Health (Brand) Journalism: What is it?

 

The Society for Healthcare Strategy, Marketing and Development (SHSMD), one of my favorite professional organizations, creates a great newsletter. This month, there's a piece by Cheryl Welch about brand journalism in health care. She offers a case study of brand journalism by Spectrum Health, a Michigan health system that deployed an internal reporting team to create content for their Health Beat digital news site. This is a fantastic example of how things have changed in media to where organizations need to "be their own publishers." A health system is a great ecosystem for illustrating this concept, because a lot happens in hospitals, doctor's offices and nursing homes every day. There are triumphs and setbacks. There are innovations and routines. But one of the challenges for public relations and marketing departments is that they don't hear about these stories until someone thinks to call them. 

Internal reporting, AKA brand journalism, applies the same concepts that we learned in journalism school to tell human interest stories, in this case within the health context. These stories are not outright cheerleading for health system, but interesting, balanced and realistic stories of the people who are inside it, for whatever reason. 

I see this as a major trend in marketing and PR and it can be done well. One of the reasons this is a great tactic is that as Welch says " traditional media is disintegrating, our consumers are more demanding and savvy and the tech landscape makes it downright cheap to reach large audiences."

One caveat, of course: if you are going to do it, do it well. Get a photographer. Create a style guide. Avoid astroturf (fake grass vs. real grass.) Take the time to do rounds and listen for the best stories. Have a plan for the brand voice to come through in the right. Hire people who know what they are doing. Get permissions. And then....go tell those stories!

Hospitals -- More than a Building, Part of the Community

I finally sat down to read the Community Connections publication put out by the American Hospital Association, a book full of ideas and innovations for health care leaders related to community programs around the country. The range of programs was interesting, from offering volunteer doulas to pet care during hospice to arranging for meals to be delivered home for food insecure seniors. I think that hospitals sometimes get a bad rap for their size and the amount of money they circulate in the community -- but they are often at the heart of communities in the United States in big cities and small towns.

I think that in our great cultural shift in health care we will see more partnerships and more preventive care -- both essentially important to our community health. From cultural health navigators who assist female refugees from the Middle East / Southeast Asia / Subsaharan Africa in Phoenix to training African American barbers how to measure blood pressure and serve as heart health advocates in DC -- identifying cultural barriers to health is important.

It's heartening to see things that didn't used to fall under "health" be recognized as part of our whole selves. For example, dinner programs for breast cancer support that include communications skills, nutrition, stress management, intimacy and finances, which both builds a sense of connection with the group but also recognizes that resources are needed for these challenges. A retreat for stroke survivors and their families meets similar needs in support, education and socialization.

Prevention is also more of a focus, looking to prevent falls and injuries by strengthening flexibility with exercise (Idaho), student health coaches for those with chronic conditions (Pennsylvania) and instruction for physically disabled individuals to play sports like fishing, swimming, wheelchair basketball and hand-cycling (Iowa.) A hospital in Oklahoma offers a drive-through flu shot clinic to encourage high risk patients. It's important to address the current issues while preventing future ones and there are many adaptations we can make to help keep communities healthy. I applaud hospitals for their innovation and compassion.