So You Want to Be in the Wall Street Journal...

So You Want to Be in the Wall Street Journal…

Most PR professionals have had this happen to them at one point or another. You’re in a meeting with top client/company executives, and to gain some insights into their thinking you ask them, “What would be a home run for the PR program?” The answer comes back, “A feature article in the Wall Street Journal” (WSJ) or some other national media outlet.

That’s great in a way. There’s nothing wrong with dreaming big. For most companies that aren’t already established industry giants, however, there’s more to getting into the national media that simply wishing upon a star – or listing it in a set of PR program objectives and telling your agency or internal staff you’ll be holding them accountable for it.

Remember the reason you’d like to be in one of those outlets is the prestige they will offer the company. Yet how much prestige would there be if they ran puff pieces on every company that wanted to get in there?

It’s the selectivity that makes them valuable. Appear in the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Washington Post, TV network news, highly rated cable outlets or other top-tier media outlets and you’re immediately deemed one of the select few who have proven worthy.

Of course, there is debate about how much value a placement there actually has to the business, as my colleague Marcia Rhodes points out. For many organizations, especially those that need sales now or have specific messages they want to get out, visibility in trade journals that reach a high percentage of your target audience will normally deliver much better (and more consistent) results. Fish where the fish are.

If the C-suite is insistent, however, here are a few things you’ll need to know.

An individual end user with a story is essential

Look at any WSJ story about a company and where does it start? With an individual’s story – preferably one of challenges.

The typical structure starts out saying that Joe Blow had problem; in healthcare, it could be uncontrolled diabetes, or a need to get blood thinner medication results checked out once a week even though he couldn’t drive, or something else that tells a human story we can all relate to.

Then it usually moves to some of the things the company’s user (a hospital, physician, health payer, etc.) tried without success before bringing on the company’s product or service.

So right away you need two things: a customer/client who will speak to the media about your products (which as we all know can already be tough to come by) PLUS one of their customers/clients who will share an interesting story. You will need to supply both when you pitch the story.

Can you get by without supplying that final end user? Maybe. But you don’t want to, because you’ll lose control of the story that person will tell.

I saw that happen once with a retail technology that helped companies ensure they could reward their highest performers by scheduling them to be on the sales floor at peak times. Sounds like a pretty upbeat story, doesn’t it?

The technology company didn’t want to push their retailer customer to supply an employee who was affected by technology, so the dogged reporter decided to find her own. The woman she discovered cared for her invalid mother at night, and the new whiz-bang technology that had been implemented had made that difficult by scheduling her for hours that she would normally provide care.

What should have been a positive story about innovation instead became a toxic story about the human cost of using technology blindly. The technology company got into the targeted media outlet, but they now wished they hadn’t.

The lesson here is that yes, the story needs that final person in the chain. Be prepared to supply him/her.

Tie to an industry – or national – trend

No matter how awesome your individual story may be, it’s going to need to tie in to a broader trend. Preferably something with an immediate news hook.

In the diabetes example the general rise in diabetes in the U.S., and the toll it is taking on healthcare costs or business productivity, is good. Especially if the figures come from a new report. A pharmaceutical company that just announced it is doubling the price of its diabetes medication is better.

It’s a question of newsworthiness. There are only so many reporters available, and so many hours in the day, to cover everything that happens on a national basis. If the hot news topics for national media involve politics, a plane crash, a major retailer shuttering its doors, etc. it’s going to be difficult to get them interested in your healthcare story right now.

But if there is a debate in the House or Senate about what should happen with the Affordable Care Act, or a report is issued that shows opioid use continued to be a leading cause of death in America, your pitch about something healthcare-related that offers a solution to the news item may look far more intriguing.

Be persistent – and patient

Walking the line between persistent and pest is always difficult. But it’s even more important when working with the national media.

It’s ok to check in briefly every month or two with a question about what the reporter is working on and if there is anything you can do to help. But no matter how much pressure your executives are putting on you, you never want to ask, “When are you going to do that story on our organization?” Any of my reporter colleagues here will tell you that’s a quick way to get on the “ignore” list.

The good news is when national reporters says they will file something away for later they often mean it. I’ve seen reporters come back a year or more after the original pitch to ask if that company executive is available for an interview in the next 12 hours (more on that in the next section).

