Creativity vs. Compliance: 5 tips for managing healthcare PR

PRCA Health’s event on ‘Creativity vs. Compliance: Striking the balance on social media in healthcare’ earlier this week provided a glimpse into how The King’s Fund and Hill+Knowlton Strategies manage integrated healthcare programmes.

As with managing strategic consultancy programmes in financial services, healthcare is another highly regulated industry that requires prior knowledge before suggesting creative campaigns to support a business purpose. Sadly such programmes can feel like ‘creativity vs. compliance’, but in reality it’s about building a relationship with regulatory teams and that’s done by being clear about what communications programmes are set out to achieve.

With most healthcare programmes the purpose is usually educating people about a particular condition or product, or creating empathy. Social media plays an immediately obvious role in this as we share health updates with friends, family or colleagues, seek advice online, and offers companies data to initiate highly targeted campaigns.

Despite the compliance aspects, it’s health campaigns that tend to be the most memorable for their creative flair. Such as Give Blood’s 2015 Missing type campaign, British Heart Foundation’s #RestartAHeart campaign, or Abbott’s #FreetoDream campaign. Proving compliance doesn’t need to be considered the enemy of creativity, but just an unavoidable condition of working with healthcare companies.

No matter what your compliance stage is as a health company, there are a few aspects to consider as you embrace digital.

#1 Work with compliance teams

Grumble behind closed doors about how limiting compliance teams can be, but it’s the role of PR practitioners to provide solutions. This is usually about building a relationship with compliance teams and often this starts with understanding each other’s goals and guidelines. Particularly when it comes to digital as it can’t be approached as an academic piece of text and has to consider compliance frameworks that allow for conversations.

#2 Experiment in the beginning

Every journey requires a first step, integrating digital activities into healthcare activities is the same. Rather than develop an all-encompassing digital strategy, focus on a small piece of activity with estimated deliverables. Use this project to gradually innovate healthcare programmes and as a proof point for senior decision makers.

#3 It’s 2017, the word ‘digital’ can be unhelpful

The King’s Fund don’t have a digital strategy, instead they focus on content and ensure all relevant teams are involved at the start of the content creation process. This is so social media doesn’t remain an afterthought. Whilst every journey requires a first step, it is 2017 and newspapers alone are just not going to be enough.

#4 Jargon is your enemy

Do you harness forward thinking strategies? Leverage best of breed practices? Look to achieve sustainable clarity of message for strategic communication plans without getting too granular? Please STOP! Health is full of enough jargon without introducing management speak, especially if you want compliance teams to understand PR plans. Oh, and follow @managerspeak for some more jargon wankry.

#5 Use people and online communities

The ones who know best about their health condition or your product are customers/patients. Give people a reason to engage with your campaign, sometimes this is simply about putting people in contact with each other such as Colontown, ‘an online community of more than 40 “secret” groups on Facebook for colorectal patients, survivors, and caregivers’.

 

Leading on Lansons’ digital activities means being experts in compliance based industries, health is by far the most challenging and potentially innovative industry when it comes to creative campaigns.

2017: The year of opportunity

Virtual reality on a bike

The PRCA’s ‘2017: the year of…’ event provided a moment to reflect on the current and upcoming opportunities and challenges facing the PR industry. If we want to become better communicators then it’s critical to understand virtual reality, automation, social media advertising, the skills gaps facing our industry – read the PRCA’s blog post for the full list.

Without a doubt, the theme of this year is uncertainty as the term ‘post-truth era’ is used to describe when politicians lead with dodgy statistics to fuel an emotional message or the reputational trouble fake news poses online.

As the panel on post-truth communications concluded at the PRCA event, half of the problem with post-truth is PR, often full of jargon and devoid of reality. Another observation is that this isn’t about truth at all, but instead the public questioning traditional sources of authority. As we know from the latest Edelman Trust Barometer,

“The general population’s trust in all four key institutions — business, government, NGOs, and media — has declined broadly, a phenomenon not reported since Edelman began tracking trust among this segment in 2012.”

Part of the PR industry’s general uncertainty could very well be born from our recent reliance on managing data. Listening to conversations on social media, running polls, and quizzing workgroups, has made us assume we know the answers.

Although we hadn’t considered that humans are inherently irrational beings – we don’t always tell the truth, social media bubbles can warp popular opinion, and emotional response may win over logic. If we painted the recent referendum with a broad brush, then both deal with emotional claims on ‘truths’, potentially a polite term for lies.

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Where there is uncertainty, opportunity prospers for those who see it. The PR industry isn’t short of developments, especially afforded by technologies such as virtual reality. For instance, Jeremy Bailenson, Associate Professor of Communication at Stanford University, is leading research looking at how people’s virtual experience is affecting their real-world ones. If someone cuts down a tree in a virtual forest, will the emotional response trigger a change in recycling behaviours?

In my view 2017 is the year of opportunity. Whilst fake news and conversations about #AlternativeFacts rage on Twitter, there is no denying the digital opportunities are plentiful this year. It’s almost like we’re back in 2006 again.