Sunday, March 29, 2020

Healthcare Marketing in a Public Health Crisis, Be the Leader


Not since the Spanish Flu Pandemic of 1918 has the world seen such a public health crisis as COVID-19. Now at the brink of systemic healthcare system failure for a variety of reasons, now more than ever, hospital and health system marketing and public relations departments to step up even more then they have been.

Up until recently, it's been a game of catch-up in healthcare marketing and PR as COVID-19 impacts communities across the world.  Hospitals and health systems adapt to making decisions and moving forward on the fly, marketing and PR need to as well. That doesn’t mean running ahead but making sure that marketing and PR efforts and the channels employed are lockstep with the reality of the pandemic surge.

It’s a learning curve for sure, and everyone is doing the best they can.

What you do today in marketing and public relations will set up the hospital and health system for the future. The Coronavirus crisis will come to an end. Amid the seemingly unending tragedy and despair of the pandemic, people need hope. The need to know the hospital is doing the best it can. People need hope and know that the doctors, nurses, and other caregivers are doing all that is reasonably possible in this time of need.

There are only two paths in the COVID-19 pandemic for hospital marketing and PR.

The marketing and PR messaging of the hospital and health system should flow along two simultaneous lines. One is educational by providing information and teaching what the individual and the community role in slowing the community spread of COVID-19. The other is treating every message as part of your crisis communications.

For the educational marketing and PR mission. 
1.       Use social media for continuous communication for updates on the hospitals or health systems activities related to Coronavirus virus preparations and things the public should know. 
2.       Work internally with your employees, admitting physicians, Broad members, and volunteers to share what the hospital and health system is doing. 
3.       When you hear or become aware of stupid related to the Coronavirus, put out a statement to correct the misinformation. 
4.       Create easy to read and digestible educational information sheets on the Coronavirus for use in the community. 
5.       Back to heavy digital and social media use as it’s the fastest method of information distribution and sharing to reach large numbers of people. 
6.       Run print ads, cable spots; radio ads were available and compatible with your messaging. 
7.       Message your community with status updates regularly in the messaging.  
8.       Become the trusted and reliable source of news and information in your community related to the Coronavirus. 
9.       Don’t be afraid to ask the community for help. 

For the second mission for marketing and PR in crisis communications. 
1.       Effective crisis communications are grounded in credible sources. Credibility is about trustworthiness and expertise, as well as a perceived sense of morality. 
2.       Be honest to reduce rumors. Effective crisis communications are frequent, accurate and it does not over-reassure. 
3.       Aim for meaningful actions. Effective communications during a crisis involve persuading people to take harm-reducing steps. 
4.       Draw from experts, not amateurs. Effective communications during a crisis draw on the knowledge of subject-matter experts. 
5.       Be consistent. Consistency of messages is the final and maybe the most critical factor. 

As Charles Dickens writes at the beginning of A Tale of Two Cities, “It was the best of times. It was the worst of times.”  Working together as one, what you do today sets you up for the future when there is no pandemic, and the crisis has passed.

Tomorrow will never be the same.

Michael is a healthcare business, marketing, communications strategist, and thought leader. As an internationally followed healthcare strategy blogger, his blog, Healthcare Marketing Matters, is read in 52 countries and is listed on the 100 Top Healthcare Marketing Blogs and Websites ranked at No. 3 on the list by Feedspot.com. Michael is a Life Fellow, American College of Healthcare Executives. An expert in healthcare marketing strategy, digital marketing, and social media, Michael is in the top 10 percent of social media experts nationwide and is considered an established influencer. For inquiries regarding strategic consulting engagements, email me at Michael at michael@themichaeljgroup.com. Opinions expressed are my own.
For more topics and thought leading discussions like this, join his group, Healthcare Marketing Leaders For Change, a LinkedIn Professional Group.
Tags: #hospital #crisiscommunications  #strategy #coronavirus #publicrelations #marketing


Sunday, March 22, 2020

Hospital COVID-19 Communications Today, Will Impact Future Consumer Decisions


I get your all busy, and I am not making light of the current situation. Nor am I being opportunists about the crisis. My posts over the past several weeks are related to the need for hospitals and health systems to be open and transparent with the communities they serve. To be a resource and influencer changing people’s behavior, attitudes, and beliefs regarding COVID-19. To be a trusted source of information, dispelling myths, rumors, and innuendo. To show leadership in the community and being a trusted influencer.

I opine on strategy for marketing, public relations, and crisis communications based on years of expertise and experience. My only goal is to shine a new way of thinking about marketing, communications, and strategy for the world of healthcare consumerism.

