Reputation by Permission | HealthCare: Earning Permission to Operate

Two of the largest healthcare trade associations in the United States recently launched advertising campaigns in an attempt to improve the industry’s reputation.

Popular opinion seems to hold that healthcare’s reputation is a bit tarnished. And yet this is happening at a time when the industry (the Pharma sector in particular) is delivering truly impressive new medicines that address some of the most serious illnesses of our time.

What gives?

Part of the answer has to do with the transformation taking place in healthcare. Quite simply, everything is changing—from the size and demographics of patient populations to the nature of its pricing models to the levels of regulatory oversight and scrutiny.

But part of it also has to do with the fact that companies no longer control their reputations in the way they did just a few years ago. Power has shifted away from traditional sources of authority to the industries’ stakeholders themselves—and not just traditional stakeholders like regulators and financial analysts. Today, an organization’s stakeholders also include the disgruntled employee, the frustrated health professional or the dissatisfied patient—people who now have the tools and determination to make themselves heard.

The friction these stakeholders can create affects not only reputation, but can also fundamentally impact your business and erode your “permission to operate.” We’re talking here not just about bad publicity but Congressional hearings, lawsuits, political attacks—things that draw money and management attention away from running the business.

So, how do you go about earning greater permission to operate in this environment? Here are four steps:

  1. Undertake research to assess your level of marketplace permission.
    This can be the basis for developing strategic and tactical plans to earn greater permission and address reputational issues.
  2. Reframe your messages from the perspective of stakeholders.
    It’s important to understand the real issues and concerns your stakeholders have, and to tell your story from that perspective.
  3. Make sure your employees are fully engaged and motivated.
    Employees are your most important ambassadors and need to be reinforcing your story in every interaction with stakeholders.
  4. Tell your story in compelling ways.
    That means creating content that stakeholders will find interesting and engaging. It also means telling those stories across the full spectrum of Paid, Earned, Shared and Owned channels.

Implementing these four steps successfully calls for a somewhat different mindset:

First, it requires a fundamental shift in your ability to view the world from the perspective of your stakeholders; and to do this objectively, without bias, before telling your story.

Second, it requires you to walk the talk—essentially, to do what you say you’re going to do. And that means creating an authentic corporate culture where your employees are truly “living” the brand in their every interaction with stakeholders.

It also means being open and transparent in a way that addresses the issues that stakeholders are really interested in.

Finally, beyond transparency, it requires a willingness to engage—to partake in genuine, two-way dialogue with stakeholders.

Ketchum’s new Reputation by Permission | Healthcare offering is designed to help healthcare companies earn greater permission to operate. It’s based on our simple belief that an organization’s reputation is now co-created by its key stakeholders.

Earning greater permission in the marketplace yields real reputational benefits. But it’s true value lies in the business advantages it creates—an ability to attract and retain top talent, to gain the benefit of the doubt in times of crisis, to exert greater pricing power, to attract and leverage potential partners… and, ultimately, to win in the marketplace.

About John Weckenmann

As Partner, Senior Counselor, John has more than 30 years of experience in all facets of integrated marketing and corporate public relations. He has wide-ranging experience in corporate reputation management and international public relations and has worked extensively in the healthcare sector.

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