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So You Want Your Op-Ed Published? Be Ready To Take A Stand

More and more, clients and their customers want to catch the attention of major media players like the New York Times, The Hill, Harvard Business Review, and other publications of similar prestige. Since the mainstream media isn’t in the business of free advertising, getting interviews for CEOs in such publications is extremely challenging, requiring peer-reviewed data, a major customer willing to speak on the record, and some serious evidence to back any claim.  Even if all of these pieces exist, putting them together can be daunting.

A simpler path to success exists in the form of op-eds – opinion pieces from a thought leader taking a meaningful stance on an issue they’re passionate about. It’s still a challenge to get the attention of national media, but from my perspective as a media relations professional, most of the problems with op-eds lie in the author playing it too safe or trying to keep all messaging on brand instead of taking the firm, fervent stance that’s necessary to get such an op-ed placed.

Speaking from the perspective of someone in public relations, national media op-eds can be coordinated, ghost written, polished, and promoted by an agency. However, if you’re an executive or potential thought leader reading this, listen carefully – the success is largely dependent on you. Getting a major op-ed placed is dependent upon what positions you’re willing to take, whose feathers you’re willing to ruffle, and whether or not you’re ready to have your own voice.

Based on my own experience working in public relations and marketing for nearly a decade – speaking to editors whose job it is to decide what gets published and what does not – I can offer a series of tips for success.

Avoid Marketing

Bylines and company blogs allow for a certain safety and flexibility that you can’t take with a national media op-ed. While there is always this compulsion to stick to branding and loosely talk about the products a company sells, if a CEO wants to land a major op-ed, this behavior must be avoided. If you want national media coverage – or even letters to the editor – for yourself, you have to be willing to take strong positions that don’t directly relate to a product or service that your business is selling.

For example, if you’re a company that sells secure text messaging to hospitals or healthcare organizations, an article on why secure texting mops the floor with out-of-date pagers is certainly in line with your branding. But if you’re expecting a major publication like STAT to take this position seriously, you’re not paying attention to the content you, as a consumer and a person, choose to read.

Simply put, you need to take a firm, shareable, position. Sometimes, that means talking about an issue that’s only loosely in the wheelhouse of your company or brand. For example, if the same CEO of a secure messaging vendor writes an article on how the HITECH Act created an interoperability problem by hastily subsidizing EHRs, that may not seem directly related to the product you sell. But that isn’t the point.

The point is, now a CEO of a notable company is expressing his/her individual opinion. It’s mildly inflammatory, perhaps, and a little risky – but that just means it’s worth reading. Total safety will get you nowhere when it comes to an op-ed, and the more opinionated and specific you’re willing to be, the more your piece will have the substance necessary to create some waves.

When you operate outside of trade media, you have to take a strong position. While the sales department will be a little mad anytime a potential customer feels alienated, taking somewhat controversial and bold stances is still great for branding. A CEO worth talking to is someone journalists will come back to for quotes and opinions on a variety of topics, from new policy decisions to emerging technologies, and that popularity could certainly translate to success in the market.

Ask Yourself: What Would a Columnist say?

Let’s use another example: You’re the Chief Medical Officer for an e-prescription solution that securely allows for the prescribing of opioids and other controlled substances. Without even loosely mentioning your product, a myriad of opportunities exist to associate your name and brand with a hot button issue without seeming promotional. But it will come at the cost of taking some risks.

Perhaps you have a personal opinion about the war on drugs you’re willing to discuss, from how drug companies profit from the black market opioid crisis to how addiction funnels money into private prisons. It may seem shocking to even consider, but isn’t this the kind of thing a notable, successful columnist writes about? If they aren’t willing to speak out, they wouldn’t have their own voice and no one would syndicate anything they write.

Letters to the editor and contributed national op-eds must follow this same logic. Speaking to my clients, I realize the pressure to play it safe can seem reasonable. But in case you haven’t noticed, it’s 2019 and crazy things are happening all over the globe. Major, successful billionaire entrepreneurs are smoking cannabis on comedian Joe Rogan’s podcast, and the President of the United States of America is a reality TV star who rose to popularity by taking brash positions. And, his hobbies include tweeting offensive opinions at fellow celebrities, so that the average person can be entertained and/or horrified by the resulting coverage.

While certainly the latter anecdote leaves a lot to be desired in terms of thoughtfulness and facts, the Trump phenomenon stands as an example that being safe isn’t going to cut it anymore. Ineffectual drivel is no longer something the media pays attention to, because the public is done hearing it. In the age of social media and constant information, standing out means standing up and being a little loud.

Make Yourself Heard – Loudly

Let me be blunt: If you’re writing something that doesn’t point some fingers, doesn’t tick anyone off, doesn’t take a strong stance, and doesn’t elicit an emotional response for the average, everyday person – Forbes and the New York Times are never, ever going to publish it.

If you want national press for yourself and your business, you are going to have to operate on 2019 terms, and that means addressing a pressing issue or taking a stance that not a lot of executives are likely to have.