It does bother me when I am attacked angrily and vehemently for expressing an opinion and accused in caps of all things that are blatantly not true.

The lesson for us all is that in social media, I control the comments, and who follow me. I choose to delete those comments and unfollow. My belief is in honest and respectful discourse. We can agree to disagree as professionals, but I will not be intimidated.

That aside, let’s move on to the topic at hand.

How you are communicating today with your communities during the COVID-19 pandemic is going to leave a lasting impression on the individuals, families, employees, businesses, and others that you serve.

Let me repeat.

How you are communicating today with your communities during the COVID-19 pandemic is going to leave a lasting impression on the individuals, families, employees, businesses, and others that you serve.

The COVID-19 pandemic will end.  People will l remember how you responded, how you assisted them and their families and loved ones. How you helped them cope with uncertainty, fear, isolation, and taught them through respectful communications what possible things they could accomplish.

If you haven’t been communicating with your patients and communities, now is the time to start.  I have already laid out steps and strategies to take and oww to proceed going forward today and into the future.

The last piece of advice during the COVID-19 pandemic is the transition to a fully digital communication strategy using social media, email, and the website to get the word out.  

My post isn’t about marketing. It is isn’t about putting heads in the beds. It is not about being opportunistic. It’s about doing the right thing. All healthcare is local. The local hospital, not
Washington or your state capital should be looked to for leadership in the local community. Lead.

By communicating in any way possible to your community, you are giving people the tools and information they need during the COVID-19 outbreak; you are managing demand. A continuous crisis communication strategy well executed will keep you from having to deal with inappropriate demand for services at a time when your hospital capacity is facing strained resources beyond its limits.

The last word, I promise.

Be consistent. Consistency of messages is the final and maybe the most critical factor. Words that offer very different assessments of risk, and variable advice about what actions to take, increase uncertainty while limiting the likelihood the public will take appropriate action. Consistency can also be enhanced by having clear and frequent communications from credible sources. Be that reliable source.

The responsibility of the hospital to the community in today’s world of 24/7 news coverage, multiple social media channels, bots, and AI influencing news feeds cannot be understated. A crisis cannot be managed successfully if the hospital and health officials do not communicate effectively.

Michael is a healthcare business, marketing, communications strategist, and thought leader. As an internationally followed healthcare strategy blogger, his blog, Healthcare Marketing Matters, is read in 52 countries and is listed on the 100 Top Healthcare Marketing Blogs. Websites ranked at No. 3 on the list by Feedspot.com. Michael is a Life Fellow, American College of Healthcare Executives. An expert in healthcare marketing strategy, digital marketing, and social media, Michael is in the top 10 percent of social media experts nationwide and is considered an established influencer. For inquiries regarding strategic consulting engagements, email me michael@themichaeljgroup.com. Opinions expressed are my own.

For more topics and thought leading discussions like this, join his group, Healthcare Marketing Leaders For Change, a LinkedIn Professional Group.



Sunday, March 15, 2020

Playing Catchup With COVID-19, Hospitals/Health Systems Have One More Step


It was gratifying to see in scanning the websites of hospitals and health systems that they have started
communicating relevant information and guidance on COVID-19. Much needed and more than the first communications notice about limiting visiting hours and visitors, you're preparing your community. But you need to take additional action. It's not enough to have news and information on the hospital or health system website.

One. More. Step.

That is one more communication step with your patients and your communities.

Today's discussion is not a marketing ploy to fill the physician pipeline with patients or fill inpatient beds.  This communication is all about you in clear, concise language and terms the steps you are taking in your COVID-19 preparations. It is not long, flowery, and making grand promises of always being here, and we care about your safety.

Let me explain.

I have already received email communications from hotels, rental car agencies, airlines, restaurants, etc. explaining the steps undertaken to minimize the risk of COVID-19. Notice that I said, "minimize the risk."  No one, no organization, no medical provider can guarantee that you will not become infected. The emails are written clearly and concisely, with a clear introduction, the sources of information on the virus, essential steps underway (no more than three of four) and what to expect going forward in ongoing communication.  And they don't leave out how they are assisting their employees either.

I have also received the same type of email from my dog's veterinarian and pet suppliers.

It's a classic crisis communications response well executed.

But, and unfortunately, I can not say the same thing for the hospital/health system that my family and I have been using for the past 25 years.

Crickets are chirping.

I realize that preparations are underway as best they can be to handle the surge of patients needing emergency rooms, hospitalization, ICUs, ventilators, etc. when the capacity no longer exists in the healthcare system for such an event. A hospital ER bypass solution is not an option.

But, that does not mean you have a pass from reaching out and communicating with patients, present and past, to inform on the steps undertaken.

