By Amer Aidi, Group Marketing and Communications Director at Abu Dhabi Health Services Company - SEHA
At the start of 2020, marketeers around the world had strategies outlined for what was meant to be a milestone year. Instead, Covid-19 forced us to shift plans in real time, pushing many of us into crisis mode.
As a healthcare industry professional, I have seen my colleagues up close navigate everyday challenges over the past year. The evolving situation meant that even frontline workers needed every bit of support to be able to do their job extremely well in these challenging conditions.
Whilst the pandemic demonstrated the world-class quality of care available in the UAE, it also reminded me of the importance of communications especially in tough times, not just to get your brand message out but also to leverage its role and relevance in the society for the benefit of the community.
At the core of a robust communications program is preparedness. With a strong foundation, access to data, and the use of cutting-edge tools, we were able to keep track of global and local trends to uncover insights that would help our strategy. We were clear that whilst this was a crisis, we did not want our communications to be a form of defense only. It was imperative that our efforts must help shape the narrative to raise trust in SEHA’s capabilities and continue to keep our employees engaged across all levels, but especially those on the frontlines.
Once the first Covid-19 case was confirmed in the UAE, our priority was to provide trusted and reliable information to various audiences. It was critical to maintain centrality of communications to avoid the spread of misinformation while providing clarity of purpose, ensuring that the public was getting accurate and relevant news.
As the UAE’s largest healthcare network, SEHA launched several strategic initiatives in line with the government’s vision, while maintaining high standards of patient care for ongoing healthcare needs. These included establishing 20 drive-through screening facilities, two Prime Assessment Centers, three field hospitals, and conducting over 5.7 million tests since the start of the pandemic. Additionally, SEHA introduced the Telemedicine Virtual Outpatient Clinic, medication delivery services, and child vaccination drive-through services to ensure the community had easy and safe access to healthcare from the comfort of their homes.
But this wasn’t enough to build trust, as we knew we had to show the people the benefits of the infrastructure established, the innovations deployed, the screenings conducted, and the importance of having a large number of highly-trained health professionals on the ground. Our role was to maintain higher public confidence and provide reassurance through this important moment in time. We worked with local and international media and leveraged our digital platforms to tell deep, meaningful, and human-centric stories, demonstrating our readiness and ability to effectively manage the pandemic.
Covid-19 also rapidly accelerated digitalization, and in a nation with an overwhelmingly young population, where digital penetration is at 99%, it is no surprise that digital and social media were critical channels to reach our target audiences. This was reflected in the evolution of our team, producing social media videos on 'Life on the Frontline,' showcasing the life-changing work conducted by SEHA for the protection of the community.
Taking it a step further, we also activated a WhatsApp chatbot to reassure the public and answer queries rapidly without overwhelming our customer service centre. As such, we generated a 40% increase in usage within just one week of the launch, according to Kantar.
But above all, we had to protect our people. From colleagues at their desks in corporate HQ or adapting to new work environment at their homes, to the frontline healthcare professionals tending to patients, it was important to deliver consistent and effective communication, which supported 18,000 employees throughout the network.
We had to ensure they had access to the resources and were able to participate in programs designed specifically for them. Adding to this responsibility was recognizing the impact on their mental health. We made it our priority to monitor employee sentiment and morale.
For example, through the SEHA Employees Psychological Support Taskforce, we introduced the Takalam app to offer personalized consultation for employees and spearheaded a weekly series of educational webinars hosted by SEHA's mental health experts to provide emotional support for frontline staff, which we amplified on social media.
Solidarity and collaboration also played a key role in our communications strategies. We partnered with international humanitarian NGO Letters of Love for the #DearHeroes project, which saw frontline health workers receive handwritten notes from children worldwide showing their appreciation for what they do.
And, for the first time, we created a TV commercial dedicated to the valuable contribution made by SEHA employees in the UAE's response to the pandemic, reaching 15 million viewers across the region.
All our efforts paid off with global authorities like the World Health Organization (WHO) recognizing the UAE’s exemplary response to Covid-19 as a model for other countries to follow.
While we achieved more than 108 million in reach through our communications efforts, what makes me most proud is that we played a critical role in people’s lives through a period of extreme uncertainty.
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