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Communicating Health in a Time of Dramatic Industry Shifts: Three Atlanta Practitioners Share Social Marketing Best Practices in Healthcare
By Anne Wainscott-Sargent, Special to IABC Atlanta
At the June luncheon, IABC Atlantans got an inside view of innovative social engagement in the rapidly changing world of healthcare. The lunch panel, featuring thought leaders from both the provider and service/creative agency sides of the industry, has never been timelier given the seismic shifts occurring in patient care and delivery today.
Setting the stage for the discussion was panel facilitator Lea Volpe, a Canadian native and the new VP of communications and brand for PruittHealth, a holistic nursing care provider serving patients throughout the Southeast. “Healthcare in the United States is facing the perfect storm at the moment. It is an extremely interesting, challenging, frustrating and exciting time for people who are providers of healthcare, are service providers to healthcare organizations, or are consumers of healthcare,” said Volpe in introductory remarks.
She noted that several external factors are driving the industry, many of which the healthcare industry has no control over, such as legislation, demographic shifts and changes in the population, changes in the way healthcare providers are reimbursed, and a shift in how technology is being used not only in provider organizations but also by consumers themselves.
The upheaval has led to more mergers and acquisitions, resulting in “a rapidly consolidating marketplace.”
In addition, healthcare providers are no longer being reimbursed based on volume; they are starting to be reimbursed based on quality and value of care. “I personally think the evolution to quality of care reimbursement is good for the consumer – it means over time you will have more assurance that you and your family will be taken care of in a better way,” Volpe said, adding that in the near term, it’s creating an extremely complicated environment, especially for professional communicators.
She cited her own company as an example. “In Pruitt we have thousands of nurses working in care facilities all across the Southeastern U.S. Imagine trying to keep those people engaged and excited about their job when the challenges are getting fierce on a daily basis…On every level, whether it’s employee engagement, engagement of patients or communities or marketing communities to providers, it’s a really an interesting time to work in this industry.”
Porter Novelli: Changing Behavior at the Population Level
Kicking off the panel was Shelly Spoeth, senior VP and practice lead, health and social impact for the Atlanta office of Porter Novelli, a 40-year-old social marketing and PR agency. Spoeth shared how her agency is leveraging social marketing to help change health behavior at the population level.
A self-professed “public health nerd,” Spoeth worked on the agency side for both pharma and biotech firms before working in public health communications. Porter Novelli’s health practice’s clients include the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as well as a variety of non-profit organizations.
When tackling the challenge of changing health behavior, Spoeth said her colleagues have to think differently about communications and marketing than communicators in commercial firms. “This approach takes into account psychology and looks at theory,” she said. “How do we help the 40-year-old smoker who has been smoking since they were very young – how do we help them stop? We are motivated by different things and there are different barriers.”
Porter Novelli’s planning effort begins with a campaign’s target audience as a focal point. “They should always be at the center of our discussions…at the center of our decisions,” she said, explaining that her agency interviews a lot of people to find out what keeps them from stopping or starting a particular behavior. She emphasized that in population health, it’s about voluntary behavior change. “You can’t force people to do anything.”
Sometimes policy changes can affect behavior – such as when smoking was no longer permitted in office buildings or on airplanes.
She shared several other examples of how to leverage research to reach populations with health messages. When working with CDC on a campaign to get more mothers to immunize their children, Spoeth and her colleagues had to decide which target audience would be best to reach – moms who were against vaccinating, moms who were on the fence or moms who were more supportive of vaccinations.
Another campaign, “Take Charge, Take the Test,” was rolled out by CDC to women to encourage voluntary HIV testing. The planning process included talking with more than 400 women around the country and the campaign endured for nearly a decade in large part because of what was heard over and over again in focus groups. That insight was that women felt that they knew they didn’t have HIV, but they may not know about their partner. “We took that insight and used it in a way that was not negative, but tapped into that concern. It was piloted and then rolled out nationally to 10 different health departments,” recalled Spoeth.
