It’s one thing to use content marketing as a state-of-the-art tool to pitch a product, sell an idea, or bring a company or organization to the attention of a wider audience.
It’s something else entirely when the content is about helping people live longer, healthier, happier lives.
For proof, look no farther than Ottawa, where the Canadian Public Health Association (CPHA) held its annual conference earlier this week.
What Makes Us Healthy…Or Not?
CPHA is our longest-standing client. We’ve been working with them since the late 1980s, and produced their onsite newsletter for a string of six annual events.
More recently, we’ve moved into the role of communications and content advisors, helping the association deliver an urgent message to a wider professional and public audience. At this week’s conference, I was involved with two CPHA projects:
- Frontline Health, an effort to gather community stories about the social and economic factors that largely determine our health, well-being, and lifespans
- A working group on global change and public health that is addressing the ecological determinants of health, from clean water, to arable land, to biodiversity, to climate change.
The messages and conversations we were trying to advance this week are central to the success of Canada’s public health profession and the health of our communities. Public health professionals know that people live better lives when they don’t get sick to begin with, and the cheapest disease outbreak is the one you can prevent. But those insights frame our content marketing challenges for the week:
What conversations will it take to engage a group of overworked, under-appreciated health professionals in a different kind of outreach with their clients and communities?
And what tools and resources will they need to help the most vulnerable among us deal with the social and ecological determinants of health in their own lives?
How to Tell the Story
Here are some of the ideas we brought onsite that were largely reinforced by our conversations during the conference:
- Keep it simple: Both the social and ecological determinants of health have impressive bodies of knowledge behind them, but the research can easily leave public audiences behind. Frontline Health invites community practitioners to discuss their projects in their own words and lets the drama of each story speak for itself.
- Keep it grounded: CPHA and its partners put a lot of effort into a GIS mapping format that shows the distribution of Frontline Health projects across the country. The visual is striking enough with 11 dots on the map. It’ll be irresistible by the time we’ve got two, three, or four dozen projects on the system.
- Keep the formats accessible: Frontline Health is telling its story with photos, short project summaries, and audio capsules produced or directed by our awesome podcaster, Phil Lortie.
- Build the crossover between live and virtual communities: More and more of us have a foot in both worlds, and the most effective content marketing campaigns combine doorstep and digital techniques.
Continuing the Conversation
CPHA’s conference is the largest annual gathering of Canada’s public health community, but it still runs only three days out of 365. Content marketing is the catalyst for the conversations, engagement, and community-based action we hope to see after participants go home.
That will mean introducing some tools and habits that are about as new to public health as the social and ecological determinants are to mainstream medicine:
- An editorial calendar, to lay out the content we plan to deliver and the audiences we aim to reach through an extended campaign
- Using blog content as the fulcrum for outreach and engagement on Twitter, Google+, LinkedIn, and possibly Facebook
- Watching for opportunities to contribute ideas, comments, and resources to what we hope will be a growing online community on the social and ecological determinants of health.
Nothing we produce will directly save lives. But we’ll be working to bring profile and community standing to the branch of health care that brought us immunization, basic sanitation, tobacco control, and a bunch of other innovations that make us all healthier. “The average lifespan of Canadians has increased by more than 30 years since the early 1900s,” CPHA writes, “and 25 of those years are attributable to advances in public health.”
We’ll let you know how it goes. And if we get stuck along the way, we’ll know which community of colleagues to reach out to for ideas.