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Jargonpalooza? 6 Communications Takeaways from HIMSS 2015

With another HIMSS under our belts, I can hear the collective sigh of relief from the country’s health IT public relations and marketing leaders as they get back to their day jobs and prepare for a weekend of podiatric recuperation. But before we turn the page, let’s pause and reflect.

Each year brings new takeaways and best practices for the following year. I’ve identified six key learnings that communications leaders should take away from this year’s show.

1. Enough with the jargon.

The shameless use of terms like population health was enough to make even a health IT fanatic like myself shudder. Let’s start by taking a look at these two distressing marketing photos (company names removed to protect the pseudo-innocent); do you have any idea what these companies actually do? No.

HIMSS1

HIMSS2

Using jargon as a way to tap into a conversation is not real marketing. Nor does it get you credibility with the media; in fact, reporters think it’s ridiculous at best, and dishonest at worst, as evidenced by my favorite Twitter conversation of the entire show with Brian Eastwood of FierceHealthPayer:

@Healthcare_SMH Integrated out-of-the-box solutions! #HIMSS15
— Brian Eastwood (@Brian_Eastwood) April 14, 2015

@Healthcare_SMH And analytics. Always analytics!
— Brian Eastwood (@Brian_Eastwood) April 14, 2015

The lesson is to use it sparingly, as guidance for what category you fit into; it is not the end-all, be-all, of what you do.

2. It’s OK to be edgy and embrace humor.

Fun fact: health IT decision-makers within hospitals, health systems, and health plans are human, for the most part. They enjoy a good chuckle and are actually craving more than more of the same.

Indeed, there’s a reason that HIStalk is so popular and that Jonathan Bush getting a meringue pie in the face on Monday night was the talk of the town. So loosen up that tie – both in your marketing efforts, and in your booth conversations.

3. Don’t make claims you can’t back up. 

I shed a tear a few times on the show floor related to this point. All too often, when I asked what a company did, they’d answer along the lines of “value-based care analytics” or “care coordination across the entire continuum,” but upon further prodding it turned out they only do a subset of that work and have no real examples of successful end-to-end implementations.

It’s great to be visionary, folks. But you need a vision that is 1) different from a pre-established category and 2) achievable. Further, you should be honest that it’s a vision, and be ready to describe your capabilities today. Clearly defining what you do is a good thing. Be specific, honest, and descriptive.

4. Size matters… but not how you think.

As we work with a variety of health IT clients, from small start-ups to giant industry leaders, my advice from a marketing perspective is to either go big and bold or go tiny and targeted.

In other words, going medium just gets medium results. With medium, you’re still spending a lot of money on the show floor, but you’re not big enough for the glitzy attention. If you don’t have the budget (and news) to be at the top of the conversation, apply your time and efforts on high-value sales, partner, and media meetings (especially if you have customers on site).

5. Social media has ROI.

Social media only holds value in health IT when it’s very cautiously mapped to specific business strategies and target audiences, or used in conjunction with an industry event as part of thought leadership. At HIMSS, it reigns king; just a few years ago, it set the world record for tweet volume at a healthcare conference. Reporters and influencers alike are constantly monitoring the hashtags, so jump in on the conversation!

6. Set HIMSS communications expectations appropriately. 

Translation: No, not every reporter can meet with you. Reporters rack up hundreds upon hundreds of email pitches per day in the weeks leading up to HIMSS, and since they’re supposed to be actually writing while at the event, many of them can only swing a total of 5-10 interviews total onsite.

Your best bet is to start outreach at least a month in advance, through a media relations specialist whose name is known to the trade media audience already. If you missed that window, use the weeks following HIMSS to touch base and set up phone briefings instead. Yes… that would be now. Go forth and prosper.

See you next year in Las Vegas!

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