Making health relationships better

As exhilarating as it is to work in health communications, it sure isn't easy.

As exhilarating as it is to work in health communications, it sure isn't easy.

To say our industry is scrutinized is an understatement. Not only are we watched closely, but we're also watched skeptically - often by people with biased opinions about what we do. Some say the very idea of the business of health is a contradiction.

We're held to higher standards, but that makes sense. Our social responsibility is not only to help people monitor their health and obtain the best treatments possible when they get sick, it is also to provide knowledge that empowers people to make smart health decisions and helps them stay healthy.

With the stakes so high, the atmosphere so charged, and the impulse to be defensive so strong, what's the best way for health businesses to communicate? We need to get closer to stakeholders. That means building relationships. To share a term we're using at Edelman, it means to pioneer health relationships: to form connections in fresh ways and sustain them so they bring value to companies, individuals, and society.

To pioneer health relationships is to step out of comfort zones, exchange control for co-creation, stimulate dialogue, not just messaging, and sacrifice the quick win for the long run. Our stakeholders will listen, but only if we do, too. It's OK if they challenge us. Most of the people who make considered opinions acknowledge the dual challenges health businesses face to do well and to do good.

Second, we need to reach people who are socially engaged the way they want to be reached - through new media and across what we call "the horizontal axis." By that I mean through people who are on the same wavelength as they are, be they friends, family, colleagues, or neighbors. We need to engage people, whether it's online or on a line at the store. We need to spark and be part of the conversations in college dorms, in doctors' offices, and in book clubs, even if we don't hear exactly what we expected to.

This means ramping up the number of channels we communicate through to reach people where they live, work, and play, as well as to enhance the back and forth among all the groups in the mix.

People expect to have relationships they can trust with the brands, companies, and organizations that are an intimate part of their - and their families' - lives. So my fourth point is that the key to building trust is to listen and to apply what you hear. In that spirit, if you are in charge of a brand, consider inviting your stakeholders to help develop its strategy.

The last point is about transparency. When we communicate with our stakeholders, we need to do so openly, forthrightly, and confidently. Openness will trump an image of perfection any day.

As we pioneer health relationships, we will be better able to achieve our business goals by not only meeting project objectives, but also by providing fulfilling work experiences and bringing value to society.

Nancy Turett is global president for health at Edelman.

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