When I came to Reservoir Communications Group last year after a decade-and-a-half working in health policy people would often say “I heard you went to a PR firm.” While this is technically true I get the sense that some perceive it as a bigger jump than it actually was.
I can understand the disconnect: the stereotype is that policy wonks can go deep on the substance of an issue and are fluent in the arcane details of complex rules and regulations. But being so caught up in the details, they may struggle to connect with others or clearly convey their ideas.
On the other hand, communicators are often seen as creative and good with words but they may be stereotyped as fluffy, fast and loose with the facts, and knowing little about the complex topics they are talking about. In other words, the polar opposite of policy experts.
I actually came to Reservoir because the work here combines the best of policy and communications. My favorite aspects of policy have always been around explaining complex ideas and forming strong, persuasive arguments in favor or proposals that will improve patients’ lives and the health care system.
Reservoir specifically values deep knowledge of the health policy landscape to inform smart communications strategies – encompassing the best characteristics of both policy wonks and DC communicators. Far from moving to a substance-free communications zone, everyone at Reservoir is rooted in a deep knowledge of meaty issues like how society values innovation and balances affordability in health care or the public health challenges of vaccine hesitancy.
Drawing on my analytical policy background, I recently worked with colleagues to systematically research how people describe activities on the cusp of policy and communications so we could better articulate the work we actually do in this realm. Anyone who works in Washington knows how hard it is to explain to friends and family what you do all day, but it is important to be able to tell others in the health policy and communications space.
We found that the closest term that most people use to describe policy-rich communications work is “strategic communications.” But the term is broader and vaguer than we were seeking. Surprisingly, few people use the term “policy communications.” Maybe it goes back to perceptions about the gulf between policy and communications work or maybe there aren’t that many firms who truly work on this cusp.
Regardless, policy communications is the term I would use to describe much of the work I do at Reservoir. This is work that helps organizations engage in policy conversations, explain their positions, and improve our health care system. It may not fit the perceived mold but sometimes breaking the clichéd mold is exactly what is needed.
Find out more about policy communications at Reservoir here.