Speaking for myself, I read and donate to several publications, and the reason I read them is because they have valuable insights to share. They grow me as a person when I read them, and they stand out above the noise. If I share an article with friends or on social media, it’s because it’s genuinely unique and worth sharing, and any potential op-ed must share those qualities in order to earn the attention of readers.

Consumer media will not operate on trade media terms – no matter how cool a spokesman and their product may be, they need to have something interesting to say or no one is going to read it. And if no one is going to read it, the national press is not going to publish it.

If you’re working on a national media op-ed right now or plan to write one in the future, I offer this golden rule: Would someone who has never heard of your company, or you, read the article and share it with their friends on social media? If not, then consumer media and national press are not going to care.

If you want to be a serious columnist in addition to your day job, get ready to make yourself heard by being a little brave. While it’s risky, the payoff of having a recognized column in a huge paper like the New York Times could be huge, especially in the age of personality-drive entrepreneurs and public officials.

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10 Things Your Publicist Would Do if S/he Ran Your Company

All of the below suggestions are offered by experienced publicists in the B2B arena, including myself and several colleagues at Amendola Communications. While we fully get that a public relations program is just one of many important contributions to creating a successful company—along with a whip smart product development team, a terrific product, turbo-charged salespeople, and savvy marketing, to name a few—each one of our recommendations below helps fuel these crucial moving parts even more. So here is what we’d prioritize if we had a few months in the driver’s seat…

Item #1: Create a customer success library—and keep it continuously restocked. Nothing will give you more credibility with prospects, investors, your own employees, and of course, the media, than the testimonials of thrilled customers. So as an established company with a solid customer roster of your own, why don’t you have more of these stories to broadcast to the world?

Most likely, it’s one of two primary reasons. Either your employees are too nervous to ask customers to participate in a case study, or there’s no real process in place to develop these strategic assets. And it does take a process. The next few items delve a little deeper into both of these challenges.

Item #2: Incentivize your employees to get customer success stories. Here’s the deal. The main reason employees aren’t going after customer success stories is out of fear that the customer will decline to participate. The product’s not fully in use yet…they’ve run into some issues…you get the idea. There is always a seemingly legitimate reason for putting off the request.

But what if getting customer success stories was part of the job description? And what if the pressure to obtain them was considerably lightened with the right tools and handsome bonuses?

One of our own most successful clients has made obtaining customer success stories part of the company’s official bonus structure. At last count, this client had more than 170 customer success stories! Money is a great motivator, people. We know this.

But money alone isn’t enough to create outstanding, detailed customer success stories…

Item #3: Formalize and launch a customer adoption program. All good success stories have tangible results to report. And a customer adoption program is a terrific opportunity to establish with your customer what the metrics for success will be. From there, you can organize your efforts around seeing that the customer fully and productively adopts the appropriate components of your product to reach these targets. Typically these efforts include regular communication, benchmark reporting, and always available support. In person, on the phone, via email…a combination of all three will be part of most top tier customer adoption programs.

And within a relatively short period of time, you should be able to have some successful results to report in a customer story. Oh, and a couple of other significant benefits…like increased customer satisfaction and  retention.

Item #4: Create a “Customer Reference program.” My colleague Stacy State, a senior account director at Amendola, further advises making best use of customer testimonials by creating a spreadsheet or other document that houses:

  • Clients who can provide quotes (organized based on product/location/benefit/challenge solved)
  • Clients willing to be references (organized based on location, product/s, account manager, etc.)
  • Clients who are willing to speak at trade shows—and who will have the necessary presenting skills to do so
  • Clients who allow onsite interviews of how your solution works in their setting

Item #5: Have talented storytellers on hand. Whether they reside in your in-house PR and marketing teams or with your agency partner, it’s essential that you are telling your product, company or customer story in human, attention-seizing terms. Identify and utilize those people who will be fearless at doing just that—a surprisingly rare resource, by the way. Many people are intimidated by writing for corporate/business needs, and inevitably revert to “safe” corporate-speak and industry jargon.

But please listen to someone who has spent her entire career crafting stories for newspapers, companies, non-profits and others. Nothing will snuff the life out of a good story faster than peppering it with phrases like “ensure” and “going forward” and “operational efficiency.” So don’t do it! Invest in great writing. It will pay off for you, I promise.

Item #6: Develop a stable of charismatic thought leaders. There are some solid benefits to doing so. According to another colleague, Amendola senior account director Michelle Noteboom, “Once executives have established themselves as credible industry experts, media outlets will seek their opinions and be more receptive to covering company news.”

To make sure no single thought leader is stretched too thin, you’ll want to cultivate multiple spokespeople within your organization. But please don’t base this on their expertise alone. An effective thought leader is personable, warm, as good of a listener as he or she is a speaker, is eager to share knowledge, willing to participate in media training, and of course, is quickly responsive.

