How good healthcare copywriting can communicate success during a crisis

by Sophie Cole

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While the COVID-19 pandemic is proving to be an overwhelmingly negative force for virtually every sector across the planet, the world of healthcare is thriving. The New York Times proposed that the “capital and creativity” of the world’s private healthcare businesses will be vital in the fight against COVID-19 and many are probably experiencing the busiest, and most financially lucrative, few months in their history. Unfortunately, success in this very strange climate throws up a communications dilemma for healthcare copywriting – how on earth do you talk about success at a time of global unhappiness?

The cost of success

It’s not that healthcare companies are profiteering or abandoning morals for money during the pandemic (though some exceptions could be accused of trying to do so). Many have simply seen rocketing levels of demand for their specialist products. For example, 3M, the world’s largest respiratory mask producer, has doubled its global levels of production to 100 million N95 respirators per month. 3M has also secured additional investments that will allow it to double production levels again, giving it the capacity to produce more than two billion masks over the next 12 months. Similarly, Medtronic, an international medical device manufacturer, has increased ventilator production by more than 40%, and will soon have doubled its capacity for both manufacturing and supplying these specialist machines.

Companies that are using tech to support the healthcare industry, like Alphabet and its AI subsidiary DeepMind, have also been very busy. DeepMind is helping scientists learn more about the molecular structure of SARS-COV-2 (the virus responsible for the COVID-19 outbreak), while Verily (Alphabet’s health sciences offshoot) is working with US health authorities in to help screen and test more people with symptoms. These companies are just a fraction of the organisations working hard to fight COVID-19 – while also generating record levels of business as an unplanned and sometimes even unintentional consequence of the pandemic.

Cause for celebration?

Usually, huge surges in demand and profits would be cause for unreserved celebration. Press releases would be overwhelmingly positive and a company’s corporate reports would be full of stories about all the things that went right to generate such financial success. External circumstances, like a financial downturn, might feature in your comms, but only to stress that your great year has been even more exceptional.

Companies aren’t just bragging when they celebrate a great year (though a little bit of ‘horn-tooting’ is deserved). It’s important to highlight growing revenue and an expanding team to foster investor and shareholder confidence in your business. Every kind of business (even not-for-profit) needs to publicise a strong financial and operational year, to keep employee engagement and morale high and to attract new talent, new investors and new opportunities to make sure your success isn’t a fluke.

How the world has changed

Everything about the way we celebrate success within businesses has been turned on its head right now. Healthcare copywriting with even a hint of boasting will likely cause a vitriolic backlash. For example, one online pharmacy clumsily stated that it was recruiting new staff because ‘business is booming’. Usually, this phrase wouldn’t cause anyone to think twice, let alone feel offended. But considering the horrendous circumstances that have caused the ‘boom’, the advert felt pretty poor taste and left people cringing at best. Healthcare companies are caught between two undesirable scenarios – make little noise and risk forfeiting the attention of potential shareholders and clients or say the wrong things and turn off potential clients indefinitely.

Talking with tact

There’s no one-size-fits all approach to healthcare copywriting at this strange time, but an empathetic approach is going to be key. Instead of leading with news about increasing revenue, the human impact of your busy period should take centre stage. Philips, for example, has doubled production of ventilators and ramped up production to 2,000 every week from March. Instead of pointing out that its increased production is bringing in double the revenue, a better approach would be to highlight that twice as many critically-ill people can now be treated. Framing the news this way would recognise and applaud its team’s efforts in this global fight, rather than celebrating how profitable international suffering has turned out to be.

You also need to make sure your internal communications are just as tactful as those you’re sending out to the public. Staff across the healthcare sector are working flat out and potentially risking their lives to combat the pandemic. Think about the human cost of your success within your workforce before talking about profits and expansions to them. If you usually favour an impersonal, scientific tone of voice, think about humanising the way you communicate. You could try taking the formality down a notch or use personal touches (like using first-person comms from your CEO and other senior figures) to make your workforce feel that you care about their efforts.

And while you’re rightly looking to celebrate the fantastic achievements of your team, it’s not the time for grand celebrations. Praise your teams for their work, but make sure you acknowledge the devastating impact of your business’ good fortune and that they may have lost friends, colleagues and families to this horrible disease.

How to get it right

Talking about success right now feels wrong, but it’s not something you should avoid altogether. Carefully crafted healthcare copywriting both within and beyond your organisation can commend your company’s achievements without feeling insensitive to the sombre global mood. It’s a tricky balancing act but it’s one we’ve got plenty of experience in. Get in touch to see how our experienced healthcare copywriters and content strategists can help you set the right tone.

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