent health problems through wellbeing programmes. Doing so can give them a positive benefit beyond societal improvement and CSR. Data suggests that the healthier, happier employee is also the more productive one, so driving and communicating a health message can increase profitability and reduce staff costs. We are seeing more large employers make health part of their corporate credentials and a new wave of wellbeing providers seeking to promote their services to them through B2B marketing, PR and social media into these sectors as well as new media outlets.

Alongside wellbeing providers, the medical insurance industry is getting in on the corporate wellbeing. Private medical providers are adding value through wellbeing services as part of their B2B marketing to corporate clients. Some, including insurance intermediaries, are also taking wellbeing more seriously as a means of competing. If they can prove that a client’s employees have improved their health through wellbeing programmes they have an opportunity to compete on premiums. Adding wellbeing services to their core medical care business also acts as a B2B PR opportunity in itself; they are seen to be helping to prevent employers’ health issues as well as treating them.

Across all corners of the UK health industry, from NHS trusts to wellbeing services, the dynamics of B2B and B2C communication are evolving. Practitioners will need to evolve their strategies, content and campaigns too, to ensure their organisations pass their marketing medical with flying colours.

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