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Matt Russell on Integrated Public Communications to Advance Integrated Health Care PDF Print E-mail
Written by John Weeks   

Matt Russell on Integrated Public Communications to Advance Integrated Health Care

Summary: Matt Russell has always held a unique niche in the public affairs work related to integrated health care. His resume includes work for Andrew Weil, MD, for former US Surgeon General Richard Carmona, MD, lobbying with diverse practitioner organizations (DC, DO, MD, ND, mental health, plus) as well as a role as founding executive director of the Integrated Healthcare Policy Consortium. Russell just celebrated the fifth year of the founding of his now international PR and ad agency, Russell Public Communications. The Integrator contacted Russell to see what free consulting we might glean in thinking about public relations for the movement to better integrate health care.
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Image
Matt Russell - integrated communications
A stranger who electronically stumbles into the website of Russell Public Communications will find an unusual page 
with an atypical list of what the firm honors. Included among statements which might be expected from a communications firm are:
  • We honor individual values, customs, personalities, and life experiences among staff and clients alike, and seek ways to have them meaningfully shape our work.
  • We honor the healing properties of music, meditation, and mindfulness.
  • We honor the peace of a desert sunrise, the freedom of a stroll on the beach, and the reward of a job well done.
  • We honor the principle of service, and gladly contribute our time, talents, and resources to support and enrich the communities in which we do business, and
  • We honor the important role that humor plays in life and in the workplace, and employ it regularly in our commerce.
Russell and I met back in 1999 when he was working with Andrew Weil, MD, Integrator advisor William Benda, MD and others associated with the Program in Integrative Medicine  (PIM) at the University of Arizona. Their goal was to create a national organization to push a policy agenda which would support the advance of integrative medicine. While Russell and I both strongly agreed about the need for such a national entity, we immediately tangled over some tactical and inclusion issues. Our process of getting through our differences created a lasting, deep relationship. We've had opportunities to work together many times since. And I am here to bear witness that Russell does regularly "employ humor in his commerce."

I thought I would check in with Matt at his Tucson business, recently renamed Russell Public Communications, for some free consulting from him for all of us on communicating what we wish to accomplish. Russell's client list recently has been more outside than inside the field. I thought the additional experience might also be useful to us. So I asked Russell to wrap his mind around how to advance integrated healthcare and integrative medicine in this moment, 2007. That interview follows.

Image First, some of the background that informs Russell's perspective. He's taken on communications work for Weil as well as former US Surgeon General Richard Carmona, MD. He helped a quiet campaign for PIM which won an "earmarked" federal grant. (These grants are known, to non-recipients, as "pork.") He's also managed the media campaign for the successful efforts of the California Naturopathic Doctors Association to gain licensing in their state. In 2001, his diverse background suited him for his role as the first executive director of the Integrated Healthcare Policy Consortium. Now, to mix it up, toss in extra values from a new partner and growing staff, a little work for hamburger chain Carls' Jr, a real estate firm, a couple supplement companies, an integrative cancer support center, numerous authors and a philanthropic campaign on behalf of the Nation of Rwanda ...


_____________________________

Integrator: So, Matt, if you were setting the public communications agenda for integrated health care, what would you recommend?

Russell: What's the agenda? We'd need to know more specifics. We'd need to know what the finish line looks like in the eyes of the client. What is it you want? How will we measure it in terms of the return on the investment? What does it mean to the client to have a successful campaign? So, is the finish line to change the face of health care. That's usually all that we in the integrated health care movement want ...

IntegratorOf course! And we've  pulled together nearly $5.00 to get the job done ...

Russell: We would do what we like to do with all our clients. We take them through what we call our 'lasting legacy' process. It's our way of getting the client to clarify what it is they really want to accomplish against the backdrop of the legacy they want to leave behind.

Integrator:  Let me see, I'd like to have hands-on health care of all kinds of primary care rather than the procedures of specialists established as actually primary in all healthcare training, education, research and policy  ... Maybe we need $7.50?

 

"You can make your case

economically, and push
for what you want as a
pocketbook issue.

