Creative PR aids storytelling efforts in fight against diseases

Communications strategist Matthew Feldman says good storytelling and campaigns can engage the public, ignite political will, and help raise resources to improve global health.

For so many issues in global health, the name of one disease could be substituted for another and the communications would read the same: You’ve probably never heard of it, but it is killing people in far-off lands; not enough money goes toward finding a solution; the world – including you – needs to stand together and do more. Sound familiar?

In working on persistent issues of global health and development, I’ve seen how comms is often relegated to an afterthought. Describing the work is something that is sprinkled on after the fact, rather than baked into a project from the outset. Far too often, the result is the lowest common denominator: Raising awareness by preaching to the converted about our missions in blogs that nobody reads and tweets that nobody shares.

This result isn’t for a lack of trying or a belief that comms isn’t important, but for lack of donor prioritization. There simply aren’t enough resources allocated to telling great stories.

However, a great story alone won’t fight poverty or develop a new vaccine. But these worlds cannot continue to exist in isolation. Powerful stories and campaigns engage a broader public, ignite political will, and garner support that translates into resources that help get more done – a virtuous cycle, driven by good PR.

I’ve been fortunate to work with donors who support good storytelling, such as healthcare workers who’ve contracted tuberculosis and deserve a vaccine to protect them from the disease they work to treat. I’ve seen the global impact these stories can have and how telling them can motivate more people to drive change.

At events such as Cannes Lions Health, creative pros exhibit innovative, impactful work. Many of these people want – and sometimes compete – to do work for nonprofit clients. Their skills should be welcome in global health.

What if donors committed to the same comms bravery that creatives embrace? What if they funded their implementers to tell great stories about the impact of their work to achieve better outcomes? To think as big about PR as they do about program implementation. This creativity will take us to new places. Hearts will be touched. Policymakers will be informed. More good work will be supported and more lives will be changed. Isn’t that why we do it?  

Matthew Feldman is senior manager of strategic communications, Aeras

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