Twenty years ago, keeping the community healthy was the primary objective of the hospital where I started my healthcare marketing career. Brand journalism was our go-to marketing strategy. It just hadn’t been named yet. Our plans focused on smoking cessation, weight management, diabetes education – services, that if utilized, kept people out of the specialist’s offices.
Marketing in healthcare was a foreign concept. “Are you promoting people getting sick?” My response was and still is: “I educate them to know where to go when and if they need care.” Today, with the formation of Accountable Care Organizations, the objective is still the same: keep their members healthy and out of the doctor’s office or hospital.
An acronym for “Accountable Care Organization”, an ACO is a model of healthcare delivery in which a group of healthcare providers agree to accept payment for their services based on the aggregated health outcomes of the patients they see, as opposed to the total number of services performed. ACOs reward providers in a “fee for health” model, as opposed to a traditional “fee for service” model. Although the term ACO can apply to a variety of types of organizations, regulations for establishing ACOs to participate in the Medicare Shared Savings Program specifically were included in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010. (from a LinkedIn article: “A Guide to health care buzzwords and what they mean, Part 1: A-I” by Mary Pat Whaley)
So what is Brand Journalism?
Twenty years ago, we called it “Healthformation.” It was a health information publication and the name of the nurse triage line at Sioux Valley Hospital (now Sanford Health) in Sioux Falls, SD. We promoted health and wellness while raising awareness of the breadth of services available at Sioux Valley. Articles were written in a journalistic approach, stating the facts while keeping branding minimal. The publication was inserted in the local newspaper. Secondarily, the articles generated ideas for our local reporters. Typically one or two of our features were picked up by the local media – both TV and newspaper.
Today this strategy is called “Brand Journalism.” It reaches audiences based on current consumer media habits, using websites rather than newspapers to share the stories. And social media brings readers to the sites, rather than subscribers or newsstand sales. Healthcare organizations launch microsites or designate exclusive sections on their existing website. And they see (similar) results from their efforts.
Advocate Health Care in Chicago is one of the first brand journalism sites to impress me (and the one that made me see the relationship to my Healthformation days). As a result, Advocate caught the attention the highly saturated Chicago media market, grew a subscription base of 90,000+, and educates over 626,000 visitors viewing 1.1 million pages. All in less than a year. That is impressive. Read more about their success in this Ragan Communications article.
What Brand Journalism does for your organization
Educate – Brand journalism teaches and informs the audience – consumers, prospective patients, reporters or even referring physicians – of the benefits of the subject. It features expertise rather than selling the product or service.
Engage – If the benefits of the service are relevant, the consumer engages with the brand. Further engage your audience with video, audio and strong visuals – far different than my original experience.
Empower – And finally, the audience is empowered to take an action. Consumers today are motivated, taking the opportunities to research decisions through a variety of sources. Strategies such as brand journalism and content marketing empower consumers to make informed decisions with confidence.
As a writer, I enjoyed getting to know the patients and providers I interviewed for each article. It taught me a lot about the healthcare industry, why healthcare providers chose their career and made me the passionate professional I am today. I’m excited to see this tactic modernized with today’s communication channels.
Though the years have passed, our primary objective remains the same – keep people healthy, engage them to take action, and empower them to make informed decisions about their health care needs.
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