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How gun violence sparked a health system's brand purpose

A woman holds an American flag while looking at the Capitol building. In this op-ed, Terry Lynam explains how Michael Dowling's gun violence stance sparked Norhtwell Health's movement marketing initiative with StrawberryFrog.

Michael Dowling's stance on gun violence is the perfect example of how health care organizations can be change agents

PR professionals often cringe at the jargon of our marketing colleagues. "Brand purpose" was one such term that initially struck me as stilted. But then I had an epiphany after the most-recent spree of mass shootings plaguing the country.

It came while I was listening to a presentation about "movement marketing" by Scott Goodson, the founder of Northwell Health’s new movement, branding, advertising and transformation company StrawberryFrog. Organizations that advocate for a movement can become culturally relevant beyond their own industry, Mr. Goodson says.

When I first heard him speak on the topic, Northwell Health had just started a campaign supporting our CEO’s conviction that gun violence is a public health crisis directly affecting us as a health care institution.

The idea was simple; convince other health care executives to raise their voices — and the power of a $3.5 trillion industry — nationally to lobby for common-sense gun legislation. The idea grew from personal letters into a full-blown initiative encompassing op-eds, media interviews and advertising.

The campaign struck a positive chord with the vast majority of our constituents and the news and social media amplified the story. Shortly afterward, 145 CEOs from varied industries including retail, technology, financial services — most with less of a direct tie to gun violence than health care providers — signed a letter urging the Senate to pass gun control legislation.

That letter, along with a proclamation in mid-August from 181 CEOs on the Business Roundtable, sparked a conversation and movement within the C-Suite around "the purpose of a corporation" and communications pros are invariably being asked to weigh in.

Taking an aggressive stand against gun violence is not only a worthwhile endeavor, but also consistent with our mission to improve the health of communities.

Health care organizations need to be change agents, especially when it comes to issues affecting public health.

This op-ed appeared in PR Week.

Terry Lynam is senior vice president and chief public relations officer at Northwell Health. He was recently ranked No. 39 in PRWeek's Health Influencer 50.

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