Recently, we had the pleasure to attend and speak at the PRSA 2016 Health Academy Conference in Washington DC. Professional communicators from around the globe – from hospitals and health systems to associations and agencies – were in attendance to share best practices, learn through educational sessions and be challenged to think and work differently.

So, what stuck out to us at the #PRSAhealth conference?

The pending election has everyone speculating and refusing to speculate at the same time. Only time will tell how the election results may impact the Affordable Care Act, the NIH, and other policies and legislation. Time will tell and everyone is anxious.

The words we choose are more important than ever. From ‘heroin abuse’ to ‘opioid epidemic’, from ‘physician-assisted suicide’ to ‘death with dignity.’ As communicators, we need to message test more frequently among our target audience to determine what will resonate and willingly be shared.

We may be the professionals, but we don’t have all the answers. Similar to the note above – our role as healthcare communicators has evolved. We listen. We facilitate. We thoughtfully respond. The 24-hour news cycle and social media explosion means we have more access to opinions and reactions. Use them. In fact, many presenters, myself included, talked about how to use social tools to create communities – from family networks affiliated with a hospital, to social media ambassador programs affiliated with an association. Consider tapping into the knowledge of these communities for ideas and when appropriate, for amplification of your message.

You may have a crisis plan, but how often do you practice? One speaker shared: “No plan survives first contact with the enemy.” A different speaker pointed to monthly drills with his team, using potential scenarios for his organization, or taking a ‘ripped from the headlines’ approach, encouraging his team to play out one of the stories of the day and how they might respond, should that crisis scenario occur closer to home.

Having trouble getting senior leadership rallied on the importance of PR? Show them a worst-case potential headline and solicit their help in working backwards from there. File this under ballsy, but effective. If senior leaders can feel the concern for what could be – they should be more likely to roll up their sleeves and work with the PR team to gather the information needed to the improve the story bit by bit to a headline that tells the full story. In some cases, success doesn’t mean a positive story – success is a factual, honest story. Our job is to help our clients give the journalist the data to write the full story.

Attending the conference was beneficial for me. What was the last conference you attended, and your top takeaway? Would love to hear it!

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