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Plackard’s guide to impactful messaging as part of the NHS Long Term Plan


Blog headlines

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    2 October 2020

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    1 October 2020

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Friday, 19 July 2019

Plackard’s guide to impactful messaging as part of the NHS Long Term Plan

What are you doing to implement the NHS Long Term Plan in your area? You should by now be talking about it in everything you do. Impactful communications is the key to delivery – and volume is the key to achieving impact. This toolkit and comprehensive suite of accompanying resources, by the NHS’s leading strategic communicator, Martin Plackard, aims to help others to deliver the NHS Long Term Plan’s central message that the plan is working.

Now that the implementation framework for the NHS Long Term Plan is out, it will soon be your responsibility to show evidence that you have not only kick-started the plan in your area but that it is being rolled out. What better evidence could there be than the sheer number of mentions in documents, “likes” on social media and posts containing the #NHSLongTermPlan hashtag?

The NHS Long Term Plan makes some bold claims – it promises to make more people better, to make things a lot fairer, to integrate everything, to make being nice to each part of everyone’s business and, most excitingly, to make the NHS the most digital health service in the world.

Specific commitments

Alongside these practical, measurable aims are some specific commitments to make the NHS more affordable so that there can be a lot more of it for everyone and to make it sustainable so that it never runs out.

As professional communicators, our job is to spell out not just the possibilities, but the very real achievements of the plan, either as they happen or as we hope they might happen one day.

Junior colleagues often ask me what that means in practice. It’s simple. The plan covers everything, so everything we do, however small, is another step towards implementation. Every news item or media briefing you issue should reference the plan if it passes one of these tests:

  1. Is it about the NHS?
  2. Are you desperate to publish something positive?
  3. Can you get away with it?

If the answer to any of these questions is “yes”, then you’re in business.

Here are a few recent examples of media releases from my team to bring the point home:

  • “New TV for children’s home thanks to NHS Plan”
  • “NHS Plan to tackle rat infestation in local GP surgery”
  • “Hundreds to benefit from new podiatry service as part of NHS Plan”

Notice that in my examples we’ve dropped the words “Long Term”. Do this for any public-facing communications to dispel any impression that change will take a long time. Even if it will, that level of detail is unhelpful. Always use initial caps for “Plan” to underline the scale of its ambition.

It is fine to include things that happened before the plan was published. Say you managed to reduce emergency admissions by closing a hospital, for instance, it’s legitimate to write: “Blithering cuts urgent care bill thanks to NHS Long Term Plan”.

Accuracy matters

Always make a clear connection to the plan even if you are announcing something that predates it. Such initiatives did not take place “before” the plan; they “anticipated its goals”. Their eventual success was “made possible by the NHS Long Term Plan” or is an example of the plan ”building on the success of” earlier plans. Accuracy matters.

Linking things together in this way creates an agreeable impression of continuity and reinforces the idea that everything was planned.

What if the thing I’m announcing really has nothing to do with the long-term plan? This is the wrong way to look at it. It’s up to you to prove when the plan should NOT be mentioned, which if you apply any of my three tests is almost never. Under most circumstances it should be included in the headline, then again in any of the first three paragraphs. If in doubt, drop it in near the end.

Make every mention count

Use any of these constructions to establish full, partial or virtual relevance:

  • “…in line with the commitments of the NHS Long Term Plan”
  • “…supporting the priorities of the NHS Long Term Plan”
  • “The NHS Long Term Plan makes it clear that…”

The only exception to the rule is bad news. Do not credit the plan if your subject is “Finance director jailed for fraud”, “Patients die in food-poisoning outbreak” or “Local doctors in mass walk out”.

Even so, it’s perfectly legitimate to point out that the challenge in question is being addressed by the plan and is the result of “systemic and cultural issues” that are not your fault.  

Editor: Julian Patterson


Maria Louise Axford
Maria Louise Axford says:
Oct 16, 2019 09:48 AM