We speak to Felicity Hudson, Head of Reputation Management, Discovery

  • The reputation of a person or business is priceless.  Since joining Discovery 5 years ago in the strategic role as Head of Reputation Management, please share with us some of the exciting milestones and memorable challenges you have experienced.

Discovery is a truly entrepreneurial environment, and because the business moves so quickly five years have flown by.  When I first joined, I would hear the word “launch” ripple through the marketing department, and it took me a while to comprehend its significance but I soon came to understand that it represented an incredible driving force that is embedded into the company’s DNA, alongside the clear values and purpose. A commitment to innovate, to bring new products to market regularly every year. It’s this deep-rooted drive for continuous improvement which has shaped many exciting moments for us as a communication team. We’ve used London as a platform to make ambitious announcements – targeting an increase in activity levels amongst 100 million people over the next few years, and revealing the economic impact of exercise, to support Vitality’s international growth. We’ve celebrated 25 years of Discovery, changed the face of behaviour linked incentives in announcing Active Rewards with Apple Watch and creatively launched new exciting ambassador partnerships, taking over the streets of Sandton for a sprint with Wayde van Niekerk and surprising Caster Semenya at our building with the Soweto Gospel Choir. Some of the most memorable moments are often in the day to day interactions though, seeing how we’re able to positively influence people’s lives, and in striving to convey our genuine intention to deliver shared value and exceptional service to clients.       

  • One of the most important tools in combatting the COVID-19 pandemic has been clear, transparent communication. As Head of Reputation Management for Discovery, please comment on this and give us some idea of how you see your role and the initiatives you have undertaken, particularly during this time.

I’ve been grateful to be part of the Discovery family over the past months, for many reasons, but chief among them, the humility of our leadership and commitment to respond to this crisis with relevance and compassion. This of course contributes enormously to our ability to communicate quickly and authentically. With the news focus shifting daily, we have an important role to play in providing accurate and informative content. While our main focus is on inspiring positive action through our communications, we also constantly invest in correcting mistruths and misperceptions. I was thrilled to see the government introducing tangible measures to deal with the spread of fake news at such an important time. I hope we’ll see a rise in appreciation for credible news platforms through all of this, alongside the innovation and use of digital media. As a simple example of leveraging digital platforms to effectively share expertise, we created a frequent webinar for doctors. It is has worked brilliantly, connecting thousands of healthcare professionals on the front line to experts in the country and abroad who share insights and clinical updates as they evolve. 

  • Social isolation and lockdown are key to containing the spread of the virus. Discovery and Vodacom have partnered to provide #OnlineDoctorConsultations to all South Africans, leveraging network and technology platforms of both entities. Please speak about this initiative.

Telemedicine has been central to the fight against Covid-19 in many countries, and with the aim of minimising the risk of exposure for patients and doctors, the online doctor consultation platform gives anyone access to a doctor without needing to travel to a doctor’s rooms. It’s a simple but important intervention, as it reduces contact and potential exposure. Discovery has been investing for several years in its DrConnect platform to enable remote, convenient interaction with healthcare professionals, and this has been opened up to the whole country during the pandemic. And to make it free for anyone to use, Vodacom and Discovery have collectively contributed R20 million to pay the doctors for their time. It’s a unique contribution which we hope plays a tangible role in the country’s response to the virus. 

  • Now more than ever people the world over are looking for inspiration. Discovery has some amazing Vitality Ambassadors like Caster Semenya and Wayde van Niekerk. How important do you think this is and what role do you see them playing currently and post-COVID-19?

Our ambassadors play a key role at a time like this, because people admire them, they are in a unique position to educate and spread positive messages. While sports audiences may have gone down, sports remains one of the few platforms able to reach a massive audience in a fragmented entertainment market. Athletes have more direct access to audiences than ever before, which they can use to build their personal brand — making them even more valuable for securing commercial revenue sources beyond their regular salaries. Brand ambassadors and influencers are likely to maintain their powerful ability to connect with audiences, to inspire and uplift individuals, as we navigate the Covid-19 pandemic. 

  • Please give 3 tips for successful communication.

Understand your audience (and know what they’re looking to hear), crystallise and simplify your message, time it well. All three couldn’t be more relevant than during a global pandemic. 

  • How do you relax?

I’m a keen equestrian, and religious about riding three to four times a week. It’s a complete escape. On weekends I’m either competing or going on a long outride through the dusty roads of SunValley in Kyalami, with the chance to enjoy a view that stretches across Johannesburg. 

  • What are you reading?

I enjoy novels with historic relevance and I’ve just started ‘If Not Now, when?’ by Primo Levi. Based on the true story of Russian, Polish and Jewish partisans trapped behind enemy lines during the Second World War. 

  • If you had an extra hour in the day, how would you spend it?

Exercising. One of the best things about working for an organisation that is naturally geared to improve people’s health, is that it translates into an active healthy way of life, especially at work, with movement built into the design of the building and tasty healthy meals I could grab on the go. But pre-Covid I would still find it difficult to dedicate time for cardio and stretching – both crucial to one’s mental wellbeing, as Vitality has tried to show during this stay at home period. Without the commute, in this new world, it is easy to google an online aerobics class or join the pilates classes my sister-in-law is now giving from London and I’m hoping to stick to the routine. “

Discovery is a shared value insurance company whose purpose and ambition are achieved through a pioneering business model that incentivises people to be healthier, and enhances and protects their lives. The shared value insurance model delivers better health and value for clients, superior actuarial dynamics for the insurer, and a healthier society. This unique approach has underpinned Discovery’s success globally, with substantial new business growth and an impressive increase in normalised operating profit and headline earnings.

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