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Why Stakeholder Engagement is Integral to the Success of A Healthcare Media Relations Campaign

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The buzz words “stakeholder engagement” fly around a lot in PR circles. But what is the true value of a well-executed stakeholder mapping and engagement plan and why is it so important for the healthcare industry?

Edward Freeman first articulated stakeholder theory in 1984 defining stakeholders as any group or individual who is affected by or can affect the achievement of an organization’s objectives. Fostering relationships with these stakeholders can assist companies with a range of objectives, be it part of business and strategic planning, innovation and new product development, or in lobbying and negotiation.

Australian public relations expert, Marie-Louise Malkin, Curtin University of Technology, recently described the stakeholder engagement function as moving from being “a ‘nice to have’ to being a core part of business.” (Developing a model for effective stakeholder engagement management (2010), Asia Pacific Public Relations Journal, Volume 11)

But a good stakeholder management program can also make or break a media relations campaign.  We see numerous examples in the Australian healthcare industry where an announcement is made, a healthcare professional is asked by the media for their opinion, and it is the first they have ever heard of the ‘commitment’, research or new technology.

In fact, stakeholder engagement and media relations can be likened to applying for a new job. Before we apply, we want to ensure we engage our relevant referees, inform them about what the new job entails, and trust they will speak about our strengths to our prospective employer.  We want to have these friends/referees in our back pocket.

With a media outreach campaign, it’s very similar. Before a company makes an announcement via traditional, new or social media channels, they want to ensure their relevant stakeholders are in their back pocket. We know that when any good journalist writes about a company announcement, they will enlist the opinion of a third-party credible spokesperson or organization. By ensuring these likely “third-parties” (stakeholders) have been engaged and are well-informed prior to the announcement, there is a much greater chance they will speak favourably (or at least objectively) about the matter.

A third party spokesperson, whether it be a healthcare professional or patient organisation member, is incredibly important in the healthcare industry. Our 2012 Edelman Trust Barometer tells us there is only a 66 per cent level of trust in the pharmaceutical industry in Australia. However, the 2012 Reader’s Digest “Australian’s Most Trusted Professionals” data reveals that healthcare professionals are very highly trusted by the Australian community. In fact, paramedics, doctors, nurses and pharmacists all ranked in the top ten on this “Most Trusted” list. We want these trusted professionals to help us tell our story.

This year I have worked on several campaigns which have demonstrated the value of stakeholder engagement in media relations, the most notable was before the launch of Sanofi Australia’s iBGStar®.  Prior to the launch, we established meetings between Sanofi and the key diabetes patient organisations, as well as influential HCPs, to educate them about the new device and what this would mean for the Australian diabetes community.

So when Diabetes Australia, the Australian Diabetes Council and various HCPs were asked to comment about iBGStar® in mainstream and health trade media, they spoke positively about how the new device would revolutionise the way one million Australians live with, and manage, their diabetes.

Of course it’s important to remember that stakeholder engagement does not have a start and end point. The relationship with these stakeholders needs to be maintained and nurtured. Increasing the quality of stakeholder relationships, encouraging them to buy into an organisation’s vision, along with getting stakeholder’s perspectives so that an organisation can continue to evolve, are all vitally important elements of public relations. Especially in the healthcare industry.

Katy McMillan is a senior account manager in Edelman Australia, Healthcare. 

Feature photo by Yumi Wu of Edelman

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