Guest Blog By Fred Bazzoli, Editor-in-Chief of Health Data Management
Companies tend to think of HIMSS in isolation, as a make-or-break event at which they need to make a big splash with attending media members. First of all, companies coming to HIMSS need to be realistic about the enormity of the event, the rush of events, the demands on media members’ time, and how the event really fits into their overall media relations plan.
First, the numbers. More than a thousand companies will come to HIMSS. There may be 200 members of the media there, and of those, only 30 or 40 may focus coverage specifically on healthcare IT. Last year, I’d estimate that we received invitations to meet with 200 companies. I myself had between 30 and 40 meetings, and my feeling is that many of these meetings are not productive. It’s not for lack of trying; there’s just too much going on for most reporters, who also are covering educational sessions, keynote sessions, and pre- and post-show hours meetings, and additionally writing stories up as quickly as possible for their web sites.
Sending repeated emails to writers and editors asking for meetings is not effective and may, in fact, be negatively perceived. Please do not call and ask if we’ve received your email, and would we like to meet. We’ve got your email, along with hundreds of others. A specific, intriguing, pointed email, detailing one good story that you have for a writer/editor, along with a follow-up email a couple weeks later, is most effective.
It is NOT wise to shop the same story (i.e. one client’s story) to multiple media outlets. If you are doing so, please be very clear with the media member that that’s what you’re doing, and that the media member should check with someone handling your marketing before pursuing the story. This is a very dangerous tactic — it’s better to have one story per media member to lessen the chance that multiple outlets will want the same story.
Know the publications that are in the healthcare IT space. They’re not all the same, and they pursue news differently. You may want to study the field and target three to five publications, and then do a fantastic job reaching out to and working with those media.
HIMSS should be a time to have a very focused, purposeful, “get to know” you meeting with the media member. Have one specific idea for an article, or have a client who has an interesting story to tell, and have the client be there and willing to talk very briefly, not at length. Think of this as an elevator speech to tell the high points of a story and why it is worth telling. Your goal should be to build a relationship with the editor or writer so that the story will be memorable and pursued AFTER HIMSS. Unless it is breaking news, it is unlikely to be covered at HIMSS.
Make any media meeting time as friendly as possible at HIMSS. Both company reps and the writer/editor probably just need a break time from the crazy pace of the event. This should be a time to build relationships that extend beyond HIMSS. What does the media member most need — story ideas? Subject matter experts for interviews? Or to write columns? Help identifying trends in your specific industry niche? YOU should work hard to find three to five action points that are needs for the media member; that will encourage the media member to do likewise. Your goal should be to build a long-term relationship that is friendly, helpful to both parties, and extends beyond HIMSS.
Do not use a generic sales pitch with a media member; do not assume that he knows what your product does or your company’s niche in the market. Don’t start out by saying, “So, what’s the buzz at HIMSS this year?” The writer probably is so overwhelmed, that he or she has no idea what the buzz is.
A word about press releases. Many companies feel compelled to release news at HIMSS. This happens to such a degree that, sadly, most news releases issued during HIMSS are hardly noticed in the email onslaught. Nor is it true that five releases issued during HIMSS are better than one. Your best bet is to manage your news release to occur before HIMSS (one to two weeks) make it as strong as possible, and be ready to discuss it at HIMSS, especially opportunities for follow-up or “second-day” coverage, if the outlet did not cover the release earlier.
Frankly, we are beginning to look at options for ways to have better discussions with companies in our market at times other than HIMSS. The conference is still a great time to meet, put a name with a face, and build helpful relationships. But because of heavy demands on both media and companies during the short span of the conference, we’re not sure that it’s the most effective way to effectively and productively cover the industry. We’ll be there, and glad to meet, but we’re looking at other ways of ensuring that we maximize our ability to cover the industry.