Tom Faust
Tom Faust

Healthcare coverage in U.S. media—leaving aside the coverage of COVID-19, monkeypox and other pandemics—tends to fall into a few key areas: cost and insurance, delivery of care and scientific breakthroughs in health tech, pharma and biotech. For companies in this last group, the work to establish a sustained communications program can be a much different and more complicated proposition than it is for providers, academics and government officials.

On one hand, when significant progress is made, these companies are in the enviable position of being able to discuss the potential and positive real-world impact of their innovations. On the other, these organizations can be constrained by limitations on what they can say while waiting on regulatory approvals. Apart from sharing encouraging—but often non-definitive—clinical results, a lack of noteworthy news and narrow audience focus can make developing a communications program a challenge.

This is where developing and executing a broader communications strategy based on thought leadership and content is critical in staying front-of-mind with media, physicians, patients and investors. While less direct than the interview path, such a program can deliver outsize benefits and build your brand reputation when headline-grabbing news may be lacking.

This article is featured in O'Dwyer's Oct. '22 Healthcare & Medical PR Magazine
(view PDF version)

The good news is that thought leadership campaigns can take on many forms and use multiple tactics and channels. Because such programs don’t rely on news flow, they can also be more plannable and targeted, with stronger message control. Below are just a few of the approaches that can be taken when adopting a thought leadership-centric communications program.

Talk the science, not the solution

While a specific therapy, drug or treatment solution may be years in the making, it’s common for the underlying science to have broader applications. By thinking about how your solutions fit into the broader clinical picture, how the scientific principles they illustrate can be applied to different medical conditions, or how the science might evolve, you can open up a wider field of thought leadership topics. We saw this in media coverage surrounding the COVID vaccines that focused on the decades of research into previous coronaviruses such as SARS and MERS that came together to develop effective vaccines at record speed.

Build a community

As leaders in healthcare technology, companies can draw on a large palette of innovations, placing themselves at the center of a community of experts and organizations who are driving the future of healthcare. There can be great freedom in expanding your horizons beyond your specific solution to generate excitement about breakthroughs in different areas of study and how they might eventually converge. This can be executed through webinars, curated dialogues on your website that other health leaders can participate in or summits featuring executives, researchers and physicians who are seeing the impact firsthand and thinking about the future possibilities.

Leverage relationships

Thought leadership can also be an avenue for organizations to strengthen ties with business partners and influencers in the medical professional and patient communities. By co-authoring articles and involving outside experts in developing other joint content such as e-books and podcasts, companies can benefit from the “halo effect” of better-known brands and expand their reach by directly accessing the audiences of other leaders seeking to promote their own solutions.

Lead with data

Breaking through the cacophony of voices via media can be a challenge. Organizations can build a leadership position and establish themselves as authoritative experts who “own the issue” by grounding their opinion and perspective in data. While the data used and the research methodology employed must be sound, the bar is much lower in the media world than the scientific arena. Credible reports, surveys and opinion polls can all be viable sources of data that your subject matter experts can interpret and share insights on for a broad audience. A little bit of data can go a long way in getting and keeping the attention of readers.

Short and frequent beats long and rare

Corporate blogs are a common tool, but their potential isn’t always realized. Too often, healthcare and life sciences organizations apply an academic frame of reference to the content they generate. Long-duration, deeply researched and somewhat impenetrable papers heavy on jargon, footnotes and obscure references are the norm.

Communicators must work with leadership and experts to break out of this mold and make better use of short-form content. The reality is that blog posts between 200 and 500 words are more likely to be read and shared than the best-written academic treatise. With a fraction of the effort it takes to create long-form content, organizations can share several meaningful posts that reinforce their expertise and drive engagement. These posts don’t need to offer definitive answers. Raising questions, speculating—within reason—about possibilities and sharing honest reactions about the state of the industry can provide great content. These posts also offer an avenue for leaders and experts to develop their own, specific voices and increase their individual visibility.

A picture is worth a thousand words

In the same vein, visualization can pay huge dividends. A typical misstep many healthcare organizations make is to rely on words when images can do a much better job of telling the story. Using infographics, animations and short videos, organizations can connect with their key audiences more quickly and effectively than through detailed technical or clinical explanations. Graphics also have a much better chance to “go viral” through social media and reach a wider audience. Consider creating a visual library on your website where media can get images to enliven their reporting and help educate the public on what you do.

Be part of the conversation

The impact of social media grows daily, and healthcare organizations ignore it at their peril. But a strong social media program must extend past the corporate LinkedIn page to integrate the leadership of the company. It’s important to remember that LinkedIn is a peer-to-peer network platform, and its strength lies in the networks of the individuals who make up an organization. Tapping into these networks can be a game-changer for any communications program.

If you haven’t yet taken steps to leverage LinkedIn, consider developing a thought leadership pilot program with a handful of your organization’s most active users of the platform. By sharing content with their broader social networks and amplifying it via your corporate account, you can extend the reach of your communications program.

These tactics are just the beginning when it comes to creating a robust, quality and sustainable thought leadership and content program that can free your organization from waiting for the “big news” that might only break a few times a year.


Tom Faust is Managing Director at Stanton, a leading mid-size communications firm that works with organizations across the healthcare spectrum.