Blue Cross and Blue Shield: Protecting the image of the 800-pound gorilla.
CHALLENGE: Morris was director of communications at Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Maine during the decade that managed care and rising heath care costs began to seriously impact the state. As the largest insurer in Maine, Blue Cross was a magnet for media inquiries, both informational and accusatory.
STRATEGY: As primary spokesperson for Blue Cross, Morris made sure that the message and delivery was consistent and worked for the good of the company, whether she or another company officer was interviewed. Tools used to ensure this were:
• A “higher ground” media strategy. Blue Cross was targeted by health care consumer groups who pulled no punches in delivering an anti-insurer message – and were not always scrupulous about fact checking. But as the leading insurer in Maine, Blue Cross could not afford to pick on the little guy. Morris made sure that all messages positioned the company as ethical and fair, and did not allow the company to stoop to responding in kind to the slanted attacks.
• Media coaching and talking points for the CEO and other internal industry experts. This ensured consistency of message and gave management confidence representing the company.
• A firm policy of developing trust with media representatives. Blue Cross officers were encouraged to treat media with honesty and respect.
• Layman’s language. Health care insurance – especially the new concept of managed care – was not an easy topic for the public to navigate. Morris made sure that all member materials included easy-to-understand language and a minimum of jargon.
• An “employees first” policy. Nothing reduces employee loyalty more than not being in the know. An employee who hears something about their company in the media before they hear it internally is ripe for dissatisfaction. Morris developed an electronic and bulletin board program that gave employees an early heads-up on media interviews - along with brief talking points - so they had the facts and the inside information to pass along to friends and families.
RESULTS: Public perception of Blue Cross as a respected community citizen and good value for health insurance increased more than 25% from 1995 to 1999.