How do we solve Radiotherapy’s PR problem, do we urgently need a recognisable ‘Brand’? If we were Nike, we would “Just Do It”! 1


What is a brand?

“The term brand refers to a business and marketing concept that helps people identify a particular company, product, service or individual. Brands are intangible, which means you can’t actually touch or see them. As such, they help shape people’s perceptions of companies, their products, services or individuals. Brands often use identifying markers to help create brand identities within the marketplace”- quote courtesy of Investopedia.

For instance, famous brands such as Levi’s, Nike and Starbucks have very well known, instantly recognisable logos but the brand is ethereal. Levi’s is not a ‘pair of Jeans’, it is promise of quality, style, fit and durability. Some brands do ‘cross the line’ where for example Coca-Cola is a world-wide brand and also a great product.

Pic: World famous Levi’s logo

People often confuse brands with corporate logos, slogans, or other recognizable trademarks, which are essentially marketing tools that help promote goods and services. Brands are vitally important, valuable assets and can be protected by registering trademarks. Brands can be created for companies, products and services including healthcare like our field of radiotherapy.

Branding really means ‘marking by burning’ and is believed to have begun with the ancient Egyptians, who were known to have engaged in branding livestock as early as 2,700 BC so that they knew who owned them individually. The meaning is much the same today.

And so now we know what a brand is technically speaking, what are the top 10 brands in the world today, I’m sure you will recognise them all!

The Top 10 world-wide brands by value are:

Apple

Amazon

Microsoft

Google

Samsung

CocaCola

Toyota

Mercedes-Benz

McDonalds

Disney

How do we create a Brand?

Brand ‘identity’ is important and a logo is often accompanied by a message, slogan, or product. The goal is to make the brand as memorable as possible.

A successful brand accurately portrays the message or feeling the company or organisation wants to get across. This results in ‘brand awareness’ or the recognition of the brand’s reality and what it offers. ‘Brand equity’ is when the brand becomes instantly recognisable like Coca-Cola, Apple and all the others listed above.

A good brand creates trust in the consumer and after having a good experience with one product, the consumer is more likely to try another product related to the same brand or tell their friends and contacts all about it. This referred to as ‘brand loyalty’ and we will come to how that might affect us in radiotherapy later in the blog.

What are the benefits of brands?

An ‘organisation’ that can get its message across is able to induce emotion within its customer base or patients and other health care professionals as in our case like GP’s for instance. Consumers develop unique relationships with brands allowing the organisation to capitalize on their loyalty with added positive PR! Happy customers help draw in others. This helps organisations build trust and credibility externally and importantly, internally within radiotherapy.

We need to start to use consistent messaging, nomenclature and accurate acronyms such as therapeutic radiographer, radiotherapy, MR Linac, Proton Beam Therapy or PBT, SABR etc and not vary from these terms within our ‘organisation’ of radiotherapy and certainly not when communicating with the outside world.

Pic: A state of the art, precision radiotherapy unit, the Elekta Unity MR Linac

After all, people are more likely to remember products and services or brands from those they know and trust. Keeping brands in the minds of consumers means higher profits for commercial companies and enhanced PR for ‘brand radiotherapy’ based organisations with raised patient/health care professional recognition.

It also helps organisations introduce new products and services, this in our case would be MR Linacs, Proton Beam Therapy, SABR and Flash RT for instance and help establish these new technologies with regards to their effectiveness and higher precision in the mindsets of the UK population.

Radiotherapy PR issues

We have all been there when we tell people what we do for a living. ‘I work in Radiotherapy’ I said when I was studying and then qualified as a therapeutic radiographer in the early eighties and the reply was usually ‘is that radium treatment’? I had hoped that people’s perception of radiotherapy had radically changed since those days but after reviewing the recent ICR survey, I’m not so sure!

Only 8% of people surveyed see radiotherapy as ‘cutting edge’

So how do we solve Radiotherapy’s PR problem?

