Regardless of the sector you work in, PR professionals will always need to deal with sensitive subject matters. The subjects in question will vary dramatically depending on the type of client you are representing, however, it is important for all PRs to be fully prepared and understand how to handle challenging topics for discussion.
Looking specifically at the health sector, PRs will often find themselves dealing with niche, sensitive topics which the public do not wish to openly discuss. From tooth decay, to varicose veins, to odorous armpits – these are just some of the common health concerns that it is important to educate people on, but not the most glamorous of topics to cover.
As PRs, we must deal with such topics in a delicate, professional way. However, it is also the job of the PR team to bring these topics to life and take what would usually be perceived as an ‘unsexy’ issue and catapult it to the forefront of public conscious through targeted and creative PR activity.
Below we’ve detailed some of the key PR tactics that can be utilised when handling a sensitive subject:
Don’t be afraid to ask questions…
As a starting point, it is important to ask ALL the awkward questions that no-one wants to talk about. This will help to establish the key messaging for a campaign and draw out the most press-worthy hooks. Armed with this information, you will then have the basis for PR’able content.
Make it bite-sized!
The key to promoting a sensitive health topic is to make the issue feel relevant to the masses, and to make sure that the subject is easy to digest and understand. Feature articles focussed around ‘top tips about….’, or ‘myths and facts about…’ can be great ways to engage a mass audience and provide consumers with the must-know info in a bite size form. Also, for a more visual content strand, infographics can be a good way to provide information about a sensitive subject.
Case studies are key
Case studies can also be hugely beneficial when trying to spread awareness of a sensitive subject and bring a challenging topic to the forefront of the media’s attention. Real stories illustrating a health condition or problem help bring a topic to life by adding a human face, and help educate a consumer audience on warning signs/symptoms they should be looking out for – which can help people to identify if they too are suffering from the condition in question.
All case studies must be handled with the utmost sensitivity. It is important to guide the case study throughout the entire process – making sure they feel totally comfortable with answering sensitive questions and being contacted by journalists. For media articles, all case studies will be required to reveal their full name and be pictured within any resulting articles so it’s also important that case studies are fully briefed on this from the get-go and feel completely happy to have their name and image in the public domain.
Think about your audience!
When dealing with sensitive health stories, it’s also important to think carefully about who the target audience is and where they want the information to go. What’s the age demographic you are trying to engage with? Is the condition/topic you are dealing with more geared towards men or women? Does the condition require an expensive procedure to treat? These are all questions which you need to ask yourself when planning your PR activity to ensure that you are cutting through the noise and hitting the people who are most likely to want to hear from your client.
In summary, to effectively PR a sensitive subject matter, it is vital that you spend time carefully learning about the topic – drawing out all the required information whilst recognising the sensitivities around the issue. Make sure that your PR messaging reflects the client and subject matter suitably. Finding a delicate balance between the need to spread awareness and any sensitivities around real-life stories /making sure that the topic is featured via the appropriate channels is key to any successful PR campaign focusing on a sensitive subject matter!
If you would like some help on how to address a sensitive subject then please get in touch.