Getting a message across to providers

3 Ways Healthcare Companies Can Lead with Empathy

There is a persistent stereotype of public relations professionals as “spin doctors.” We’re hired guns aiming to put lipstick on a pig, pull the wool over someone’s eyes, or <insert any other cliched maxim here>. The last thing we would do is tell clients to lead with empathy, telling honest stories from the heart.

In truth, PR folks want to help companies clarify, amplify and distribute their message and their mission. Often, innovators are too close their own products to effectively tell their own stories. To speak for them, PR people must first understand what drives the company—from its origin story to the everyday passions of the company’s employees.

Listening is the most important skill in PR. Empathy is the most important mindset. And nowhere is this as vital as within the healthcare industry.

Hundreds of thousands of people work across the American healthcare system with a single, shared goal: to help people. It is easy to lose sight of this. Insurers, hospitals, life sciences companies, health tech startups and other healthcare vendors struggle to respond to a buffet of financial and regulatory challenges that are amplified by the current transformation to value-based care.

One Boston hospital CEO described it best when she said that the biggest struggle for most healthcare organizations is “having one foot in the boat and one foot on the dock.” Many providers have made significant strides towards goals such as shifting to pay-for-performance contracts, launching population health programs, or modernizing their payment systems to reflect consumer-driven health plans. But extending clinical and patient experience best practices to every last patient remains an elusive goal for most.

It is fair to say that our healthcare company clients all have one thing in common—they are all working to help healthcare providers (or insurers or employers) to get “both feet into the boat” when it comes to value-based care.  Understanding the importance of this mission, and its inherent challenges, is our first job as healthcare PR professionals.

Our second job is to help clients to lead with empathy, by guiding them back, again and again, to their core value – helping customers tackle the goals of the Triple Aim. Here are three ways healthcare companies can cut to the core of what matters, tell their company story effectively, and gain customer loyalty:

Everyone is a patient

Some of the most effective and memorable client communications I have seen draw on the healthcare experiences of CEOs, other C-suite executives, researchers, other employees, or their families. We all have stories of instances when the healthcare system has not delivered on its promise, and these experiences often drive the development of new solutions among healthcare companies. Meeting “unmet medical needs” begins with sharing what these needs are and why they are important with a variety of audiences. This is often best done through personal stories.

See the caregiver

 The decisions made by healthcare providers on a daily basis have life-changing consequences. Many of our clients aim to make those decisions easier, by offering evidence-based content support, by getting rid of background noise that can cloud judgment, or by simply shaving time off each clinician’s administrative burden. If healthcare companies can drill down further to describe how products may positively impact specific patient interactions, particular care transitions or certain data reporting processes, this is likely to spur more “aha” moments among reporters, potential customers and investors.

We’re all in this together

It’s easier to make the empathy connection when a healthcare vendor’s primary audience is patients or clinicians. But what about companies who are targeting CIOs, physician practice managers, front office staff, payers and employers? How, for instance, do revenue cycle management tools make patients’ lives better?

Connect the dots here by developing case studies, blogs and other content that drives home the value of these tools to the healthcare ecosystem, and to particular individuals. Circling back to the core mission driving the company is especially important when the success stories may not *typically* be front page news. This is key to driving continued interest among the press and potential customers, but also to fanning the passions of your workforce. Everyone within any healthcare enterprise wants to feel that they are doing good in the world. Investing in uncovering success stories will have long-term benefits both internally and externally.

The first step

To build a PR program that leads with empathy, you need to uncover the stories that help your target audience connect not only with your products, but with your company culture and your commitment to making a difference. Look for that human element and you will find your programs are far more effective.

customer talking at business meeting

Customer Spokespersons: The Path to PR Success

For companies looking to breathe new life into a PR or marketing campaign, product launches are exciting, as is news on awards or other recognition. But, nothing is more powerful than an advocate who can praise your company without sounding like an insider – yes, I’m talking about customers. Customer spokespersons are the special sauce of any PR campaign.

Like it or not, they are often more credible than any internal research, or any executive on the payroll. A customer is a seemingly unbiased source who used a solution, found success, and is now telling their story.

To many journalists, there is no better evidence of a product or service’s effectiveness than the testimony of a user. Here are a few ways to leverage customers to effectively enhance your company’s marketing and messaging through shared storytelling.

Write a case study.

This is an easy one, right? Case studies are powerful tools for pitching journalists and getting a message out to the media, but there is a right way and a wrong way to go about them. For starters, some case studies make the mistake of NOT being as customer-centric as they should be. Many will focus too much on the solution and the product, when the goal of a case study is to “soft sell” through a real-world example of the solution being used. Marketing for the product can happen at another time.

A case study is your customer’s story, and it follows a proven formula: outline a problem they had, the solution (your solution!) the customer used to overcome the problem, and the specific results the customer achieved. Add in a customer quote or two – a very genuine customer quote that doesn’t sound sanitized – and you have yourself a legitimate story.

