The detox of perception

09/02/2016 - 07:23
Bad memories and negative associations are still affecting the good work being done by the industry. Gail Walker from Open Door PR suggests that national communication strategies are the key to changing perception.

As 2016 rolls in and we publicists decide exactly which shade of black is in this year, it’s clear that 2015 was a triumph of good work through adversity.

The industry navigated the successful roll-out of the universal infant free school meals initiative and the introduction of the allergen-awareness FIC regulations. As a result, more students, patients and residents were provided with better and healthier food.

Despite all of this, has the communication of it been quite so successful? Did the message break through into general consciousness or drive away any of the negative media glare that this sector attracts?

That’s the real difficulty about communicating in this market. As we continue to be up against old pictures of hospital food being rolled out time and time again, the communication challenge is at least threefold harder than that of other industries.

Let’s take school food for example. At the LACA conference, upon suggesting to someone they eat lunch from suppliers, it received a negative response. Yet, once they had actually tried the food, the reaction was positive.

And there’s the rub, everybody has eaten school food and next to no one has good memories of it. That kind of negativity really lingers.

We have to use smarter communication and PR to eradicate a deep-seated emotional response, and trust me, that’s tough, especially when the real problem is nobody wants to believe you.

So how do we change the perception?  Firstly, we need to break the cycle. I urge all of you to challenge your communication teams to craft your story with a broader audience in mind.

We shouldn’t try to reach just those in the know: we should all aim to reach further and create communication strategies that are relevant and engaging on a national level – from stakeholders in the government to the general public alike.

In the end though, the national spotlight on this sector, in whatever form it takes, is essentially a good thing. At least we are being talked about.

The challenge for 2016 is for the publicists to create a more positive national message. You have raised the level of nutrition, equipment, service, ingredients and menus, and we must now play our part to promote that.

The strategy has to be a considered approach, though this is not the industry for outlandish, headline-grabbing stunts. Putting something trendy like edible insects onto the menu will certainly achieve national coverage, but bugs in hospital food… now that’s a PR crisis we could do without.

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