COVID-19: Is there space for disease awareness campaigns right now?

COVID-19: Is there space for disease awareness campaigns right now?

Collectively we’ve never cared about our health as much as we do now. Over the past few months we’ve come to analyse every cough and headache, scroll obsessively though epidemiology statistics and sign off emails “stay healthy”. But the news cycle, which now rarely deviates from COVID-19 coverage, has swallowed up opportunities for raising awareness of other health conditions.

Awareness days, weeks and months are a key time to spotlight certain conditions and disease; research and patient support organisations can fundraise, patients can share their experiences of living with a condition and information on signs and symptoms is shared widely to promote early diagnosis.

Research from the University of Oregon shows that early Breast Cancer Awareness Months resulted in diagnoses spiking every November after October events, however this effect only lasted for a few years. Other objectives for campaigns are notoriously hard to pin down. Whether you’re counting the number of people who may have been reached via news media circulations or social media impressions, it’s difficult to gauge the impact of your activities. While campaigns like the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge have been successful in bringing little-known diseases to public consciousness, these have proven to be the exception rather than the rule.

Forgoing quantity for quality

The most tangible way to demonstrate wide-ranging impact of a campaign has been through media coverage. Placements in print publications and radio and television spots have been able to guarantee an audience of thousands, if not millions. But right now, unless a story is centred on COVID or is COVID-adjacent, it simply won’t run.

In accepting that “raising awareness” isn’t a feasible measure of success, it’s important to consider how best to support the patient community. Social distancing has had a wide-ranging effect across the care continuum; halting clinical trials, impeding the manufacturing and distribution of medicine and limiting the care that many people are receiving.

By acknowledging and addressing these challenges, industry can reassure patients that our commitment to care is unwavering. Organisations have invested in creating COVID-19 resources that cover everything from the practicalities of travelling to care centres to emotional support during periods of isolation. Sharing content that resonates during a difficult time will offer a sense of continuity and solidarity to patients and their caregivers.

Taking it online

While we’re all spending our time glued to the internet, it can be difficult to cut through the noise. This is where you can benefit from a targeted approach.

Google and YouTube offer functionality that ensures your content gets in front of people looking for it. Allocating some of the budget earmarked for novelty pins on boosting carefully created content will result in more meaningful engagement with the patient community. Even without paid promotion, you can increase visibility by optimising your content through simple SEO techniques like utilising effective keywords and spending time on your meta description.

On social platforms too, small investments in promoting content can start conversations and build relationships online. Here it helps to know your audience well and set your targeting parameters carefully. The opposite of this advice remains true, however. If your resources don’t offer a benefit to the community, liking or sharing third-party content would be more appropriate at this time.

Just remember that social media is designed to start conversations and right now people have a lot of questions. While standardised response matrixes can be a quick and effective tool in the ‘normal’ world. During a crisis, a more personalised and empathetic response can make a world of difference.

So, is there space for disease awareness campaigns right now?

Yes. May, which previously represented a key opportunity for diseases as varied as cystic fibrosis, bladder cancer, lupus, and Huntington’s disease, has morphed into “COVID-19 Awareness Month”. The domination of one disease has come at the detriment of many others, and at a time when patient communities need more support than ever.

We have a responsibility to stand in solidarity with patient communities and our approach needs to be careful and considered. As in most areas of life, there is a ‘new normal’ when it comes to disease awareness campaigns, and this will continue long after lockdown is lifted.

Written by Emma Purdy, Account Director, Madano Healthcare.

Stay alert to Madano’s COVID-19 coverage by visiting our communications hub here.

Redefining social licence in a post COVID-19 landscape – placing climate action at the heart of our recovery

Redefining social licence in a post COVID-19 landscape – placing climate action at the heart of our recovery

We are bombarded with information and insight on the COVID-19 outbreak from rolling news updates to daily press conferences. As we look back at April, National Grid reported drops of 10% in power demand was a result of the lockdown. This prompted a warning for wind farms and interconnectors to be on standby to ease up supply and hydro-electric installations to potentially need to consume surplus energy.

We saw scare mongering that construction site closures would create a shortage of biomass for power stations. We also saw headlines showing that we were breaking new records for renewables penetration and not requiring coal to generate energy for homes. Perhaps this momentary hiatus of daily life has been one of the strongest demonstrations that our low carbon transition is working.

It’s clear that organisations will now focus on developing resilient operating models and will be less reliant on imported supply chains sources. This will require changes to operating processes and the way in which our energy system works. Stakeholders will need to be informed, educated and brought along on the journey of why, and how developments will operate in the future. Communications will need to resonate with relevant and impacted stakeholders but also bring positivity and realism following the sustained period of negativity. This will ensure support and understanding throughout the asset’s life and minimises the chances of opposition through misunderstanding.

