By Stewart Gandolf
Chief Executive Officer
More Inside Tips, Dos and Don’ts to Reach Patients Through the Media
EDITOR’S NOTE: This is a follow up article to
Healthcare Publicity: The First Three Steps To Getting Free Press Coverage
Our previous article about medical publicity and public relations got you started with the first three steps to discovering short-term healthcare practice publicity opportunities.
Now that you’ve done your homework, you know newspapers, business publications, regional, ethnic, special interest publications, television, radio, and even online media in and around your practice. AND – you know what’s important to them. You have a few well-considered ideas for a creative and media-appealing “hook” that will be of interest to their readers and set you apart from competing ideas.
Because “free” publicity is not the same as “easy,” here are 19 key ideas – what to do and what not to do – to capture the media’s attention with your interesting angle and inspire media coverage that helps your practice.
Match your story to the right reporter, the right media, and in the right way.
Refine and practice first. Be sure you have a compelling, interesting and newsworthy story idea that will be of value (and interest) to the reporter. Create appropriate support materials to help grab attention, highlight the core idea, sell the idea and aid the reporter if they run with the idea.
First pitch by phone. To break through the clutter, it sometimes makes sense to pitch your story idea by phone first. But be prepared to follow-up promptly with materials if they express an interest. HINT: Don’t mistake a green-light here as approval of anything – except willingness for the media to look more closely at your release, fact sheet and/or photo. Send immediately.
Use a standard News Release format. Be concise, accurate, simple and clear. Use the standard Who, What, Where, When, Why and How format. Include contact name, phone, etc. at the top. Be brief, but interesting, with the most important information right up front.
Grab attention from the first sentence. In your phone pitch, and in your news release, put the big idea up front. You’ve got one, maybe two sentences to get to the point.
Remain flexible. Sometimes the idea you pitch comes back from the media with some variation, twist or slightly different angle. Now that you know the reporter’s specific needs or interest, you may be able to tie into their idea. If there is still common ground – and don’t try to fake it – work with their direction.
A good story beats a fancy press kit. Focus on clearly communicating your story idea (the “hook”). Any materials that you send should be neat and easy to read, but the media will not take notice of an elaborate or fancy press kit. Worse, if the package is distracting or makes it too hard to find your idea, it’s dead on arrival.
Use the media’s communications channel of choice. For many reasons, electronic or digital format emails are usually the media’s choice for submitted materials. However, ask first and always use what the media prefers.
Follow-up faithfully, but not annoyingly. Make personal contact, stay in touch, but don’t be an annoyance. If they’re interested, they’ll call you.
Take care with controversy. The media likes the push-and-shove of a contentious issue. If your idea or “hook” is controversial – or could be controversial – use caution. The media may inspire a debate. Some reporters or media outlets have a reputation for finding a “negative spin” or even turning hostile. That said, controversy can often be the crucial element that gets the media to pay attention to your ideas at all.
Understand rejection. Be prepared for “no sale.” Sometimes even good ideas don’t make it. The media doesn’t buy everything that crosses their desk. Don’t be discouraged. Try again another time, with another media, with another idea.
There are some sure-fire ways to fail at Free Publicity, so let’s wrap with a few of the common (potentially fatal) mistakes to avoid.
- Assume the media cares about you. Friendly, yes. Helpful, maybe. Caring about you, your objectives, or your needs…Nope! The media doesn’t care about helping you. Somebody always wants something from them. They care about doing their job. – Skip the research and just call the editor. Or, let’s say you found a “sports” angle and pitch the idea to the Fashion editor. You’ll be lucky to get past the switchboard with a second call.
- Assume they will run anything you send. Probably 80% of what hits an editor’s In-Box moves instantly to the Big Round File. You’ve got a good second and a half to catch attention, so it better be interesting fast.
- You are also an advertiser. OK, maybe for advertisers you get a full two seconds, but
dull is still dead.
- Tell a reporter what and how to report. The news media is fiercely protective of its independence. You can provide information, but outsider observations and conclusions are unwelcome and likely insulting.
- Lie, exaggerate, strong-arm or heavy-duty spin. Reporters tend to be skeptical and questioning by nature, but expect a complete shut-down (maybe including other reporters and other media) if they feel they are being used or deliberately misled.
- Fake stuff. Do your homework and speak authoritatively about what you know. But if you don’t know; say so. If you need to find an answer; ask to get back to them. If you can’t answer; don’t. Second only to an out-right lie, making it up, guessing or just faking it destroys credibility sooner or later, and probably sooner.
- Call often and ask: “Did you get it.” Or “When will it be used?” Don’t ask. Even once is too often. At best, you’ll be seen as naive and you loose a professional-credibility stripe. But the hard work careful research that has gotten you this far may be lost if you ask at all.
BONUS IDEA – Aggressively use reprints: When you are successful and have an interesting and positive article that appears in print, get reprints or even clippings and circulate them widely for maximum mileage. Send a copy of the article to the attention of people who are important to your practice. Display them in the office. Reference them in speeches. Give to colleagues and referral sources. It’s entirely likely that the people you most want to see the publicity will appreciate the message if they get it directly from you.
Winning at the publicity game is challenging, including planning, public relations, advertising, promotion, strategic thinking and effective execution for practice development.