You can start cultivating potential thought leaders early on. My colleague and senior account director Philip Anast recommends: “Include external communications in an executive’s performance requirements, i.e. actually making it part of one’s job requirements to make oneself available for media interviews and garner media coverage.”

Item #7: Stop putting social media on the backburner. This recommendation comes courtesy of Amendola social media guru, Margaret Kelly. “In this day and age, don’t underestimate the impact of reaching clients in 280 characters with a clever phrase or video. The trick is to know your audience and social platforms. Messages on LinkedIn, where you’re likely to already be connected to C-suite members of other companies, may have more impact than messages on other platforms. If you’re trying to put sales in your pipeline, for example, LinkedIn is the best platform to engage your decision-makers,” Margaret observes.

No matter your platform, a social media program must be consistent to be successful. You can’t just flirt with social media—it’s either all the way or not at all. But it takes time to see results. Viral sensations are usually the umpteenth attempt…not the first, second, or even 50th.

Item #8: Break down the barriers between executives and the rest of us. Personally, I see a flatter hierarchy as the future of corporate business, but there will always be identified leaders within an organization. They need not be walled off as if their work is top secret. Account director and Amendola colleague Brandon Glenn has a great suggestion here.

“Conduct quarterly executive Q&As with employees. My old company used to do this every time quarterly earnings were released because we were public, but this could apply to any company. The idea is the executives get up in front of the company, deliver some prepared remarks about how things are going with the company financially, key business highlights, what was good about the last quarter, what they’re looking forward to in the next quarter, and so on. After, it’s opened up for employee questions, which can be asked live verbally or pre-submitted in written form,” Brandon explains.

Depending on the size of your company, consider also making everyone’s weekly work schedule transparent. Here at the agency we share our weekly projects on a common online document. It gives us all a sense of what our coworkers are working on, and is just a more helpful way to organize and be accountable for how we spend our time.

Item #9: Break down the barriers between sales and PR. Even quarterly meetings between sales and PR can make a big difference in the substance and quality of your PR messaging. My colleague Philip Anast notes, “Salespeople especially can give invaluable information to PR. They’re on the front lines of prospect interaction, so can bring a lot of the industry challenges to the fore, providing good fodder for thought leadership.”

Item #10: Break down the barriers between YOU and PR. Of course, there’s no need to micromanage PR if you have effective people overseeing it. But make time for media training and schedule monthly calls to touch base with your PR team. I’m actually surprised by how many CEOs are removed from their company’s public relations. While this demonstrates two important positives–trust in the people who oversee PR and a willingness to allow others in the organization to develop into thought leaders–a CEO who isn’t engaged in PR much at all can find herself or himself caught flatfooted at the most inopportune times when a good response is essential.

With that, my tenure running your company is over. Which is fine with me, because with these recommendations now in place, I can’t wait to get back to publicizing it!

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I (wish I) could care less that you used an idiom incorrectly

When you write professionally, you should never get off Scotch free if you incorrectly use an idiom or phrase. By in large, most of my colleagues and I tow the line in terms of our writing, but on occasion we do make a grammatical foe paw.

I admit that I have a deep-seeded interest in the proper use of grammar, and often cringe when someone claims they could care less about the proper way to say things. However, if you’d prefer your grammar to pass mustard, please consider my tongue and cheek advice for sounding smarter by avoiding the incorrect usage of the following 10 idioms and phrases.

  1. Moot point – not mute point. A point that is moot is considered hypothetical or of no importance – or, a point that one should probably remain mute about.
  2. For all intents and purposes – not for all intensive. For all intents and purposes means for virtually or all practical purposes. This phrase is actually an eggcorn (another fun grammar topic for another blog, perhaps.)
  3. Piqued my interest – not peaked my interest. To “pique” means to arouse or excite – though arguably a something could peak your interest if your interest was at its pinnacle.
  4. Shoo-in – not shoe-in. A shoo-in is a sure winner. Shoo means to urge something in a certain direction (perhaps by kicking the something with your shoe?)
  5. Hunger pangs – not hunger pains. We’ve probably all felt painfully hungry at times due to hunger pangs – which are sharp pains in our stomach.
  6. Wreak havoc – not wreck.  To wreak havoc is to cause great damage, which is what you might do if you were to get into a car wreck.
  7. Biding my time – not biting my time. To bide one’s time means to wait patiently for the right moment. Definitely makes more sense than chewing on your watch.
  8. Case in point – not case and A case in point is an example that supports one’s argument. I avoid saying idioms incorrectly so I can sound smarter; a case in point is that I never say, “case and point.”
  9. Nip in the bud – not in the butt. In the gardening world, if you nip a flower in the bud, it won’t blossom. By nipping a problem in the bud, you are preventing it from flowering. On the other hand, you may a create problem if you nip someone’s butt.
  10. One and the same – not one in the same. This phrase should be used to emphasize that two subjects are actually the same or alike. Unless you are describing nesting dolls, the correct phrase is one and the same.

