Kevin LambKevin Lamb

In the modern world, where digital platforms teem with information, the quest for visibility and relevance is more challenging than ever. This challenge becomes exponentially more complex in the healthcare sector, where the stakes are high: emotionally, physically and, sometimes, a literal matter of life and death. One proven tactic to capture attention, foster trust and, most importantly, influence change is through authentic storytelling.

The essence of authenticity

In healthcare communications, authenticity isn’t just an accessory; it’s a critical cornerstone upon which trust and communications are built. While the term itself is used frequently, its interpretation may vary. It’s best defined by how the audience interprets the message. Rather than being an inherent trait, authenticity is best achieved by constructing stories that resonate with the audience, with the consistent core principles of relatability and believability.

While patient testimonials are the conventional route to establishing a connection with audiences, authentic storytelling taps into the emotional fabric of an audience, weaving narratives from real experiences and borrowing from time-tested narrative elements like plot, character, thought, diction and spectacle. Pulling it all together requires strategic planning and keen insight.

Strategies for authentic storytelling

As you prepare for your next big campaign, here are three impactful approaches to consider when building authentic and engaging storytelling strategies:

This article is featured in O'Dwyer's October '23 Healthcare & Medical PR Magazine
(view PDF version)

The power of inspiration

Inspirational stories can uplift an entire community. Take, for example, the Humana Game Changers, a program we created with Humana to highlight athletes aged 50 and over who are participating in the National Senior Games. Selected from tens of thousands of participating athletes, each “game changer” personifies the attributes of active aging through their own awe-inspiring life story, from surviving near-fatal accidents to achieving sobriety to receiving a liver transplant.

Their authentic impact lies not in their athletic abilities but in their true selves. They’re not professional athletes but everyday people who embody the concept of active aging and, in doing so, enable a ripple effect of inspiration through storytelling. Over the past decade, the program has brought forth the stories of numerous people who’ve inspired many, a testament to Humana as a champion for seniors.

Stories of tragedy and triumph

Narratives around struggle and resilience strike a chord with virtually everyone. The opioid crisis, a challenge many face but few discuss, was explored profoundly in “GATEWAY,” a documentary film project we developed in collaboration with Pacira BioSciences, Inc.

The project delved into the often-underreported avenue of surgery as a gateway to opioid addiction. Evolving from a series of testimonials into a full-length documentary, “GATEWAY” provided a poignant and emotionally charged look at the devastating impact of opioid misuse and the resilient spirit of individuals battling addiction through their personal journeys: a resilient woman from Maryland who faced addiction following a C-section; a high school athlete from New Mexico who battled opioid misuse following a sports injury; a tenacious young woman from New Jersey fighting addiction for several years; and a nationally-recognized clinician whose mission is to reduce opioid prescriptions following surgery.

By blending the elements of tragedy and triumph, this film turned a clinical debate into a compelling and authentic call to arms, providing a body of work to educate various stakeholders about the issue to influence change.

Embracing vulnerability

A genuine connection comes when people share their vulnerabilities. Baseball legend and entrepreneur Alex Rodriguez partnered with OraPharma to share his personal journey with gum disease, a common yet stigmatized chronic oral health condition.

Rodriguez’s collaboration with OraPharma to discuss his experience with gum disease brings authenticity to a new level. A condition that often goes undiagnosed yet is especially prevalent among Latino men, Rodriguez’s openness struck a chord with the media and the community, garnering almost 1,000 stories and more than five billion media impressions in just one day. Most importantly, though, is that in his willingness to share his journey, Rodriguez illustrated the strength and power that comes from vulnerability and the impact one authentic story can have on countless others.

The authentic takeaway?

Storytelling in healthcare isn’t merely a box to be checked; it’s an impactful strategy that, when done authentically, can drive engagement and change lives. Whether it’s inspiring audiences through the real-life stories of “game-changing” individuals, raising awareness about the complexities of a critical public health crisis or destigmatizing common health issues through celebrity narratives, the foundation starts with authenticity. Authentic storytelling builds trust, catalyzes behavioral change and fosters a sense of community, ultimately amplifying the effectiveness of healthcare brands and the value they bring to patients and their families.

By taking the time to lean into the authentic narrative, using well-crafted stories rooted in the principles of inspiration, tragedy, triumph and vulnerability, PR professionals can deliver campaigns that resonate with audiences and have a lasting impact. Authenticity isn’t just a buzzword; it’s essential for meaningful engagement and impactful healthcare communications.


Kevin Lamb is Senior Vice President at Coyne PR.