Joseph Chaney | May 18th, 2021

Early last year at the start of the pandemic, N/N’s Managing Editor Arjun Kashyap suggested a few COVID-19 topic ideas to help our clients address the most pressing issues at this uncertain time.

I thought it’d be useful to talk briefly about the other side of the equation – not topics but publishing motivations – especially the ones that healthcare companies should avoid at a time like this.

It goes without saying that one immediate effect of a global pandemic is that it makes almost everything else seem trivial in comparison. Perhaps before COVID-19, you were depressed because that long-promised promotion didn’t materialise. Whereas now, the bitterness has faded, and you are just grateful you have a job, and that your family is healthy.

Well, the same perspective shift is happening among your readers. What was once compelling and eyeball-grabbing healthcare content in the pre-COVID-19 world – perhaps a blog series on physician network growth -- is now ignored as people turn their attention to more pressing concerns, such as COVID-19 vaccine side-effects.

This shift means it is imperative that you have the right motivations to publish in the first place. Remember: motivations are often implied in the corporate content you produce. They are felt by readers, but not seen. As the American author Ernest Hemingway once said: Think of writing (or in this instance, content marketing efforts) like an iceberg. Readers only see the part that’s above water, but no doubt sense the weight – unspoken themes or sly motivations — lurking underneath the page. With that said, here are a few motivations for publishing thought leadership that we think healthcare companies should avoid at this difficult time.

“Let’s all get back to normal.”

On the surface this seems harmless. But really, if you’ve been reading the news you know the healthcare industry is unlikely to return to “normal” anytime soon. In fact, perhaps what we knew as “normal” is gone for good. And so, weaving this idea of “returning to normal” throughout your content will communicate that your organisation doesn’t grasp the severity of the situation. Plus, it’s obvious isn’t it? No one likes pandemics and everyone wants things to get back to normal — so this goes without saying.

“Nothing will take us off course! We will publish what we planned no matter what!”

Truth be told, this makes N/N happy: we love those who love to publish. But in all seriousness, this is not a good long-term strategy. Stubbornly sticking to old plans without acknowledging the proverbial paradigm shift is doomed to fail. Think of those Hollywood studios that stubbornly churn out substandard sequels because the first film in a franchise did so well. In the rush to release ‘new product’ they often fail to consider how their audience has changed, or how the story should have evolved. In the end, the mediocre sequels tarnish the legacy of the whole franchise. Avoid this at all costs. Invest more into the work and think carefully and cautiously about the recent paradigm shift.

“We’re all in this together.” (followed by a blatant product push)

For my money, this is the worst one. No one wants to read heartfelt essays on shared experience and suffering, only to discover at the end that the whole thing is a cover for a product placement – some new medical device or treatment. Such a cynical approach only replicates that sinking feeling we’ve all experienced at the amusement park when — surprise! — the park forces us into the souvenir shop before we reach the exit from the rollercoaster. Oh, I see. Our joy isn’t enough. What they really want is for us to buy stuff.

Trust is everything at a time like this. The collective fear that information about COVID-19 is incomplete, or worse — misleading and inaccurate — is palpable.

What to do? How do healthcare companies find the ‘right’ motivation to publish at such a sensitive time? We think this is a good starting point: We have medical expertise and knowledge that can advance the COVID-19 conversation, and help the world find a way to survive and improve pandemic responses in the future. It’s our duty to share this knowledge.

Call me naïve if that sounds too simplistic. But in the short-term it’s fair to say embracing the more altruistic motivations for publishing will only help you maintain credibility during this challenging time.

Credible healthcare thought leadership has never been more important.

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