If this blog posted has wet your appetite for more grammar tips, here are the correct versions of a few bonus phrases, courtesy of Merriam-Webster:

Don’t Forget Industry Analysts in PR Programs

Even before English economist William Stanley Jevons and other 19th Century luminaries formalized the idea of marginal utility, business people grappled with sustaining customer desires for their goods and services.

While Jevons had commodities in mind, I believe marginal utility is relevant to PR programs, too, especially in our digital world.  Keeping stakeholders informed with fresh, compelling news, perspectives and content is a necessity to maintain their interest and attention.

One key group with which to build and cultivate such relationships is industry analysts.  These influencers are different than traditional members of the media and bloggers, and an organization’s approach to them must be different, too.

Here are six recommendations for building a strong analyst relations program – one that will create third-party validation for a healthcare company’s services and technologies:

  1. Don’t treat analyst briefings and media interviews the same
    • In a media interview, the reporter asks the questions, and the source answers them while bridging to her own messaging and agenda as the opportunities arise
    • A successful analyst briefing, however, is a dialogue, where the client tries to gain as much insight from the analyst as the knowledge it imparts about its company, positioning, and go-to-market strategy
  1. Work with analysts and their schedulers weeks in advance of desired briefings
    • Unlike reporters that expect sources to be available on a moment’s notice for their assignments, industry analysts often work on longer lead times
    • Use such lead times to orchestrate the objectives of your analyst briefing, even scripting what an ideal briefing looks like
    • Follow scheduling protocols; often, analysts require a company to work with scheduling colleagues, and not directly, to secure briefings 
  1. Avoid lengthy PowerPoint presentations in the actual briefings
    • Time is currency, and analyst briefings don’t happen with the same analyst firm frequently unless there is a paid relationship
    • Provide a thorough background on your company from a strategic perspective and with the market clearly in mind, but leave the lengthy presentations as leave-behinds – or better yet, provide these materials ahead of the briefings (a requirement with some firms)
    • Focus on how your offerings address current market needs and elicit analyst feedback; remember, industry analysts are experts in specific market segments, so leverage that expertise to the extent they’re willing to share their views
  1. Avoid making product announcements the sole messaging points in briefings
    • While product launches and technology enhancements are important to keep key stakeholders informed, use analyst encounters to discuss corporate positioning, larger market issues and company strategies
    • That’s not to say analysts should not be briefed on new products, but put those products in the context of the challenges the sector is facing and the problems the new products solve
    • Product details can be incorporated into PowerPoints, or via links to company web sites or microsites, for further study and reference
  1. Gaining coverage in analyst reports should NOT be the only reason for engaging analysts
    • For smaller HIT companies, securing feature coverage is often difficult
    • However, a successful analyst relations program builds trust and credibility
    • Over time, those benefits can accrue by having an analyst drop your company’s name with her own clients as a problem-solver worthy of industry consideration
    • Securing an analyst as a media reference is another worthwhile pursuit, if the analyst is amenable
  1. Don’t overplay your hand
    • Unless there is a paid relationship in place, analysts customarily accept one, or maybe, two briefings from companies they cover in their market spaces each year
    • Instead of inundating analysts with news releases and briefing requests, build a steady cadence of meaningful connections – perhaps even summarizing events in a quarterly e-newsletter
    • Use industry conferences, such as HIMSS, to connect with analysts in-person

Keeping these recommendations in mind, plus the thoughts of my colleague Matt Schlossberg, can produce rich analyst relationships and help companies advance their PR and marketing goals – even when they don’t have the means for paid relationships.

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[Your Business Name] – Powered by Communication

We’ve always heard that communication is key, but in today’s world it’s not only key – it can make or break a business.

Nearly every minute of every workday we are communicating – whether it’s internally with coworkers or trying to close the next big deal with a business prospect. We now have more communication vehicles than one could imagine. It’s becoming rare that people pick up a phone, much less engage in face-to-face meetings. Rather, most businesses rely on email, social media, media outlets, mobile apps, chat boxes, and texts.

Communication by the Numbers

According to one report, the costs of poor communication has hit $37 billion annually with large organizations (over 100,000 employees) reporting losses in productivity of $62.4 million per year. For a company with fewer than 100 employees, studies show a loss of $420,000 annually due to miscommunications.

Think what your company could achieve with $420,000 more a year.

While communication has always been a challenge for businesses, these astonishing statistics show just how much more an employee is overloaded in today’s workplace.

  • Every day, 205.6 billion emails are sent; only one-third are opened1
  • Americans spend 26 minutes a day texting and send 5.3 more texts than phone calls they make2
  • 46% of employees leave a meeting not sure of what they are supposed to do next2
  • 57% of projects fail due to breakdown in communications3
  • 11 hours a week are wasted on poor email communications3

To make matters worse, studies have shown that different generations have different communication preferences. If you’re a millennial, you may be thinking IKR – “send me a text, forget emails.” (That’s “I know, right?” for those of you who don’t speak text.) If you’re a baby boomer, you may just want to talk via phone or face-to-face.

