Communications campaigns must combine innovation with tried and tested techniques to help alleviate the pressure on NHS services, says Elise Barker, NHS Arden & GEM Commissioning Support Unit.
The public faces a complex and constant barrage of campaign and sales messages from countless different organisations, meaning public health campaigning must continuously innovate to ensure vital messages about self-care, prevention and appropriate use of health services cut through the noise.
We’ve been running successful winter health campaigns for our clients for some time, building on national campaigns such as ‘Under the Weather?’ and ‘Stay Well’. Working across large areas on behalf of multiple clinical commissioning groups (CCGs) provides an opportunity to deliver cost effective campaigns at scale. But the real success comes in tailoring our approach and messages to reach specific groups of people.
Healthcare campaigns are becoming increasingly sophisticated in how they use social media and online marketing to reach target audiences. From fun animations with a serious message to precise, demographically focused social media advertising, there are plenty of tools at our disposal which can broaden the reach of a public awareness campaign without busting the budget. But in our experience, multi-channel approaches that combine the power of mass engagement tools with personal, tailored activities reap the best rewards.
There is still much to be said for the more traditional social marketing activities, not to mention face to face engagement. For example, as part of our Stay Well campaign for 2016/17, we worked with sporting personalities and local ambassadors who could share their personal experiences to help improve engagement. Similarly, to enhance messages around prevention and self-care, we worked with national celebrity, Ella Mills, (Deliciously Ella) who provided recipes for a Stay Well ‘Winter Warmers’ recipe book.
Mindful that some people have difficulty accessing services because of language barriers, or are unlikely to pick up information from traditional channels, NHS communications teams must consider different techniques to reach those who might otherwise be missed. Our public health campaigns often include visits to supermarkets and shopping centres to engage with the general public.
But how do we know we are having an impact more broadly? Campaign evaluation is notoriously challenging, and never more so than in healthcare. However strong your campaign, A&E attendances can spike due to an unexpectedly harsh winter, and self-care can be affected by all manner of communication campaigns. Outputs can be measured, such as press coverage, social media engagement and website visits. However, we are also making strides in linking campaign activity to outcomes, such as assessing the impact on the take-up of flu jabs among at risk groups. This year we have seen some positive outcomes. During the campaign period, there was an increase in flu vaccination uptake for the over 65s and pregnant women, reversing a 3-year downward trend for nine out of 12 CCGs involved in the campaign.
By working with partners across large footprints, CCGs can benefit from more cost-effective campaigns, but there is no substitute for a tailored approach. As part of our drive to deliver best value, communications teams must balance the desire to deliver cost effective campaigns with the need to change behaviour through meaningful activities which resonate with target audiences.
This is a summary of a blog written for NHS Voices. To view the full blog visit http://www.nhsconfed.org/blog/2017/06/how-can-health-campaigns-cut-through-the-noise
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Elise is the associate director for engagement, communications and marketing, having worked in these professional disciplines for over 18 years. Elise leads teams of engagement, communication, social marketing, and equality and diversity specialists to deliver a range of projects including complex formal public consultations, crisis communications and at-scale behaviour change campaigns that have significantly reduced A&E attendances.