Jon  Hendl's picture

Counseling on Long-Term Solutions, Not Just Short-Term Metrics

Fifteen years ago, I remember working with the
President of the Medical [[wysiwyg_imageupload:178:]]Society of New Jersey. A cardiologist, he often spoke about the need to have more defibrillators in public places like movie theaters and restaurants to save someone’s life in case of a heart attack. At the time, it was an expensive proposition, but through an aggressive outreach from both Dr. R. Gregory Sachs and his cardiologist colleagues, device companies were able to provide such devices, which are now more prolific than ever.

The effort to make defibrillators readily available massively improved the device companies’ overall reputation and increased understanding of the heart attacks in a way that no leaflet or website could have dreamed possible. People became more focused on knowing what to do, because defibrillators were now within reach. The responsibility to potentially save someone’s life could fall on them.

Late last year, a high school student from Glen Rock, NJ was saved because there was a defibrillator onsite when he suddenly went into cardiac arrest during a soccer game. No one could have predicted that happening to a high school student. But because we became more accountable as a community, the device was there. Someone knew how to use it -- and he is now back in school with his friends.

We are fully immersed in a client world driven by short-term metrics and predictability models. While no one will argue that it is critical to justify performance and build the bottom line, we must not lose sight of how longer-term investments are what builds a corporate reputation and truly changes public perceptions.

Is there a public health challenge?

Let’s take food allergies – like with nuts as an example. This public health challenge is lagging behind in public understanding. We are seeing a groundswell of kids with peanut and tree nut allergies in a way that has never really existed before. Estimates are that peanut allergies have tripled between 1997 and 2008. Although there are many tangible theories -- the root cause remains a mystery. But public awareness has not kept pace with the condition. Unless a person has a child with such an allergy, it is likely that they will remain uninformed or dismiss it all together.

As a society, we are passive. We leave the active allergy management to the parents. And in many cases, elementary-aged children manage the allergy and carry their medicines everywhere. Schools have become more progressive by investing in emergency allergy treatments (EAT) like diphenhydramine (e.g., Benadryl®) or epinephrine deliver devices (EDD) like Epi-Pen® or AuviQ™. But on the whole, the public remains uninformed that cross-contaminated products without nuts such as desserts, snacks or prepared food can just as easily trigger an allergy attack.



How do we change broader perceptions and make that long-term investment?

We can begin to change perceptions among the public and ultimately change behavior by making society better prepared to act.

In the case of anaphylaxis resulting from a nut allergy, let’s say a manufacturer made the bold move to partner with an airline to provide EATs or EDDs on every flight. Airlines would train their employees on how to administer the treatment or use the device. Employees, in turn, would become more knowledgeable about the signs for allergic reaction or anaphylaxis shock. They would likely become more vigilant in trying to avoid an attack in flight. The airline might even decide to stop serving known allergens like peanuts to decrease the likelihood of a passenger having a medical crisis at 30,000 feet.

For the airline, it is about making travel safer for everyone. This type of corporate social responsibility can be used as both a marketing tool and a fundamental commitment to passenger safety. The product manufacturer has shown a commitment to helping passengers, elevated its standing over the competitive space and potentially raised its long-term profitability as more airlines may want to purchase the product moving forward.

More broadly, the public will start to understand that businesses are committing to this issue, so they may begin to educate themselves on it as well.


Health Communications and Corporate Social Responsibility

For the public relations professional, we know there are two ways to make a program like this happen. The first is an issues response if something terrible happens on the flight. The second is identifying the opportunity to prevent the bad outcome now, by planting the seed and working with all parties to help the concept grow.

As public relations professionals, we are the ones who can help our clients foster change by effectively explaining the educational opportunities and business and corporate responsibility value propositions for both parties.

Effectively serving clients is not just about producing short-term deliverables. It is about being a little bold and helping identify the broader, long-term implications. It is about illustrating how clients can have the opportunity to inform public perceptions about an issue, leading to more positive, long-term results.