Advertising is often credited with creating new vocabulary about a particular brand or topic. Snappy copy, memorable taglines, and lots of repetition contribute to this success. How often have you used the phrase "Just do it" for virtually any effort where a little extra motivation is needed? We all have our favorites. PR also plays a critical role in establishing new lexicon through well-placed and timed media coverage, everyday engagement, and effective campaigns of our own.
Nowhere is this more evident than in healthcare. For example, a brand that works via a novel mechanism of action needs to offer language patients can relate to and genuinely understand if it wants to carve out a distinctive position. New language, perhaps first revealed in advertising, also needs to be presented by, and accessible through, trusted sources. The lexicon gets a different treatment here, less commercial, more credible, permitting patients and consumers to feel comfortable using it themselves amongst friends and family and in conversations with physicians. PR, working independently or better still, as part of a well-integrated team with agencies from other disciplines, brings the vocabulary to life through the myriad outlets we use so effectively.
Consider the disease state that many feel is too “private” to talk about, such as vaginal atrophy or erectile dysfunction. Or the condition that can be misunderstood (very high triglycerides) because it is overshadowed by a more established condition (high cholesterol). What about illnesses that may have a stigma attached to them (depression)? Some highly treatable health problems (opiod-induced constipation) go untreated because patients and their families or caregivers don't have the words to describe the symptoms. Developing vocabulary people can use and then gently but effectively easing it into everyday vernacular and circumstances can make the difference between silent suffering and productive action.
Well conceived and executed PR has contributed to the successful introduction and use of socially acceptable language for a variety of illnesses. Considering the growing importance of audience segmentation, it may be even more likely that no one vocabulary fits all for any given condition. Geographic, socio-economic, cultural, and demographic differences will dictate how to best communicate about any given disease state or medicine. PR has the flexibility and the tactical arsenal to make a new lexicon about a difficult subject relatable no matter where the target audience is sitting.
Sandra Stahl is a partner at Jacobstahl.