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How PR Can Make a Meaningful Public Health Impact

Molly Ashmore   May 9, 2023  

Everyone has their own unique career journey. As a recent grad who just last year received my master’s in Public Health, I may not be the typical person you might think would be working at a PR agency. Public health is an incredibly broad field – some of my colleagues are tracking infectious diseases or managing hospital operations, while I spend my workdays drafting press releases, conducting media outreach and supporting communications campaigns.

Fortunately, it’s turned out that health communications, an important aspect of public health, has been the perfect niche for me to start my career. My background in public health helps me understand the science and context behind the messaging strategies we employ. The experience I’m gaining at TRG has made me a more effective communicator and given me a practical understanding of how people receive messages about health.

I’ve seen firsthand the importance of strong communications skills in the world of public health, particularly in a time when many people rely more on social media than their own physician for health advice. We can – and must – employ solid public relations strategies to impact public health for the better.

Understanding your audience. One of the key points that was emphasized in my public health classes was that no one wants to adopt healthy behaviors if they’re just being talked at and not understood. Think about when your doctor simply tells you to “try eating healthier” without any additional information or tips customized to your specific situation, background or schedule. It’s frustrating, right?

People want information that is relatable – and this is where public relations comes in. Knowing our audience is key in developing content for campaigns or preparing spokespeople for media interviews. One way we do this is by making sure we’re up to date on news coverage, frequently scanning the media so we know what our clients’ priority populations are seeing about various health topics.

Digging deeper than just scanning the headlines is important: have there been any recent changes in coverage in a particular area? Are there any new polls available that survey people about their knowledge, attitudes and beliefs around a health topic? Being up to date on all aspects of coverage keeps us in close touch with our audiences. Take vaccination for example: we need to be fully aware of the most recent changes in public attitudes, such as vaccine fatigue and skepticism, if we expect to make successful pitches to the media and effectively reach our intended audience.

Reviewing science responsibly. As communications professionals, it’s our job to come up with fresh and creative ways to promote our clients’ news and viewpoints. But it’s essential that we always take extra care to make sure the messages we are sharing are completely clear and accurate. In the field of health care, our audience is often patients who are relying on information from trusted sources. We have the responsibility to guard against dangerous misinformation as our first priority.

At TRG, we work with many scientific organizations and conferences to promote the latest science and research being presented at their events. We need to carefully read the latest research papers, and we must also conduct deeper, probing conversations with the researchers so we clearly understand their methods and their findings to make sure that consumers clearly understand the importance of this new health information. As we all saw during the COVID-19 pandemic, misinformation can be incredibly harmful.

In my day-to-day work at TRG, I wear many different hats, but everything I do is part of a larger chain of events that impacts people’s health. This is my “why” for coming to work each day and trying to provide the best product possible for our clients. Ultimately, our “clients” are not just the organizations we work for, but also the end users in the public who rely on us for vital, accurate communications about their health.

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