With the ICR announcing that ‘advanced radiotherapy must play central role’ in clearing Covid’s cancer backlog’ and that sadly only 8% of people surveyed consider radiotherapy cutting edge despite key technological advantages with such as MR Linacs and SABR among others. The Institute of Cancer Research (ICR) surveyed 2,216 people from the general population and 505 cancer patients to help shape recommendations for improving access to radiotherapy.

Only 8 per cent of respondents from the general population considered radiotherapy to be cutting edge – compared with 50 per cent for targeted drugs, 43 per cent for immunotherapy and 58 per cent for Proton Beam Therapy. PR seems to working better for PBT but that is likely to be somewhat due to its successful recent launch in the private sector and the somewhat negative press with patients, especially children travelling to eastern Europe or the US for this treatment that makes headlines in national media channels.

It was also reported that many other people surveyed were ‘sceptical’ about the efficacy of radiotherapy.

That perception of radiotherapy as old-fashioned or ineffective, hazardous and with high morbidity means few people think it should be an area of focus for the NHS – only 12 per cent of survey respondents thought it should be prioritised for any funding!

So what can we do right now to solve radiotherapy’s PR problem? We ran a quick YouRad survey at RadPro and it seems that some form of branding might well work while all our questions had some positive replies!

You can read the ICR article mentioned above here: https://www.icr.ac.uk/news-archive/advanced-radiotherapy-must-play-central-role-in-clearing-covid-s-cancer-backlog

While our YouRad survey asked our readers:

‘Aside from a new policy of enhanced funding for the latest precision equipment and staffing strategies that are fairly medium-term projects what short term solutions would help our PR cause’?

Employ a leading UK PR and communication agency

Employ a strategic marketing company to promote the ‘radiotherapy brand’

Use existing cancer-based charities for our messaging

Enhanced lobbying of UK Government

I believe that points 3 and 4 are being well covered, the #CatchUpWithCancer campaign and the APPGRT (The APPGRT aims to be the voice in Parliament of cancer patients, their families and of those who work within the radiotherapy field) are certainly representing radiotherapy at Westminster and in the national media while leading cancer charities have powerful profiles and loud voices but items 1 and 2 might be worth exploring further but would be expensive.

Brand ‘radiotherapy’

I have created brands and start-up companies during my 40-year career working in radiotherapy both clinically and in the corporate world and so I thought I would explore some of the reasons why we might have issues with PR and so where should we start?

I decided to look up ‘Radiotherapy’ synonyms on Google and came up with all these ‘words’ that can be used to describe what we do:

Radiation

Radiation therapy

Irradiation

Actinotherapy (I have never heard of that before!)

Radiotherapeutics

Radium therapy

X-ray therapy

Radiation treatment

Cancer treatment

You can add to these some more contemporary names like Radiation Oncology, Clinical Oncology and Oncotherapy, while there are even more if you care to look!

And what about some of us, the people who are trained to deliver this ‘polyonymous’ treatment (meaning something with multiple names to describe it), you can add to the title Radiographer: Therapy Radiographer, Therapeutic Radiographer ( the one we should all use) , Radiation Therapist, Radiation Technologist and Radiotherapist to the list of names that I see used both the UK and overseas including some recent UK based job adverts, while many patients still refer to us as nurses.

What about the major organisations in our field, what do they say and how do they refer to our profession and sector? Let’s take a look:

ESTRO’s new vision statement for 2030. ‘Radiation Oncology – Optimal Health for All, Together’

“Radiation Oncology – Optimal Health for All, Together – emphasizes the ambition of the Society to further reinforce radiation oncology as core partner in multidisciplinary cancer care and to guarantee accessible and high-value radiation therapy for all cancer patients who need it”. https://www.estro.org/About

However, by way of contradiction the ESTRO acronym actually stands for ‘The European SocieTy for Radiotherapy and Oncology’.

