Following a two-year pandemic hiatus, the healthcare industry has once again descended on downtown San Francisco for the annual J.P. Morgan Healthcare Conference. And while the pandemic may be inching closer to the rearview, we remain in a time of incredible uncertainty. Between policy headwinds, global macroeconomic questions, the daily ups and (mostly) downs of the XBI and the rise of a tridemic, the onus for healthcare companies to drive solutions — and the stakeholder expectations to do so — is an immense challenge. In this environment, success requires companies to take actions — that communicators are well-positioned to lead — to build trust with their key stakeholders. Our Edelman Trust Barometer research points to five key actions communicators in the healthcare industry must consider to better communicate and build trust during this critical moment.
FIVE ACTION ITEMS FOR HEALTHCARE COMMUNICATORS
1. ENSURE YOUR CEO IS TALKING ABOUT WHAT MATTERS
Our 2022 Trust Barometer made it abundantly clear CEOs are expected to be the face of change. Eighty-one percent of respondents think CEOs should be personally visible when discussing public policy with external stakeholders or work their company has done to benefit society. Additionally, our Trust Barometer Special Report: Trust and Health found that a majority of people believe health companies must address other determinants of health such as pollution (69%) and poverty and income inequality (66%) to earn trust. On top of all of that, our recent Trust Barometer Special Report: Healthcare Institutional Investors revealed that 69% of investors say strong leadership and clear vision are second only to financial performance when making an investment. Now, these are compelling numbers, and while it is understood CEOs cannot afford to sit on the sidelines, that doesn’t make it any easier to decide when and how to engage on important issues, especially when they may be considered controversial. With societal expectations this high, it’s critical companies have a framework in place to take a consistent, strategic approach to publicly navigating complex issues — ideally before the next round of headlines.
2. DOUBLE DOWN ON COMMUNICATIONS WITH INVESTORS
You may feel like you’ve got your investors covered, but they don’t necessarily agree. Our data show that 68% of healthcare institutional investors believe healthcare companies have historically communicated poorly with investors and 61% believe most companies are unprepared to communicate effectively. These low scores don’t sit well with us . So, don’t rest on your laurels. Make sure you are communicating, clearly and consistently, using a multi-channel communications strategy for both normal course and transformative situations. Ensure IR collateral and your IR site are easy to navigate, consistently updated and clearly articulate your investment thesis. Our research showed the pandemic saw a significant increase in healthcare allocation — 78% despite poor investor communications — so imagine what the impact of best-in-class IR communications could be for your company in 2023.
3. FILL THE INFORMATION VOID
One of the most staggering findings of our Trust and Health study was that only 61% of respondents are confident in their ability to find answers about health questions and make informed decisions for themselves and their families — reflecting a 10-point drop in confidence since 2017. For the 56% of respondents who say there is a gap in how well they’re taking care of their health vs. how well they should be, almost half (47%) say that information plays a large or very large role in keeping them from closing the gap. As communicators, conveying information is what we do, it’s our bread and butter. We can do this! There is a clear opportunity to make an impact on patients’ lives by providing readable, reliable and relatable information that helps close these information gaps and instills the confidence needed to better navigate and understand our getting-more-complicated-by-the-day healthcare system.
4. DELIVER ON & COMMUNICATE ABOUT YOUR ESG PROGRAM
If an ESG program falls in a forest…you know how the rest goes. Investors expect healthcare companies to have a tangible, positive impact on society — 73% of healthcare institutional investors will not invest in a company without sufficient ESG mandates. It’s likely your company has these mandates in place, but does anybody know about them? Since 81% of healthcare institutional investors believe companies with strong ESG performance deserve a premium valuation, it’s critical that you prioritize the ESG mandate as a core element of communications. Ensure strong positioning of and updates on your ESG program and tell compelling stories about its real-world impact. And don’t just do it every once in a while; consistency is key.
5. LEVERAGE YOUR TRUSTED STATUS WITH EMPLOYEES
While the talk of the town is quiet quitting, the “Great Resignation” and other changes in the employer/employee relationship, our data showing that people find information about healthcare issues from their employers just as believable as national health authorities — and more believable than any other source of information — might surprise you. Add to that the fact that 77% of respondents expect their employers to play a meaningful role in making sure they are as healthy as possible, and it becomes clear you need to prioritize those employee communications that might typically slip down your to do list. By owning the employer role in health outcomes, you can influence good health choices and help fill that information gap we just told you about among your workforce, making a real change in the overall ecosystem.
While there’s as much uncertainty about the path ahead as there is about whether we will have a “deal Monday” this year — there are still a few points of certainty we can all agree on: reconnecting in person with old friends and colleagues in San Francisco over coffee is always priceless, and healthcare communicators have a timely opportunity to put these best practices into action for more effective communications in 2023.
Courtney Gray Haupt is U.S. Health Sector Chair and Shannon Susko is Managing Director, Co-Head of Strategic Situations & IR and Head of Healthcare at Edelman Smithfield.