Ryan LillyRyan Lilly

Whether we end up in a full-on recession or are simply in the midst of a market correction, what lies ahead for our economy seems uncertain at best. While not nearly as severe as Q2 2020, we’re feeling a similar reaction across the healthcare continuum, as organizations look to cut budgets and focus spending on activities and resources deemed mission critical.

We’re seeing almost daily headlines regarding layoffs and/or earnings that are falling short of projections. Unfortunately, in these turbulent times, marketing budgets are often among the first casualties. Let me tell you why this is a particularly dangerous page out of an outdated playbook.

Let’s be clear: I’m biased because I have the privilege of working with an amazing team and have seen strategic communications bolster brands through many tough times. That said, it’s my view that public relations and marketing are mission-critical for any healthcare brand—in times of boom or bust. On the heels of the pandemic and arguably healthcare’s greatest period of innovation, investment and advancement in recent memory, it’s more essential than ever that brands refuse to abandon or devalue PR and marketing.

Now we know what’s possible

One of Matter Health’s venture capital clients summarized the pandemic in a particularly poignant way, stating that COVID brought 2030 to healthcare a decade ahead of schedule. Having spent the last twenty or so years supporting hundreds of brands across the continuum of care, I’ve often found it unbelievable to see things that we’ve discussed for decades become real, almost overnight. Money poured into the space to accelerate drug development, diagnostics, virtual care, breakthrough devices, AI and myriad other truly powerful, useful tools and services. We also saw regulatory red tape fall to the wayside as focus quickly shifted toward the public emergency and serving the greater good. It turns out that when push comes to shove—and despite what we may have seen historically—healthcare is capable of nimble evolution and improvement.

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

Competition and expectations have never been greater across the continuum of care than at this moment, and it’s critical that your value propositions and differentiators are strategically and proactively communicated to your customers, prospects, investors and the broader market. Whether you’re an established entity or a brand-new company looking to garner attention, now is not the time to hope your stakeholders will just find you and appreciate the full value of what you bring to the table.

Simply put, Pandora’s box has been opened for healthcare and, at their own risk, organizations will fall back on “because we’ve always done it that way.” The bar has been raised and expectations adjusted for virtually all stakeholders across the entire continuum of care, particularly for patients. When taking this all into consideration, it should be clear why now is not the time for your brand to “go quiet.” Whether you’re a patient looking for high-quality convenient care, a health system looking for a way to streamline operations or an employer who wants to support the mental health of your staff, your expectations aren’t likely to be lowered due to economic turmoil. In fact, the opposite is more likely true.

More options require more active PR

Put yourself in the patient mindset and think about this in practical terms. Historically, your options were limited. You probably had a primary care provider, perhaps a specialist or two in the mix, and maybe one or two hospitals nearby. Today, you can add retail clinics, urgent care, virtual care and digital therapeutics into the mix of options for how and where you’ll access care.

It’s no longer enough for a provider to simply be in your town and on your health plan. We have options and want to know why we would choose one provider, care setting or care delivery model over the growing list of other options. This example focuses primarily on healthcare providers and patients, but similar scenarios can be easily outlined for pharmaceutical manufacturers, virtual care platforms, health IT and virtually every other sub-sector of medicine.

If you need further proof of the push to modernize healthcare and deliver experiences comparable to those in our consumer lives, look to the arms race amidst some of the largest tech and retail giants on the planet. Amazon, CVS, Walmart and Walgreens have invested hundreds of billions in the space in recent years. The push into healthcare was already on the roadmap for these giants, but the journey has undoubtedly been accelerated by the pandemic.

While these behemoths are clearly committed to healthcare transformation, each is going about it differently, mixing and matching payer and provider services, care settings, diagnostics and even incorporating pharma services. In almost every scenario, technology and innovation are the enablers of these novel strategies. While not yet clear who will “win” the arms race, it’s undeniable that these moves are placing massive pressure on “traditional” healthcare organizations to evolve or be left in the dark ages of healthcare.

Appetite for solutions in uncertain times

While it’s an ideal moment to tell stories of disruption, established brands that address evergreen issues are also well-positioned. Tightening purse strings can increase appetite for novel solutions and or focus on core competencies and functions proven to directly impact margins and the bottom line.

Whether you’re an established brand with a proven solution or a brand-new category creator, you need a strategic plan to effectively communicate your value proposition and differentiators against the backdrop of economic uncertainty and the current climate of transformation. This plan should include carefully crafted messages to cut through the noise and address immediate and long-term challenges and opportunities. It should also focus on the ideal channels and content to reach and influence your specific decision-makers. Finally, your strategy should incorporate proof points and/or third-party validation to go beyond “we’re awesome” messaging. Silence shouldn’t be part of this plan.

No need to navigate alone

When it comes to PR and marketing in the current climate, going it alone would be better than not going at all, but this may be an ideal time to consider engaging a firm that has been through this and has seen brands thrive and fail in similar situations. Before you say I’m drinking my own Kool-Aid, consider that there are massive benefits to partnering with a team that’s seen what works and what doesn’t in a challenging economy, and is able to advise you based on both depth and breadth of experience with similar brands in your market.

While specific strategies will vary across healthcare verticals and organizations, proactive and thoughtful communications may very well be the difference between surviving and thriving in the weeks, months and years ahead.


Ryan Lilly is General Manager of Matter Health.