COVID-19 is overtaking news coverage and overturning every aspect of healthcare public relations. This unique environment presents new challenges, as well as new opportunities. As the account manager for two healthcare clients directly impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, I have learned first-hand that navigating clients through this atmosphere requires taking risks, being flexible, and savoring the small victories.
With that in mind, here are five tips for managing healthcare PR in the time of COVID-19:
1. Take Risks, but Be Realistic
This is a time to try something new and not be afraid to get creative. Every organization is wondering how they can break into the news cycle. One good step forward is to host a brainstorming session with your full account team (and then client) to rethink your strategy and pull out the biggest ideas you can think of. Don’t let reality hold you back when thinking up new media angles or even large shifts in messaging!
After getting all the ideas on the table, take some time to think about what’s possible in this environment. Given the unprecedented nature of the pandemic, not all good ideas are going to shine. Think about how the ideas might land with your key audiences before taking them to the next level.
2. Make the Shift to Digital
Whether you are inside an organization or agency, communications professionals can proactively encourage our peers to get ahead of the curve by moving healthcare events and traditional meetings online. One of The Reis Group’s clients quickly organized an online policy briefing that drew more than 300 virtual attendees—for an event they were hoping to attract 50 people to when held in person.
Thought leadership platforms can also work well digitally. Many media outlets are offering digital events and speaking engagements online. This increases the pool of possible engagements, with no worries about time and money for travel.
3. Share Expertise
Many of us in the healthcare industry have expertise to share. By exploring what an organization can add to the current public conversation, communications professionals will find new avenues for growing their organization’s voice. Perhaps your organization wanted to promote telehealth previously but couldn’t get any traction. Now is the time to re-engage. This is the time to capitalize on sharing expertise that can support good health.
4. Enjoy the Victories
Let’s support our clients and our colleagues when we have a victory, big or small. Keeping morale high is challenging these days but encouraging others can help produce better results for everyone. Perhaps your organization traditionally has been shy about entering the media fray, but they finally are engaging. What a great reason to celebrate and encourage a new behavior!
Perhaps you successfully modified a communications strategy based on the current environment—all from your kitchen table while homeschooling. Good job!
Or maybe you’ve seen cultural transitions in your organization such as remote working or flexible hours. Let’s celebrate those too. Staying positive will help our mindset during difficult times.
5. Lead with Grace
We’re all under a lot of stress, clients and organizational leaders included. While some states are lifting stay-at-home restrictions, we still have a long road ahead of us.
My final guiding principle for health care public relations is that we should lead with grace. When we start to feel like we’re struggling, trust that everyone is doing their best to answer their emails, join video conversations, and meet deadlines. And, of course, this means giving yourself some grace too. You’re doing great! Keep it up!
Stacy Skelly is a senior counselor at The Reis Group in Washington, DC, leading several healthcare PR accounts and providing strategic communications guidance across the firm.