By Angela Klinske, Senior Director, Healthcare & Biotech

If this past year has taught us anything it’s that trust is not easy to earn or keep. The COVID-19 pandemic proved detrimental in healthcare systems unaccustomed to collaboration and communication with all their stakeholders.

More than a year later, healthcare leaders can likely reflect on a deep-dive, crash course in media and public relations with techniques and talking points polished, new experiences gained and best practices learned. Guess what? Your competition can claim the same. How will you sustain the momentum you built in visibility, accountability, and transparency throughout the rest of this pandemic and beyond?

Unlike any other time in history, healthcare leaders had the opportunity to be a voice for their companies and their communities as they stood front and center in the public eye. Here are five things all healthcare executives need to know about PR and how to harness its power amid the pandemic and beyond:

1. Reputation management is serious business. People seek personal recommendations and online reviews to guide their decision to engage with your organization.

If PR is the door to promoting and protecting your image, then reputation management is the key. You can’t dole out information via your own blog, newsletter and town hall and ignore the other voices amplifying your brand on tools like Google, Glassdoor and social media. Your online image demands immediate and ongoing attention. Make sure that in addition to patient relations you have a team proactively addressing and improving your online reputation.

Your team should be monitoring activity on all social media platforms, as well as what’s being said about you in public-facing, online reviews. They should also have a plan to mitigate poor publicity on these channels.

2. Public relations is for crisis and buzz and everything in between. PR isn’t the bow on top of the marketing plan or the answer to “Uh-oh, what do we do now?” It’s baked into your marketing strategy. And it’s woven through your entire organization, from the board room to the break room.

Ideally, your PR strategy includes reputation management (see Tip No. 1), community engagement (where are you showing up in the community you serve?), and thought leadership (what important, timely conversations are you leading?). Optimize these during the good times so when a crisis hits, you’re established as a credible source to your customers, the media, community leaders, and the public at large.

3. Every employee is an advocate. Your most valuable advocates are those who work for you. Their attitude, how they treat each other and their patients, and how they talk about work (or post about it) after hours all either build up or tear down your company’s image. Foster an amazing place to work – where all workers’ ideas and concerns are heard, valued and implemented – and you will build a stronger, more genuine brand. Arm them with messages and positive stories about the organization, praise them publicly, and be as transparent as you can. Help them “own” the organization and win the day for you. The same principles apply to your patients, vendors and community partners.

4. Diversity and inclusion should be a key part of your communications strategy. We’ve learned that organizations with strong tides and commitments to social responsibility have stronger internal engagement and shareholder value, but to truly deepen your relationships within communities, diversity and inclusion must be at the forefront. It’s important to create, implement and sustain robust inclusivity plans that are championed by employees and shareholders—from patient-facing team members to board members.

5. Public Relations sits at the executive table. Your PR counsel is well versed in media law and healthcare PR best practices. They have established relationships with key media, legislators and community leaders and can often mitigate negative PR more effectively if they are aware of issues at the onset. They are also closely connected to your marketing, digital and corporate communications teams and can integrate PR into all these disciplines for maximum value.

Invite them into the conversation, ask them for feedback, and let them provide practical guidance on the big and the small decisions. They can highlight your blind spots and find practical ways to get meaningful information out to your stakeholders.

6. Psst… Marketing and PR are not the same thing. But together they are a powerhouse that drives sales and publicity. While both are integral to the growth of an organization’s brand, Marketing is focused on sales; Public Relations is focused on relationships.

PR can help you build a better reputation with your board members, find new ways for you to plug into the community, and help you deliver a lasting and impressionable message to current and prospective employees and patients. Your PR team is not there to help you just “get the word out” but to build a sustainable strategy that positions your organization as a trusted source in a capricious society.

Learn more about our Healthcare & Biotech practice or contact us here.