So, how can you use the tools and methods available to you to better communication to co-workers and future partners or clients?

How to Succeed at Business Communications

Today everyone is bombarded with messages from social media, emails, and texts. To get the next deal or partnership for your company, it’s important to make every message count. How can you make sure your message is heard above the noise?

To succeed in today’s art of Business Communication, follow these simple steps:

  1. Actively ‘listen’ and pay attention. Ignore the next email that just came in or the text that just appeared on your phone.
  2. Be empathetic and understanding. Everyone is managing multiple tasks and fires each day. Be aware that people aren’t starting their days from the same place every day.
  3. Assume good intent. Clients and prospects are busy – just like you. Most people are focused on getting work done and doing what’s best. A brief response or delayed response does not mean that person is angry or ignoring you – they are likely buried in priorities.
  4. Don’t make assumptions. You know what they say when you assume. With much communication happening in writing, it is easy to misread a comma or a text message gone bad.
  5. Be self-aware. Know your own emotions and if you have a reaction that you feel strongly about, double check where you are mentally and what you have going on around you before you respond.
  6. Ask questions. Work under the guidance that there are no dumb questions. If you don’t know what the person is communicating or you are confused, ask for clarification. Asking questions will ensure that you and the other person/s are on the same page.

In summary, communication takes practice. No one will ever get it right all the time. We leave you with these pearls of wisdom.

[1] https://www.bluesource.co.uk/knowledge-hub/20-astonishing-stats-business-communications/
[2] https://www.entrepreneur.com/article/280301
[3] http://blog.twoodo.com/1088/snackable-stats-about-company-communication-and-collaboration-today/
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Crisis Management – Why Your Plan Should Include More Than Just Managing the Crisis Itself

Turn on the news today and you realize that crises come in multiple forms. Scandals, data breaches, natural disasters and public health concerns are just the tip of the iceberg.

The importance of having an actionable, tested plan with holding statements is well documented and understood. C-suite, IT, marketing, human resources and other departments all talk about it and recognize the ramifications of not having a plan.

While the need for a plan is not questioned, it is critical to assess where the charter for this plan starts and stops. If it is robust and forward-thinking, it should include an analysis of your current communications status, including evaluating your current brand reputation and acknowledging that your stakeholders’ perception of you now will impact you during moments of crisis.

If your company’s reputation is solid and you have built a brand that is trusted and transparent, customers and stakeholders will typically show you more goodwill during crisis periods. However, if your company is perceived as less than transparent, a crisis will only further deteriorate the brand. It is critical that your brand establish a solid reputation now so that in the long run so that you have more cachet with brand evangelists.

Another consideration of the plan is how far it should extend. After you have put out the immediate fire, should you go back to the status quo of how you were doing things before?

Absolutely not. Crisis management must extend well beyond the crisis itself and transform into a robust reputation management campaign. While having a good reputation to start with helps minimize damage, a crisis will undoubtedly impact your credibility with customers, prospects and stakeholders so you MUST have an initial plan ready for how to rebuild that trust.

Similar to the actual in-moment crisis management work, reputation rebuilding will be different in every scenario. However, you should think about how each type of crisis will impact audiences and plan potential tactics around it. For example, let’s take the case of a product recall impacting medicine that is administered to children. A few potential ways to rebuild trust include:

  1. A webpage that stays up for at least 6 months with all of the information about what was done to correct the issue, how customers should dispose of the product and all other essential information consumers should know.
  2. Public media engagements to talk about how you will prevent the issue going forward.
  3. Events including local townhalls and Twitter chats with consumers about the situation.
  4. If possible, a review by the FDA to formally show what was changed.
  5. Internal company townhalls to discuss the issue so that employees can be heard.

These are just five tactics; there are so many more that can take place. But as you can see the goal is to rebuild trust with ALL audiences once a crisis occurs.

For a crisis plan to be truly effective, you need to rebuild trust in the long-term, not just mitigate the issue in the moment.

6 “Tells” to Determine If You’re Ready for an Interview-Driven PR Program

6 “Tells” to Determine If You’re Ready for an Interview-Driven PR Program

It all sounds good in theory. The CEO, VP of sales, chief marketing officer, or some other higher-up decides that the key to boosting sales, raising funding, or driving some other positive business event is to launch an interview-driven PR program.

“We need our executives to be viewed as experts by our target audience,” they declare. “Having them interviewed by trade publications, or even the national media, will help us build visibility and credibility, which will bring prospects flocking to our website.”

There is definitely some truth in that. Having your executives regularly commenting on industry news and trends, especially in the trade media, can have quite the halo effect on the company as a whole.

Here’s the thing, though. There’s more to it than hiring a PR agency and expecting them to set up interviews. Even the best PR agency in the world (notice where that description links to) can’t do it by themselves – no matter how much you pay them.

