While this adage may be true, there is a downside. As a Board of Health member in my town campaigning for re-election, I’ve recently faced an unexpected challenge communicating to my fellow community members what the board does and how our work affects them.
Why? There is an overriding principle in public health that given the altruistic nature of the work, self-promotion should be downplayed. The unfortunate reality is that too often we are hesitant to let others know of the meaningful work we do — vaccinating thousands to protect against the flu, keeping a watchful eye over the sanitary conditions of local eating establishments and distributing bike helmets to hundreds of schoolchildren. Let’s face it, marketing our successes can make us feel uncomfortable and sometimes it’s just easier to assume (and hope) that our good work will be noticed of its own accord.
This reminds me of a challenge recently faced by a client, a manufacturer of minimally invasive medical devices. Relying solely on the momentum that often comes with being a market leader, it had slowly and inadvertently stopped communicating the features and benefits of a flagship product and the great outcomes it had helped achieve. The client’s marketing efforts dwindled to the point of no longer advertising in key journals and reaching customers and prospects at trade shows.
So what happened?
The virtual silence from the market leader coupled with heavy and consistent marketing and advertising from the competition gave customers something to think about — alternative devices claiming the same benefits. Market share began to decline and more competitors entered the field. A company that was accustomed to being Number One in its market was rapidly sliding toward Number Two.
It’s a short story with an important lesson and a happy ending — the client maintained its leadership position after some heavy-duty awareness-building. Take a cue from public health and keep communicating. Be visible.
Jenn Nichols is senior account supervisor at Seidler Bernstein whose prior experience includes healthcare communications at HealthGate Data Corp. and public health and social marketing consulting at Policy Studies Inc. of Cambridge, Mass. A licensed and registered dietitian, Jenn also worked at Mass. General Hospital as a clinical dietitian. These days she volunteers on the Board of Health for the town of Easton, Mass.