ASTRO -American Society for Radiation Oncology – mission statement

“ASTRO is the premier radiation oncology society in the world, with more than 10,000 members who are physicians, nurses, biologists, physicists, radiation therapists, dosimetrists and other health care professionals who specialize in treating patients with radiation therapies. These medical professionals, found at hospitals, cancer treatment centers and academic research facilities around the globe, make up the radiation therapy treatment teams that are critical in the fight against cancer”. www.astro.org

ASRT – American Society of Radiologic Technologists

“The mission of the American Society of Radiologic Technologists is to advance and elevate the medical imaging and radiation therapy profession and to enhance the quality and safety of patient care”. https://www.asrt.org/

SoR – The Society of Radiographers

“For over 100 years, The Society of Radiographers (SoR) has advocated for radiography professionals at the heart of patient care.

Founded in 1920, the Society of Radiographers is one of the oldest and most experienced radiography organisations in the world.

As a trade union and UK professional body for the diagnostic imaging and radiotherapy workforce, with our members, we shape policy and standards, pioneer new ways of working, and ensure safe and fair workplaces.

We are the only organisation that truly represents the interests of you and your colleagues. Membership is open to anyone working in clinical imaging, radiotherapy and oncology”. www.SoR.org

No wonder the general public are sceptical

So plenty of mixed messaging and terminology is used as shown above, some in line with current terminology and some not. If you add to this the historical poor publicity whereby radiotherapy colloquially is sometimes seen as hazardous leading to in laymen’s terms ‘burns’ or ‘it makes your hair fall out’, it makes you feel ‘sick and tired’, it takes many weeks of disruption to your life to complete a course and it may not even work, then I can start to perhaps see why the public don’t support funding or better understand the huge advances we have made.

So how does a brand work, firstly it should reflect the core values of radiotherapy

We need to ask what do we want to communicate to the outside world with a compelling USP, that is unique selling point (or proposition) for radiotherapy! Why not let me have your USP for radiotherapy, my contact details are at the end.

Once we have created and placed our brand at the heart of all of our communications it starts to inform our ‘customers’ of our values and what our radiotherapy services promise. The brand should be right at the centre of all our future marketing and PR work.

Establish brand guidelines

These guidelines should set out how the radiotherapy image can be played out through marketing materials, social media, press and any other outside agencies and should be followed closely by everybody involved in marketing radiotherapy to the outside world.

Branding in healthcare is a fairly new concept.

Like all other businesses, medical companies or sectors are catering to customers – their patients and so good branding is essential to healthcare messaging.

Create trust – Trust is important in any relationship, particularly a customer-supplier relationship. They need to know it’s safe and it works. This is even truer in healthcare. Healthcare steps in when consumers are at their most vulnerable, so establishing trust and reliability is essential.

Good branding – This can create added trust by demonstrating to patients, the general public, GP’s etc that the branded company/product does fulfil its promises. Giving customers a better understanding of what they are buying into and how it will work helps maximize their trust.

Use Logos – A good logo can go a long way in building a relationship and ensure the brand is recognised positively, but we must maximize the recognition once this has been done. Having a logo or a slogan that people can identify with is one of the best ways to do this.

Consistency – We discussed this above, there is inconsistency in how radiotherapy is presented to the outside world and also between organisations directly involved, the name of the ‘product’ varies as do the professions involved in delivering it among many other variations and mixed messaging.

Branding also helps ensure that everyone involved WITHIN radiotherapy is on the same page, so it works to streamline identity. Brand radiotherapy should identify a clear message that we wish to offer to customers – our patients, GP’s and all other healthcare professionals involved in treating and supporting cancer patients.

Differentiate – Being distinctive and memorable can be challenging today, so if we have something special make sure everybody knows about how good it is but try to keep it simple.

Branding in healthcare has become essential in today’s competitive market. Customers expect excellent experiences, and if they are dissatisfied, they are very likely to leave negative reviews. Creating a good, trustworthy, distinctive, and reliable brand is essential for healthcare providers to survive in today’s social media driven world.

One area in our sector where branding is critical is in the provision of private radiotherapy.

The private sector is somewhere we should look to for branding input, this may seem counter-intuitive as the NHS is where the majority of our radiotherapy is delivered but without a brand these companies would not attract their ‘customers’ and unhappy customers will simply go elsewhere as will the families, friends and other people they interact with. With social media now at the forefront of modern communication and as discussed above, companies can live or die by how they are viewed on this medium alone.

