Blog — The Snow Report

Reading an old profile in The New Yorker made me think about what Alice Waters can teach healthcare PR and marketing. Alice Waters, who today won the National Humanities Medal from President Obama, opened Chez Panisse in Berkeley, California in 1971, with the idea she and her partners would provide a dining experience like that of a dinner party at home, with generosity and attention to detail, and a commitment to seasonal, local and sustainable food sourcing. While all that might seem like a commonplace in today’s restaurant scene, the fact is unmistakable that Waters started a revolution against the bland, industrial food machine that held sway at that time.

But Water’s vision is larger than a great dining experience. As the article explains, “Her vision is rooted in the romantic Berkeley politics that she practiced before starting her restaurant, Chez Panisse, with a ten-thousand-dollar loan twenty-seven years ago. She believes in concentric circles of social responsibility, with the reformed carrot in the backyard garden insensibly improving the family around the dinner table, the reformed family around the dinner table insensibly improving the small neighborhood merchants they shop with, the reformed neighborhood merchants improving their city, and so right on, ever upward and outward, but with the reformed carrot always there, the unmoved (though crisply cooked) mover in the center.”

what Alice Waters can teach healthcare PR

Can you imagine people posing in front of the hospital they got care in?

What does this have to do with healthcare PR and marketing? Hospital and health plans are falling all over themselves to tell us how patient-oriented they are, how they want to hear from us, how they are committed to the whole patient and community. They are, in some cases, doing a good job of communicating. And in some cases, they are really trying to deliver. But spend time getting care for yourself or a loved one and one becomes painfully aware of the shortcomings of the system – its insensitivity to individual need, its rapacious appetite for fees, the nonexistent customer service, the often sketchy connection to the best available treatments, and yes, the appalling hospital food.

PR and marketing can aspire, but must not outrun the reality of what you are promoting. The gap is too large, and it undercuts both the message and genuine attempts to provide truly better healthcare.

What’s that? A hospital cannot be run like Chez Panisse? It would cost too much, you say? Looked at a hospital bill lately?



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