Why did they wait so long? Because they knew there was value there, but needed something newsworthy to tie it to. That’s just the way it works.

What that also means is that the C-suite in the client/company will also need to be patient. Explain to them how things work, and assure them you’re doing all you can to make it happen. But if it does happen, it will happen on the media outlet’s timetable, not the company’s. That’s part of the price of admission.

Executives need to make themselves available immediately

Congratulations! You did all of the above and it finally paid off. You have your shot an article in the WSJ or other major media news outlet. Now there’s just one more step – getting your designated executive to drop everything he/she is doing to speak with the reporter or go on-camera.

The timing almost always isn’t optional, and most of the time it’s short notice. Most reporters working in national news have constant tight deadlines and short windows of opportunity to speak with company executives. If the executive can’t meet the timetable either the story is killed (if it was about your client/organization) or it proceeds without your client’s/organization’s input (if it’s a more general story).

Again, this is the price of admission. If the CEO is out to dinner with clients when the call from the WSJ comes, he/she can’t just pass on it until after dinner.

Instead, he/she should explain what it is and excuse him/herself (then read the room). Most executives will understand and wish the CEO luck with the call – and may even be impressed that the national media outlet is calling him/her.

I know of one CEO who didn’t follow that advice when a cable news network wanted to speak with him. He was busy and said he couldn’t take the call at that time. The second call never came.

The bottom line is these highly desired media outlets hold all the cards. If you want to be in them, being available when they call is essential.

Competitors may appear

National media outlets like to go from the individual level to the big picture, and demonstrate that the story is part of a larger trend. That includes what is happening with competitors, which means they may also appear in the article that’s supposed to be about your client/organization.

Be sure the client’s/company’s executives are prepared for that possibility should the opportunity for the story arise. They should view it as a victory, because of all the companies named in the story, theirs is the one that was featured.

More to the story

Obviously there is more to it than what’s listed here. Otherwise everyone would be doing it – and would be successful.

Look at what’s listed here as the essentials. Make sure you have them lined up first, and that everyone understands how the game is played. Then it’s time to dig in for the hard work ahead.

Health care or healthcare? Here's the answer you won't find in an AP stylebook

Health Care or Healthcare? Here’s the Answer You Won’t Find in an AP Stylebook

Marketing, advertising and PR professionals know that words matter. And many companies are tweaking their internal and external communications to better reflect their mission and values. That might mean talking about those who work for you as “team members” to better reflect a belief that all employees contribute to the success of an organization.

Similarly, many companies are shifting how they talk about their customers, using terms like “partners” instead. The message is that they’re committed to help companies succeed with support and advisory services, rather than just delivering a product in a box and walking away.

In the healthcare industry, we’re seeing a shift in how providers are talking about patients, too. They’re also rethinking how they talk about the services they deliver and the conditions they treat. And anyone who is marketing to or communicating with providers should understand why the following three word choices matter.

1. Healthcare versus health care

The difference between these two terms is about more than house style or personal preference. The term healthcare–one word–refers to an industry and the system of providers within it. But health care–two words–is about improving health and caring for people, especially when it comes to treating populations. The current trend toward population health is about making communities healthier by supporting preventive care and wellness. The goal is to provide health care–in order to keep people out of the healthcare system.

2. Patients versus people

Speaking of keeping people out of the healthcare system, marketers should use caution when using the word patient. Many healthcare organizations–especially those that are focused on population health and accountable and value-based care models–are rethinking this common noun. In fact, some healthcare organizations have asked their staff to avoid using it whenever possible and use phrases like “the woman in room 401” or “the people we care for at our hospital.” Of course, it’s not always possible. It wouldn’t make sense to use the phrase “people outcomes” instead of “patient outcomes,” for example. But when you’re communicating with healthcare leaders who are passionate about their mission, keep in mind that they do, indeed, view their patients as people first.

3. Disease states versus conditions

Another trend showing up in the language of health services is to avoid conflating patients with their conditions. You don’t say a person “is cancer.” So why would you say a person “is diabetic?” Just as people are much more than patients, they’re also more than their disease state. And no one wants to be defined by what makes their lives most difficult. These days, the preferred phrase is “a person with diabetes.”

