“With partnerships, one plus one can often equal five by amplifying resources, reaching more people, gathering like minds to work for the public good. Partnerships should be developed early, so the foundation is in place long before you might need to rely on each other in an emergency. And we must always remember that partnerships are not a one-way street.”
– Former CDC Director Rochelle Walensky, MD, MPH, at CDC Foundation’s Lights, Camera, Action! The Future of Public Health National Summit Series (Fourth)
Partnerships provide the capacity to achieve what may not otherwise be achieved. Historically, there has been a disconnect between public health and healthcare due to differences in focus, scope, and methodology. While both are crucial components of a health system, they often operate independently, leading to gaps in addressing health issues comprehensively. Addressing these gaps requires improved coordination and collaboration between sectors and an increase in the number of quality relationships built.
Communications and Promotional Strategies for Building Partnerships
The Public Health Foundation (PHF) provides an example of how organizations can forge this type of high performing partnership through their efforts to increase vaccine uptake during the COVID-19 pandemic. PHF is a national nonprofit organization that actively serves public health agencies and systems. Colleagues Joanna Levine, MPH, and Gabrelle Taylor, MPH, lead their efforts toward creating communications and promotional strategies for building organizational partnerships. In her role at the Foundation, Taylor works as a Senior Program Manager for quality improvement. This involves developing training products related to immunization and providing resources and tools to professionals working in the public health space. Taylor’s colleague Joanna Levine directed the initiative to develop a communications and promotional strategy for an educational video created in partnership with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. This video, Understanding the ACIP and How Vaccine Recommendations are Made in the U.S., sought to build vaccine confidence by explaining the process, science, and safety behind U.S. vaccine recommendations.
Taylor reflected on some of the key elements of the approach that contributed to their success. The first was creating a focused organizational outreach strategy that outlined the criteria for outreach, examined areas for collaboration, determined tailored calls to action, and prepared for follow-up to their initial efforts. Internally, team members gathered a list of 26 healthcare organizations whose vision and mission aligned with their own: advancing the public health workforce to achieve organizational excellence. Once the alignment was assured, communications materials were drafted with equity at the forefront. Strategic planning documents were also shared along with social media toolkits with alt text and graphics. Links for embedding the educational video were provided to allow partners to include the resource via their communication channels.
Out of the twenty-six organizations identified, eight of the partners were new. Their communications efforts resulted in a 75% response rate among new partners and 90% among those partners with existing relationships (Levine & Taylor, 2023). The content was ready to share, but how would they get new partners to pick up their “cold call” to action? Aside from assumed organizational alignment, the PHF team did their homework. Before meeting with any of the new organizations, they discussed the win-win situations internally. The team entered each conversation and partnership with an eye toward bi-directional learning. Success was tracked via engagement metrics, including monitoring the number of organizations contacted, follow-ups conducted via e-mail and phone, and other co-promotional strategies.
One of the eight new partnerships the Public Health Foundation made was with the National Association of School Nurses (NASN), to whom PHF shared its video and promotional toolkit. NASN responded that they were in the beginning stages of creating some of their own materials. Instead of duplicating efforts, NASN decided to join PHF to co-promote materials. PHF would now have a new network of individuals using and sharing their videos; this was the beginning of a budding relationship. The National Association of School Nurses was later invited to one of the Public Health Foundation’s convenings to present, bringing the association’s work to new audiences. A notable example of a strategy for co-promotion turned into a partnership seeking to help bridge the gap between healthcare and public health.
Key Challenges & Takeaways
While most organizations supported their goals, not all saw a connection between their work and that of the Public Health Foundation, or they may not have had the bandwidth to collaborate. If any of the meetings or e-mails were received with low interest, team members followed up with points for potential collaboration and left the line of communication open. While some organizations were lost to follow up, notes of gratitude were shared often.
For organizations interested in expanding their partnerships, it is important to scope these new collaborations with intentionality and flexibility. For example, adjustments were made where possible if any of the drafted materials needed to be tailored to fit a partner’s target population. Approach each opportunity with a willingness to support your partners in the same way you would like them to offer support. Taylor noted they kept their asks clear and simple and explained more value was placed on the quality of engagements over the number of new partners. Although forging new partnerships both inside and outside of public health is challenging, it is critical to keeping the public healthy and informed. We need continued innovation in the way we craft and share health messages.
If you are interested in learning more about the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) project visit the overview page.
Levine, J., & Taylor, G. (2023). Using Communication and Promotional Strategies to Build Organizational
Partnerships. Washington, DC: Public Health Foundation.
Rochelle Walensky, M. M. (2022, April 4). Summit Showcases Critical Role of Cross-Sector Partnerships
and Community Engagement in Future of Public Health. Retrieved from CDC Foundation