Good health comms goes beyond New Year's resolutions

The wham, bam, thank you ma'am approach to healthcare PR must change.

Scott Clark: group CEO, Tonic Life Communications
Scott Clark: group CEO, Tonic Life Communications

With the economy emerging slowly from the malaise of recession, there seems to be ample reason to celebrate. And so the impending Christmas and holiday season comes at an optimal time to let our hair down after driving hard to reach the end of 2013. But beware, it’s also a season for giving poor health.

We break free from the tethers of social media and the digital world that connect us daily and begin to interact with one another at office parties, family and other social gatherings. While we revel, we also unwittingly pass around cold and flu viruses that travel faster than that re-gifted jumper from Aunt Ethel. Time to reach for the hand sanitiser. Let’s not forget that Christmas also ushers in a range of self-inflicted health problems caused by overindulgence in food and drink. Five a day takes a holiday. What do we expect when the season is symbolised by an obese chap whose red nose and flushed cheeks suggest one too many eggnogs?  

Yet in the wake of Christmas indulgence, we surface into a renaissance of health and what I call the start-stop season as people commit to New Year’s resolutions. For example, many stop smoking or start exercising. It’s a PR window of opportunity for countless companies vying for coverage with a healthcare angle. The ‘New Year, new you’ mantra is extolled in campaigns about weight loss, smoking cessation and even Dry January. All admirable pursuits. 

But here’s the point. We are guilty of launching lifestyle or new pharma products to great fanfare, but what happens next? ‘One and done’ comms around New Year or even a launch at other times of the calendar won’t change behaviour. Reinforcing positive messages and helping to overcome obstacles throughout the year is just as important as getting people to initiate healthy changes in the first place. This approach isn’t confined only to those who want to tackle the post-Christmas muffin tops, but is equally applicable to compliance to medicines for chronic diseases from diabetes to COPD and beyond.

When we launch an initiative or campaign with health-related messages, there is an inherent responsibility to continue to support these causes. In the pharma setting so much emphasis is placed on gaining access to market that the follow-up comms is often overlooked. There are so many more teachable moments in life beyond the New Year’s resolution or the first availability of new drugs.

That’s why it is positive to see adherence becoming more central to our campaigns. As comms professionals we have new tools at our disposal that give us the ability to target and tailor messages and facilitate human social interaction – yes, real live people getting together for peer support. Of course, nobody wants to be reminded of illness and health during the holidays, or the challenges of keeping our resolutions. But let’s try to spend more time communicating wellness as part of people’s everyday lives. After all, good health is worth celebrating throughout the year.

Scott Clark is group CEO of Tonic Life Communications

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