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Women are from Venus

There's more to creating a healthcare public relations campaign for women than merely looking at the way they differ from men. But it's a good place to start

There's more to creating a campaign for women than merely looking at the way they differ from men. But it's a good place to start.


When you remember that men are from Mars and women are from Venus, everything can be explained, argues John Gray, author of Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus. This notorious book looks at improving the communication between people who come from very different planets. By understanding the differences between men and women, Gray claims it is possible for both parties to have an equally good relationship with their own, and opposite, sex.

Men mistakenly expect women to think, communicate, and react the way men do; women mistakenly expect men to feel, communicate and respond the way women do. We have forgotten that men and women are supposed to be different, says Gray.

Remembering the differences between the sexes is not only important when dealing with one-to-one relationships it is also critical when preparing the strategies of a marketing campaign. Male and female needs and wants must be taken into consideration at every stage. By doing so healthcare agencies can produce a targeted campaign that speaks directly to its audience.

Getting under her skin

Understanding your target audience is key. A campaign must understand the motivations and concerns of the target audience in order to ensure effective and appropriate communication, explains Julia Harries, director at Red Door Communications. The key is research, research, research. Pharmaceutical companies often employ very sophisticated market research and profiling methodologies to really understand the needs and lifestyles of their end user, she adds. Without such in-depth knowledge, a campaign is unlikely to be successful.

General assumptions about women and their health suggest that many women prefer 'not to make a fuss', although when it comes to looking after the rest of her family, they tend to be better at seeking out information than men. In contrast, men are often assumed to take an 'ostrich' approach to their personal health - burying their head in the sand and hoping they'll get better in time.

However, it is too broad just to think about a campaign aimed at all women or all men. While the stereotypical woman may seem easier to target, it can be dangerous and costly to stereotype women, says Harries. Their aspirations can change quite markedly from generation to generation and even in short periods of time.

Making it a success

A successful campaign will recognise the myriad roles that many women play and the different facets of their personalities and motivations that arise in different circumstances, adds Harries. Seeking to find the differences between different types of women will provide the way forward in generating a campaign for a segment of women and ensure far more effective communication with that group takes place.

Once you have a clear understanding of who the audience is, a campaign can still sink or sail depending on whether the correct strategy is adopted. The tone and vehicles used to communicate the campaign message are fundamental.

The Women Matter campaign for Epilepsy Action targeted women of childbearing age, who also had epilepsy, and may or may not have had regular contact with their GP or a recognised epilepsy patient advocacy group. With the target group clearly defined it was essential that the strategy implemented was also reflective of the audience.

Jo Mines, associate director at Cohn & Wolfe Healthcare, who ran the campaign, says: Following extensive research we formed strategic alliances with non-epilepsy groups such as the Brook Advisory, who would be able to reach the right target group at the right point in time, ie, when women were planning to have a family. However, using general media channels to capture journalist attention was not an easy task.

The campaign made use of major issues that applied to larger sections of the female population. Contraception Week and storylines in soap operas were used as hooks to gain more interest. This worked well as a stealth strategy, says Mines, taking the campaign wider than the health pages of national press, and into magazines like All about soap.

Gently does it

Campaigns that deal with intimate issues for women are often a challenge in terms of overcoming barriers where people find the issue too intrusive. For example, Harries refers to gynaecological issues that can be seen as 'distasteful' within some media. The challenge here is to find a delicate balance to put across information in a powerful but sensitive way, adds Harries.

Any campaign must take into consideration the three M's says Harries: the need to Motivate the audience to help themselves, which can only happen if the Message and Medium are best suited to that audience.

It is important that women are motivated to seek out help. Articles that draw on the experience of people in a similar situation in the form of case studies, can be a particularly useful and powerful strategy.

Sourcing real-life case studies where people have taken steps to improve their health, detailing what life was like before and after treatment, is a successful campaign strategy. A bank of over 40 case studies, who were willing to talk to journalists, was fundamental in securing media interest and ultimately paring down the stigmas [relating to hearing loss] as they provided compelling testimony as to how lives had been transformed, says Tracy Barrett, executive director at SantÈ Communications.

The company used this method in the Boots Hearingcare campaign and found positive results: 28 per cent of calls to the helpline were generated directly by media coverage, showing the campaign was well targeted. We approached and worked with a number of the larger Women's Institutes, carrying out a series of educational health meetings and presentations, says Barrett.

The differences between groups of women must be considered when creating a campaign but further still a more focused and rigorous stage of research and planning is needed. Complex messages aimed at a segmented audience, need to be meticulously planned or they could be lost or misdirected, resulting in a waste of time and money.

Communicating health issues to women could, at first glance, seem easy. However, the difficulty lies in achieving effective cut through, says Mines at Red Door. The bottom line is, it's vital not to generalise when targeting women.

The Author
Anita Peach is editorial assistant for Pharmaceutical Marketing magazine

2nd September 2008

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