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5 Strategies for Health Communicators during the Election

10/19/2020
— Health Sector Team 

It’s election season in the U.S., and healthcare is front and center. There’s the ongoing political battle over the Affordable Care Act and the individual mandate, the possibility of a new Supreme Court justice weighing in on legal challenges to healthcare legislation, a new slate of federal health leaders if Biden wins—and, of course, there’s COVID.

COVID is, in many ways, at the center of the U.S. elections. Trump’s handling of the pandemic, his withdrawal of U.S. funding from the World Health Organization and perceived politicization of nonpartisan healthcare federal agencies such as the FDA, CDC and HHS, as well as his diagnosis, stimulus bills (or lack thereof), vaccine trials, masks, and the question of whether or not to reopen the economy, will all play a role in deciding how Americans vote.

As the year ends and Americans choose their future leaders, here’s a look at five strategies for how healthcare communicators can help their customers and stakeholders, rather than pick sides or add to the noise.

 

Know where you stand and what you stand for

In an environment with so many partisan opinions and so much misinformation, brands must have a clear stake in the ground. Identify three things you’d like the next administration to focus on. When the dust of the election settles, it will be important to share your point of view, through media outreach, statements and content on owned channels, or on social media.

Now is the time to revisit your brand’s purpose and do the legwork to make sure all your communications and marketing efforts align with what you want your brand to stand for and the values it represents. Sixty-one percent of respondents from last year’s Brands in Motion global study would shame a prescription health brand if it stepped out of line, so the stakes are high.

 

Consider pausing planned communications

With mail-in voting and the possibility of recounts or challenges to the outcomes in specific states or federally, election day is more like election season. Expect national politics to suck the oxygen out of the news cycle for weeks.

With that in mind, early November is not the time to be proactively communicating. Be nimble about outreach in mid- to late-November, too. The outlook likely won’t be as bad for the trades or financial media unless there’s serious financial fallout from the election.

 

Expect sensation over substance

If you are communicating, proactively or reactively, during this time, expect questions you are not an expert on. Whether or not you’re in the vaccine race, you could be asked about political pressure over vaccine trials, how Trump is handling COVID, how Biden could handle COVID. We recommend not adding to the noise. It’s not helpful to speculate or weigh in on issues in which you’re not an expert.

If you do comment, avoid judgment and acknowledge the complexity of the issue. The situation we are in today involves an entire ecosystem, and it demands an ecosystem solution. Besides, pointing fingers is never a good look.

 

Be an educator, not an entertainer

As experts in the field, you have a unique opportunity to provide much-needed context. You can explain the headlines, point out what’s a soundbite and what’s reality, and separate the information from the misinformation.

We need clear-eyed communications right now, with a patient-centric lens and detail around the healthcare implications. Ask yourself: Is this helpful information for my customers and stakeholders, or is this more noise?

 

Put people first

As the government continues to grapple with how to stimulate and reward healthcare innovation, it’s important that healthcare communicators double down on their value story. That means focusing on people. What is your product’s tangible impact for patients? Why should we be prioritizing long-term outcomes over short-term profits? How can you tell your brand or product’s story using people—patients and their healthcare providers?

 

Healthcare companies are in the business of saving lives, but ironically they can have a hard time expressing the human value of what they do. Election season is increasingly a time of chaos, and healthcare communicators have an opportunity to be the signal in the noise when it comes to healthcare coverage, COVID, health equity, drug pricing, innovation and more.

Is your brand ready to communicate with heart, integrity and clarity?