These may seem like small distinctions to you. And, yes, the differences are sometimes subtle. But it’s still worth taking into consideration. Because the use of these words speaks to the value and mission of provider organizations, physicians, nurses–and others across non-clinical departments, too–who have dedicated their lives and their careers to caring for people. A small effort to speak their language is not only a sign of respect for that passion, but also demonstrates you are well-versed in the current thinking about health care.

Because, after all, words matter.

The HIMSS Networking Advice I Wish I Would Have Had Two Decades Ago

The HIMSS Networking Advice I Wish I Would Have Had Two Decades Ago

With HIMSS19 right around the corner, my team and I are excited about networking with current and prospective clients, reconnecting with old friends and colleagues, and facilitating meetings with the best healthcare and health IT media and analysts in the business.

Even though HIMSS is a few days long, sometimes it seems like there aren’t enough hours in each day to accomplish everything you need and want to get done. With about 20 HIMSS annual meetings under my belt, I’ve learned a few networking strategies along the way to get the most marketing ROI possible from the time we all invest.

Whether you’re taking part in HIMSS19 as a vendor/exhibitor or individual attendee, here are some tips to make the most of your HIMSS networking opportunities:

Face time

Even if you’re tired after a long day of meetings, be sure to take advantage of the many face-to-face networking events at HIMSS. Meeting with other health IT execs in a more informal setting is a great way to make personal connections—which in turn can become strong business relationships.

Pro tip: Find common ground and talk about something interesting or fun related to the show.

Pitch perfect

Whether you’re meeting contacts on the exhibit hall floor, in your company’s booth, or at a networking event, remember that there’s a fine line between promoting yourself and being overly self-promotional.

One way to talk about your organization is to come prepared with a well-honed elevator pitch. This is a two- to three-sentence description of your company that’s simple, easy to understand, and memorable. Don’t get bogged down in jargon and technical specs. Explain your product or service in laymen’s terms.

At our agency, every elevator pitch must pass the “Connie’s mother’s test.” In other words, if you explained your story to your friend’s mother or neighbor would they understand it? If not, you probably need to modify it.

If you’re an executive who’s meeting with media and analysts, that’s good advice for those situations, too. Talk to them just as you would anyone else you meet at the show. Be friendly, be yourself, and don’t be overly self-promotional. You want to position yourself as an industry thought leader, which means that sometimes the conversation will turn toward wider industry trends rather than specific solutions.

Pro tip: If you serve multiple client bases that use your products and services in different ways, come armed with an elevator pitch for each. They need not be completely different, but should speak to the pain points of the person you’re talking to.

The social network

Although you shouldn’t ignore social media platforms such as LinkedIn, Facebook and Instagram, you’ll likely get the most exposure by engaging with other attendees on Twitter. If you want to establish yourself as a thought leader, I suggest living tweeting from the show. A simple comment on what you learned about a session, or something interesting you saw or heard on the show floor makes for good fodder.

If you want to tweet but you’re on a tight schedule, one tactic is to retweet influencers such as the HIMSS Social Media Ambassadors and trade media with a heavy presence at the show. Also consider engaging with anyone who is effectively using the conference hashtag #HIMSS19, as well as any of the other official HIMSS19 hashtags such as #Aim2Innovate, #ChampionsOfHealth, #Connect2Health, #EmpowerHIT, #Engage4Health, #HITworks, #PopHealthIT and #WomenInHIT. (When you look at the conference hashtag feeds, be sure the list is sorted by “top” rather than “most recent” to filter out some of the noise.)

You should always be authentic, and it’s great to choose tweets that resonate with your own brand. But it’s okay to retweet something interesting or funny even if it isn’t 100 percent “on message.” In fact, many attendees scroll right by posts from vendors that only tweet their sales pitch and booth number. Of course, you should post links to your own blog posts, company announcements, events and promotions. But it’s always better to join a conversation rather than trying to dominate it.

You may want to also consider taking a team approach to your conference tweets. Platforms such as TweetDeck make it easy to post from multiple accounts at once, including your personal account and those of your team members as well as your official company account.  This is a great time to follow new influencers and to engage with them to get likes, retweets and (hopefully) new followers.

Pro tip: If you have a few extra moments, you can personalize a retweet by choosing “quote tweet” and adding a brief comment to make it stand out even more.

