Marketing Strategy

How to Create a Healthcare PR Strategy

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How to Create a Healthcare PR Strategy

The healthcare industry in the United States alone is worth hundreds of billions of dollars, but with that incredible opportunity for growth comes many disparate voices all trying to break through the noise and make their messages heard. 

In general, there is an issue with an oversaturation of messages, with consumers completely inundated with different communications, either being told to pay attention to something, or purchase something; this is especially true in health. People living with different conditions, and their loved ones, are always looking for answers to find help, but the plethora of news makes it hard to get heard, and even if a message is heard, many can be rightfully skeptical. 

This makes having a firm public relations (PR) strategy all the more essential. A powerful approach  can help elevate brands, cut through the noise and reach the audiences that need to hear their story. 

Below are core tenets that any organization in health, whether private or publicly traded, pharma or medtech, industry or an NGO, should make sure to keep in mind when building out their healthcare PR strategy, and putting it into practice. 

Identify PR Goals & Objectives of Your Healthcare Company

Implementing an effective strategy starts with determining the goals of the organization. These objectives can vary from attracting interest from potential investors, to increasing sales, but healthcare companies specifically can have other targets. Increasing awareness of a disease state and an unmet need, shedding light on a policy that negatively impacts people living with an illness, or even encouraging  additional participation in an actively recruiting clinical study, are all specific goals that a healthcare PR strategy could look to target.

While these goals can be wide-ranging and touch any part of a company, it’s imperative that they are specific, measurable, and have a certain timeline assigned to them. These parameters should always be the guiding force throughout planning the entire strategy; every tactic, each message, anything conducted, should ladder directly back to these objectives. Success of strategy implementation will be gauged against these objectives as well, helping to pinpoint where tactics need to be adjusted where certain goals aren’t being addressed.

Understand Your Audience

Effective strategic implementation starts and ends with knowing the audience that’s being reached out to, whether it’s an investor, a person living with a disease, regulatory bodies, policy makers, or other potential clients. Take the time to understand where they consume information, what their self-identified issues and pain points are, where education is needed and what they already know, and more. Investing time in this stage will help to save additional time course correcting, or doing damage to a brand, down the road. 

It’s also important to keep in mind how each stakeholder talks about themselves as well, and not focus on how a company determines they should be spoken about. People living with diseases in a target therapeutic area, or their caregivers, are a chief example. An individual’s health is in its very nature intimate and personal. A PR message needs to speak to them as the people they are, rather than treating them as just “patients”. Individuals don’t want to be talked to, they want to be communicated with, especially by voices that have earned their trust. Coming into outreach with humility for the people that are potentially being served by a drug or device will be a helpful first step in communicating. 

Be Authentic

Tying in with the theme of the intimacy that comes with providing care, there is no more important industry to be authentic in than in health. When a company and its leadership team are authentic, stakeholders are much more likely to want to engage in the long term, feeling more connected with, rather than told what to do by an insensitive entity. Building an authentic brand or reputation won’t happen immediately, but making sure that the idea of being authentic is woven into the fabric of each part of a strategy implementation will help provide cohesion across all communications, and create a uniformly positive and trusted image. 

Craft a Unique Value Proposition

Next, be able to clearly define why an innovation is essential and what its capabilities are, all in one succinct message. This elevator pitch will be the core of a developed message behind any PR strategy. When framing a value proposition, helpful questions to imagine a target audience asking include, but are not limited to: 

  • What is the problem that’s being solved by this product or initiative? 
  • What data are backing up these claims? 
  • How does this compare with what else is available on the market or that is already the standard of care? 
  • How much longer do I have to wait until this is on the market? 
  • What will I have to do to access this innovation? 
  • What will the cost be? 

This value proposition needs to be backed up by facts and data. Long past are the days where snake oil salesmen can waltz into town and shop whatever quick cures they can come up with. Today, claims need to be backed by rigorous science and research. Consumers, businesses and investors alike, have rightfully become skeptical of overpromising companies, especially after crises like the Theranos scandal. 