You have a responsibility to take one more step. And the step is to communicate regularly, clearly, and concisely in understandable language, by any available means, what the hospitals or health system is doing.

Not surprisingly, COVID-19 points out how woefully unprepared hospitals and health systems are in having the ability to communicate with patients rapidly. The opportunity now exists to fix these systemic processes and communications failings. Its finally time to get marketing and PR out of the basement in hospital, and back to the senior leadership table reporting to the CEO.

One. More. Step.

Michael is a healthcare business, marketing, communications strategist, and thought leader. As an internationally followed healthcare strategy blogger, his blog, Healthcare Marketing Matters, is read in 52 countries and is listed on the 100 Top Healthcare Marketing Blogs and Websites ranked at No. 3  by Feedspot.com. Michael is a Life Fellow, American College of Healthcare Executives. An expert in healthcare marketing strategy, digital marketing, and social media, Michael is in the top 10 percent of social media experts nationwide and is considered an established influencer. For inquiries regarding strategic consulting engagements, email me at michael@themichaeljgroup.com. Opinions expressed are my own.

For more topics and thought leading discussions like this, join his group, Healthcare Marketing Leaders For Change, a LinkedIn Professional Group.

Sunday, March 8, 2020

Coronavirus, Your Hospital, and Crisis Communications- Key Principles to Use.


One aspect that needs to be considered by hospitals, especially those that are still independent with smaller marketing and PR staff as well as budget, is how you will handle any crisis communications when the Coronavirus hits your community. 

With all the Coronavirus misinformation floating around, which is not helped by Trump gaslighting the World Health Organization and contradicting the CDC and other health experts, the community hospital is in a precarious PR position.  Should the Coronavirus reach the status of a pandemic, there will not be enough PR consulting resources for you to buy to assist you.

It's not a question of if, but when it hits your community.

From my years in senior management in hospitals and health systems, community hospital leadership, even though they may think they know what to do, have no experience for what is about to hit.  My apologies if you may be offended by my statement, but the bottom line is just because you run a hospital, and maybe thinking your a big fish who’s living in a fishbowl, doesn't mean you know everything.

Last week's post was about the educational opportunity for you in the community related to the Coronavirus. This week would be the natural follow-on, especially if you didn't do anything about educating the community and becoming the go-to resources for news and information on the Coronavirus.

Crisis communications is an essential element in your survival. And, it's not saying "no comment" or sending the underlings out to face the press. It's about the CEO and leadership being ready to answer questions and ally fears in the community.

So at a minimum, here are the five guiding principles to drive your crisis communications activities related to Coronavirus. Remember that the last pandemic was the Spanish Flu in 1918. No one has ever experienced a pandemic that is alive today. We are, from an experience standpoint, in uncharted territory.

Five principles for managing crisis communications.

1.       Effective crisis communications are grounded in credible sources. Credibility is about trustworthiness and expertise, as well as a perceived sense of morality. Expertise reflects the source's credibility, quality of information, and lack of bias. If you want your audience to believe that you are saying, the source has to be credible. If you don't have credible sources on staff, turn to alternative sources. Uncertainty, anxiety, and stress increase because the public does not believe that they are getting the full story.  

2.       Be honest to reduce rumors. Effective crisis communications are frequent, honest and it does not over-reassure. Regular and honest communication will reduce rumors, needless anxiety, and fear, and help quell dangerous rumors. This includes communicating what is both known and unknown about the risk. Chances of irrational responses to a crisis are higher in the absence of timely and accurate information. The antidote is frequent, credible, transparent, and honest communication. 

3.       Aim for meaningful actions. Effective communications during a crisis involve persuading people to take harm-reducing steps. Credible information is necessary to promote the kind of behavior that can protect people. Effective communication can serve as an injection in the community, promoting good infectious disease hygiene that reduces the risk of infection. 

4.       Draw from experts, not amateurs. Effective communications during a crisis draw on the knowledge of subject-matter experts. Individuals who have the experience and expertise in managing an event are not only more credible, that also have a better grasp of what needs to be done. They are less likely to make fundamental mistakes or misstatements about the nature of the risk. Knowing that experts are in charge reassures the public. 

5.       Be consistent. Consistency of messages is the final and maybe the most critical factor.  Messages that offer very different assessments of risk, and variable advice about what actions to take, increase uncertainty while limiting the likelihood the public will take appropriate action.  Consistency can also be enhanced by having clear and frequent communications from credible sources. My recommendation is for an infectious disease physician on staff to be your trustworthy, consistent resource. 

The responsibility of the hospital to the community in today's world of 24/7 news coverage, multiple social media channels, bots, and AI influencing news feeds cannot be understated. Crisis cannot be managed successfully if the hospital does not communicate about them effectively.

