Highlights from the PRWeek US Healthcare Conference


Everything you need to know from the event.

Photo credit: Brandon Doerrer.

NEW YORK: The second annual PRWeek U.S. Healthcare Conference took place on Wednesday in New York City.

Here is an overview of what was discussed in each panel…

The PR Week live and opening keynote
During the live recording of this week's episode of The PR Week podcast, Sally Susman, Pfizer EVP and chief corporate affairs, reflected on the pandemic.

“The last two or three years have been the most impactful of my career, maybe my life," she said.

Susman and her Pfizer colleagues were tasked with bringing forward the COVID-19 vaccine in eight months, a process that ordinarily would have required 12 months. While many fear crises, seasoned communicators “cannot be afraid” of tackling major issues, Susman said.

Due to the political divisiveness around vaccines, Susman worried that Pfizer was making a drug that no-one would take. 

“I thought that I would prevail because I had data and access, but honestly that did not move many people. Those who wanted it, wanted it and those who didn’t, didn’t,” she said, adding that Pfizer adopted emotional storytelling to alleviate the issue. 

Edelman CEO Richard Edelman spoke about managing controversial culture issues. He emphasized that employees are now businesses’ No. 1 audience, partly because they can serve as credible sources of information. 

It’s also important to have people of all political beliefs on your teams, helping comprehensively tackle hot button topics, Edelman said. A speedy, coherent response is also imperative.

“Don’t believe [these crises] will pass,” he added. “Fix it day one.”

FleishmanHillard discusses the “next move” for healthcare companies
Reflecting on the past decade of health, FleishmanHillard global executive creative director Jacob Porpossian and senior partner and general manager Rachel Catanach, joined by Novo Nordisk director commercial communications Liz Skrbkovax dove into the broad issues the industry has faced and what to expect in the future of healthcare.

The overarching theme of the conversation was the human element. In an age where evolving technology seemingly threatens jobs, Skrbkovax said people shouldn’t shy away from alternative intelligence (AI), but not forget the importance of morality. 

“Technology is something that we have always adapted to. That’s what makes us human, we evolve, we’re resilient,” Catanach said.

When looking at the current political climate, Skrbkovax noted companies need to lead by influence to support both employees and clients amid ongoing change.

“There's a moral imperative to show up as a healthcare company, speak up, be part of that dialogue and understand what that role is,” she said.

How effective communication stems public health emergencies
A case study in how health organizations work behind the scenes with companies to effectively communicate messaging in public health emergencies, Springboard HealthLab executive director Jen Hecht and Grindr VP and head of communications Patrick Lenihan discussed Mpox and dating apps. 

The two communication leaders highlighted their response to the Mpox epidemic, formerly known as Monkeypox, and its effect on Grindr which serves the LGBTQIA community, sexually active gay men in particular, as a hookup and dating app. Mpox is a virus that passes from person to person through sexual contact, specifically among the gay community. When the virus was discovered last year, Grindr knew it was going to affect its users and in doing so its business. 

“Grindr represents a community of people who are not unfamiliar with public health crises,” Lenihan said.

As the spread of Mpox became clear, HealthLab was prepared to move into action with messaging plans and channels previously established with partners worldwide, including sharing their gathered data and information with dating apps through a vaccine finder. 

Positioning health champions to elevate your brand narrative and drive impact
Ryan Cohn, Sachs Media partner and EVP, talked about using communications to drive systemic change. He explained that employees can be crucial in influencing policymakers on healthcare initiatives. 

Policy change is a local game, he said, meaning “you’ve got to have a [strong] ground game.”

Hospitals, for example, may have thousands of staffers in a legislative district. Compelling employees and internal advocacy groups to voice the issues important to them can have a genuine impact on policymakers, Cohn added.

The road to health equity
COVID-19 greatly exacerbated many of the factors that determine health equity, including education and employment status. As a result, data and analytics were essential, helping provide robust healthcare, according to Ellit Groups CEO Pamela Saechow. 

Ellit Groups had an internal tracking system that provided statistics on patient occupancy and available ventilators, helping coordinate with partners. 

Moreover, the company used an external dashboard to figure out the race, ethnicity, gender and socioeconomic status of those in need. The tool helped reveal language barriers, too. In Saechow’s community, many people didn’t speak English. 

“We looked at that data to figure, ‘how do we get care for these people?” Saechow added.

Protecting women’s healthcare rights
Adrienne Verilli, Planned Parenthood’s VP of communications, applauded OkCupid, Match Group and Salesforce for their support for abortion care and access. She stressed that more needs to be done amongst businesses, however. 

“[These bans] affect more than half of your workspace, you need to stand up for them,” she said.

Verrilli pointed specifically to South Carolina’s six-week abortion ban bill, which on Wednesday was sent to Governor Henry McMaster’s desk to be signed into law. Addressing companies in the region, Verrilli said, “Be able to look at your employees and say, “I have done everything I can.”

Nurses reach breaking point
ConnectRN CEO Ted Jeanloz noted that while most people now have flexibility at work in the form of working remotely, hybrid or different hours, nurses do not.

“The prize for having made it through COVID means you have to work harder in the same job for the same pay,” he added.

This is one reason why nurses are leaving the profession in droves. 

Jeanloz  and Andrea Zellen, director of clinical services at connectRN, spoke about how leaders must rebuild a safe, flexible and positive environment that will encourage them back into a profession they love.

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