Creating a successful interview-driven PR program requires a lot of coordination and collaboration between the client (your company) and the agency. It also requires a few elements that your company is solely responsible for.

If you can’t deliver on them, the interview-driven PR program is destined to fail.

So how do you know whether you’re prepared to embark on that particular journey? Just like in playing poker, there are a few “tells” – involuntary actions or gestures that indicate how strong your hand is. Here’s a look at a few of them.

Your executives like doing media interviews

It seems rather obvious, but it actually isn’t. Some people don’t really like being interviewed, or talking about themselves. This is often true of technology experts who launch companies, or clinicians in healthcare and health IT.

Ideally the person selected to do media interviews enjoys the process to some extent. His/her enthusiasm for the company and the topic will be contagious, leading to great coverage.

If you don’t have such a spokesperson, and can’t hire one in, the other solution is to media train the executives you do have. Often the lack of comfort comes from being unfamiliar with or unaccustomed to speaking with strangers in that type of setting. Media training can help alleviate those concerns and turn a wallflower into a media star. Or at least a likable, credible spokesperson.

Your executives will make time for media interviews

This is often a tougher attribute to find, especially in a smaller organization where C-suite execs are not just running the business but meeting with customers, talking to investors, rallying the troops and perhaps even getting involved with product design and execution.

Yet it’s essential. Most reporters (and editors) operate on tight deadlines, and have multiple stories brewing at once. If your executive can make him/herself available when the reporter has time to talk, the reporter will likely move on to someone who can.

Most of the time the window will be a day or two. Sometimes, however, the window will be within an hour or two. And the larger and more desirable the media outlet, the more likely it will be the latter.

If your executives want a week’s notice (or more) to schedule an interview, you’re probably not going to get much coverage. Unless the executive is already incredibly rich and famous, it’s important to understand that securing the interview means being ready to speak whenever the reporter is ready. Of course, if the executive is already rich and famous, he or she can usually dictate the terms of the interview. For everyone else, it’s ask and react.

Your executives have interesting, non-self-promotional stories to tell

Unless the media outlet wants to do a profile of one of your executives or the company, most interviews are not going to be inwardly focused. Instead, the executives will most likely be asked to comment about the news of the day or longer-term industry trends.

For example, in healthcare if an executive is asked to comment about interoperability, the reporter isn’t especially interested in hearing about how interoperable the company’s product is. At least not at first.

Instead, the reporter is looking for insights about interoperability in general that readers or viewers can’t read or see anywhere else. It doesn’t have to all be original; it could be taking two disparate factors and showing a previously hidden relationship between them.

Whatever is said, though, it has to offer evidence of more universal, big-picture thinking that helps the reporter move the story forward. Even better if the reporter says, “I never realized that.”

This, incidentally, is why reporters are often reluctant to interview the VP of sales. They’re afraid they’re going to have a 30-minute conversation about the features of the company’s products.

Offer up great information and insights, however, and the executive won’t just get quoted. He or she will become a go-to resource for that reporter.

Your executives can customize the story to the audience

Most high-ticket products and services require several levels of approval before they can be purchased. There are also usually certain job titles that, while they can’t say yes, can definitely say no.

The executive being interviewed must be able to speak to each of them regarding things they care about in terms they can understand. A CIO at a hospital will likely have different concerns about an issue than the chief medical officer, or the chief nursing officer, or an emergency department physician, or someone in the business office.

In an interview the company executive must not only understand who the media outlet’s audience is but how to frame the discussion in terms they care about. The same generic talking points won’t work for all.

This is a skill all unto itself. It can be learned, but it most definitely must be practiced. The more the executive can customize the story, the better chance it has of finding its mark.

Your executives know they may not make the cut

Even if your executives do a great job in their interviews, there may be times they don’t appear in the story anyway. The focus of the story may have changed, or the editor didn’t like something about what was said, or the story may have been running too long, or a dozen other things may have happened.

They need to understand it happens from time to time and just move on to the next interview. Now, if it happens several times in a row it may be time to review the message and how it’s being delivered.

Most of the time, however, it’s just a glitch or an unfortunate circumstance. Even great poker players get hands they can’t bluff their way out of. Simply fold that hand and focus on the next one.

Your executives understand they can’t control the final output

At the end of an interview, company executives will often ask if they will be able to review a story before it comes out. With rare exceptions, the answer is no.

It’s nothing personal, it’s just not done. Which means the executives, and the organization as a whole, will have to understand there is some risk that the reporter will get something wrong, or write something they don’t like.

That said, most reporters, especially those in trade publications, are not looking to do a hatchet job on the executive or the company. But they’re not there to be cheerleaders either.

They want to present a fair and balanced story that conveys verifiable information to their audience.

If they get a fact wrong, spell the company’s or executive’s name wrong, or make some other object error most reporters (or their editors) will correct it. But if the company’s corporate messaging says X and the article doesn’t read that way, it’s likely to stay that way.

Knowing that, and being able to live with it, will drive a lot more interview coverage than insisting on controlling every aspect of the final piece.

