High Stakes

Five Key Traits of Effective Communications Strategists

Healthcare communications is a particularly emotional sport, even in the corporate office, and therefore requires a certain balance of experience, intellect and sensitivity.

At the recent IPREX annual meeting in Brussels, the venerable Paul Holmes spoke on five qualities that differentiate great PR firms from the rest. Holmes founded the Holmes Report, the leader in reporting and analysis on the public relations industry’s trends and issues. And IPREX is a close-knit global network of approximately 60 independent communications firms. We convened to discuss the state of the industry and to share operational best practices.

So, as you plan to strengthen your communications team and efforts – either in-house or through a new outside firm – look no further than Holmes’ list below to help guide your thinking. These qualities, I’ll add, also distinguish great communications professionals from other job candidates.

  • Courage. Communicators must have the courage to give advice and be a counselor to leadership. Around our firm, we call it The Kind Truth. It’s an effective communications advisor’s job, when possible, to prevent leadership or an organization from making an avoidable mistake. If an advisor only agrees with leadership, takes orders and executes tactically without question, they do their bosses and clients a disservice.
  • Curiosity. When searching for communications support, find those individuals or agencies who want to learn something new every day – they will be more effective and valuable to you. Learning drives improvement, and improvement enables change. Find people who can accept constant change in their professional lives.
  • Empathy. To be a top communications strategist requires high emotional intelligence. Individuals must be able to understand people who are not like themselves. A crisis within an organization or with key stakeholders often occurs because individuals do not recognize or respect the differences in others. Of all the advisors around the boardroom table, communicators are best positioned to view challenges through a lens of empathy.
  • Ability to Improve. Whatever plan leadership develops for your organization — no matter how well thought out and well intentioned — someone important to its acceptance will punch back just as soon as you announce it publicly. You must have the professionals in place who can adjust and respond quickly to put your organization back in front.
  • Integrity. You, your organization and your communications team must have credibility, transparency and intellectual honesty. If you are not credible and transparent in today’s social and digital media environment, you will be caught much more quickly and punished much more severely than you would have just five years ago. More and more, “public relations” is becoming synonymous for “spin”. Spin does not care about relationships. Spin is a transaction. Instead, public relations is the action you take when you want to build relationships. Employ people who can identify the relationships you need, build them and nurture them.

Effective strategic healthcare communications is increasingly mission critical. It matters. Your organization cannot afford to have a communications team or outside firm that is merely good enough. Strategic thinking, strong writing, persuasive presenting, knowledge of data and analytics, skill with digital tools – those are central capabilities for your communications team. Be sure to mix those with the skills above and you’ll have a winning combination.


Have Our Thinking Delivered to Your Inbox »