In our lockdown routines, the UK is taking the opportunity to have a lie in and as a result are seeing a fifth less electricity being used at 07.30 each workday. But when we can return to work, we will see a raft of stimulus packages to boost recovery across the globe.

In previous recessions we have seen the stimulating role of oil and gas in a rapid economic recovery. Research from the LSE found that only 16% of stimulus plans in 2008 focused on low carbon technologies. However, a recent report from the University of Oxford found that investment in ‘green projects’ – ones that reduce emissions – are the most cost-effective way to boost economies hit by COVID-19.

This report noted that COVID-19 has given us the chance to seize this once-in-a-generation opportunity to integrate long-term, climate-focused criteria into national recovery plans. To take this opportunity energy developments and investment programmes will need to hardwire a strong and compelling narrative into their communications to communities, stakeholders and influencers to ensure they are positioned as relevant, responsible and sustainable in our recovery as we enter a global economic recession. Communications will need to be impactful and fundamentally interesting.

This is echoed by the International Monetary Fund calling governments for a harmonised approach to fiscal pandemic recovery measures with the imperative to ‘combat’ climate change and ensure an environmentally sustainable recovery. A contributing factor to this is that energy technologies have also moved on. Many vital components for building a clean energy future are more mature and ready to scale up when compared to a decade ago.

As we emerge from the lockdown, industries will be clamouring for support from investors as well as state-aid from governments. Industries will try to reconnect with customers. Amongst this noisy landscape of propositions competing for attention, clear communications that are authentic will cut through this noise and connect with the stakeholders that matter.

However, currently, the gap between promises and implementation is huge in the Paris Accord commitments. Before the pandemic we saw early adopters in the energy sector commit to Net Zero carbon pledges but can COVID-19 be the paradigm shift that is needed to set us on a track to meet the Paris accord limits? The Committee on Climate Change (CCC) has advised the UK Government for climate action to be placed at the heart of an economic rebuild following COVID-19.

The postponement of COP26 in the UK should be the wake-up call for governments to offer financial lifelines to carbon-intensive companies with strings attached. These strings should include strong commitments to reduce carbon emissions and to commit to low carbon recoveries. Organisations will need to make their corporate voices and narrative authentic and responsible to ensure they engage with the right stakeholders and can progress on their recovery post-COVID.

Madano advises clients in the energy and infrastructure sectors adapting to the impacts of COVID-19 and transitioning to lower carbon operating models – if you’re interested in learning more please drop me or the team a line. You can also follow Madano on Twitter.

Blog written by Andrew Turner, Senior Account Director, Madano (Energy & Environment).

The ‘Ripple Effect’ of the COVID-19 pandemic on clinical trials

The ‘Ripple Effect’ of the COVID-19 pandemic on clinical trials

Clinical trials are the engine room that powers our ability to deliver new treatment options to patients. The rigorous testing and resulting data that help us understand how new treatments work are what propels our industry forward.

But the engine room has flipped a switch. Governments have brought in various measures to reduce the number of COVID-19 infections and to help health systems cope with related pressures. The impact of these measures, compounded by pressures on supply chains, coupled with new recommendations from regulators on managing clinical trials, as well as companies’ own internal reprioritisations, have created a perfect storm in R&D. Hundreds of trials have been affected—including delays and disruptions to ongoing trials and cancellations or revisions to planned ones—and more changes are expected.

Furthermore, many healthcare providers have been pulled in to support critical care needs or at-risk patients, leaving less time and resources for clinical trials. This leaves patients with other conditions at risk of being left behind. With many patients unable—or unwilling—to visit clinics, uptake of telemedicine is flourishing, which is a positive step forward, but also creates its own set of challenges in data collection. Nonetheless, increased adoption of telemedicine, real-world evidence practices, and different types of outcomes could help recalibrate perceptions of acceptable—and approvable—trial results.

But in the meantime, delays to data availability—combined with medical conferences postponing and/or moving to virtual formats—is requiring many companies to rewrite their congress and publication strategies. We need to take new approaches in determining how, when and where to share data with target audiences, whilst ensuring timely and transparent communications. In addition to changing the playbook of how we communicate with those approving, prescribing or taking medications, we also need to keep advocacy groups, investors and internal colleagues informed of changing plans, particularly as launch timings may be delayed.

It is apparent the pandemic will have a far-reaching impact on clinical trials, which will ripple out to all areas of our industry.