Going all-in

Clearly, focusing on an interview-driven PR program isn’t for everyone. In some cases, a content-driven program might be a better approach.

But if you have one or more executives who are knowledgeable about the industry, love to talk about it (even on short notice) and understand there may be an occasional miss among the many hits, it’s time to start interviewing PR agencies so your media star can be born.

New hire press releases: Is anyone listening?

New hire press releases: Is anyone listening?

Anyone who’s been in the media, marketing or communications industries has likely seen hundreds. If you’re an ex-reporter-turned-PR-guy like me, then you’ve no doubt seen thousands.

Unfortunately, I’m not talking about performance bonuses or letters of adoration from admirers. I’m talking about new-hire press releases.

Just about everybody issues them, but not exactly every media outlet covers them. In fact, quite a few health IT publications don’t regularly cover new hire announcements that aren’t of the big-name, big-company, big-title variety. (In other words, if your release is about the new CEO at Cleveland Clinic or chief technology officer at Haven, the new Amazon-Berkshire-JPMorgan healthcare company, you don’t have to worry about much of this.)

For large companies and for CEO hires, it’s standard practice to issue a press release. For everyone else, the situation gets a little murkier. So, in those cases, are new hire releases worth the investment of time, effort and resources? Often, yes, though certainly not always.

For anyone on the fence about issuing a new-hire press release, here are three questions that may provide clarity on which way to go:

Can you benefit from local media coverage? Some companies are interested only in national and trade coverage, electing to eschew local coverage, and that’s fine. For example, it might make little sense for a company interested in reaching decision-makers at electronic health records (EHR) companies to obtain media coverage in its local market, because there may be few, if any, EHR vendors headquartered there. In other cases, it could be advantageous, such as when a young company has received a venture capital investment and wants to go on a hiring spree and could benefit from some local publicity. New-hire announcements are much more likely to generate local coverage than national or trade coverage, so companies seeking local coverage may benefit from a release.

Are you looking to generate market awareness? Just because national and trade journalists elect not to write about a new hire, it doesn’t mean that no one is paying attention. Analysts, investors, reporters and close other-industry observers – in those words, people whose job description includes following the latest development health IT – may very well notice. Press releases, in general, and new-hire releases, in particular, are an excellent way to introduce your company’s name to people who may later become valuable contacts.

Did you recently launch a new initiative? Maybe you’ve recently launched a new product, entered a new market or shifted your company’s strategy. A new hire release is another means of spreading the word, even if you’ve mentioned it earlier in a prior release — assuming this initiative is any way connected to the hire. When I was researching a new company in my reporter days, one of the first steps I’d take was to scan the company’s press releases page on its site because it gave me a strong idea of what the company considered its major to-date accomplishments. In that respect, think of a company’s press releases – new hires, included – as a track record of the noteworthy achievements it wants to share with the world.

Though sometimes regarded as the red-headed stepchild of press releases, new-hire press releases can be worthwhile and valuable; just make sure you ask yourself the above questions before publishing one.

Selecting the Right PR and Marketing Agency: Is Bigger Better?

Selecting the Right PR and Marketing Agency: Is Bigger Better?

When it comes to finding the right PR and marketing agency, is bigger better?

It depends who you ask.

Early in my career as an agency leader, I was surprised that it was Amendola’s largest Fortune 500 clients who most clearly understood and could articulate the benefits of working with a smaller, boutique agency. As time passed and a few comparatively smaller clients switched to a bigger agency (often in response to reaching a major growth milestone) and subsequently came back, I realized that the larger, more well-established companies simply had the benefit of experience. They’d previously worked with one or more large corporate agencies, and already understood the advantages and drawbacks.

So why do many of the world’s largest, most successful healthcare and technology companies prefer to work with smaller, highly specialized agencies? It’s a fair question, and the answer can help healthcare/healthcare IT companies of every size find their ideal agency fit.

Depth of understanding is even more key in a complex industry

Many of Amendola’s largest clients voice frustration with the inconsistent levels expertise at big agencies, especially those that don’t focus exclusively on healthcare and healthcare IT.

As one Fortune 500 client said in our initial conversation, “We don’t feel like we’re getting any value from [large corporate agency]. They understand tech in general, but don’t really have a clue about healthcare IT. And they don’t seem to have any of the media relationships we need.”

Another prospective client put it more wryly: “We spend half our time explaining value-based care, and the other half reminding them to stop talking about it like it’s brand new.”

To be fair to larger agencies and the hardworking folks who make them hum, it’s all but impossible for anyone to be an expert on multiple complex industries. Especially if one of them is healthcare. In fact, that’s why Amendola serves only healthcare and healthcare IT clients, and has since the outset. There’s always something new to learn in healthcare, and always something on or just over the horizon that will impact the industry in unexpected ways. If you don’t eat, sleep, and breathe it, how could you possibly keep up?

