It will help you to establish a successful communications partnership if you think about how it is likely to be seen, both by your target audience and by the wider public.

Research has shown that people have a ‘gut reaction’ of either comfort or discomfort when they see the NHS in partnership with another organisation. This is based on a number of factors, the most important being how well they think the partner’s business and brand values fit with those of the NHS.

If audiences feel there is any mismatch between what the NHS and the partner do and stand for, research suggests that they are likely to either question the partnership or reject the communication. This can undermine not only the objectives of the partnership but also the reputation of the NHS as a whole.

Once you have considered both the benefits and risks of a partnership, you may decide to go ahead with a potentially controversial partnership. In this case you will need to consider how you will justify your approach and deal with any criticism. This section helps you evaluate whether a partner is potentially risky. For more guidance on how to manage any risks, go to Evaluating the risks.

The business and values of the NHS

To decide whether a potential communications partner is appropriate, you should start by considering the business and values of the NHS.

Despite negative media coverage and some individual negative personal experiences, research consistently shows that the NHS brand holds very strong, positive associations and is regarded with great warmth and affection. The values associated with the NHS include: integrity, respect and trust, commitment, dignity and compassion, and high quality service and expertise.

 Identifying the business and values of a potential partner

Answering the questions below will help you consider whether an organisation’s core business and values fit with those of the NHS.


What is the business of the partner organisation (eg selling food, airline, local newspaper)?

If the organisation’s business is not health-related, then it is likely that audiences will question why the NHS is partnering them.


How do the partner’s business activities relate to health promotion?

Audiences do not expect the NHS to partner with organisations whose businesses are at odds with health promotion, such as cigarette or fast food brands. These kinds of partnerships are unlikely to be received positively and can damage the reputation of the NHS.


What is the public perception of the partner? What does the partner stand for?

Audiences are likely to challenge or reject a partnership with an organisation whose values do not align with those of the NHS.


What would happen if the partner’s values you have identified become associated with the NHS?

To help you think about the values of a potential partner, try the following ‘brainstorming’ exercises:

  • Thinking of the partner as a person, what sort of qualities would they display (eg heroic, dynamic, traditional, extrovert, exclusive, etc.)?
  • What words would your target audience associate with the partner? And what about your most critical audience?
  • Has the partner been involved in any controversy? Are they likely to be?

Once you have considered the business and values of the partner against those of the NHS, you can plot how closely they fit on the diagram below to help you decide whether a partnership is appropriate

For example, an organisation whose business and values are at odds with those of the NHS would be positioned in the bottom left hand corner, whereas one whose values and activities match would be in the top right hand corner.

Business and brand values matrix

Last updated: 02/06/10

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