Audience perceptions

The public will make judgments about a partnership depending on who they feel has benefited most from the relationship.

They will also base their opinions on what they think the financial arrangements of the relationship are. Research shows that:

  • The public expects the NHS to benefit at least equally from a relationship.
  • People are unhappy with partnerships that appear to benefit the partner over the NHS, for example, by increasing the partner’s sales.
  • Audiences disapprove of partnerships that appear to involve inappropriate payment by the NHS, diverting funds from core NHS business.

Bear in mind that benefits are not only financial – a good communications partnership can also improve perceptions and reputations and can increase goodwill.

Planning a communications partnership

When planning a communications partnership, it will help to consider the following questions about audience perceptions:

  • Will audiences easily understand the reasons for the partnership?
  • How does the NHS benefit from the partnership?
  • How does the partner benefit from the partnership?
  • Will people perceive there to be at least equal benefit to the NHS?
  • Has money changed hands? Are you open to the accusation that resources are being diverted from core NHS priorities?

Different kinds of communications partnership

Different types of partnerships can be perceived by the public in different ways, and you should consider which type of partnership is most appropriate to meet your objectives:

 

Joint promotion or campaign

A joint promotion is a partnership that is co-branded and undertaken by more than one party, including the NHS. Branding can vary depending on which party is leading the campaign.

For example, the NHS working with a Local Authority and Police Service to deliver a co-branded sensible drinking message.

Points to consider:

  • A joint partnership is perceived as a close relationship.
  • When a commercial partner is involved, the public expects them to bear most of the cost in exchange for being associated with the NHS.
  • It is considered more acceptable for the NHS to provide funding in a partnership with a charity in exchange for association with their expertise in a specific area.

 

Endorsement

An endorsement is a co-branded activity run and owned by the partner but openly supported by the NHS, with the NHS logo displayed on supporting materials to signify support or approval.

For example, a primary care trust supporting an initiative led by a group of voluntary organisations, aimed at encouraging people to increase their activity levels. The PCT may lend its approval by allowing its logo together with a statement of support to be used on leaflets and cycle-route maps.

Points to consider:

  • Audiences are likely to assume that money does not change hands with endorsements, but that the NHS is lending its ‘stamp of approval’. Benefits to each partner are seen as roughly equal: the NHS is encouraging beneficial activity, whilst the partner is gaining from association with positive NHS brand values.
  • Although endorsement of an activity is considered acceptable, audiences are not comfortable with NHS endorsement of products and services, or of the partner itself. These types of partnership are likely to be considered inappropriate, as the partner is perceived to be benefiting disproportionately by borrowing positive values from the NHS for its own gain, for example to drive up sales. Damage to the NHS brand can be significant, with the public feeling that the NHS has ‘sold out’.

 

Hosting

‘Hosting’ refers to an arrangement where a partner provides space for NHS communications to help the NHS reach a particular audience.

For example, placing posters with sexual health messages in pubs and bars, or stop-smoking leaflets in local take-away outlets.

Points to consider:

  • This type of partnership is seen as more distant, because while there is an implied relationship, materials are often not co-branded.
  • Audiences assume that the partner is not being paid – in this way the benefits are seen to be in the NHS’s favour, potentially representing massive cost savings.
  • Any perceived mismatch between the host’s business or values and those of the NHS is less relevant. For example, although a pub or bar may not be an appropriate host for alcohol awareness activities, it may be a suitable host for sexual health messages.

Partnership considerations around specific health issues

Recent research into communications partnerships targeting smoking, sexual health, drinking and obesity showed that:

  • Partnership in the areas of smoking and improving sexual health are generally positively received: people believe that the NHS’s remit in these areas is a given, and it is recognised that the NHS needs to be more creative in tackling these problems.
  • Low levels of understanding of the real risks of drinking mean that you may need to consider awareness-raising as part of any partnership in this area.
  • Sensible drinking messages may also be better received away from the ‘drinking moment’ to avoid the NHS being perceived as a killjoy.
  • Audiences also feel there is currently a lack of clarity around obesity-related messages. Consequently the NHS is perceived as a voice of authority in this area, but as with alcohol, audiences do not want NHS partnership activity to attempt to impose lifestyle choices – therefore consideration should be given to where and when people will be receptive to healthy eating messages.

Last updated: 02/06/10

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