Written by on . Pegasus.

Welcoming a new decade in healthcare storytelling

Our Associate Creative Director, Ian Ray, gave the keynote speech at this year’s PRCA Health Conference. Here’s an edited version of the talk.

Even the shortest of stories can make an immediate connection if it has some key ingredients: honesty, a little drama and some vulnerability.

But most importantly, it needs to speak to a relatable emotional experience. Even if you’re not in those circumstances yourself, you put yourself into them very easily through a story.

And I think that sense of connection couldn’t be more relevant than in the situation we’re in right now as we collectively face a global pandemic.

Because the stories told about health are subject to more public scrutiny than ever before – quite rightly, because the stakes are so high. Messages have to connect with people’s real lives to make an impact on their behaviour and keep us all safe.

But while these ideas are particularly pertinent today, we know of course that stories have always been an essential tool in keeping us safe, and that we’re hardwired to receive them.
We know that an emotive connection helps in the laying down of memories – in making things stick – and that information framed in an emotive narrative can operate like a kind of neurological shortcut in the assimilation of information.

Stories themselves serve a deep societal function in imparting information and keeping us safe and well – they’re fables for our behavioural, emotional and physical health.

So in this big evolutionary context, it’s hardly surprising that many things are likely to stay the same over the next decade of storytelling in health, even in the face of transformative events.

But other things will change over the next decade. Covid may well set the tone from here on in – particularly on the issue of trust.

Hot on the heels of Brexit and talk of a post-truth age, we’ve had a global pandemic, and I can’t think of a time when people have been more acutely aware of how they’re messaged to than in the current situation. What’s being said, how it’s being said and by whom is a discussion point for everybody, outside the bubble of our industry.

It’s really telling I think that in the UK we’ve seen people move away from tabloid news online and gravitate towards sources they trust, like the BBC. Our own research at Pegasus has found that a third of us trust doctors more than before the pandemic.

We’ve seen warnings about the dangerous spread of misinformation online, and that pressure on governments and social platforms for tougher fact-checking and moderation is really reaching a tipping point.

This surely has huge implications for the role of journalists as mediators and gatekeepers, and in turn our relationships with them in providing stories they know to be fair-handed and trustworthy, however creative we are in the way we tell them.

And then our own role as that bridge and facilitator of the patient voice can only continue to grow over the next decade.

Our sector can answer a growing appetite for more trusted, authentic communication; we have the expertise and the backgrounds, and we have the people working across multi-disciplinary teams to get meaningful stories out into the world. Stories that can genuinely change lives, and stories that can save lives.

Ian Ray is an Associate Creative Director in our Creative Services team.