expert insights

Pushing the Limit in Healthcare PR, Compliantly

By: Sophie Babcock, Healthcare Manager, Catalyst

It is a tale as old as time, and it starts with a public relations agency bringing a bold, creative idea to a healthcare client. It’s the type of “pie in the sky” thinking so often requested, and undoubtedly involves the sort of expertise and timing only agencies are capable of nimbly activating against. If pulled off, it could change the game for the partner, brand or disease state. Yet, any betting PR person would put money on this big idea being met with one strong point of opposition: “our legal team will never go for it.”

With the convergence of healthcare and technology, and the rise of influential voices on social media, there is no shortage of ways for brands to tell their story. From virtual reality and artificial intelligence, to Instagram influencers and strategic paid and earned media, creative opportunity in the consumer health space is vast.

So even with the basic, nonetheless daunting, hurdle of getting medical, legal and regulatory review teams on board, healthcare brands should feel empowered to think bigger, and pull off those pipe-dream ideas in order to ultimately bring about meaningful results. The following principles can help guide a powerful healthcare campaign:

Put Patients First

There is nothing worse than a flashy stunt or healthcare ad, aimed at patients, that does little to tell their story. No longer is it the norm, nor is it effective, to send generic mailers or post stock imagery with canned testimonials. Patients, like your average consumer, expect some level of personalization. And, in an industry where lives are directly affected, where access to medication and coverage can often be a matter of life or death, shouldn’t personalization be the bare minimum? When developing the framework for a big idea, ensure patients are at the heart.

If your patient population is not intrinsically a part of the campaign’s DNA, you may want to re-evaluate the strategy. Revisit market research or survey the community to ensure the tone and messaging of your big idea resonates. While medical, legal and regulatory review teams will have their own messaging dos and don’ts, which would serve you well to commit to memory, it is important to remember to filter all things through a patient lens. After all, who else are we doing this for?

Find the Right Voice

Ensuring your big idea has media legs should never be an afterthought, especially in the age of fake news, where consumers have a tough time distinguishing between credible coverage, sensationalism and rumor. To safeguard credibility, consider collaborating with a national advocacy organization that can instantly lend authority to your cause, and be a sounding board for your external message.

If you can identify influencers or celebrities who are directly or indirectly affected by your campaign, think about collaborating with them to authentically accelerate the message with their own networks. However, this added layer of brand voice will need to be fully fleshed out for your review teams, and if your proposed partner does not pass your initial vetting test without red flags for the brand or campaign based on tone, previous partnerships or exposure, you may want to consider if they are the right fit at this time.

Manage Expectations

None of your partners or review teams should ever be surprised or caught off guard during a campaign activation, so ensure your objective is clear from start to finish. Is it to encourage people living with a condition to opt-in to a consumer database? Or are you simply providing awareness and resources for a patient community? Regardless, once the objective is established, set benchmarks for success. In the world of healthcare PR, success can’t be defined solely by things like digital impressions or website clicks. At the end of the day, it is your ability to mitigate risk that will be scrutinized. Ensure guardrails and processes are in place to monitor conversation sentiment, increase transparency in messaging whenever possible, and flag adverse events in order to engage compliantly with consumers, patients or healthcare professionals.

Last but not least, speak in Layman’s terms. The term “influencers,” and phrases like “pay for play on social,” may be foreign to your legal review team, which is why it’s important to choose your words carefully. For example, to a person unfamiliar with PR jargon, “influencer” may be equated to a “lobbyist” or “investor,” and flippant use of industry terms could throw a wrench in your initial planning. Managing expectations from start to finish is not only important, but necessary when working with a client who is stepping outside of their comfort zone with you.

So, next time you wake up in the middle of the night with a big idea for your brand, even if it feels like a long shot in the highly-regulated healthcare industry, don’t be so quick to fall back asleep. You just might be on to something.