Why communications deserves a seat at the table

By Michael Grela

September 13, 2018

September 13, 2018 – Heading out from the CDC National Conference on Health Communication, Marketing and Media conference in Atlanta (and narrowly escaping Hurricane Florence!), I’m feeling very inspired by the creative health communication programs currently being developed and deployed across the US. HIV/AIDS, smoking, opioid addiction, gambling, binge drinking – partners and peers from all sectors are taking on the really big issues. But as health communicators, we are constantly fighting to be included early in program development – why is that when our approach is evidence-based, strategic, and truly changes behaviors?

In a time when we face so many existing and new health challenges, I think it’s worthwhile to reiterate some of the best practices of our discipline shared during the conference. These core tenants strengthen our programs and ensure communications is considered early, not last:

  • Segment and target audiences. When you try and reach everyone, you end up reaching no one. It’s important to prioritize your audiences, take the time to understand their behaviors, and build campaigns that engage them. And remember that audiences change over time, and messages become stale, so it’s not a one and done. Continually look for ways to keep the ear and eye of who you’re trying to reach.
  • Engage with people where they are. Unlike the old saying, “if you build it, they will come,” it’s important to meet audiences where they are. If they are on Instagram, that’s where you need to be. If they prefer podcasts, insert content there. Gone are the days of building custom channels and portals and hoping people will click through.
  • Follow the research. It’s easy to get caught up by the shiny new object, be led astray by leadership intuition, or change course based on anecdotal feedback from your neighbor’s kids. Put trust in the research, even if it leads you to unexpected or unpopular decisions.
  • Track metrics and use the data to course-correct whenever possible. Set and align on a goal before you start, determine how you will monitor and evaluate progress, and unlock the power of the sophisticated and diverse tools available to ensure you’re moving in the right direction. Also, be flexible enough to change courses if something isn’t working, or if there is an opportunity to make things better or more effective.
  • While others may have different goals in mind and you might not always see eye to eye, there is power in numbers, and sharing ideas and brain-power, especially across disciplines and sectors, can lead to powerful results. Be prepared to listen, be open to new ideas, and let others lead.

If we continue to follow these proven methods, and effectively report back on our successes, we can ensure a seat at the table and ultimately build better, more effective programs. And if you’re looking for ways to support the field of health communication, connect with other like-minded individuals and gain access to best practices, case studies, and so much more, I encourage you to become a member of the Society of Health Communication.