Is was not that long ago that the private sector in radiotherapy was considered by many to be the ‘dark-side’ and a line that staff shouldn’t cross! In my early days of the 80’s, private radiotherapy in London was simply something the same but delivered at the start or the end of the day when the consultant ‘radiotherapist’ (now clinical oncologist) would be around to see their ‘PPs’ who would not have to slum it with other patients.

This is very much no longer the case with this sector partly driving the modernisation of radiotherapy services in the UK with brand new Proton Beam Therapy systems, MR Linac and other state of the art delivery systems and diagnostic services now common place with a definite focus on promoting ‘precision radiotherapy’.

For example, Rutherford Health state: ‘Rutherford’s Proton Beam Therapy facilities across the UK can play an important role in addressing the cancer backlog created by the pandemic and improve patient outcomes for those at greater risk due to delayed treatment or diagnosis’

https://www.rutherfordhealth.com/article/news/uk-makes-major-breakthrough-in-cancer-treatment-with-proton-beam-therapy-provision

Around 15 years ago, Cancer Partners UK was founded and based around a model of brand new, one Linac only centres with strategic sites built around the UK. This business was bought by GenesisCare who have expanded the number of centres to 14 now with the addition of MR Linacs at 2 sites.

GenesisCare state that ‘We are the UK’s leading private provider of advanced radiotherapy and cancer care. We offer fast access to the latest technology and treatments that has been proven to make a difference. We offer world-class cancer care and work with leading cancer experts and healthcare teams to deliver better ways to improve life outcomes for our patients’

https://www.genesiscare.com/uk/what-we-offer/

I should add that there are other private radiotherapy providers such as HCA, The London Clinic and Aspen Healthcare operating in the UK.

Pic: A Proton Beam Therapy installation at Rutherford Cancer Centres.

The professional branding of private radiotherapy services provides pro-active solutions to PR for radiotherapy overall and certainly generates positive awareness among potential patients and the general public that we must partner with if our message is to be heard clearly.

Mike Moran, the CEO of Rutherford Health PLC tweeted this recently to RadPro on twitter:

‘There is a huge role for the private sector in this (PR) conundrum. If you only get your thinking from public sector bodies then you may lose the opportunity for dynamic solutions. We @therutherford_c would love to help promote RT and PBT to generate more awareness’.

We also need to control the media!

Owned, paid and earned media offer several options for publishing our radiotherapy USP. Owned media is all the content that we manage. Because we have total control, it’s the easiest media to handle and the most important. Media that we pay for allows us to increase visibility and so we could employ a leading UK PR and communication agency and or a strategic marketing company to promote the ‘radiotherapy brand’, while earned media is used to increase conversation about our brand and is largely based on word of mouth and involves mentions, shares, like, reviews, retweets, recommendations, Google profile and PR status.

A PR strategy is essentially a roadmap that is flexible and takes you from our current situation to and end goal. It could be short-term or long-term and so we have to ask now “How does the public view our brand?” Poorly at present it seems!

We can’t fall into the trap of thinking that a PR strategy is merely how our brand is portrayed in the media. It includes, as already discussed communication within the radiotherapy community and all organisations and companies involved as well as the outside world! If we want to start somewhere then why not start at ‘home’.

A brand idea.

I thought I would have a go at a simple logo and message and create some ideas for ‘brand radiotherapy’ via a registered trade mark, it’s only my first effort and is shown below. We could register the word ‘radiotherapy’ and I thought that the new move towards ‘Precision’ Radiotherapy, ‘Faster’ hypo-fractionated treatments and the ‘Efficacy’ and safety of radiotherapy would create a short but hard-hitting message.

I would be very happy to be part of a ‘cross-party’ working group between private and NHS radiotherapy providers and cancer charities to establish ‘brand radiotherapy’ and create a realistic road map to change the public’s perception of our amazing medical sector. It would be good to get your thoughts and ideas on this to admin@RadPro.org.uk or on Twitter @RadProWebsite!

Duncan Hynd – A Therapeutic Radiographer’s life, a 40-year career in Radiotherapy – July ‘21 blog


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