How the BCA repositioned the chiropractic profession
The British Chiropractic Association’s efforts to educate the wider healthcare profession about the value and expertise of their members’ work won them the Professional Body of the Year award at the Memcom Awards 2022. Lisa King, Director of Communications and Marketing, outlines the keys to a successful rebranding campaign.
Though chiropractors go through an intensive four-year university training and regular Continuous Professional Development (CPD), over recent years the profession has had to tackle some ongoing myths and misconceptions.
The British Chiropractic Association (BCA) prides itself on speaking up for patient-centred and evidence based care and being the biggest representative body for chiropractors who share the same values. The wider chiropractic profession is expansive and diverse, encompassing conflicting views and opinions, some of which have the potential to tarnish the reputation of the whole profession.
The dedicated and conscientious members of the BCA have the ability and desire to support the NHS with Musculoskeletal (MSK) care, but there was no significant relationship between chiropractors and other healthcare providers, nor an established pathway for referrals. These issues prompted Lisa, along with former CEO Tom Mullarkey and fellow Director, Anne Barlow, to embark on a major strategic repositioning project in Spring 2021.
As part of the in-depth consultation, the healthcare membership body undertook a series of surveys and short polls with members as well as stakeholders from the healthcare landscape and other musculoskeletal professionals, such as sports therapists, osteopaths, and rehabilitation professionals.
Seeking guidance and insight from leading healthcare organisations such as the General Chiropractic Council, Royal College of Chiropractic and senior figures within the NHS on the current view of chiropractic care enabled the BCA to review the common misconceptions that many of these organisations held.
“After gathering a wealth of feedback, the team identified the key areas that we needed to focus on in order to create a succinct plan for the next 12 months. Previously we had found ourselves stuck because of ‘grey’ feedback we had received. Now we had to be clear about where we wanted to be and what, as a membership body, we wanted to stand for,” explains Lisa.
“In the past, we had gathered feedback from separate stakeholder groups such as members, or the health service. This time, presenting the results as a complete picture had a real impact. We chose to look at the feedback from an external perspective and think about how this would be received by other healthcare professionals; which was a real key to the success of the project.”
“We had a clear focus on the quality of care and standards members adhere to, which helped to place us on a higher ground to any counter arguments. We knew we had to be brave in what we wanted to say and how we wanted to be pictured. Tom Mullarkey’s leadership kept us all on track, with his laser focus on what was truly important to the organisation.”
Fight for clarity
“The feedback from GPs and MSK practitioners showed they had very little knowledge of who chiropractors are, what they do, their level of training, what they stand for,” explains Lisa.
The consultation also generated a statistic that Lisa found particularly enlightening. “Eight or nine out of 10 of the healthcare professionals we spoke to reported hearing positive feedback from their patients about chiropractic care, which is brilliant. However, within the same group, six out of 10 were saying they'd heard really worrying feedback from patients.
“This type of misconception is a real struggle for any brand, and challenges your message unless you take action. We needed to clearly position ourselves as a regulated, evidenced based and patient-centered healthcare organisation with members who match this view.”
“The consultation process also showed that mainstream healthcare professionals did not recognise the language used in the chiropractic world, creating a further barrier to a more productive relationship. Our advice to our members is to strip out the exclusive terminology, and always ask themselves: ‘what does that mean to anybody?’”
Similarly, the Association’s new vision and mission arising from the rebrand are focused on the concept of patient-centred care, a purpose shared across the healthcare sector.
“Our vision is for chiropractic to be integral to UK healthcare. Our mission is to be the home for chiropractors who put patients first.”
“Our vision is for chiropractic to be integral to UK healthcare. We want our members to be able to refer a patient back to a GP, and their letter be taken seriously - basic things like that make our members’ lives easier on a day-to-day basis. And to get there, our mission is to be the home for chiropractors who put patients first. What we managed to do with that phrase is create the commonality which you need in brand work. The messaging about putting the patient first really helps our members separate themselves from the others.”
Demonstrating the vision and mission
Once the BCA had clearly defined ‘this is what we actually are,’ the next step was to demonstrate that to stakeholders. Alongside new Strategic and Operating plans, the team launched a Patient Charter. “Put simply, our Patient Charter is a statement of principles and guidelines our BCA members strive to adhere to. The Charter also details what patients can expect, from receiving a care plan and having it explained to them, to regular reviews of that care by the chiropractor to make sure it’s working.
“Along with a specially-developed outreach toolkit, the charter also empowers members to conduct outreach in their local area, in parallel with the Association’s conversations on a national level, as to how members can help ease some of the enormous pressures on the healthcare system. Members can take the charter to their local GP or hospital, introduce themselves as a BCA chiropractor and explain: ‘we're the chiropractors who put patients first, and we sign up to this patient charter.'”
In one of the consultation sessions, a group of GPs gave insight into how chiropractors could network with local doctors. “We received a couple of really useful suggestions that were just brilliant in helping chiropractors become more integrated within the wider healthcare setting. One was to go and volunteer at the COVID vaccination or flu vaccination clinics. GPs have vaccination targets they are measured on, as well as quality framework (QOF) targets, which include broader health promotion activities, such as stopping smoking.
Having that insight and language for members to be able to go to GPs and say ‘I can help you with your QOF targets’ has been really helpful in building those relationships too. Giving our members the confidence to have these conversations is really important. There's a real energy around the membership at the moment, which is really nice.”
The Association’s PR work has also moved away from consumer-led pieces towards thought leadership, which better reflects the association’s personality and policies. “It’s new territory for us, putting our head above the parapet and saying, ‘This is what we think, this is what we believe in’ but it perfectly matches our new brand repositioning and what we stand for. We also believe it helps to give our members more confidence to speak on hard hitting health topics as well."
The BCA was conscious that this new approach and positioning, signalling a significant culture change away from focusing on numbers and trying to be all things to all people, would lead to changes in the membership.
Ultimately, the focus on patient-centred care helped to put the BCA in a much stronger position, and member numbers have increased. In the last quarter of 2022, new members were up by 30% compared to the same period of the previous year. Interest in participating in the association’s committees and activities has also increased, with members actively wanting to get involved.
It was clear that the message had been effective when many of the submissions for the association’s Excellence Awards made reference to the new mission and vision, aims and values. “We are so pleased that we've given members a language to stand on. This is a really serious platform that is transforming their experience day to day,” added Lisa.