The PR Dilemma

Getting positive stories placed in your local media can be a great challenge for healthcare organizations. Sometimes it seems that negative stories find their way to the front page with little or no opportunity to respond while positive stories get buried on page three.

I had the opportunity to speak at the 2008 Kentucky Society of Hospital Public Relations and Marketing (KSHPRM) fall educational seminar last week. At the meeting, there was a fascinating presentation by Sarah Vos, Public Health Reporter for the Lexington Herald-Leader.

It’s interesting to watch the reporter get questions from the PR professionals. There was some real frustration amongst the group. That frustration is the result of a gap in communications between what health reporters need and what hospitals are providing.

Health reporters need something interesting and newsworthy to build stories. What they receive far too often are stories like “we got a new machine.”  It turns out reporters don’t like writing about new hardware!

The key element that our PR groups miss is that we’re making reporters work to find out if the items we’re proposing are newsworthy, work to assemble the story and work to make the story more than a blatant promotion for your institution. If it’s hard, they won’t do it.

A few pointers for finding success in getting your stories presented:

  1. Pitch the unique angle, not the facts of the story. If you’re opening a new service, why is it exciting?  How does it impact the lives of consumers in the community?  How does it change the patient experience?   What’s so unique about it?
  2. Make it topical rather than strictly a promotion for your organization.
  3. Introduce personal interest components.  Do you have patient examples?
  4. Make it easy!

On the other hand, one attendee admitted to working through their account executive for ad sales to get articles presented.  Not a textbook approach, but if it works for you…

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Ben Dillon

About Ben Dillon

Ben’s a big picture type of guy. He loves sharing new ideas in digital marketing, keeping a watchful eye on healthcare industry trends and seeing how it all intersects. A sought-after speaker, writer, blogger and current SHSMD board member, Ben’s an influential voice in healthcare marketing, helping organizations across the country embrace online strategies to engage health consumers. Combine his industry savvy with his background in software development and you can see why he’s also an important member of Geonetric’s software team, ensuring our content management system stays a step ahead of market needs. Ben holds a master’s degree in eBusiness and strategic management from the University of Iowa and a bachelor’s degree in computer engineering from the University of Michigan. When he’s not traveling and evangelizing, Ben enjoys cooking with his family and playing the Big House with the University of Michigan Alumni marching band.

5 thoughts on “The PR Dilemma

  1. There’s one other huge piece, Ben, that cannot be left out of the picture, and that’s that it’s critical to build relationships with the reporters BEFORE you want them to write a story. They’re going to take your calls/emails more readily if they know you, and they’re going to value you as a source if you help them find information and gain access to others in the community who they may need to talk to for a story…even if that story has nothing to do with the healthcare system. Those longer-term investments pay off huge in the long run. And with the mainstream media tightening budgets all the time, there are fewer and fewer reporters assigned solely to healthcare. It’s even more critical to build those relationships and rise above the clutter in the current media environment.

  2. No question! I had that as an assumption, but I shouldn’t assume. It’s an iterative process that involved understanding what the reporter needs from that relationship and what you can do to both help them and make them look good. If you’re doing the things that you should, then you gradually build trust that then translates in to that relationship.

    Even with a good relationship, you can’t just throw a bad story in front of that reporter and expect them to be enthusiastic.

    On the other hand, I knew a marketing manager who would routinely get news coverage of her press conferences by serving favorite foods of the camera men. There are lots of different angles to take on relationships!

  3. Nice post Ben. You bring up a frequent problem for PR pros: “Just because my boss/employer thinks this new machine is the best thing since sliced bread, journalists just don’t care.” Nearly every public relations practitioner out there has faced this dilemma and while finding a good “angle” certainly may help in many cases, for some stories, there may not be any quick fix.

    Journalists are called “gatekeepers” for a reason. They stand between you and your “real” audience and you must get past them if you want to use the medium they control. My suggestion: Traditional media readerships/viewerships are down while “new” media is going through the roof. Use new media such as community websites, blogs and the like to go around the gatekeepers and go directly to your new audience.

    For some free press release distribution options, check out “The Cheapskate’s Guide to PR” at http://www.danieldurazo.com.

    Best,

    Daniel Durazo

  4. Good thoughts, Daniel. It’s not that your new machine isn’t the best thing since sliced bread, but it is an area that most health journalists aren’t comfortable identifying the uniqueness and broader benefit of the technology.

    If we spend $1 million on a new machine, we want to show it off. We want to scream that we’re the only place in the region that has it. Unfortunately someone else probably has last year’s model or a competing model and it’s tough to determine if the difference matters in a journalistic way.

    Online channels do allow you to go direct with your message regardless of the media’s needs. However, in a direct channel, where the journalist doesn’t force an “angle” on the message, it is even more important that you understand and communicate clearly the benefits that you’re delivering. That need does not disappear if you’re writing the story yourself!

  5. Pingback: Can You Pitch PR By Email? « Geovoices: A Geonetric blog

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