A final CDC campaign, Learn the Signs. Act Early. focused on autism, but the word is never used in the campaign. “We knew [from our research] that parents were scared. If you say the word, autism, they will turn around and walk away,” said Spoeth. “We designed a whole book series and in that series we teach parents about milestones [like] reading and other things in life. This is another program that shows the importance of the audience insight and frameworks.”
Spoeth acknowledged that sometimes in today’s environment there isn’t always time to do a lot of consumer research, “so we are finding new ways using technology to get those insights as fast as we can and turn the results around.”
“In summary it’s really about understanding your consumer and making sure you’re really getting to the bottom line of behavior,” she concluded.
Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta: Getting Georgia’s Children ‘Strong4Life’
The final panelist, Carolina Cruxent, director of Wellness Marketing for Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, shared highlights on Children’s phenomenally successful wellness movement, Strong4Life, which began in 2008 as the employee wellness program but which became their wellness brand for parents in 2011.
She said that in 2010, Children’s looked at the biggest health crisis confronting Georgia’s children: the escalating epidemic of childhood obesity.
“Our mission compelled us to make sure that we were doing things – communicating and impacting parents, reminding them there were things they need to do today and every day to change their child’s future,” recalled Cruxent. The goal was to keep children with preventable diseases out of the hospital. “We were treating children with illnesses that were only supposed to be seen in adults.”
Cruxent showed an alarming slide that showed how much illness contributes to healthcare costs. “What people don’t realize is that in the state of Georgia, if we bring down BMI just by 5%, we would save $22.7 billion in healthcare costs over the next 20 years. That gave us yet another reason to act.”
40% of Georgia’s kids are overweight or obese, yet 81% of all Georgia children cannot do sit-ups, pushups and can’t reach average aerobic capacity. “What does that say about our future workforce.. or our military?”
Children’s didn’t just target parents of overweight or obese kids. “It became a conversation with all parents – the parents of 81% of kids who can’t pass basic fitness assessments. It is not a conversation about weight. It’s a conversation about unhealthy habits,” she said.
Strong4Life was born to do two things – first, to prevent unhealthy habits from taking hold in the life of a child, and second, to intervene and treat those children who are already in crisis.
“The first part of our strategy is to arm parents – who are the #1 influencers in the life of a child. We arm them with tricks, tips, resources, facts they didn’t know, education – everything they need to create healthier lifestyles in the home environment. Second, we need to impact the environments outside the home because our children live and learn and play in many other places when they are not at home.”
Cruxent said Strong4Life is involved in school cafeteria and healthcare provider training to help those providers have better conversations with parents, and in community organizations such as parks and recs, Boys & Girls Clubs and YMCAs.
From a communications perspective, to change behavior, “we had to start with awareness,” said Cruxent.
In 2011, Children’s started its first campaign to build awareness in Atlanta, and over the next few years rolled out a number of promotions, including movie theater advertising and grocery store ads reminding parents that everything they put in their shopping cart was going to go into their children, as well as takeovers on major websites citywide, and ad bags in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. The healthcare leader also ran TV and radio spots and one video, “Rewind the Future,” of a 32-year-old heart attack victim being rushed into an ER operating room, was shot using the first person POV approach with a body-mounted camera. Cruxent said it went viral – with almost 19 million views worldwide.
Children’s then researched how to evolve their communications for the greatest impact on behavior change. “We talked to thousands of parents and we’ve uncovered insights on what makes parents tick, what their barriers are and what their motivators are,” Cruxent recalled.
One insight came as no surprise to the wellness team: “Every parent wants their child to be as healthy as they can be,” said Cruxent, who noted that it was more difficult to grasp that half of these parents “didn’t think there was a problem to deal with.” “They didn’t see unhealthy habits in their own home.”
How does one communicate to a group of people who don’t see a problem but who are also at various stages of awareness and readiness to change? That’s what faced the communications pros at Children’s. “Understanding those barriers helped us create an approach that was not one size fits all, but also wasn’t going to be as costly as having different ad campaigns to impact parents at different stages of readiness,” Cruxent noted, explaining that her team recognized how “seriously overwhelmed” parents were.
“We had to find the one thing that all these parents would respond to – a need for convenience.”
Children’s created content that was relevant to every parenting challenge – content that it called “stealth health.”