Michael is a healthcare business, marketing, communications strategist, and thought leader. As an internationally followed healthcare strategy blogger, his blog, Healthcare Marketing Matters, is read in 52 countries and is listed on the 100 Top Healthcare Marketing Blogs, and Websites ranked at No. 3 on the list by Feedspot.com. Michael is a Life Fellow, American College of Healthcare Executives. An expert in healthcare marketing strategy, digital marketing, and social media, Michael is in the top 10 percent of social media experts nationwide and is considered an established influencer. For inquiries regarding strategic consulting engagements, email me at michael@themichaeljgroup.com. Opinions expressed are my own.

For more topics and thought leading discussions like this, join his group, Healthcare Marketing Leaders For Change, a LinkedIn Professional Group. 

Sunday, March 1, 2020

Coronavirus (COVID-19), and the Hospital & Health System Community Opportunity


Hospitals and health systems have a once in a lifetime opportunity to make a difference in the community. A difference that is not driven by purely dollars and cents, but one that is mission-driven and supports, or shall we say, justifies the hospital/health systems existence as a tax-exempt entity.

You see, there is a lot of stupid going on with Trump who is gaslighting, muddling, contradicting expert health advice and politicizing a very serious health crisis, aided and abetted by other elected officials, right and left-wing focused media, and celebrities, naming a few. The general public has gotten in on the stupid act too, with a recent survey that indicated 38 percent of Americans wouldn’t buy or drink Corona Beer because of the Coronavirus.

And where are the hospitals and health systems in all of this?

Oh, we see the major academic medical centers trotting out the physicians for the media, walking, and talking about the situation. Wise words for potential prevention in a 30 or maybe a 60 second sound bite if you live in a bubble.

Nice, but hardly enough.

I did some searching on the web looking at various hospital and health systems websites to see what they had to say about the Coronavirus, and the results were disappointing at best. Beyond the “because of the virus we may limit visiting hours and visitor access” website statements, it was for the most part,

Crickets chirping.

That is right, crickets chirping.


From a healthcare marketing and public relations standpoint, hospitals, and health systems are missing a once in a lifetime opportunity to make a meaningful difference and get ahead of the stupid around the Coronavirus.

Who would you rather see as the source of accurate, reliable, dependable information about the treatment and prevention of the virus as it impacts your community? You the hospital or health system, Joe down the street or uninformed and scientifically illiterate elected officials?

Besides, if you are all truly committed to the community’s health, wellness, and education, as you publicly say you are, then there is no time like the present.

That means getting your marketing and public relations off the snide and leading your community.

Ten steps marketing and public relations steps hospitals and health systems to take: 

1.       Create a page on your web site for Coronavirus Updates with resources linked to CDC, your state and county health departments, and if in a large metropolitan area, the city’s public health department. 
2.       Use social media for continuous communication for updates on the hospitals or health systems activities related to Coronavirus virus preparations and things the public should know. 
3.       Work with your local media and offer up your physicians and other internal leading experts for interviews. 
4.       Work internally with your employees, admitting physicians, Broad members, and volunteers to share what the hospital and health system is doing. 
5.       When you hear or become aware of stupid related to the Coronavirus, put out a statement to correct the misinformation. 
6.       Create easy to read and digestible educational information sheets on the Coronavirus for use in community with churches, schools, libraries, community groups, first responders, etc., for material distribution. 
7.       Back to heavy digital and social media use as it’s the fastest method of information distribution and sharing to reach large numbers of people. 
8.       Get you, speakers, out into the community talking about prevention and treatment. 
9.       Inform your community on the hospital or health system activities and preparations. 
10.   Become the trusted and reliable source of news and information in your community related to the Coronavirus.

So, what is it going to be? Are you going to fulfill your stated mission about health education, wellness, and prevention in the community?

Or, will it continue to be crickets chirping?

Michael is a healthcare business, marketing, communications strategist, and thought leader. As an internationally followed healthcare strategy blogger, his blog, Healthcare Marketing Matters, is read in 52 countries and is listed on the 100 Top Healthcare Marketing Blogs and Websites ranked at No. 3 on the list by Feedspot.com. Michael is a Life Fellow, American College of Healthcare Executives. An expert in healthcare marketing strategy, digital marketing, and social media, Michael is in the top 10 percent of social media experts nationwide and is considered an established influencer. For inquiries regarding strategic consulting engagements, email me at michael@themichaeljgroup.com. Opinions expressed are my own.

For more topics and thought leading discussions like this, join his group, Healthcare Marketing Leaders For Change, a LinkedIn Professional Group.