"But to communicate value

the case has to come

from a human place."

Russell:  If it were my call, I would say that our effort would be toward leveling the playing field, to eliminate the sense of emotionally being on the top or needing to be on top. This need of stakeholders puts personal healthcare at risk. Our direction would be to work to fundamentally change the way all those in healthcare relate to each other and to build mutual respect among disciplines. How do we do this? That used to be the $64,000 question. Now it's a $2.5 million question.

Integrator:
  You say "emotionally" being on top. How about "economically"?


Russell: You can make the case economically, and push for what you want as a pocketbook issue. But to communicate value the case has to come from a human place. The case for integrated health care is a human story. You have to go from the human place. Yes, economics rules. But to go where we need to go people need to loosen their grip - not be so transfixed by economics. We work with clients a lot on this. We help to pry them loose from the way they think they want to do business and inspire them to do it a different way.

IntegratorOkay, so say a client walks in the door and says they have a budget to make a DVD that will promote their profession, their therapy, their cause or their their book ...

Russell:  Good communications like good health care is integrated. Marketing in the integrative medicine or integrated health care space is especially pluralistic. It is fundamentally different than marketing power tools or breakfast cereals. We typically try to get clients to take a big to step back. We honor that they think the DVD, or the ad on the back of Natural Health magazine, or the media tour, is the answer. We ask them to
 
"I particularly think
the multi-disciplinary
consortia can be a

major pivot point for
the whole dialogue.

"I believe these
organizations
are critical."


 
step back, get clear on what they want to accomplish and consider all of the different tools for how to get where they want to go. Is it a DVD, a print advertisement, a TV spot, an appearance on Oprah or Good Morning America, a satellite media tour, or is the money budgeted better spent on a grassroots organizing effort? Most times we find that a strategic integration of many tools produces the desired outcome. That is the wisdom - the beauty - of pluralism.

IntegratorYou've touched on one of my pet issues in marketing in this field. I have seen, especially in hospital-sponsored integrative clinics, tens of thousands of dollars spent on TV ads. I can't tell you how many times these health systems would have been better off spending that money on a full-time or part-time person whose job is devoted to community organizing - working to build a network of physicians who come to respect the services at the integrative clinic and routinely refer patients.

Russell:  This might be ironic coming from the CEO of a PR and ad agency, but huge dollars can be lost on ads. It can cost $100,000 to have a single ad run in a magazine such as Men's Health. We work with our clients to recommend the best ways to use that $100,000 to foster the legacy they wish to create. While this often results in some level of advertising, buying the ad and calling that effective marketing in and of itself is like reductive medicine. It's likely to miss the value of the whole system of communication that is available to advance the client's legacy.

IntegratorBack to the big picture. if the legacy is to - as you put it a minute ago - merely to change the face of health care, how key do you still think national  organizations are? I am thinking of groups like the Integrated Healthcare Policy Consortium (IHPC), or the Consortium of Academic Health Centers for Integrative Medicine, or the Academic Consortium for Complementary and Alternative Health Care. (ACCAHC).

Russell:  I continue to believe these organizations are critical. The conventional consortium (CAHCIM) is becoming a force in shifting mainstream academic medicine. But I particularly think that the multi-disciplinary consortia can be a major pivot point for the whole dialogue. If IHPC and the educational leaders in all of the CAM disciplines (ACCAHC) can work together, the movement can begin to have some real traction. Because it all gets back to forwarding the concept of pluralism. Pluralism is what makes health care work. It's also what makes marketing work. We celebrate it every day in what we do here.

Integrator:  Well, as a member of the IHPC steering committee and as the recently named interim executive director of ACCAHC I couldn't agree with you more. Thanks for your time, Matt, and good luck in your next five years. For those who want it, they can know that you are at

Disclosure
: As noted above, my relationship with Russell is deep and lengthy. I once fund-raised some support which allowed him to be hired as the first executive director of the IHPC. When I began the Integrator last spring, Matt contacted me out of the blue and said he wanted to help out. He was among the 2006 Integrator contributors.

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