As much as possible, a case study should stick to these facts and include as much data and numbers as you can muster to really make it feel like a journalistic endeavor. Once published, case studies are perfect for handing out at conferences, sharing on social media, and scoring expanded coverage. Case studies can also be living documents with many chapters: A single case study can be expanded upon as a relationship with a customer evolves and new improvement numbers make their way into the mix, making them a powerful tool for ongoing content-driven PR.

Include customers in press releases.

I’m personally a big fan of press releases. And keeping the media (and other potential customers) up-to-date on any partnerships and relationships is usually a good idea. If your company signs a new customer, announce it in a press release with some details on the relationship. When they adopt a specific solution, or when you write a case study, announce the results with another press release. Keep the media apprised of the relationship to the best of your ability as a feeler for future promotion. For maximum success, include a quote from a customer in press releases whenever possible, and be sure to include a media contact and information on the customer, as they should be the primary focus of any such release.

Keep quotes at the ready.

I like quotes. Having customer quotes on file for marketing and PR to use while pitching media and developing promotional material is valuable to add credibility and context to virtually anything. These quotes are also good to post on your company’s website. Remember, to many journalists, there is no one more reliable than a customer, and what a customer says can be as good as gold.

Ideally, a customer would draft their own quote. But writing a quote for your customer – and getting their approval – is a great way to save them some time and stress. Be up front about how the quote will be used and make sure they are OK with it. Openness and honesty is the key to maintaining their happiness into the future. Remember, a customer is best served as an independent voice, not a calculated company mouthpiece.

Ask them to present at an event with you.

This one is a bit of a challenge because it involves a major time commitment on part of the customer, but if it’s possible without straining any relationships, having a customer speak at trade shows and other events is a great way to put a spotlight on both them and your solution. It may be nice to offer to pick up travel expenses, hotel, and even meals if it’s within your budget and acceptable within the customer’s corporate guidelines. Also, be sure the customer spokesperson you choose is personable and able to deliver a message clearly. Doing so will benefit everyone, most of all your audience.

“Goodwill” coverage is good for everyone.

As mentioned above, customer stories are great to pitch to journalists – in fact, many journalists will only speak to customers. There’s no secret that getting a customer to namedrop your company or solution is always a win. But, some outlets won’t allow company names to be mentioned. Further, sometimes a line of questioning can make it challenging for your customer to naturally squeeze your name into a conversation with a journalist.

But, that’s OK. First, allowing your customer to take the spotlight is good for relations with them – coverage on their story is as much about them as anything else. Secondly, this “goodwill” content is still perfect to share on your company’s social media outlets and website. A relationship with a customer is a partnership, and their testimony and participation should never feel forced. Let them be the central focus, and don’t be afraid to promote your customers (with their approval), even if your company isn’t getting a mention.

This brings me to an important final note: Respect your customer’s time as if it’s the time of your own CEO. Never, ever abuse a relationship with a customer by coaching them heavily on what to say, making too many requests for media interviews, or linking them to PR campaigns without their permission.

Make sure to have discussions about time commitment limitations up front, and always respect a customer’s wishes if they decline to speak as often as you’d like them to. A constant, open line of communication is the path to success, and keeping a customer spokesperson happy will naturally push them to speak on your behalf and tell their story.

When a social media crisis strikes, what do you do?

Imagine this: after weeks of planning then pouring time and resources into your social media efforts you are starting to see results. You are gaining new followers and engaging with potential customers. Your efforts are clearly working and just when everything seems like sunshine and rainbows, there it is, loud and proud hate mail plastered on your front page and quickly gaining likes, shares and similarly-frustrated commenters. What do you do?

Take a deep breath.

Let’s face it, no one is lining up for their chance to deal with negative comments on social media. But, with the right plan of action in hand, dealing with these problems doesn’t have to be scary. It can be a great opportunity to learn more about your customers and engage with them at a critical point in the buyer’s journey.

When something negative about your company starts gaining traction you need to determine if it is a crisis that needs attention from more people or if it is a small problem that can be solved. If there is something negative about your company that is well-known and commonly addressed, it’s probably not a crisis. There is likely already a protocol for how to deal with this type of regular negativity within your PR or sales department. However, if there is something new about your product or company stirring up serious attention on social media it might be time to dive in and handle the crisis!

Phone a friend

If you are managing the social account or if you are personally invested in the subject of the negativity it’s a good idea to ask a colleague or your agency for some advice. Being removed from the situation helps when looking for the right approach to take.

Not everyone has the same sense of humor. It’s good to run your response by someone else to make sure your response won’t be taken the wrong way. While sometimes taking the low road may work in your favor, such as the social media sass-master at Wendy’s, it’s usually best to take the high road and be polite.

Avoid sounding defensive

Whenever something negative happens on social media it is easy to take it personally. Your first reaction will be to react in a defensive manner. Let’s say someone commented on your company site saying that you never provide xyz, when in fact you do. Well, of course you want tell the commenter they are wrong! However, that’s not going to get you many brownie points from your audience. What goes online stays online and can spiral quickly.