Our immediate focus should be on protecting the integrity of ongoing trials and ensuring study participants know about changes to trials and how we are protecting their safety. In the medium term, we will have new opportunities to spark greater creativity in communicating results, and hopefully new best practices in trial design and regulatory requirements. In the longer-term, there will be an R&D pipeline that looks quite different from today’s. Amidst all this change, adaptability will be key.

Madano is part of AVENIR GLOBAL, a powerhouse firm of specialist healthcare communications agencies. We have combined our deep experience and expertise to craft a curated selection of resources on the impact of COVID-19 on the clinical trial space, from a multidisciplinary perspective. With our new Ripple Effect website, we hope to enable you to make informed decisions across different functions and within your companies as the situation develops. Content on the site will constantly evolve to stay ahead of the ever-changing environment, so please do check back regularly. Click here to explore the Ripple Effect site.

For further information the impact of COVID-19 on clinical trials and what this means for your organisation, please contact Katy Compton-Bishop, Head of Healthcare, or Reghu Venkatesan, Head of Global Healthcare.

Cabin Fever Creative – How to encourage creative communications ideas in a WFH world

Cabin Fever Creative – How to encourage creative communications ideas in a WFH world

In 1665, the last major bubonic plague to hit England swept through London killing a quarter of the population. It also spread to Cambridge, forcing Sir Isaac Newton to flea North to Woolsthorpe Manor (site of the famous apple tree). This resulted in breakthroughs of staggering creative genius, including developing the theory of gravity.

You may have seen this circulated as an uplifting COVID-19 meme recently, and also one about Shakespeare writing King Lear in isolation. The evidence on the latter is far less convincing it seems, but why let the truth get in the way of a good story!

I can safely say I haven’t yet ascended these creative heights. Perhaps the Muses are social distancing. Of course, neither Newton nor Shakespeare had to deal with block-booked Zoom calls, baying children or the social (media) pressure to do HIIT with Joe Wicks. On the flip side, they also didn’t have Ocado, Deliveroo or Amazon.

In the communications world, particularly in consultancy, we thrive by being surrounded by the bright minds and diverging ideas and experiences of our colleagues. Brightly coloured sticky notes, infectious enthusiasm and enclosing yourselves with peers in a small room are the recipes for success in breaking out of the existing tired formula.

So how can we persevere and bring fresh thinking to the table during lockdown? Here we provide our four top suggestions:

1. Put Empathy First – walk a mile in their shoes!

Uncertainty has coloured initial responses to the pandemic – is it an opportunity to be leveraged? Is the window closing? If we say something now, will it look like gratuitous ambulance chasing? But this is potentially asking the wrong question. The companies that have communicated well throughout the crisis have done so from a point of empathy and also sincerity. As Shakespeare wrote in Lear, “the weight of this sad time we must obey / Speak what we feel, not what we ought to say.”

One guiding principal for communications planning in the emerging environment is to put empathy front and centre in all creative campaign thinking. How are people experiencing and feeling the pandemic? Whatever your target audience is – HR software buyers (currently fretting about how they keep their employees motivated) or early consumer tech adopters (stockpiling their yearly purchases in a matter of weeks to relieve the boredom) – walking a mile in their shoes is critical.

2. Get it from Amazon (like everything else!)

Research seems to indicate that more meetings do not necessarily lead to more decisions and the lockdown has actually increased meetings in some cases as we seek to maintain human contact!

Instead of turning up with a blank page, try the Amazon memo route to drive an outcome. Participants need to prepare a narrative form memo to investigate a problem and a solution before the meeting and then opening this up for ‘real’ discussion (and brainstorming).

3. Cast the Net Wide for Inspiration

Likely, at this point, you may have exhausted the must-watch Netflix shows. With a little more time for reading around the edges, you can escape the treadmill of Today show, daily newsfeed, email newsletter and the weekly Economist. Deliberately try a source or section you wouldn’t normally that brings new ideas to the fore – The Guardian long reads is a good bet for content still closely tied to the current situation. For new ideas fast, try the free trial of Blinkist, even let yourself soak in music or art. It doesn’t necessarily matter what it is, just add something that brings more diversity into your information and creative diet and new ideas will emerge.

4. Embrace Boredom and an Emptier Calendar (if possible)

Projects you have always wanted to work on, but never find the time, are now a possibility given the emptier social calendar. That could be professional training or learning a new language. As a parent, you may even pick up ideas from the home-schooling curriculum and listening hard to those around you.

Increasing the frames of reference and connecting disparate ideas may in some ways be easier while we await wider easing of lockdown measures and the chance to connect more as a social species. But it probably takes more a structured approach and effort than the haphazard eureka moments that may crop up in energetic, in-person conversation.

Then again, we ought to make the effort. “Nothing will come of nothing.”

