Principles for COVID-19 Healthcare Communications – 1 Keep it Simple, Keep it Organized

On February 21 I published a piece on LinkedIn – Communications Considerations for Medical Manufacturers as the COVID-19 Epidemic Emerges – that provided an overview of some of the communications considerations for pharma, biotech and device manufacturers related to the COVID-19 pandemic. It seems a good idea to look at some of those things I discussed in the piece a little more close up – and so I am thinking a series of postings here on the topic.

A frequent communications pattern with emerging pathogens is going from too little information to a deluge of information, sprinkled in with a dose of misinformation. We have all been receiving in our in-boxes emails with updates from everyone in business – banks, airlines, car rental companies, even my hardware store. It is a lot to digest and it is coming at us during a time of stress. Moreover for those in healthcare there are special considerations to communications given the range and impact of topics that must be covered – from supply chain to workforce to business continuity and even eventually, recovery.

Let’s begin generally, however. I reviewed a missive today sent by a healthcare manufacturer that was long and thick with narrative. The range of topics was pretty vast, covering everything from managing business continuity to financial impact on current sales to products in the pipeline and the status of clinical trials. It was all important information. But it was long and thick narrative.

In crafting communications about the very important range of things about which medical manufacturers must communicate, it may be good to borrow some common tips from media training about organizing messages for the spoken word and apply them to the written word. A long press release or statement with paragraph after paragraph is a lot to ask of people – especially now. Another thing I stress in media training is that you have a person’s full attention for the first few minutes you speak – and then minds naturally begin to wander.

Therefore in creating either general statements, or ones that are geared to very specific audiences, here are some guidelines:

  • Plan your messages – It is always important to define what the goal of the communication you are writing actually is – what do you want audiences to walk away with? If you don’t craft the communication with those goals in mind – and shape it so that the audience walks away with the three most critical things you want them to remember – then it is not likely the audience will get their on their own.
  • Lead with the important messages – Given that people may not read the whole communication – lead with your most important messages – and may it be suggested that in this time, at least a part of that be centered on the impact of what you are doing on people
  • List topics – If you are covering a range of things, organize your messages and sort it out for the audience. Guide their eye to the material which interests them. Not every audience needs to read every single thing in the release and the presence of a long narrative may discourage a thorough reading rather than promote it. Parsing your messaging into categories allows the audience to sort out what is important to them – and it doesn’t overwhelm them.
  • Flag the really important message – If there is something you really want to have stand out, flag it for the audience. This can be done visually with bold-face and italics and underscoring (or any combination thereof) or by including it upfront in a quote from a CEO or agency lead with very pointed language – “The most important thing we want people to know….”

These are straightforward tips and communications at its most basic – no rocket science here. But in a time of crisis it is sometimes easy to overlook some basic principles because there is so much to say and that must be said urgently. But when that is the case, what often happens is that in our zeal and need to push messages out, we do so in a way that undermines the ability of our audiences to absorb them. And so we begin with this simple reminder.

Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

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