This election year, health care is the #1 issue on voters’ minds

In Bill Clinton’s 1992 presidential campaign against George H.W. Bush, campaign manager James Carville’s mantra was “The economy, stupid.” In order to keep the campaign team consistently on message, those words hung on a sign in their Little Rock headquarters, and it was repeated over and over again as the campaign’s top, most memorable message.

Fast forward almost 30 years, and it’s health care, stupid. According to a 2019 Gallup Poll, the top three issues on voters’ minds this election year are health care, followed by the economy and immigration. What does that mean for health care communicators?

If you’re a health care PR pro, you know that securing earned media coverage is getting more complex, and it’s increasingly difficult to count on your story being seen in a cluttered media environment. Yet we also know that earned media is still the most trusted form of media, and 92% of consumers trust earned media over other channels.

These seemingly unrelated facts – that U.S. voters care about health care and that earned media is a trusted source for information – spells opportunity for health care marketers and communicators in 2020:

Americans care about health care: According to a 2019 poll by RealClear Opinion Research, 36% of Americans ranked health care first out of five other categories when asked about the issues they consider most important to America’s future. That means the topic of health care bested the economy, the environment, immigration, education and foreign policy as the number one issue on voters’ minds.

Specifically, 67% of consumers rated health care in the U.S. as either “broken; we need a completely new system” or “not working well; we need to improve the system we have now.”

The majority of respondents see some good in the current system but want to see meaningful changes. That means health care companies have an opportunity to demonstrate through words and deeds what they are doing to deliver meaningful change and improve health care for members, patients, customers, and other important stakeholders. Very few companies are putting a stake in the ground by articulating a clear, purpose-driven agenda that will improve quality, decrease costs, and enhance the customer experience. The few that tackle these tough issues with real solutions and proof points will have an opportunity to elevate their reputations through strategic communications in a way that’s timely and relevant.

Earned media is still trusted. To resonate with audiences, health care organizations need to develop content and engage in meaningful conversations that provide shared value – and earned media is the perfect channel for that. We know from more than 60 years of experience that an earned media strategy that connects your organization to the audiences they want to reach through compelling storytelling has true business value. To do that successfully, we recommend several shifts for a more modern, impactful approach to earned media:

Shift from:To:
Overly branded, corporate speak messagesHuman-focused, emotionally driven stories
Text-heavy media materialsCompelling, multimedia materials
Blasting ideas to broad range of media targetsPrecise targeting with customized pitches
Siloed earned media approachIntegrated storytelling amplified through other channels

Mainstream media will be covering health care in 2020. Health care communicators would be wise to capitalize on that by using earned media to their strategic advantage.

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