Understanding the 'who' in healthcare communications

Understanding the "who" in healthcare communications has always been critical, but it is becoming more complicated than ever to really pinpoint who the "who" really is.

Understanding the “who” in healthcare communications has always been critical, but it is becoming more complicated than ever to really pinpoint who the “who” really is. No, I am not talking about delving into the psyche of Dr. Seuss' famous community. I am talking about identifying the person, group, or entity that should be at the center of our communications, the audience who will truly influence perception and adoption. 

Let's take a step back: it is a common saying in the healthcare industry that companies are looking to foster a “right drug, right patient, right time” approach. As communicators, we need to take cues from this mindset and migrate to a model that targets the right audience, with the right message, at the right time. A simple process, but one that starts with the complex proposition of understanding “who” we should be communicating to and influencing.

At first glance, it looks like we know exactly who the “who” is. It is media, doctors, and patients. We spend time prioritizing the people on the front lines of a therapeutic area and then move to the next step: message development. Sometimes, we even start with message development first without honing in on the “who.” We know what we want to communicate and that's most important. This approach may have worked in the past, and in some situations may still produce results. But, in environments where there are multiple players vying for attention, we need to target communications to the core audience who is driving dialogue, influence, or adoption. 

Clearly, doctors and patients should still remain our targets, but the decisions they make are influenced by many other forces, forces that make or break all the work we do to foster engagement. Pricing, policy, access, and advocacy are all making it more and more challenging to get the right patient on the right drug at the right time. And, while we can communicate to doctors and patients through the media, unbranded or branded campaigns, in the end all that effort may not matter because some other entity can act as the deciding factor for adoption.

Mapping all the audiences that are involved in a therapeutic area, understanding their messaging, their motivations and who and how they influence is a must. At Cohn & Wolfe, we have developed a modeling tool that allows us to get to the heart of influence. This not only ensures we are communicating and developing relationships with the stakeholders who exert the most influence, but also makes our efforts much more efficient. Why focus on the galaxy when there are a few planets that generate the most gravity?

For example, in the Alzheimer's realm, it would mean focusing on the audiences influencing caregivers, rather than the caregivers themselves. In oncology, understanding the entities that compel payer adoption is critical.

Ultimately, it's about identifying the real “who” and creating communications vehicles that reach these “behind-the-scenes” influencers. This strategy not only cultivates a surround sound approach, but more importantly maximizes the likelihood that communications will have true impact.  

Olga Fleming is EVP and MD of New York healthcare at Cohn & Wolfe.

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