4 Tips for Healthcare Comms to Engage with Women

With Melissa Baratta of Affect PR.


Back in 2013, the US Department of Labor produced a statistic that should turn the heads of everyone with a client in the healthcare field: women are not only more likely to serve as caregivers when family members grow ill; they also make “approximately 80 percent of health care decisions” for their families. In other words, they’re the new CMOs: chief medical officers.

For comms professionals working on behalf of healthcare organizations and consumer healthcare brands, then, the most important question may be “How do we communicate more effectively with women?

We spoke to Melissa Baratta, a healthcare vet and VP of New York’s Affect PR, for more on what healthcare businesses are doing right…and wrong.

Why do we need to communicate better with women?

Now more than ever, they are the decision-makers…and not just for children.

The have major influence within the family, in the community, and on social media where they tend to share a lot of health info, post opinions, and get into debates.

Peers’ opinions on social often carry more weight than info distributed by healthcare orgs — take the “debate” over vaccines, in which we saw how personal experience held more weight in certain circles than, say, statements from the CDC.

Women have a lot of influence, so orgs now see a greater need to communicate with them in a holistic way…not just when they get sick. We should target them as part of a broader discussion rather than simply marketing certain products to them.

What are the big challenges in doing so?melissa baratta

We need to engage them earlier. Since they are the primary decision-makers in their families, we need to educated them on health risk factors by starting the discussion as early as age 18.

That means that healthcare orgs have to develop relationships with women…working with doctors to provide certain info, targeting younger women with lifestyle changes and tips/ health facts, etc. We typically talk to the 30-and-older group, but healthcare orgs can help younger women avoid preventable conditions.

We need to create social campaigns and online communities to get these young women engaged around certain topics. They should feel that we [and our clients] are talking WITH them rather than talking AT them.

What are healthcare companies doing wrong right now?

Social isn’t used often enough. Health companies tend to be very conservative due to a strict regulatory environment…but approximately 80 percent of consumers use the Internet and social media for for health research purposes.

Social should be the primary tool to engage them whether they’re in New York City or a tiny country in Africa. Companies are missing a big opportunity here.

What do they need to do to get it right?

1. Listen on social before you engage.

What are people talking about, and what tone are they using? Read the target audience before developing a campaign. We recommend doing an audit first and even reading the comments on New York Times health articles.

2. Don’t just tell them what to do; tell them HOW to do it.

Here’s one example: women who suffer from chronic pain often don’t talk about it. They suffer in silence. If you encourage them to speak up but don’t give them a platform/tips and go beyond the ‘what’ to show them HOW, then you won’t get as much engagement.

3. Keep it easily digestible.

Healthcare companies tend to be very detailed in their communications as a result of that regulatory environment. But remember that women are often very busy and don’t have time to sift through tons of info or 12-page prescription inserts.

Clients need to go outside their comfort zones: what is going to resonate? What is the real crux of what we’re trying to communicate?

4. Understand the audience.

The tendency is to say, ‘We have this message we want to communicate,’ then write the message and send it out.

But that first step is most crucial: where is the audience, which platforms are they using, and how are they communicating with friends and/or family?

This could potentially demand a larger budget, but companies that take all the steps will have more long-term success.

When listing health care companies that do a good job of communicating with women, Baratta names Eli Lilly, which “goes beyond traditionally ‘safe topics’ (tips, treatments, etc.) to talk about patient issues like care inequalities,” and NYU Langone Medical Center for Women’s Health, which “does a good job of addressing women of all ages, starting as young adults.”

@PatrickCoffee patrick.coffee@adweek.com Patrick Coffee is a senior editor for Adweek.