Include the Public in Public Health Planning

One of the many forecasts for our post COVID society is the arrival of a new generation conceived in the throes of love and loss.  Corona babies will likely have their own demographic designation complete with a distinct set of convictions.  I find hope in the assumption that #COVIDKids will be better prepared for the vicissitudes of life — aka smarter than their parents and grandparents.  

And, as long as I’m making predictions, let’s assume a disproportionate percentage of babies born in the next nine-to-ten months will become public health experts.  Drs. Fauci and Birx plus countless statisticians, health advisors, and front-line caregivers have taken on action hero status, their white lab coats a stand-in for red capes as unprecedented numbers of Americans follow their guidelines, await their forecasts, and applaud them as they arrive for work.   

In the past, public health announcements were tolerated, at best.  More typically, they were regarded as “finger wagging.” Healthy eating initiatives, incentivizing employees to take the stairs, and myriad pieces of well-intentioned advice achieved just modest rates of compliance.  Ultimately, human behavior-change is a monumental task, even under pandemic pretenses. 

Several years ago, during a hiatus from brand planning, I conducted academic research on effective pro-social messaging.  Public health and environmental causes were included.  Clearly, non-profits and municipalities are rich in data-based evidence and heartfelt concern, but their communications are, more often than not, devoid of emotional insight. The majority of communications created by these well-meaning organizations lack creative luster including a textured understanding of the target audience’s beliefs and feelings.  Account  planning, in the form of in-depth qualitative research, was rarely included as a step in the communications development process. 

One notable exception was The Truth Initiative, which set out to lower smoking rates among teens.  It succeeded because it leveraged widely-held, deeply seeded beliefs that the tobacco industry was manipulative.  This insight was generated by engaging with members of the target audience directly through carefully crafted research.  It led to the creation of a campaign that focused on young people confronting and exposing Big Tobacco.  Empowerment was written into the messaging, thereby avoiding more typical education-only communications.

Over the past five years, we’ve been on a trajectory of increasing concern (or alarm) about global warming.  We now find ourselves at the point in which participation in public health initiatives is personal and essential to our survival.  COVID is changing and will continue to change how Americans view their relationship to the greater good.  Now is the time to begin engaging audiences in public messaging initiatives.   

About Julie Garel

Julie is Chief Curiosity Officer of Pratt Street Communications
Categories: Public Health Initiatives
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