Healthcare communications: What's the headline?

Healthcare communications: What's the headline?

Glen Nowak, Ph.D., University of Georgia (UGA) Professor of Advertising and Public Relations and Director of UGA’s Center for Health and Risk Communication, shares insight into clearly communicating healthcare information to the media and public.

Dodge: How do you think communicating information about healthcare services and technology to the public differs from other consumer services?

Nowak: A couple things stand out initially, but there are a lot of similarities. You have to show the same principles: knowing your audience, knowing what your audience’s interests are, what their priorities are. The challenge when it comes to healthcare services is that it can be difficult to get people’s attention and interest because there are so many things out there making health claims and focusing on health benefits. In regard to technology, people are using it daily, so this is another area where it’s challenging to gain people’s attention because the targeted audience may already be comfortable with the technology they are currently using. For health IT communications, it’s beneficial to have short, user-friendly materials that outline clear benefits to really capture the audience’s attention.

Dodge: Regarding the media and healthcare news, what advice do you have to ensure the information shared is captivating and isn’t full of complicated jargon?

Nowak: Think in terms of headlines. What would the storyline be if you made this idea into a 30-second or 90-second TV story? Keep the one or two main key messages in mind while also considering how you need to talk about these messages to get people’s attention and to get them interested. How does your target audience talk about this? How do they view this? What would be news to them? What would really challenge their current viewpoints on this topic?

Jargon can always be a challenge – if it’s not language, concepts or words your target audience uses daily, right away you won’t be communicating clearly to them. You always have to think about the people you are trying to reach – how do they talk about it? Do they even talk about it? You have to give them a reason to think about it or motivate them to think about it.

Dodge: Based on your experience, are there differences between B-to-C and B-to-B healthcare communications?

Nowak: The main difference when you’re in the B-to-B environment is that businesses are concerned about how something will help their bottom line from a profit and revenue perspective. Most consumers aren’t buying a product to help them make money – they are buying a product because it fits into their lifestyle, have the benefits they are seeking, helping them make some kind of statement, make them healthier, live longer, etc.

Currently, though, B-to-B messaging is becoming very user-friendly, intuitive and easy to follow. What this really illustrates is many of the same principles that have been used for a long time to communicate to consumers make a lot of sense in the B-to-B environment. B-to-B communication is evolving into short, clear, concise messaging – but all while clearly stating the benefits and how the products or services can help with business operations: profits, sales, things of that nature.

Dodge: From your perspective, what is the difference when communicating to the public or to the media? What is your advice on ensuring clarity in messaging to these audiences?

Nowak: News media can be a little more skeptical than the public – they have a duty to be objective about the information they present and they know that when they present something, their credibility is at stake. When dealing with reporters or journalists, you need be mindful that your pitch has to fit how the outlet shares news, packages news, their target audience – while coming from a new angle. Communicators need to ensure what they are wanting to share is actually news and not a chance for commercial gain. For the media, credibility with their audience is a high priority.

To ensure clarity in messaging, it always helps when people in your target audience can review and give feedback on initial drafts to make sure what you are saying resonates and makes sense. This also gives an opportunity to see if the information presented is interpreted the way you want it to be interpreted. This can help refine messaging for different channels to different people, helping the messaging stay on track. It’s easy for jargon to seep into messaging – especially in B-to-B. For example, words like synergy may sound good, but people may not know exactly what it means. Communicators need to be clear about what a company offers and what products or services specifically do. Running messaging by target audiences can help make sure this is crystal clear.

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