Dulye Noted: Lessons from the Health Care Debate

Linda Dulye's picture
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Rumors. Half-truths. Swirling debate. Sound like your workplace in a time of change or uncertainty? Indeed it might. I’m actually referring to the environment surrounding Health Care Reform in the U.S.

Last month, President Obama held a prime-time news conference on health care reform and he used tactics from the communications playbook for discussing tough messages. Here’s the bottom line: tough messages require leaders to step up and out, explain the rationale and directly address the tough questions.

President Obama applied a tried-and-true methodology that Dulye & Co. brings to its clients for successful communications. We call it The 4 Rs:

  • Relay: Select the right media. The power of the presidency allows him to speak to the nation in prime time on network television. By scheduling this event when TV viewership is at its peak, the message was more likely to be received by the target audience. What’s more, the president could take his message directly to citizens without it being sliced into mere sound bytes. In addition to a news conference, Obama has been holding Town Hall meetings, roundtable discussions and informal events around the country to share his vision and rationale for health care reform. He’s put together an effective combination of interactive media—that is, media that enables a 2-way exchange. What’s the right media combination for you and your organization to share a tough message? Town Hall Meeting? Podcast? Staff Meetings?
  • Relate: Make the message meaningful. During his remarks and in the Q&A portion of the news conference, the president referred to specific examples of Americans who are fighting to save their health care coverage to save a loved one or to prevent themselves from going bankrupt to pay for a catastrophic illness. And, he used data to back-up how health care reform can improve the economy and reduce the federal budget deficit. These concrete points help transform a nebulous concept – trillions of dollars – into something the audience can grasp. How can you take a complicated message, simplify it and relate it for others to understand? For example, ask employees to shut off the lights when leaving their offices and help the company save X-percent on energy costs.
  • Receive: Listen to feedback. For the past several months the president has asked citizens to share their stories about health care and what they want and need from reform. The president regularly responds to this feedback in formal channels—such as comments in a speech or at a press conference—and informally, through his Purple Folder correspondence system. After you’ve delivered your message, ask for feedback. Use a simple feedback form after Town Hall Meetings, for example, to surface topics that need further explanation, or to capture ideas for making your business run more smoothly.
  • Respond: Follow-up on feedback. Chances are, the president and his team are unable to respond to every bit of input they’ve received from citizens. However, the administration has been posting citizens’ stories on the Web and the president often pens or types responses. When should you respond to the feedback you’ve collected? As soon as possible. Timeliness demonstrates interest and conveys respect. Think about how fast Amazon responds with confirmation that it has received your order. That speed to response has raised expectation levels in everyone.

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