Still, I can understand these clients’ frustration. If an agency needs constant coaching on what’s happening in healthcare, the best case is that the relationship becomes more time-consuming for the client.

The more realistic case? Missed opportunities, muddled messaging, and even missteps in the market.

It’s harder for large and multi-industry agencies to develop strong healthcare/healthcare IT media relationships

Clients also often mention that a larger agency they worked with was unable to secure high-quality (or even very many) media opportunities. I’m never surprised to hear it. After all, any junior PR professional can pitch journalists all day every day every…but how effective can they be if they don’t really understand the story they’re pitching?

Yet inconsistent expertise isn’t the only contributing factor. The fact is, large agencies have several things working against them when it comes to healthcare/healthcare IT media relations.

Imagine you’re a healthcare reporter. You’ve just been assigned a 1,200-word article about how healthcare organizations are screening for unmet social needs and addressing SDoH, especially within their high-risk/high-cost patient populations. Your editor would like to see you include perspectives from at least three different organizations. Either vendors or providers, but at least one of each. Oh, and it’s due tomorrow. End of day today would be better.

Now ask yourself who you’d reach out to:

  • The comparatively junior contact you have at a big corporate agency—you know, the one who keeps pitching you out of the blue about the same one or two clients.
  • The comparatively senior contact you have at a smaller, healthcare-specific PR agency—you know, the one with a diverse client portfolio who can probably be your one-stop shop for all three of the interviews you need to conduct.

Actually, any chance you could turn the article around sooner? It’d be great to get it out on social ASAP.

The hotter the topic and the busier the news cycle, the higher the demands on journalists’ time and attention. During the weeks preceding HIMSS, it’s not uncommon for a healthcare reporter at a top-tier publication to receive well over 200 pitches a day. From a purely practical standpoint, the only way they can wade through the noise is to focus on their most reliable agency contacts (who, by the way, have been regularly pitching and checking in on HIMSS opportunities for months, not weeks).

How much of a difference do strong media relationships make? Consider the Fortune 500 client I mentioned earlier.

In our first month working together, we secured more media opportunities for them than their most recent large corporate agency had secured over the course of three years.

Now, did our agency-wide expertise in healthcare and healthcare IT enable us to craft higher quality, more sophisticated pitches and thought-leadership content? Absolutely. Did we also do a better job targeting the right reporter/editor/publication with the right pitch at the right time? You bet your bylines.

But the wealth of opportunities we had to choose from were partly a function of a fundamental truth about healthcare/healthcare IT PR. As a boutique agency exclusively serving healthcare and healthcare IT clients, we hear about opportunities that larger and less focused agencies don’t—because healthcare journalists’ lives are already hard enough.

Another key difference: Who’s *really* doing the writing?

The complaint I hear most frequently from prospective clients is the amount of time they spend rewriting the content their current agency produces. The shared sentiment is, “in the time we spend rewriting everything, we could have just drafted it ourselves.” And that isn’t just an idle thought for many companies—when I spoke with a large publicly traded company last week, they explained they use their current agency for media pitching only, having brought all content creation back in-house after years of constant rewriting.

Obviously, any agency of any size can hire bad writers. And, at least conceivably, any agency with the resources to do so can hire good writers.

So where’s the breakdown?

First (and this is the last time I’ll mention it), lack of expertise plays a role. If the writers assigned to the account aren’t strong on healthcare/healthcare IT, there’s no covering it up. Especially if they’re writing based on input from deeply knowledgeable subject matter experts.

Second, depending on the agency, even a reasonably large healthcare or healthcare IT company might be comparatively low-priority when it comes to resource allocation. The bigger and less healthcare-focused the pond, the more likely that other accounts or client-types will be seen as the truly big fish. And the big fish gets the worm, which in this modified idiom represent the more senior writers.

It sure would be nice if there was a just a checklist of what to look for in an agency

Wouldn’t it? I’ve always thought so. So here are consolidated insider tips and key questions you can use to streamline your search for the perfect agency.

Expertise – Do they know your space? Do they understand the lingo? Have industry connections? Will they have senior level executives on the account, or will you be delegated to a junior team? Check references and make sure the agency is everything they actually say they are. If you’re making your decision partly based on writing samples, make sure you see the samples of the writers you’ll actually be working with.

Range of Services – Do you need a PR firm only, or are you looking for an integrated marketing communications firm that can handle all of your marketing needs? If the agency only handles one service line, do they have partner agencies for other areas?

Team – Make sure you ask to meet your team. Very often with a big agency, the high-level execs you met at the presentation aren’t the team who will be working on your account. That’s unfortunate, because experience and compatibility matter.

Ideally, at least one of the people who would be on your team will also be at the initial presentation. If they are, chat them up. Are they someone you would enjoy working with on a regular basis? Remember—this is going to be a close relationship, so comfort and rapport are key!

Budget/terms/scope of work – Be sure to compare apples to apples when assessing services and quantities/deliverables. Are you going to engage in an annual retainer program or project work? