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Published Veröffentlicht 05/04/2023

Pandemic Reflections: Three Key Learnings for Healthcare Communicators

By Amanda Critelli and Dana Stuardi

Since the World Health Organization (WHO) declared a public health crisis on March 11, 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic has continuously disrupted every sector of healthcare – from public health to health tech to pharmaceuticals. Every key stakeholder group and facet of the industry felt the impact, including healthcare communicators.

Now, with the Biden administration’s plan to end the pandemic public health emergency on May 11, we look back on how our role has evolved to meet our clients’ ever-changing needs. We’ve identified three key learnings we’ll continue to apply as we serve our clients in the “post-pandemic” world. 

Key learning No. 1: Be a valuable partner by strategically anticipating client needs and proactively proposing solutions 

As agency partners, our teams are always tasked with providing clients ongoing strategic counsel. However, it was especially critical over the past few years to anticipate our clients’ needs and strategize valuable recommendations – whether it was suggesting they postpone a planned media tour due to updated public health guidance or advising them to proactively comment on timely news related to the pandemic and their business. 

Working at an agency means we are equipped with a broad spectrum of resources and have access to diverse perspectives across industries. However, the pandemic compelled us to truly double down on leveraging our interagency capabilities to creatively tackle novel client needs. From tapping our Global Reputation Risk and Public Affairs team for counsel on navigating a crisis during the pandemic to offering our Creative team’s services to a client recently impacted by layoffs to partnering with our media specialists to break into the highly crowded pandemic news cycle, we pulled in SMEs across our agency for important work.

Case Studies: 

We worked with a health tech startup client that needed to reevaluate its PR needs after it underwent budget cuts due to the pandemic. Together, we identified how our team could best support and where our areas of expertise would be most valuable. This included tracking and compiling relevant awards and events, flagging and vetting potential media opportunities based on key relationships with reporters, and providing strategic counsel when relevant industry news and milestones arose. We ultimately aligned on an interim communications program that plugged us into marcomms work it could not complete internally at the time, given its small team and lack of resources. We were agile and often shifted our monthly scope of work to address the client’s changing needs. 

Our health team also supported a biotech company that was thrust into the public eye and underwent major growth during the pandemic. In the interest of keeping up with key competitors and industry powerhouses as the company scaled, this client relied on us for our industry event experience and established connections to secure speaking opportunities at both CES and SXSW. Ultimately, the client put the ball in our court, giving us the opportunity to show what we can do as agency partners, And in the end, we generated substantial organic growth. 

Post-pandemic, we’ll continue to proactively connect the dots on how we can add value as communicators and strategic partners, offering to bridge gaps and bring out-of-the-box thinking to this unprecedented era.

Key learning No. 2: Be agile and prepare to rethink traditional media strategies and tactics

Our work’s foundation is centered around establishing visibility for our clients, especially as it relates to media relations. We must often evaluate the bigger picture when pulling together a media strategy, but this became essential during the pandemic as the media landscape became more challenging to break into. The public health crisis’ impact on the industry drove us to take a step back and rethink our longstanding media strategies and tactics.

We’ve often faced the challenges of crowded news cycles. But since the start of the pandemic, we’ve seen a drastic shift in the media landscape as a whole, as it commanded headlines and outlets reported relentlessly on advancements. We also saw health reporters dedicate themselves to this coverage and some even took on new beats. As the pandemic renewed the public’s interest in health, newsroom resources simultaneously began to shrink as reporters were stretched thin. They became harder to reach and prioritized breaking news over evergreen topics.

As communication professionals, we had to get scrappy and invest additional time in following the fast-changing news cycle to leverage real-time media monitoring and newsjacking opportunities for our clients. We frequently had to assess: Is there an opportunity for our clients to provide expert commentary on a particular matter? If so, what’s the right message to convey? Do we recommend our client hit pause on media activity altogether, given the news or the crowded landscape?

Case Study:

In 2022, our team supported a health tech client’s media strategy for HLTH, a leading industry event. As usual, we drafted a strategic timeline and plan to map against, identified key media targets we wanted to reach, developed an engaging pitch, and contacted reporters ahead of the event (keeping their busy schedules in mind). However, we struggled to secure interest from health reporters, and many noted they were either not attending or were prioritizing paid media coverage over earned due to limited bandwidth. 

As a next step, we proactively flagged this feedback to our client, setting the stage for us to present a paid opportunity it wouldn’t normally have engaged with. A leading healthcare trade shared it would have reporters on-site at HLTH conducting sponsored video interviews, but wouldn’t do any earned reporting. The client genuinely appreciated our strategic thinking and rationale. Given the value of video content and the client’s expectation for coverage, it took our counsel and decided to move forward with the paid opportunity.

Key learning No. 3: Prioritize differentiated and engaging, audience-first content 

Since the pandemic’s start, company updates, product launches and corporate insight haven’t had the same appeal for reporters. In response, we pivoted some of our clients’ earned media efforts to contributed and owned content so they still had opportunities to share these important announcements. However, the key has been to retain value for the target audience.

Time and again, we’ve seen well-intentioned brands – especially health tech – fall into the trap of talking about themselves instead of staying customer-centric in their content. The pandemic exacerbated organizations’ pressure to show ROI and scalable outcomes and we saw them project this throughout their published content. During this time, whether contributing a byline in a key trade publication or developing a new blog on a company’s website, we had to thoughtfully coach our clients on the importance of putting the readers, consumers and audiences first. 

Case Study:

We counseled an emerging health tech client to be more mindful of the content it published. We found the client quite eager to talk about a recent product launch in a piece of contributed content, and we had to be the “bad guy” and advise it to get out of the weeds on a specific product and to focus the discussion more on the value to the customer. We recommended it to tailor the piece to be more evergreen in nature and tie it to either broader issues it solves for customers, timely industry news or key learnings that would be beneficial for the publication’s readers – something we’ll continue to encourage in the future.

All in all, it comes as no surprise when we say the pandemic had a widespread effect on the healthcare industry at large. Following the lift of the public health crisis in May, we’re certain the world will continue to reel from its disruption, especially healthcare. As healthcare communicators, our roles, responsibilities and priorities have evolved over time and will undoubtedly continue to do so. Throughout the pandemic, we identified key insights and learnings that will be critical for us all to leverage for our future success in a “post-pandemic” society.

Interested in learning more about the pandemic’s impact on the industry and how we’ve pivoted? Read our latest blog on events and speaking engagements here. For any questions for our health practice, please reach out to healthslt@allisonpr.com.

View our health tech microsite here.


Amanda Critelli is an account manager in Allison’s health practice. She is based in New York, where she supports a wide range of communications programs for healthcare clients, including the development of thought leadership platforms through executive visibility strategy and media relations efforts. 

Dana Stuardi is an account coordinator in Allison’s health practice. She is based in Washington, D.C., where she provides day-to-day support across accounts, including content creation, monitoring and reporting, awards and event management, media relations, and executive visibility.

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