Veronica does a monthly interview with key members of the nesma network to discuss issues they face in achieving their marketing objectives.
This month she caught up with Claire Riley, Director of Communications and Corporate Affairs at Northumbria Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust about the challenges the NHS faces in managing social campaigns. Last month she met up with Ashley Lowe to discuss aspects of social marketing around mental health awareness.
What are the other most important aspects the NHS is trying to address at the moment? I am assuming still obesity, smoking cessation, alcoholism, drug abuse and mental health?
A really difficult one to answer Veronica – where do I really start! The fact is all of the above are important behaviours to tackle and, if behaviours are changed, the health outcomes are transformational for individuals, the health service and society. On the public health agenda, professionals know that the biggest killers are linked to smoking, obesity and alcohol – but let’s face it, it is really important that we support those people who are lonely, those people with addictions, those people with mental health issues but also much more, including influencing people’s behaviours around sexual health. (see chart below)
Public health teams, within local authorities across England, are working hard to develop social interventions to influence behaviours; but it is difficult. We live in a 24/7 world where information is consumed every second of every day. How can we compete with big corporates? FMCG organisations are paying a premium to specifically target people to choose their product, lifestyle TV programmes are setting the bar for expected behaviours – especially for the younger generation – and social media too often positions the world that people want you to see as opposed to the real world. Ultimately – it is society as a whole that can only tackle these challenges and investing £10k in one campaign or a social media intervention will not work. We have to work in partnership locally, across education, health, local authority, voluntary sector and, where necessary, private sector – planning and delivering together consistently and for long periods to really make a step change and create the movement that is ultimately required to influence longer-term health outcomes.
What is great is that within Northumberland and North Tyneside the NHS is working in partnership really effectively. We are blessed with fantastic public health professionals who are really transforming what we do, how we do it and are passionate about improving health outcomes for our local communities.
Only then can we look at the challenges specifically within the health service; I said it wasn’t an easy one to answer. Challenges include: too many people access health services within urgent and emergency care departments (when they don’t have an emergency), recruitment and retention of clinicians, the importance of continuous quality improvement within the NHS (which sometimes means service changes), sepsis….I can go on. Some, like sepsis and quality improvement, requires internal behavioural change.
Luckily – Northumbria Healthcare is one of the best trusts in England and recognises the important part marketing, communications and engagement have on delivering the outcomes required. But this is complex.
Clearly, smoking is the biggest problem. What is the current situation regarding vaping? Good or unproven bad?
Judith Stonebridge is Northumbria Healthcare’s Public Health Consultant who is very clear on this subject – the evidence shows that vaping is better than smoking cigarettes. Obviously, it is best not to start in the first place but we will do everything we can to help people stop smoking.
I have seen outdoor media showing a cigarette packet but reminding me that cancer can be caused by obesity. Why is this campaign becoming so controversial?
What is good is that it is being talked about – controversial or not. Hard-hitting campaigns can often create a negative response from the public. Obesity is the second biggest public health issue – second to smoking. Smoking is increasingly becoming socially unacceptable – the question is will obesity?
Is it proving effective, however?
Public health campaigns take some time to have an impact, however, there is lots of evidence that can demonstrate that they work. From smoking cessation, increased breastfeeding prevalence through to a reduction in teenage pregnancies – using marketing and communications techniques coupled with supporting intervention on the ground do work.
Do we still need to use shock tactics to get messages across or are we becoming more sophisticated in our messaging?
Given the current situation we have with ‘fake news’ and a real undertone of abuse via social media I worry that people will think that the only thing that will work is the shock tactics! But we must focus on targeting our message better – using data, research and new technology to underpin this along with interventions within local communities. For example, we know that one of the biggest influencing factors on behaviour change is what your peers are doing and how we work across peer groups to do this.
What role do retailers play in servicing the addictive habits of over-eating, over-drinking, over-indulgence achieved through promotional pricing and other incentives to buy more than we need?
Nationally, the NHS has been very clear regarding this – in particular with regards to the ‘sugar tax’ – which is now in place. Internally, within the NHS, hospitals have targets to reduce sugar content within what is sold on sites. There is, of course, an ongoing debate about unit pricing for alcohol.
People are busy – very often dashing into stores for food – too often the easiest (often discounted) options are the most calorific. I mentioned earlier that we need society to work together to tackle the health challenges; for me this includes retailers.
Does the use of social media help or hinder the campaigns the NHS works on?
Absolutely helps – without any doubt – from recruitment through to behavioural change – social media is a key tool to be utilised.
Do you think the NHS and indeed other influential bodies have sufficient digital skills to be effective?
Remember – you are talking about thousands of different organisations – all with different leaders and approaches to digital. There are few that will have the right skills – but there are many who don’t. The public sector needs to learn from and be able to compete with, the big corporates – therefore this is something that should be invested in.
What is the most effective campaign that you have worked on that others should try to emulate?
There are a number that I am really proud of, to be honest, and, working within the NHS when you can track it back to a health or service benefit it makes it so rewarding. Notably the opening of The Northumbria Specialist Emergency Care Hospital – overnight behavioural change required which is no mean feat believe me! Then the infection control campaign ‘Scrub up’ – confirming that everyone had a part to play in tackling infections (this was also my first working within the NHS). Recruitment campaign for nursing staff – this has seen great success in the recruitment of nursing staff. And, NHS Find Your Place – targeting junior doctors to come into the North East and North Cumbria to live and train – we’ve seen a significant increase in fill rates which delivers real benefits for the North East and North Cumbria. Lastly, working with Northumberland County Council, the ‘Discover our Land’ campaign is just brilliant and growing day by day – this has a real focus on what is great about Northumberland past, present and future – something everyone can get behind.
If you had a magic wand and/or a limitless budget to achieve your communications objectives, how would you use it?
I would use it to plan marketing, communications and engagement activity across health, social care, education, local authority and other partners to tackle the real issues facing the region/local area – with a focus on health, wealth and wellbeing. Select the big ones to influence first to ensure we do not have too many competing priorities and too many conflicting messages with the public.
It’s a few years now since you said to me ‘I want to be a Chartered Marketer by the time I’m 30’ – you achieved it, what advice would you give to others now starting out on their careers?
That’s some time ago! First and foremost do not expect jobs or promotions to fall on your lap – you have to let your work do your talking and sometimes be brave and move on when the time is right. Also – think about the type of leader you want to be – invest in your leadership capacity and capability (you may be qualified professionally but that does not mean you can lead a team). And above all have fun!
nesma is a regular contributor to Northern Insight, we use this opportunity to connect with members of nesma’s network to talk about the marketing and communications issues they face in their various day to day roles.
If you have time to have a cuppa with Veronica, please get in touch.