Avoiding Kerplunk: How can UK universities use communications to navigate a highly precarious situation?

Avoiding Kerplunk: How can UK universities use communications to navigate a highly precarious situation?

The UK punches above its weight in the global higher education sector, with 28 of the world’s Top 200 universities.

While those universities are fighting coronavirus, they are facing a challenge to survive its impacts.

As complex and large organisations, it can be hard for universities to tell their story well. How do they cut through the noise and persuade their stakeholders to back them now, when they’re needed the most?

Tackling coronavirus

In the face of a crisis, universities are a national asset. Locally they are helping communities to navigate uncertain times while delivering thousands of skilled healthcare professionals into the NHS.

At national level, they’re providing vital scientific support and shaping the policy response. Internationally, universities such as UCL have made life-saving innovation available globally, while Oxford and Imperial are two of the very first to have a potential vaccine in clinical trials. If either succeeds, the UK’s academic and research excellence will have helped save millions and ensured that the global economy can restart, an incalculably valuable national treasure.

A unique and complex system

While universities are national assets, they are complex institutions unlike any other.

In normal times, they compete to deliver core national services like teaching the UK’s 1.9 million domestic students and carrying out advanced research, despite those services being funded by Government below their true cost. Conscious of an ‘Ivory Tower’ image, universities work with communities, charities and businesses so they benefit too.

Those services are ‘subsidised’ by well-paying international students, and for a select few universities, generating improved grants and revenues from the commercialisation of research.

Everyone – researchers, industry, government, students – expects universities to have outstanding facilities and staff, so they invest substantially in improvements and expansion. Like a commercial business, much of that investment is paid for by forecasts of planned growth.

A challenging situation

In ‘Kerplunk’, a game where straws stop marbles from plummeting, you remove straws one by one until the loser takes out the load bearing straw. Coronavirus has pulled out all higher education’s straws at once.

University campuses are closed, so in-person teaching is not possible. Instead, universities have rapidly shifted to online teaching and testing, which doesn’t easily work for courses that require lab time or experimentation. While existing students may adapt out of necessity, a university degree could be a tough sell to the 2020/21 intake who may consider a gap year instead.

Expensive research projects years in the making are indefinitely paused, equipment is unavailable, and experiments need to be started from scratch. Important collaborators and funders, like the NHS, are focusing on essential tasks only. New findings and inventions will take longer to be commercialised or expanded upon, reducing investment and career progression.

With travel restrictions in place and life in Britain deeply disrupted, prospective international students will consider whether the UK is a sensible destination. Businesses may hold off on funding new ideas, focusing on returning to normal instead.

There is a real risk that universities may go bust. If that happens, we face losing key national assets when they’re needed most.

As the former Universities Minister Lord Willets put it, the long-term consequence could be that people who want to learn cannot, that the best and brightest do not come to Britain, and years of work to better understand the world around us and use that knowledge to make life better goes elsewhere, because we lack the funding and universities to make it happen.

And, ultimately, we would be much less prepared for the next global crisis.

So where now?

Like every sector, higher education will need innovation and financial and policy intervention to weather the storm. Despite this, the Government appears to be wavering on a sectoral bail-out, with some departments convinced and others less so.

To attract students – domestic and international – they will need confidence in the continued excellence of the brand. Students expect quality, and the ‘Virtual Campus’ must move through trial and error quickly, or reputations that took decades to build will be lost in weeks. International families considering the investment of a lifetime need confidence the environment is safe and provides an excellent education worth the money.

The backing of those two distinct audiences, Government and potential students, will hold the key to the future of the sector.

Communicating with confidence

To persuade new students and government to back them, universities must identify their concerns, craft a compelling narrative, and be backed by passionate advocates.

Universities have risen to the coronavirus challenge. To be recognised for that, they must ensure their stakeholders – government, businesses, alumni, local communities and staff – discover that via pro-active communications and understand the difference they made. Students and staff who feel that the university looked after them in challenging circumstances can become great advocates, and this is where great internal communications shine.

To convince the next intake of students, universities must tackle their anxieties head on. Research and insight can identify the concerns that are deterring applications, and empower universities to show how they’re overcoming those problems.

The sector’s enormity and complexity can make it challenging to stand out to Government, which is a problem when every university has unique problems. Informing government relations approaches with data, research and intelligence will empower universities to get to the heart of the problem, find the right decision makers, tell a story with cut-through and make the right ask of them.

The coming weeks and months will be vital for the UK’s universities. They have stepped up to save lives globally, and with the right support, can help drive the national and global recovery from coronavirus too.

Visit Madano’s COVID-19 communications hub here for more content on successfully managing communications in these challenging times.

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