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The new rules of marketing and PR

How to reach your audience directly


There used to be only three ways to get noticed: buy expensive advertising, beg the mainstream media to tell your story for you, or hire a huge sales staff to bug people individually about your products. Now we have a better option: publishing interesting content on the web - content that your buyers want to consume. The tools of the marketing and PR trade have changed. The skills that worked offline to help you buy or beg or bug your way into opportunity are the skills of interruption and coercion. Online success comes from thinking like a journalist and publishing amazing content that brands you as an organisation or person it would be a pleasure to do business with. You are in charge of your own success.

On the global speaking circuit, I frequently get pushback from audience members who work in highly regulated industries. They claim that laws like the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), which addresses the security and privacy of health data, and regulations like those from the US Securities and Exchange Commission and the US Food and Drug Administration (and equivalent agencies in other countries) forbid them from creating valuable content on the web or engaging in social media.

Nonsense! This is just a fear-based excuse perpetuated by lawyers in the pharmaceutical, healthcare and financial services industries who want to avoid risk at all costs. The fear is particularly shortsighted when considering the data on how people make decisions related to their health. I frequently present at healthcare-related events and have had an opportunity to meet many marketers who are happily reaching their audiences with valuable information. They’re living in reality, not according to their fears.

According to data presented at a recent National Healthcare Marketing Summit by Tim McGuire from Greenville Hospital System, Bill Moschella of eVariant and Anne Theis of Salem Health, 80% of internet users look up health information online. More than three out of four people use the web to make healthcare decisions! Yet 64% of hospital marketing departments devote less than 25% of their marketing budgets to interactive content. Even more telling is how hospital marketers spend their time: 83% of hospitals devote less than 30% of staff time to interactive media. This is ridiculous.

The fearful lawyers say no to the 80% of customers and potential customers who use the web to research health. This fear means that hospital marketers are busy making brochures and TV ads instead of creating thoughtful web content. If you work in a highly regulated industry, can your organisation afford such a disconnect?

For an example of someone who ignores what people assume to be legal restrictions and instead creates thoughtful content, consider Chris Boyer, director of digital communications and marketing for Inova Health System, northern Virginia’s leading not-for-profit healthcare provider. Inova serves more than one million patients each year.

The company publishes content to reach specific buyer personas. For example, its ‘Life with Cancer’ site contains valuable information for patients and their families. In a world where others are fearful of creating content, Inova publishes videos like ‘Phil Gilbert’s story - Relief after hip replacement’.

Boyer transformed the Inova organisation to focus more on creating relevant content. “We take a lot of time understanding who our viewers are and actually write different types of content for different types of users,” Boyer says. “Patients are using our patient and visitor information, so they’re looking for specifics about how to make their stay easier, and we write with them in mind. Other people view our services and all the different clinical stuff that we provide at Inova. They could either be referring physicians who want to research what we’re doing here or consumers who are actually shopping for healthcare. We want to provide them with content that’s appropriate for them. It is written so that they don’t have to read through pages and pages of clinical content to get to the crux of what they’re looking for.”

Boyer manages the digital marketing and communications team, including a handful of editors and web graphics professionals, as well as several part-timers. A full-time social media manager on the team focuses on social media channels, although there’s a lot of content interaction and cross publication efforts; the lines between social media and the website are blurring tremendously at Inova, as at so many other organisations.

“The two main editors for our website are actually former journalists,” Boyer says. “So they have experience in terms of writing. Of course, they started in traditional media, but in the last few years they migrated over to focus exclusively on online journalism and communications.”

I wanted to know how Boyer has dealt with the whole ‘fear’ thing. Why has he been successful in hiring journalists and creating content when so many other management teams and legal departments refuse?

Boyer says the main concern of Inova’s managers was that a shift to content marketing would mean a shift away from what they thought were the key differentiators of Inova Health System. Previously, their efforts had focused on attracting the best physicians. “It took a long time for us to educate that the existing content is not being lost. We’re just providing it to each audience in the appropriate places. There will be pages for consumers and pages for physicians who are looking to refer or be employed here. It took a while for them to be comfortable with that.”

The size of Boyer’s team means there are significant resources devoted to the Inova thought leadership effort. Boyer measures effectiveness in three areas:

New patients: How many people become patients who first connected online either through content on the website or through social networks such as Facebook and Twitter?

Savings: How much money can be saved by using online tools? For example, the existing Inova nursing communication is a printed newsletter that goes out to all nursing staff and costs $80,000 per year to produce. So converting to a blog means eliminating that expense and increasing readership.

Long-term patient engagement: How many patients (or potential patients) get involved in wellness programmes? For example, Inova offers email content focused on how to have a healthy heart, how to eat well and so on. It measures the number of people who stay healthy because of the information they consume and how that affects things like readmittance rates.

Boyer has taken a gradual approach in implementing these changes. “Realise that you don’t have to transform your entire organisation all at once,” he says. “I found a lot of success in focusing on areas where there were some obvious opportunities and used social communications in those areas. Try something and see how it’s working. You’re gaining valuable expertise and understanding how to use the tools. In most organisations, once you introduce social communications to your portfolio, very quickly you’ll start to see how they will augment, if not replace, some of the current ways that you’re communicating.”

As Boyer shows, content marketing and thought leadership can survive and thrive in highly regulated industries.

Article by
David Meerman Scott

is the author of ten books, including Real-Time Marketing & PR, The New Rules of Sales & Service and Newsjacking

27th February 2018

Article by
David Meerman Scott

is the author of ten books, including Real-Time Marketing & PR, The New Rules of Sales & Service and Newsjacking

27th February 2018

From: Marketing



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