Summary: 2014 Best Practices in Healthcare Media Relations

By Simon Ogus and Molly Pappas, Media Relations Specialists (Washington, DC and Boston)

Over the past few decades, healthcare has been one of the most hot-button topics in the United States, but not more so than since the signing of the Affordable Care Act into law in March of 2010. With the passing of this law, there has been a dramatic increase in discussions about a wide range of health-related topics.

As the public attempts to absorb the enormous volume of information available, from both a personal interest standpoint as well as an educational one, more and more organizations are turning to media outlets to tell their story.  Especially as media continue to be a top resource used by the general public to learn more and determine which side of the debates their beliefs fall.

As organizations and consumers heavily rely upon today’s news coverage, communications professionals face interesting challenges.

With more news than ever being created to share, it is more and more important for today’s PR professionals to learn how to write, and distribute news of interest to reporters and their readers.

With this in mind, BusinessWire Media Relations Specialists Molly Pappas and Simon Ogus presented the HealthWire Webinar featuring three reporters and communicators who talked about their daily lives as healthcare reporters and shared  top tips on how public relations professionals can build stronger, more beneficial relations with today’s media outlets.

On the panel were:

  • Tina Reed, HealthCare Reporter for the Washington Business Journal
  • Jacqueline Fellows, Editor Health Leaders Media
  • Kerting Baldwin, Director of Corporate Communications for Memorial Health Care System

During the hour-long webinar many topics were covered, including what makes a healthcare story interesting to cover, the best way to pitch and the best things to include in a pitch to reporters.  Additional topics included the current status of healthcare reporters in regards to the AHCA and the biggest challenges in grappling with these complex healthcare issues and communicating them to the public.

On the communications side, Ms. Baldwin also provided examples of what Memorial Health Care System is doing to engage reporters on current health care events, such as utilizing “viral” events like LeBron James experiencing thigh cramps in the NBA Finals to promote their health campaigns in engaging and unique ways. The initiative was to try and prevent cramping and other preventable injuries among the youth in the Miami region, which normally isn’t the most exciting topic to read about it. But Ms. Baldwin’s successful attempt to angle a topic with a popular NBA superstar like LeBron James in a real-life application gave the initiative life that had to be quickly capitalized on after James’ injury in the NBA Finals. It was a strong example of pouncing when mainstream news event happens around a topic you are looking to pitch.

The discussion began with what makes a healthcare story interesting to cover. The answers were wide ranging, but the overt message was to give reporters a story that can not only captivate an audience, but that is useful to both core, and secondary audiences. The reporters discussed how they often times receive stories that are just not that interesting, and sometimes some pitches are interesting but the angle doesn’t show how the story would be relevant to a big enough audience to warrant moving forward with a story.

One good rule of  thumb provided was to read the release as if you were the reader of this story. Does it interest you? Does it make you stop and read the story in the publication you are perusing? If the answer is not a resounding yes, then it puts the reporter in a tough position to justify putting in the time and effort into completing a story that could not be well received by an audience.

The talk then diverted into a discussion on the Affordable Care Act and how reporters view reporting on the topic and if it is still relevant in the minds of the public even though it has been reported on extensively over the past months and years. The reporters said that the topic is still relevant, but must be approached from a fresh viewpoint or include a real-life application so that the readers can instantly see how it affects them in their day-to-day lives. The general consensus was that even after all the coverage the topic has received, there is always space for a story pitched in a creative way with a real-life application.

Next the panelists discussed the challenges of often times receiving slanted or outright purposeful misinformation from a PR professional, and the panel admitted it is just part of healthcare reporting. There are many varying viewpoints out there, so it is important for communicators and PR professionals  evaluate all data thoroughly to ensure that misleading information isn’t disseminated to the public that could be harmful to their health or personal lives. The panelists agreed that sending supporting documents is helpful in supporting healthcare claims.

As we wrapped up, we asked the panelists where they discovered new story ideas.  Every panelist still saw strong value in the newswire as well as on social media. While social media is a bit more challenging due to the day-to-day clutter and “noise,” all three panelists said they are active on social media and use it to communicate with industry professionals.

The interactive webinar included a wide variety of questions on the minds of healthcare public relations professionals.  While the central focus of the webinar was on healthcare issues, many of the techniques and advice that the reporters shared can also be utilized in other realms of the public relations world.

The full audio can be found at this link:

https://www1.gotomeeting.com/register/128704633

Do you have a Webinar topic that would benefit you? Feel free to reach out to Simon Ogus (simon.ogus@businesswire) and/or Molly Pappas (molly.pappas@businesswire.com) and we would be happy to incorporate it in a future Business Wire webinar.

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