'Cultural and religious sensitivities must be at the heart of everything we do' - UAE health comms chief

Joanne Rico, head of marketing and sales, Bareen Cluster, NMC Healthcare, says communication campaigns in the Middle East must take into account the unique challenges the region brings.

Joanne Rico is the head of marketing and sales, Bareen Cluster, NMC Healthcare
Joanne Rico is the head of marketing and sales, Bareen Cluster, NMC Healthcare

Communication campaigns in the Middle East must evolve to ensure that religion and cultural sensitives are at the forefront of every PR story, says a comms chief at one of the largest healthcare providers in the region.

NMC Healthcare's Joanne Rico has spent more than a decade working in healthcare comms in the Middle East and says the region has a unique set of challenges.

"Through the years, I have seen communication campaigns in the Middle East evolve from the traditional to the more modern, to catch up with ever-changing market dynamics. That Middle Eastern countries are opening themselves to expat workers and tourist markets are game-changing; it becomes a crucial decision point in the way communications are strategised, mapped, and delivered to achieve the desired results.

"Although communication campaigns in the Middle East have evolved over the course of time, there are still cultural and religious sensitivities that we must take into perspective and consideration.

"If we want to stay relevant and authentic, we must take this to heart and mind in every narrative and every story that we share to the world."

The Middle East, says Rico, has many benefits over more established markets.

"Nowhere else in the world can we see such diversity in terms of nationality and culture than here in the Middle East.

"I think this multicultural mindset brings a wealth of wisdom and a gamut of knowledge for any communications expert practising in the region."

Having in-house comms versus hiring external agencies is a growing trend with healthcare providers across the region, and Rico said this allows better brand focus.

"It creates a deeper sense and greater understanding of the brand personality, character, and tonality. However, it does not mean that it is less challenging than working for an agency.

"Creating communications and campaigns centred around the same brand over a longer term creates a certain level of familiarity, sometimes a sense of extreme comfort with the brand - which limits creativity into a box too familiar to even recognise we have been 'boxed'."

"Bareen International Hospital in MBZ City, Abu Dhabi, has been a key player in advocating community awareness about overall health and wellness.

"We have launched comms campaigns at Bareen that have been life-changing for many members of the community, such as #TakeTheStairsChallenge - an anti-obesity campaign; The Pink Ride - a breast cancer awareness programme; and Run against Diabetes, among others. In addition to on-ground activations, we have been very active in providing medical insights by participating in health conversations along with broadcast, print, and online media.

We have pioneered significant online activations as well, such as a weekly segment on social media called Facebook Live Q&A, where we host our doctors as they answer frequently asked questions of the community about the most pressing health conditions in the country and in the region."


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