Choosing your primary audience when designing a public relations campaign is usually a straight-forward decision. However, when developing the public relations campaign for a hospital or similar patient-focused healthcare provider, you face a tricky decision when determining who you want to inform and influence.Should you focus on the particular portion of the population your healthcare organization serves as patients? Or should you focus on the galaxy of physicians who send people to your institution for medical tests and who rely on your facilities to treat their patients?Based on my experience in developing and directing healthcare public relations programs for hospitals and other large medical practices and institutions, I will plant my feet firmly on both sides of the argument.Your course of action depends upon the ultimate goal of your public relations campaign and how you answer these two questions:* Do you want to increase and strengthen your institution’s bottom line?* Do you want to increase and strengthen your institution’s stature and reputation in your community as a primary healthcare and social resource?You may want to answer “yes” to both questions. But unless you have unlimited funds, you must determine how much to spend on reinforcing your institution’s bottom line and how much should go toward strengthening its reputation as an outstanding healthcare resource in the eyes of the general public.Why should you aim a hospital’s public relations initiatives only at doctors?Hospitals and other healthcare institutions that want to appeal to and serve more patients must maintain a tight focus on attracting and serving doctors. Doctors are the driving force behind patients’ use of specific hospitals.When hospitals ask their patients, “Why did you choose this hospital?” Most will answer, “Because this is where my doctor sent me.”Patents trust their doctors so they follow their advice.Other than in an emergency or when an institution is renowned for its expertise in a particular illness or specialty, patients don’t show up or make an appointment at a hospital for a test or treatment unless their primary physician or specialist directed them to do so.Hospitals should conduct very active and focused physician relations programs that keep doctors well informed regarding the hospital’s services, facilities and treatment capabilities.Increasing the number of doctors associated with your hospital will result in more patients than will publicizing the institution’s facilities, services or capabilities to a broad, general audience.Why should you aim a hospital’s public relations initiatives at the general public?Public relations campaigns directed at the general public strengthen a hospital’s overall reputation as a high quality institution; an institution that benefits patients with leading edge services, compassionate care and advanced medical technology.Such campaigns establish and reinforce the hospital’s reputation as a vital community resource.They comfort and pre-sell prospective patients when their doctor tells them to go to a particular hospital for tests or treatment. They eliminate the need for a doctor to explain why she/he uses a certain hospital when providing treatment.And they reinforce your physician-relations campaign by reassuring doctors that they made the right decision when choosing your hospital to treat their patients and connect their name and professional reputation.
The culture of public relations is not only based on a gratifying and inspirational aesthetic but it also, and get this, contributes in a positive way to society and provides a working milieu that is inspiring to be part of.There are a wide range of reasons for this, but here are my ‘top ten’. Hopefully, you’ll think my passion for the professional discipline of public relations is justified after you read this. You might even get the urge to add your own reasons for being a fan of the profession.Helping society
One of the most important strategic elements of public relations is identifying organisational stakeholder needs and wants. The PR pro then informs the organisation of stakeholder positions and helps the organisation evolve the way it operates so it is more closely aligned with stakeholders.When this paradigm is applied, it means that organisations become more embedded into society in a socialised sense, making people, in theory, more satisfied and happy.In essence, the public relations professional is the conscience of an organisation.Creativity = fun
Being creative is huge amounts of fun. There are many examples of how PR is a discipline which both survives on, and is driven by, creativity:
o Insane stunts like hundreds of people doing yoga on a beach or stripping off their jeans when identified as a ‘stooge’ in the streets and handing said jeans over
o Creating strategic alliances with other organisations to help increase organisational/product/service awareness
o Generating innovative topics for use in media, speaking and social media ‘outreach’ programs (e.g. the Telstra Productivity Indicator and Citrix Online’s Shrinking Holiday Syndrome).Innovation and education
Public relations, just like business and society which it serves, is changing all the time.New ideas are needed to help create POD and thought leadership for organisations. Additionally, society and business is not getting any simpler, so the intellect of public relations as a putative whole needs to continually keep one step ahead to deliver results.Inherent within this is the need to continually learn and improve. Education is at the heart of this. Without it, you may not be dead in the water from a career perspective but, believe me, you ain’t going anywhere fast.Playing in the sandbox
There are a plethora of tactics in the PR sandbox (sorry, I meant toolbox) you can play with. Some of them are:
o Social media/online
o Speaking program
o Issues and crisis management
o Government relations/lobbying.This diversity of vocational activity helps make life interesting.Remuneration
It seems to me that public relations is one of the better earners in western society. This isn’t the actual ‘bottom line’ from my perspective. The bottom line is a complex, multi-layered thing. But, hey, it doesn’t hurt!Leadership
Inherent within strategic public relations is challenging the status quo. That might be a status quo as characterised by an organisation or its stakeholders.We are seeking change.Change requires those who are instigating it and representing it to stand up in a considerably large way. That takes fortitude, it takes vision and it takes leadership.Nice people!
PR is a people profession. We are under the ‘people spotlight’ all the time. It is expected of us to be emotionally functional (as opposed to dysfunctional) human beings. Add to this equation that the most effective and persuasive form of communication is face-to-face (i.e. people interacting in real life as opposed to virtual life).Nasty people don’t do face-to-face well. Upshot: exit PR.Public relations, is, at the end of the day, a civilised profession in which to work. And one of its roles is, inherently, to enhance the civility of all those it counsels and works with.Power of the people
PR pros get to interact with a wider range of people than many other professions do. This is because we:
o utilise a range of service providers and interact with different sorts of PR and marketing pros who specialise in different tactical areas, such as events and writing and advertising
o interact with those in all areas of an organisation: from the C-suite to the mechanics and nightclub security; from engineers to accountants.Collaboration and teams
This works two ways:
o On a strategic level, public relations encourages various parties (e.g. an organisation and its stakeholders) to collaborate to invent/devise/formulate a win-win outcome for these parties
o On a more day-to-day level, we are all operating in some sort of team environment where we collaborate with colleagues, associates or clients.Social media
Okay, now this is a little different as I am picking on a specific public relations tactic. The reason for this is that, more than any other single tactic, I think social media has the potential to help achieve the holy grail of two-way symmetrical communication.And two-way symmetrical communication is the primary cause of my passion for public relations. I am well aware that I cannot achieve it in every communication program I design and/or which I am involved, but it provides a deeply satisfying model for me to apply and/or aspire to applying: professionally, personally, socially – a tripartite hybrid which suffuses and characterises my personality, in fact.It is helping create a new society, or at the very least the paradigm for a new society. One where my dreams of greater social equity, greater organisational transparency and sincerity…and greater fulfilment for all of us will occur.