According to experts, for decades, the United States has been going through a dramatic demographic transformation that is changing the country’s ethnic, religious, and cultural composition.
Politics aside, the fact is the country is close to hitting what has been called the ‘majority minority milestone’—the moment when the white majority will be outnumbered by ethnic and racial groups which have traditionally been considered minorities in the U.S.
Regardless of if or when that milestone is achieved, the truth is the U.S. has never been more diverse than it is right now.
How Does This Growing Diversity Impact Our Public Relations Work?
For years, the industry has been looking at the shift in demographics and adjusting campaigns to serve the needs of clients and the audiences we work with on their behalf. Every day, more organizations are embracing multiculturalism and approaching their audiences with a renewed recognition – and celebration – of the things that make them different and unique.
This recognition is especially needed in the health care space where creating campaigns that are culturally relevant, appropriate, and inclusive can make a difference in achieving equity in health outcomes. With more than 21.5% of people admitting to speak a different language other than English at home and 8.2% of those who speak English saying they speak it less than “very well,” it is clear that language barriers are an obvious first challenge to overcome when wanting to reach ALL patient communities.
But the needs of patients are deeper than those we can address through language alone. When it comes to health care, culture, traditions, and ethnic backgrounds matter just as much as language…sometimes even more.
Can a Multicultural Approach in PR Improve Results for Our Clients?
Yes. Period. Full Stop.
Because it goes deeper than language alone, a multicultural approach needs to be part of campaigns designed to reach diverse patient communities. By building our own cultural competence we can help our clients deliver more effective messages, more impactful campaigns, and stronger relationships with the communities they serve.
Coyne PR, a leading agency when it comes to diversity hiring, is taking steps to have a workforce that has cultural competency to address different patient populations. Beyond that, through our DE&I Committee, we encourage everyone at Coyne to have cultural humility, which goes beyond cultural competency. While cultural competence is the ability to engage knowledgeably with people across cultures, cultural humility is a process of self-reflection about our own biases, encouraging ongoing curiosity to learn about each other, our cultural nuances, and a recognition of our intersecting identities.
Additionally, we counsel clients to move away from translating campaigns, recommending to ‘transcreate’ them instead. Transcreation requires understanding the culture, speaking the language, and recognizing the nuances of a community to reach them with appropriate cultural context. Transcreation should involve representatives from each community from start to finish—from developing a strategy to producing materials that are culturally relevant and delivered through channels that reach the right audience.
Included below are a few additional takeaways gleaned from the work we’ve done in our health care practice, and my own experience working both in my native Puerto Rico and in the U.S.
DE&I Should Be at The Core of Every Initiative—Never an Afterthought
This is a “pero claro” statement (“but, of course” in Spanish) but still an important reminder at the start of any campaign-building exercise.
In my experience, ten or even five years ago, campaigns for so-called “minorities,” were always a “good to have;” something that was done if you had extra budget.
In the past few years, the health care space has changed, for the better. Our clients are asking: “are we including EVERYONE;” “is our campaign culturally appropriate and respectful;” “are ALL the communities I serve represented;” “does my campaign use channels that reach all my audiences, or do I need to find new channels to engage everyone.” We take pride in helping our clients answer these questions and, as we reflect on our own cultural humility, we help them find new questions to ask to build stronger relationships with their audiences.
Let’s Talk WITH Each Other, Not to Each Other
Partner with and listen to people from diverse backgrounds so you can co-create campaigns together—talk WITH them, not to them. This is particularly important when it comes to patient communities and the advocacy groups who represent them. Placing their needs at the center of any campaign ensures messaging is impactful and authentic.
While some may immediately want to jump over this step and go straight to “educating patients” about a disease state or path to care, for example, we counsel clients about how campaigns should be a two-way street.
Before we educate patients, we must first take the time to educate OURSELVES on the needs and cultural nuances of the patient communities we are building relationships with. Additionally, it’s important to ensure diversity is pulled through so EVERYONE feels included/seen/recognized.
Don’t Fear to Recognize Differences, Just Be Sure to Embrace ALL
Campaigns need to push the envelope to break through and improve health outcomes. While the status quo may seem the “safe way” to go, it will not drive changes in outcomes—and won’t help build meaningful, long-lasting, authentic relationships with your audiences.
There is a Spanish proverb that applies here: “De los cobardes no se ha escrito nada” (nothing has ever been written of cowards). We have to choose to be brave, bold and unique in our approach if we are to make a difference. Traditionally underserved patient communities deserve this.
Mistakes WILL Be Made; That Should Not Stop Us from Trying to Do Better
Building a more inclusive society is a work in progress. While it can sometimes be tricky to navigate these uncharted waters, we cannot give up or feel disheartened when things don’t go exactly as planned. When a mistake is made, it’s important to recognize it immediately.
Audiences can be understanding when there is a misstep, particularly when an authentic effort is made to correct it. The key is to be transparent and forthcoming.
In my experience, underserved communities appreciate things are changing for the better and recognize that building the path to equity may sometimes require course-correction.
At Coyne, we welcome the challenges of having multiculturalism at the center of our work. We are ready to take those challenges head-on as we continue to build a more diverse agency for our clients and for the audiences they seek to serve.
For more insight into this topic, please check out our recent podcast with PRovoke featuring Dina Albanese, Vice President and Co-Chair of the Coyne PR DEI Committee and Ricki Fairley, Survivor/Thriver and CEO of Touch, The Black Breast Cancer Alliance.