It’s fall. That means football season, kids going back to school, the leaves changing colors, and, for many hospitals and health systems, it means the start of budget season. Even if your fiscal year is other than the calendar year, you’ll want to keep reading, or at least save this post in your budget planning folder.

With all the change going on in healthcare, many systems are finding it difficult to prioritize when it comes to budgeting. And, that can be frustrating for PR/marketing executives trying to align their plans with organizational priorities. If that describes you, perhaps the list of budget priorities below will help you take a slightly different approach to your budget this year, and best position you and your organization for success.

  1. Plan for the Unexpected. disaster recovery_dilbertBetween the changes in climate, changes in technology, and changes in your competitive landscape, odds are that you will have some sort of crisis, issue or major announcement to manage in the coming year. They say it takes a lifetime to build a reputation and only a few hours to destroy it. You’re almost guaranteed the latter, if you fail to plan. Whether or not you already have a plan in place, make sure to include a line item for crisis communications. This may include the creation of a crisis plan, simulated testing of your plan, media training or coaching for key executives and physicians, or strategizing how to more effectively use social media in a crisis. This isn’t intended to be a “miscellaneous” line item; rather, a thoughtful estimate based on an honest assessment of your reputational readiness.
  2. brand journalism typewriterInvest in Brand Journalism. The news industry is consolidating even more rapidly than the healthcare industry, driven primarily by the explosion of digital and social communication, and the fundamental shift in the way people consume and share information. Brand journalism is exactly what it sounds like –marketing your brand through storytelling. It’s about being more relevant and engaging with your constituents. And, it’s about becoming your own news engine. While there are incremental steps you can take to move in this direction, it does require a fundamental shift from the old way of doing things. For many organizations, this may start with creating more compelling content –starting to address topics in an informational and engaging way, rather than talking about your offerings and trying to convince people to choose you. For other organizations, it may be more about creating an editorial calendar and mastering the art of repurposed content and newsjacking. For many organizations, it will require the creation of a microsite or an overhaul of your website. And for some, effectively shifting to a brand journalism model could include retraining and/or restructuring your team to function more like a newsroom, or even hiring former reporters. Brand journalism may be a buzz word, but it’s not a fad. It is the recipe for more effective engagement with your patients, community, the media and other key stakeholders.
  3. Advance your digital strategy.  digital strategy diagramYour website should not be a glorified brochure with the right social icons lined up in a row. If it is, then make digital strategy/website a sizable line item in your budget. By having a digital strategy, your website becomes an integrated part of your branding, PR and marketing plans. It serves as an effective platform for engagement and distribution, as well as a source of information and a way to gather new data. As my friend and colleague (and digital wizard) used to tell me, websites can be measured in dog years –they’re always older than you think. This may be the year that you need to invest in a whole new website. In other cases, targeted investments may enhance the value of the site to your stakeholders, building greater loyalty. Such investments may include the creation of a media-friendly newsroom, more visual content (to replace the tired stock photos that look like J Crew models) or conversion to responsive design. Focused investments may also amplify the effectiveness and reach of a particular campaign. This may include a new content and promotion strategy, or a search engine optimization plan. And the beauty of digital strategies is that you can track their effectiveness in real time, make adjustments quickly and measure your outcomes easily. And measurable outcomes help to demonstrate return-on-investment, which helps to secure additional budget in the future.

So, what’s in your wallet budget?!

Are you investing in any of these imperatives in the coming year? What else do you think should be among the top budget priorities for healthcare PR and marketing executives?