Develop Key Messages

With an audience in mind, goals established, and a clear elevator pitch developed, it’s time to fully flesh out the messages that will be shared throughout the strategy. This language carries the theme of a strategy, tells the story of a company, and makes it clear, in concise and clear language, the value of a product or initiative. 

As previously mentioned, these need to be completely authentic and focused on data that backs up any claims that are made. They should take into account all of the research done on the target audiences, understanding how they prefer to be spoken to. Once developed and approved by a PRC or MLR team, they will be used as the basis for all materials across all channels. 

These should be clear, concise and be consistent across all PR channels that are activated throughout the strategy. 

Build Relationships with the Media

Building reporter relationships takes time, but is an imperative part of any effective healthcare PR strategy. Like any vertical, healthcare has a number of leading outlets and journalists who do terrific work in covering all different verticals. This includes publications that focus exclusively on pharmaceuticals, like Endpoints News or PharmaVOICE, those that provide health information to consumers, like Healthline and Prevention, our publications like STAT News and Fierce Healthcare, that wear many hats. Get familiar with the work that’s being published, what makes news, and what the key reporters like to cover. 

Reporters shouldn’t be contacted for the first time when an announcement goes out, so setting up briefings and connections with them before a strategy begins in earnest will be helpful. Look for chances to connect with them at industry events or other networking opportunities. This will help to build trusted partners that can be sent news throughout the lifecycle of a business; they won’t always cover the news, but it’ll be helpful to have an experienced journalist following the trajectory of a company so when they do choose to cover, it’ll be accurate and informed. 

Create a Content Strategy

With messages developed and target media identified, it’s time to lay out a calendar that contains plans for each and every piece of content that will be published over any channels throughout the length of the campaign.

This calendar will help to map out every stage of a broader strategy, and stipulate when each element of content needs to be developed in order to hit the set goals. Think strategically about when should be released to be most effective, such as trying to coincide with 

This includes any press releases, blog posts, whitepapers, infographics, data releases, social media content, and more. At this stage, it’s important to identify how each individual piece of content feeds into the overarching content goals. Creating content strategies also includes making sure that no elements cannibalize each other. Perhaps a company anniversary is coming up, but a clinical trial data readout is expected to be released at the same time, it may require a conversation to realize that content space needs to be made to prioritize the readout. 

Leverage Thought Leadership

This strategy can’t be done through corporate and product communications alone; healthcare PR especially needs to be multi-channel. While a company should be the driving force behind an effective strategy, it needs to be supplemented by an effective thought leadership component. This can include writing up op-eds and contributed content, participating in industry events, and staying active on social media. 

This ties closely in with the theme of authenticity. It’s very difficult for individuals to connect with a faceless company, but hearing the same messages from an employee that works for or represents that same company can be construed as much more genuine. This especially rings true in an instance where individuals living with a disease, or their caregivers, are the intended audiences, having a trusted voice, and a face that can be placed to the brand, can make a significant impact. 

A regularly updated social media profile is a great outlet to provide regular touch points between an executive and a target audience. Depending on the outlets that the audience reads, publishing thoughts and opinions commenting on the latest industry news in a publication that accepts contributed articles can be impactful as well. 

All the content produced by leaders doesn’t need to directly tie back to a product or even the company, but at least carry the values that the strategy is aiming to convey, and paint them as key opinion leaders to be respected and listened to. 

Even in smaller organizations, there should be multiple leaders that are tabbed to take part in a thought leadership program. Having a deep bench, perhaps including a CEO, a CMO,  will ensure no individual leader gets overwhelmed, and also prevents a strategy from being impacted if somebody leaves the company.

Monitor Industry Trends

Throughout, it’s imperative to keep a thumb on the pulse of the industry, always staying on top of industry trends, regulations, market developments, and any other environmental elements that could affect the business.

Staying informed ensures that a strategy can change as needed throughout the process, and also gives the chance for a company to look well-informed, and at the cutting edge of the industry. For instance, if the FDA issues a new requirement for clinical trials, it’ll look tone deaf if a statement is issued that blatantly ignores that information.

