They say it’s good to talk and that’s proving to be truer than ever when it comes to healthcare PR. The exponential continued growth of digital media means that there are now more opportunities to engage with people across society than ever before.
It’s estimated that close to five billion people around the world now have access to the internet – that’s almost two-thirds of the global population. Whether that access is gained through smartphones, laptops, PCs or televisions, consumers now have information at their fingertips almost universally.
Why PR matters to the healthcare industry
And when health matters rear their head, it’s now more and more likely that we go online to make sense of symptoms and search for remedies. There is lots of expertise available on the internet, especially on the NHS website which leads the way on medical PR.
But there is lots of misinformation out there as well that can confuse, mislead and damage the reputation of healthcare companies. That damage can take a long time to repair. It also proves an unwanted distraction to healthcare companies established to have a positive impact.
And that underlines why those in the healthcare sector have robust PR strategies. They build overarching trust with their audiences, protect online reputations and bolster links with other sectors.
What is healthcare PR?
Healthcare PR communications tools range from traditional press releases to all-singing, all-dancing TikTok videos. They share important messages regarding public health management and medical matters.
These can range from prostate cancer awareness campaigns to NHS fitness drives. They are necessary because they can have a profound impact on health and personal wellbeing. Healthcare PR campaigns can be targeted at people in the street of any age. They can be aimed at health service providers, professionals, and stakeholders. They may also focus on clients, patients and consumers.
Why does healthcare PR matter?
Robust healthcare PR is hugely important. That’s because, as the Chartered Institute for Public Relations says, ‘health communications can improve the wellbeing of the population’. Its significance has never been greater than during the Covid-19 pandemic.
As scientists sought effective vaccines, Prime Minister Boris Johnson spearheaded a public relations campaign to limit the impact of the virus. He harnessed all his communication skills to protect the public in an unprecedented PR crusade.
It was an unrelenting multi-media campaign. And one that underlined why good communications are vital for engagement with audiences across society.
As the UK population ages, that is also the case with raising dementia awareness in every community. As scientists look for a cure, using expertise in creating messages to improve public awareness is vital.
How can PR work for the healthcare sector?
The government’s healthcare PR strategy around Covid-19 aimed to reach every corner of the UK. Their approach involved everything from live prime-time broadcasts to placing adverts in national newspapers.
That strategy is inspired by the PESO model. It takes in all important forms of media that are relevant to marketing and PR and combines them into a framework. It is a tool created by Gini Dietrich, as a way to plan for the big picture.
Each letter of the PESO model represents a different form of media and the action it takes:
- P is for ‘paid’ and refers to advertising.
- E stands for ‘earned, referring to media mentions in newspapers, magazines and websites, link building and broadcast interviews.
- S for ‘shared media’ is referred to as social media and includes partnerships, charity links and influencer engagement.
- O is for content ‘owned’ by healthcare companies on websites, blogs, newsletters, reports, white papers, audio and video content.
Healthcare and the media
Health matters a lot. What people see, read and hear in the media can be a matter of life and death. That is why healthcare is so important to every creditable media organisation that recognises the public appetite for useful information.
Long before Covid-19 reared its head, health-related stories on dementia and cancer made lots of headlines. These include everything from medical breakthroughs, new services and personal stories journalists call ‘case studies’. It pays to understand how our media work.
1. Healthcare headlines
Most media outlets have health correspondents who lead teams of specialist teams to create coverage with substance. Engaging and speaking with them is key to the success of the healthcare industry and healthcare professionals.
On the broadcast front, Hugh Pym is the BBC’s health editor, backed up by expert correspondents such as Sophie Hutchinson. ITV News coverage is led by Emily Morgan, the Sky News medical and science correspondent Thomas Moore.
UK newspapers and their websites boast terrific journalists who keep health and science in the headlines. These include the Telegraph’s health editor Laura Donnelly and life sciences editor Sarah Knapton, as well as Lachlan MacKinnon who covers health for The Mirror newspaper.
2. Professional opinion
The rich diversity of their work is reinforced with professional help from qualified doctors such as Daily Mail health columnist Dr Ellie Cannon. Plus, there are resident broadcast experts as well like Good Morning Britain’s Dr Hilary Jones.
As well as mainstream journalism, specialist media outlets such as the British Medical Journal provide authoritative news coverage. The Lancet remains to go-to place for scientific breakthroughs. The New Statesman magazine also has a health specialist in Phil Whitaker.
3. Ensure good healthcare PR
There are lots of health journalists right across the media. One thing they have in common is that they are bombarded with pitches from PR people with stories to share.
That is why it pays to follow advice from Medical Journalists’ Association on how best to build strong relationships with journalists, making their jobs easier. That means ‘understanding deadlines and lead-times which rule every journalist’s day’. It entails offering new information, strong hooks or access to case studies or experts at short notice.
4. Building relationships
A good PR agency will engage with journalists. That is because media relations play a vital role in PR agency campaigns. They speak to reporters about new services. Or so they can make sense of research and aspects of seemingly complex information.
They will also harness the power of facts to make a point. By creating the right content for clients in structured campaigns, they can change behaviours. That will enhance your reputation.
That’s what Bath University’s PR team did around the research on rugby and their efforts won their scientists’ widespread coverage. It also inspired positive change within the rugby community and England Rugby’s national injury prevention programme.
5. Crisis communications
You never know what’s around the corner in life. A comprehensive healthcare public relations strategy will ensure you are ready for anything to protect your brand.
At some point, you’ll face an incident that wasn’t part of the plan. It might be due to client experience of services and adverse reaction of patients. It might be related to diversity. These are just two examples.
Whatever happens, effective crisis management necessitates acting quickly. It is also about acting responsibly to safeguard brand reputation in your sector.
6. Planning ahead
A key part of healthcare public relations is auditing clients’ crisis and issues management processes. That will highlight organisations’ issues and processes that need rectifying.
Then you create an issues communications plan. This will be the platform to build trust with your community and strengthen bonds with your audience.
This will include everything from preparing statements for external stakeholders to training for broadcast interviews.
Stakeholder research will support rebuilding brand reputation following a crisis. For any company and most organisations, that will form part of ongoing marketing, public affairs and corporate affairs campaigns.
Does your healthcare company need help with PR? Our expert team is skilled at anticipating trends and advance planning for a range of topics, issues, and crisis situations. Contact us now for a chat about how we can help you [email protected].