It’s like sending a snarky email to a coworker and then seeing they forwarded the email to a large group. *Insert big gulp* Remember that whatever you put out there can be interpreted and then shared in a way you didn’t originally intend.

Never reply to online reviews defensively and two years later like the screenshots above. As cringe-worthy as these comments are, it’s easy to go into defensive mode without a plan in place.

Let’s say one customer leaves a nasty review about your company or product. Then customer 2 comes along and reads the review. If you respond to customer 1 with compassion and show a willingness to listen to their feedback or fix the problem, you can turn that review into something positive for customer 2 to see. Instead of winding up on a blog post about what not to do when responding to negative reviews. 

Take swift action

Negative comments and mentions on social media need to be handled in a timely manner and with care, just like a positive comment. Whenever possible, get ahead of the problem and address it before there is a chance for the comment to gain momentum.

When possible be proactive in avoiding potentially offensive or misinterpreted posts. When a national crisis or traumatic event happens hit pause on your social queue. Review posts before unfortunate timing can make your company seem obtuse.

Fix the problem

Do your best to fix the problem at hand when you have the opportunity. Don’t make any promises unless you know you can follow through. Show everyone that you are a company that listens to customers’ needs. After all they are the ones using your product or service. Most angry comments and reviews online stem from a need to be heard.

Fix the problem without escalating the frustration of the user when possible. Asking for more information and show a willingness to work through the problem if necessary. Offer to take the conversation to private message or offline. 

Admit when you’re wrong

Mistakes will happen. Own up to them and diffuse the situation quickly. It’s better to admit you are wrong compared to letting someone else point out your flaws. Addressing the problem immediately shows your company is actively searching for a solution and aware when things go wrong. You may even be rewarded for your honesty.


Has a social media crisis ever happened to you? Comment with your story or questions!




Content Marketing in Eight Seconds or less

Content Marketing in Eight Seconds or Less

As you work on your content strategy, think about this: According to a recent study, the average person now loses concentration after only eight seconds. I would ask you to pause and think about that but then I’ll risk of losing the remaining seconds of your attention entirely – if I haven’t already. As a “fun fact,” researchers noted that even goldfish which are “notoriously ill-focused” have an average attention span of nine seconds.

So, whether that fact is fun or concerning is still be determined, but it really isn’t that shocking. This study simply quantifies the impact of a highly digitized lifestyle on the human brain. After all, we live in a world where our phones are constantly buzzing with emails, texts, news alerts, and social media notifications. We live in a world where…

Sorry, I got distracted for a moment. Did you know that Kim and Kanye are expecting their third child via surrogate? My phone just vibrated with that “breaking” news, as well as four work emails, three personal emails, and two trivial text messages. And even if celebrity gossip isn’t your guilty pleasure, you’re likely experiencing a similar scenario every hour of every day.

But to be clear, the aha moment from this study is not that goldfish are smarter than us. It’s an aha moment for us as marketing and public relations professionals. The study has profound implications for those of us who communicate for a living. To be successful, we must adapt our strategies and tactics to the reality of eight second attention spans.

Why evolving content doesn’t mean dumbing it down

In today’s world of digital and information overload, crafting content that is relevant and meaningful for your target audience is mission-critical. Remember that having shorter attention spans doesn’t mean that your customers are not decision-makers. It doesn’t mean that they’re less intelligent. It doesn’t mean that they don’t have the same pain points. It just means that they need to absorb information differently. It just means that despite downloading your white paper, they’re probably not getting past page one. There’s no shame. It’s the new normal.

That’s why evolving your content marketing is not about dumbing down the information. It’s not about simplifying or going back to basics. It’s about making your content snackable. In fact, your new bite-sized content can still convey the same concepts and ideas as the longer pieces—but that content must be more concise and free of fluff.

Even more importantly, it must provide just a taste to satisfy their brief hunger and keep their interest. It must leave the audience wanting more of your content snacks. That’s what marketing is all about.

How to create tasty content snacks – a recipe for success

Snackable content for the eight second attention span is just a new way of creating, organizing, and promoting content. To create tasty content snacks, you don’t need to start from scratch. You don’t need all new ingredients. Your content kitchen is likely full of big, heavy content meals which can be remixed and reused to fit the new snackable content mold. The good news is that one content meal equals several content snacks.

Now, let’s enter the content kitchen and see how to turn those content meals into content snacks. Here are three examples:

  1. Transform your white paper into an infographic and a cheat sheet with must-do’s.
  2. Transform your case study into a checklist of best practices, or a series of checklists that span everything from implementation to training and optimization.
  3. Transform your 30-minute webinar into a sequence of 30 second videos that highlight that key learning objectives.

And rather than being sad about the lost of art of white paper reading, keep in mind that multiple content snacks derived from the same content meal not only convey the same messages but also can easily become a lead nurturing campaign or useful follow-up references for your sales team to share with prospects.

I think it’s time to stop mourning the white paper. Instead, it’s time to cook up some bite-sized content. After all, it’s just waiting to be eaten.