Ryan ShucardRyan Shucard

As communicators, we thrive in the vast complexities of our audiences, always striving to capture the right eyes and ears to bolster our campaigns and drive meaningful results. Our work has never been easy; however, the dynamics of reaching target audiences amid the constant flow of COVID news is more complex than ever before.

But how, with a global pandemic and on the eve of yet another contentious election cycle, can we capitalize on opportunities to engage audiences and also confront the ever-present and often overlooked obstacle of politics and policymakers?

For many PR practitioners, policy matters are happily left to lobbyists, lawyers and government relations professionals. The consternation of dealing with the volatility of politics and the minutiae of policymaking is radioactive and a constant threat to derailing and distracting from the execution and ultimate success of our earned media campaigns.

This article is featured in O'Dwyer's Oct. '21 Healthcare & Medical PR Magazine
(view PDF version)

As valid as those concerns are, they ignore the power of a constituency. A constituency is broadly defined as a body of citizens in an electoral district or group of people that patronizes, supports, or is involved with an institution, organization or business. You would be right to wonder how far off that definition is from how we as communicators define an audience; a term we also take for granted in our daily work yet is widely known to simply mean members of the listening, viewing and reading public.

So, the similarities between constituencies and audiences far outweigh the differences between them. Therein lies the opportunity for us to elevate our thinking and our campaigns.

COVID has forced elected officials to grapple with how they respond to their many overlapping constituencies from the geographic areas they represent to congressional leadership and special interests. Their actions—or inactions—also have direct impacts on every facet of our campaigns from paid and earned media to patient and provider mobilization, not to mention the economic conditions affecting the bottom lines of private sector, nonprofit and public health clients alike.

Interestingly, there’s a certain closeness that exists between policymakers and their constituency in the health sector which is easily attributed to the personal and passionate issues tied to one’s health.

While our campaigns stand to benefit from that inherent closeness, helping our clients achieve their communications goals is as daunting as ever. COVID has generated a renewed interest and priority in both public health and the private sector’s critical role in the administration and delivery of healthcare. As public relations professionals, it’s our job to condition the communications environment so our client’s issues and objectives are seen, heard and acted upon by key constituencies.

One of the most powerful ways we can do that is by mapping audiences, conversations and media using the millions of data points and our team of experts in analytics, media and advocacy to quickly zero in on the influencers and partners that will enable our clients to reach and engage their customers and communities.

Enter GRETEL, JPA Health’s propriety tool which has powered countless campaigns to identify the influence of an outlet, individual or organization based on how frequently it’s referenced or shared by specific audience segments within a specific issue or topic. GRETEL tracked the seismic shifts to the healthcare landscape as a result of COVID and allowed us to chart new territory in the universe of health influencers, from reporters and advocates to healthcare professionals and individuals that can help change the minds of thousands around a given issue or topic.

Want to know which reporters influence coverage of an issue across other media outlets? How about knowing which Members of Congress drive conversations about public health issues? Or what about gauging the resonance of an important healthcare issue in the lead up to the midterm election?

These are all essential questions we are able to answer by merging our professional mastery of audience communications with our understanding of communicating and leveraging constituencies.

As a divided Congress battles to pass an infrastructure bill, a debt ceiling extension and stave off cuts to Medicare, it seems like the midterm elections of 2022 have already begun. Republicans are vying to take control of the House of Representatives as Democrats look to pad a 50/50 split in the Senate with a clear majority. Leaving the forecasting of those outcomes to the politicos, the most salient point for healthcare communicators is to leverage the positive change our clients are seeking to make in the lives of patients by which policymakers can also communicate and champion with their key constituencies about the substantive progress being made in healthcare, a topic millions of Americans continuously rank among the top issues motivating them at the ballot box.

Now is the time for health communicators to begin the planning process for how they’re going to cut through the noise of politics and prove to their clients that the best campaigns are integrated ones. A maxim our industry lives by but that’s rarely heeded shouldn’t be ignored either: clients shouldn’t wait until a crisis arises to begin building out your communications capabilities.

Looking ahead, 2022 will be another pivotal year for the health industry and though the consequences of our politics are as unpredictable as the pandemic, certainty can be found in our industry’s ability to not only recognize the opportunities to advance positive change in the health sector but reveal new ways to communicate and engage within a complex and dynamic ecosystem.


Ryan Shucard is Vice President of JPA Health’s Public Affairs practice in Washington, D.C.