Friday, June 24, 2011

The 'secret sauce' for communicating health

If you’ve ever struggled to get your health message across, you’re not alone. Turns out, we’re all in search of the “secret sauce” to help us better tell the public health story.

In one of yesterday’s breakouts at the 2011 APHA Midyear Meeting — Getting the Public to Understand Public Health, leading health communicators offered a packed audience a few tips of the trade on breaking through the clutter and letting your voice be heard… and ultimately advancing public health.

Rob Gould, executive vice president and managing director of Brodeur Worldwide, kicked things off by providing some helpful context. He said we’ve moved beyond the era of simply sharing health information with doctors and hoping that they relay it to patients. In addition to persuading Americans to care for their own health, Gould said, we also are tasked with engaging our community and changing our environment. At a time when public sentiment is king, we have to activate policy-makers.

And here’s where the rubber meets the road. Gould shared insights into navigating in today’s era of community action:

• Don’t try to change people’s values. It does no good to try to persuade the public to think the way you do. It won’t work.
• Expect us to fall down. After all, failure is just another step toward success, right?
• Make us cross a line in the sand. Try to get the public to step across psychologically. The truth campaign is just one example of getting teens involved in anti-tobacco efforts.
• When the goal is big, make the problem small. Small change gains momentum.

“But you can’t go it alone,” Gould warned. “Social change is not a solo act. We need to find a way to pool our resources and knowledge better.”

These are words to live by for Bob Crittenden, executive director of the Herndon Alliance, a coalition of a wide array of health organizations working to effectively communicate together.

“We all have to take responsibility and start engaging, make friends. We have to develop coalitions and make a difference,” said Crittenden.

He also said effective messaging starts with listening to people, not talking at them. We have to understand what the public believes and what they care about before we break into a public dialogue. Addressing differences in beliefs is a major step toward community action.

Joe Marx, of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, said the essence to telling the public health story is actually right in front of us (drumroll, please!): BETTER HEALTH.

“This is our easy button. This is our destination. Better health is at the heart of this social change,” said Marx.

That’s what all of us here are trying to achieve for ourselves, our families and our communities. That’s the “secret sauce.”

Above, Rob Gould offers tips for more effectively communicating about health. Photo by Michele Late

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