“Stealth health for us was all about ensuring that we could give the parent an immediate return on investment for time spent on content that was relevant to them today,” she said.
Cruxent said it was also critical for the program to offer parents “meaningful mobile moments.” “If our content can’t be delivered to a parent’s mobile device where they need it, when they need it, in context and in a way that delivers an immediate benefit to them, we can’t make a meaningful impact on these parents,” said Cruxent, describing content delivered via mobile as “snackable nuggets.”
According to Cruxent, the team has generated 1,650 pieces of original digital content over the last three years. Examples include “The Healthy Eats Hoax” – which shed light that some of the processed foods brought into the house have ingredients parents don’t realize is in the food — and ”Six Surprising Supermarket Secrets” – about the areas of the store to avoid if one wants to stay healthy.
A sign that the Children’s wellness team is hitting the mark is that compared to 2011 and 2015, the number of visits to the website has grown from 10,000 to 700,000 annually, and from 38% of parents saying they were ready today to make a change to 53% saying they are ready to make healthy changes in the home.
Cruxent credited the hard work of her team, which has grown from two members to eight full-time staff since the program launched.
PruittHealth: Making Dreams Come to True
Volpe concluded the panel sharing how PruittHealth helped ensure that its’ loving, giving and caring culture “is instilled and inspired regularly into the hearts and minds of our employees, while at the same time, creating unique experiences for their patients as they face the end of their life.
PruittHealth’s Committed to Caring Program (C2C) enables both by asking elderly patients what their lifelong dream was, and trying to make that happen for them, explained Volpe, describing C2C as a Make a Wish Foundation program for older people.
“Every year we have internal competition for all the nursing care centers to find candidates for this program and execute their dreams, make it real, videotape it and submit it for an internal companywide contest. The facilities get prize money.”
Volpe shared a video highlighting some of these experiences, showcasing how one resident was able to fly a plane, another got to be a firefighter, and still another become deputized as a sheriff (as his father was years earlier).
In an audience Q&A following the presentation, the presenters were asked what they found most gratifying about healthcare communications.
“For me it’s impacting our children’s future,” said Cruxent. “As a mother I have often woken up and said, ‘how lucky am I to work in a place that does such incredible things for children. How lucky am I to find a role that actually deals with preventable disease.”
Spoeth agreed, “I think the campaigns I worked on that have been the most rewarding were the ones I got to really know that target audience and walk in their shoes and understand how much what we were doing was needed and how it could impact a much broader group. I feel lucky that I can get up every day and make an impact and can work on different topic areas. That has kept me fresh and excited what I get today every day.”
Volpe “What has really struck me is that some of the award winners (on the video) passed away after getting to do that. There are some stories like that. Imagine bringing that kind of joy to someone at the end of their life. This is also a part of society (the elderly) who is largely forgotten in some families.”
IABC Members React to Panel
“I think it’s one of the best presentations all year. For the work I’m in, at CDC it was just incredibly applicable, hearing some real cases studies and how they overcame challenges was really useful.” –JoEllen Saei-Lane, Senior Communications Specialist, Karna/CDC
It’s always good to see communicators share real-world stories so you can see how skills get applied in different industries. Not being in the healthcare space, I found it pretty intriguing how each presenter met different challenges and applied their strategic thinking to communication solutions. In particular, some of the information shared from Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta was interesting in that they had to discover what the barriers were that prevent people from adopting healthy behaviors and how they can change their communication tactics to overcome those barriers and ultimately change those behaviors.” – Lawson Cox, Senior Vice President, EventStreams
“I saw internal communications become external communications and I’ve seen that twice. They developed these internal campaigns that were so good that they became external. I think that was interesting. I love this group (IABC) because you get so much information in just an hour to an hour and a half. I sat next to someone who just started at 3M in the healthcare group and she said, ‘I just got four ideas, sitting here.’” – Quinn Brack, 15+ Year Marketing Veteran
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Anne Wainscott-Sargent is an Atlanta-based communications strategist, storyteller and author. Find her online at http://annewainscott.com/writing-consulting-services/ or on Twitter @annewainscott.