A whole new experience: how COVID is redefining the way we connect

Pannell of experts during the llve
Communications is no longer just about raising awareness and influencing behaviours, it’s about making connections and enhancing experiences.

Right now, few experiences are more important than those that determine our health. As restrictions continue to rewrite our daily routines, the need to create connected health experiences has never been greater. And communications is taking centre stage at the heart of the action.

In the space of the last 12 months, our health experiences have been reimagined. One year ago, few had heard of PPE. Now we’re all wearing it in 7-Eleven. At the start of 2020, the idea that literally any of us could directly quiz the world’s top scientists – from the comfort of our own front rooms – was unthinkable. Now it’s routine. Last summer, drive-through vaccination sounded like something from the movies. Today, we can pull up for our shot and be Gone in 60 Seconds.

In each of these cases, and many more besides, communications is the connector-in-chief; signposting journeys, linking the varied elements within health’s ecosystem, speeding up interactions and adding value to the exchange.

In some instances, comms isn’t just part of the experience – it is the experience. A great example of this is the series of online COVID-19 conferences our VMLY&Rx Shanghai team developed last year. The initiative provided top physicians, scientists, academics, pharma and the medical community with a forum to discuss and share the latest covid findings as the pandemic developed in China. It even included a section for the general public to join in during a Q&A at the end. The event was broadcast in true TV style on mainstream, editorial and social platforms, and also via patient and doctor communities.

In this series our teams reimagined the traditional scientific conference format. They removed barriers and silos, opened up access, engaged communities with creativity and leveraged technology – to share trusted information at speed and scale. It highlighted the essential ingredients for delivering frictionless health experiences: collaboration, connectivity and creative communications.

Collaboration

Specialist expertise is everything.

Our partnerships in China helped us bring together a broad cross-section of medical expertise to provide rational and unfiltered reflection of the science and evidence. KOLs from academia, public health and clinical communities led the discussions – with the support of 15 major pharma/healthcare companies and an array of media giants.

In another project, we partnered with the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM) to leverage the expertise of world-renowned virologists, epidemiologists, anthropologists and public health leaders. Early on in the pandemic we were the first to offer livestreamed Q&As offering a global audience direct access to some of the world’s leading scientists. We developed this into a series that gave the public, academics and media direct access to the latest thinking and science as it was unfolding. We worked alongside platforms (with support from Twitter who placed our livestreams alongside Government briefings in the UK) and mainstream media (The Guardian) as well as NGOs (CDC in Africa) to broaden the reach and scope. LSHTM used the audio to produce a series of Podcasts for its vast and prestigious global alumni and we extended our reach using newsworthy edits across social media. Collaboration also allowed us to develop scientific templates for LSHTM’s Centre for Mathematical Modelling of Infectious Diseases, to support the rapid delivery of data to NGOs and governments.

Connectivity

Great experiences connect. It’s only by bringing everyone and everything together – doctors, scientists, creatives, patients, tech, data, life sciences, etc – that we can co-create frictionless experiences that improve health. Our COVID-19 conferences in China built experiences rooted in dialogue, interaction and community – connecting people with trusted information, to make complex (and sometimes scary) science, simple and tangible.

Creative communications

Creative communications is the key to making a human connection – and it’s never been more important. Our COVID conference series in China harnessed the best of mainstream and digital media – broadcasting, tailoring and amplifying content in true FMCG styled launch using everything from national press, professional networks, YouTube and Twitter, to TikTok, Webio and WeChat in China.

However, as digital platforms become increasingly saturated, the only way to cut through the noise is to call on the power of creativity. After all, as the saying goes: “information is getting out, communication is getting through.”

That’s where the skill of specialist health communications comes to the fore. Specialists understand the complexities of science, the nuances of human behaviour, and the individual needs of diverse populations. They understand the science of creative communications, and how collaboration is key to capturing every voice that matters. And they know how to use that insight to shape memorable experiences that connect. Our teams in China promoted the celebrity status of the scientists during the pandemic to create a show biz social buzz with ads, TV style formats and interactivity at every point. Over 20 million people took part, with the live streams generating hundreds of thousands of online comments. One tweet alone attracted 6.1 million likes.

That’s cut through.

Building on the COVID experience

In all walks of life, COVID has shown us that experiences matter – changing the scope and purpose of communications forever. But our health experiences arguably matter more than any other – they can change or save our lives. Its why specialist communications will continue to play a pivotal role in connecting the health ecosystem, to create frictionless experiences that lead to better health.

Claire Gillis, CEO VMLY&Rx @GillisClaire

To find out more about our work and our connected health strategies, follow us on Twitterr @VMLYRx, Instagram and LinkedIn.