December 17, 2020
Third Wave Rapid Response: Responsible Transparency
Situation: All eyes are on hospitals. And, by extension, you.
As the healthcare industry begins mobilizing for the massive vaccine push, every move that providers make is under scrutiny. Yes, caution is warranted. But you can’t be cagey. In this tense moment, you must carefully calibrate words and actions to provide clarity without going too far.
Our most important communications advice here: Don’t make promises or statements that suggest your organization has signed off on the safety of vaccines. Instead, cite authorities and couch safety statements in terms of the information you’re relying on from other others: “We only recommend vaccines that are deemed to be safe by their developers and the CDC…” Then, explain what those organizations have found and how they reached their conclusions. Don’t put yourself in the risky position of affirming safety – talk to your counsel to see where you could end up with legal liability.
Other tips to help you walk the line of responsible transparency:
- Bring your Communications team to meetings with legal. We’ve long advocated for including marketing and communications in operational, strategic and patient experience meetings so they can help inform the decisions and understand the messages they’re being tasked with promoting. In this case, it’s particularly critical to have this team understand the legal nuance. Moreover, your marcom team can help translate and package legal information so it’s not only accurate but also engaging for the end user – telling your story and advancing your mission.
- Be open with what you know…and don’t. Even if it’s uncomfortable. It’s pretty simple: If you look like you’re hiding something, people will assume you are. Communicate early, often and clearly. Offer whatever detailed information you can and explain why you can’t share the rest. (“I’m sorry, we’re unable to provide specifics there due to patient privacy.”) Don’t let others tell your story for you.
- Train your spokespeople. Equip anyone with a public-facing role with the right tools and messages. We frequently note that getting the messenger right is as important as getting the message itself right. But don’t take that to mean the message isn’t critical. Prepare specific talking points, find time for media training and update everything as frequently as possible to keep people in line with your policies, procedures and legal considerations.
Don’t shoot yourself in the foot. Consider this: A $15 billion merger was just wrecked because a CEO bragged about leaving his mask at home. Foolish behavior won’t be tolerated – whether that’s hypocrisy from leaders or legally loose promises. Be careful, be responsible. Think before you speak.