Additionally, if another company finds success, perhaps with a disease state education awareness campaign, it can be helpful to assess what was done there, how different elements could be adapted to adhere to a different relevant therapeutic area or market. It requires extra time to stay on top of all the goings on in the health world, but in the long run, it will make all the difference. 

Crisis Management Plan

Medical device recalls, FDA warning letters, clinical trial failures, adverse events being reported, and much more can quickly throw an entire healthcare PR strategy out the window in a hurry. This is where planning ahead, and having been authentic earlier on in a strategy really pays off. 

Assemble a team before these events transpire, and develop a comprehensive scenario-based crisis management plan for any situation that could crop up throughout a product or initiative’s lifecycle. 

No company ever hopes to run into these problems, but being caught flat footed could be the difference between bouncing back or having a product fail entirely. Planning ahead isn’t tempting fate, it’s making sure that a brand is ready to handle anything that gets thrown its way. 

This plan should include designated a specific crisis communication team, designed protocols for what responses need to go to whom for reviews and approvals, identifying what channels will be utilized, and what the key messages are. Prepare to be transparent and open, as hiding issues only will make matters worse.

Utilize Social Media

Make sure to assess how much of a role social media can play in a strategy as well. Depending on the goals and objectives of the campaign, it could be the best way to reach a target audience with a message. 

However, it’s not wise to sign up for accounts on each social network without thinking every aspect of it through. Many healthcare companies, like in other industries, want to chase the latest trends or be on all of the top platforms, but be sure to weigh the cost of how much it’ll take to maintain those channels against how effective your message will be there.

Before determining what channel(s) to invest time and energy into, there are important distinctions to break down based on who the target audience is. For instance, platforms like TikTok and Instagram in particular can be daunting to maintain for health companies that don’t have a lot of visual content, especially with the additional restrictions placed on sharing details about an individual’s health experiences or disease journey. Others, like LinkedIn, may be a lot more helpful for focusing specifically on connecting with business partners or potential investors. A channel with only a handful of posts that gets abandoned looks much worse than a company that doesn’t have any channel on a platform at all. 

Secure Speaking Engagements

In part of building out a full-fledged thought leadership portion of a larger healthcare PR strategy, explore ways to get executive team members or other company leaders speaking at industry events. Even beyond leading medical conferences that generally focus on data presentations, like ASH, ASCO or ESMO, there are many conferences that provide incredible platforms for helping to elevate individuals and companies. 

Events like the STAT Health Summit, HLTH, or ViVE, feature some of the industry’s brightest stars and most innovative thinkers, and consider outside speakers for submission. Even beyond these conferences, there are events specifically catered to each vertical in the industry.

These speaking opportunities can both establish credibility as an industry thought leader, as well as generate potential leads or networking opportunities. Carefully research which events cater to which stakeholders before submitting an executive or team leader for consideration. Beyond that, content generated from their participation can inform aforementioned social media content, creating waves well beyond the initial speaking engagement. 

Monitor and Measure Results

As a campaign progresses, monitor for outputs and see how the needle is shifted as a result. If media coverage was earned, take the time to assess the piece closely and see how many of the core key messages were pulled through. Track conversations in the places that the target audience converses in and see what gets mentioned in those discussions. 

Listening in on social media can provide an opportunity to tune in real-time, receiving direct updates on how activities are progressing. All of these measurements should ladder back up to the previously established goals and objectives of the strategy to be able to identify areas of success and areas of opportunity. 

Continuous Improvement

Don’t be afraid to adjust the strategy as needed. The best planned and most effective strategies can always be waylaid by any number of external factors. Audiences could react strongly to a message in a positive or negative way, a major political or social movement could occur that would make pushing through PR about an unrelated topic seem insensitive, or there could even be a competitor that makes a big announcement in a comparable disease state to what the strategy is targeting. It’ll always be valuable to be open to listening to feedback, and adjusting based on what’s working and what isn’t. 

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