Go beyond the big show

Trade shows are a fantastic opportunity to connect with potential clients and business partners as well as analysts and the media, but if you fail to follow up, you’ve missed a key opportunity.

Too often, attendees collect business cards, only to toss them in a drawer once they get home. You can use an app that turns cell phone snaps of business cards into text files or make photocopies of them. Send those to your marketing team so they can add them into your prospect list, and don’t forget to connect on LinkedIn.

Pro tip: Write some details about the person you met on the back of their business cards as soon as you can, so you have context when you follow up.

Remember to have fun

Any large conference can be busy and overwhelming. Planning ahead will help, whether it’s deciding which network events to attend, having the official conference social hashtags at your fingertips, or making plans to meet long-distance contacts for a quick cup of coffee.

I’m looking forward to the show and hope to see many familiar and new faces in Orlando! Here’s to a great HIMSS!

Media Interview Preparation 101

Media Interview Preparation 101

Some executives dedicate ample time and effort to media interview preparation – studying the journalist’s previous coverage, developing carefully considered talking points – while others, not so much.

Guess which ones are typically more pleased with the outcomes of their interviews?

Nonetheless, it’s important to keep the significance of media interviews in perspective. Unlike a new product release gone awry or ethical misconduct by management, a bad interview is unlikely to cripple a company’s future. More likely, an interview gone off-the-rails results in some temporary embarrassment and heartburn for the company’s leadership – obviously something everyone would prefer to avoid. Still, there’s no need for an interview subject to work herself into a nervous state of sweaty palms, butterflies in the stomach or stuttering speech.

While no one would suggest that executives need to prepare for a media interview with the time and diligence that they’d devote to a board meeting, for example, media interviews are indeed an important conduit to introducing a young company to potential investors, partners, employees and the market in general.

Confidence is key, and preparation breeds confidence. With that in mind, here are a few key preparation tips beyond the usual “Do your homework!” to turn any interview into a positive showcase for you company and your thought leadership.

Ask questions before the interview: What type of readers/viewers/listeners comprise the media outlet’s audience? Why is the reporter interested in talking to you? How did he/she find out about your company? What topics will the interview cover? Will the reporter share any questions ahead of time? Will you have the opportunity to review the article before it’s published (probably not), or any direct quotes from you that the reporter plans to use (quite possibly)? Don’t let any excitement or nervousness about the interview prevent you from asking a bunch of questions to the reporter – soon, he/she’ll be asking plenty of you.

Research the reporter and media outlet: Check out the reporter’s bio or LinkedIn page, and look for some clues from his/her background to build pre-interview rapport. Maybe the reporter attended the same college as you or has worked at a company with which you have some familiarity. This is great fodder for small talk before the interview begins, which will help to establish a friendly tone at the interview’s outset.

Aside from the reporter’s personal background, study the past few articles he/she’s written. They’ll provide clues for what interests him/her, what angles the reporter likes to take on stories and what types of questions might be asked.

Hammer key messages: I like to think of media interviews as a Venn diagram, featuring two circles – one representing the reporter’s interests and the other representing those of the interview subject. Rarely if ever will these two circles completely overlap. In fact, only about 10 percent of each may overlap, but that 10 percent is where you’ll live during the interview. That’s the space where you’ll be able to discuss your industry and your company’s accomplishments and capabilities without seeming too sales-y or self-promotional.

After you’ve asked the right questions and done your research, it’s time to prepare talking points that hammer home the key messages you’d like to convey in the interview. Make each of these points brief, conversational and punchy. Provide a little supporting evidence or an anecdote and move on to the next one. Don’t be afraid to re-emphasize points you’ve previously made; repetition helps reporters prioritize the importance of the information you’ve covered during the interview.

After the interview: Once the interview is over, breathe a sigh of relief and revel in a job well done — although the work isn’t done quite yet. Follow up with the reporter to see if any additional information or clarification is needed before the piece is published. Once the piece is published, promote it via all channels available to your company – social media, company blog, website, email campaigns and the like.

Does this seem like a lot of work? Sometimes it can be, but the positive is that a strong PR firm will do all the legwork for you – asking important questions of the reporter, researching the reporter and media outlet’s background and crafting talking points. Then it’s just up to the executive to think about and digest the information and proceed with confidence towards exceling in the interview.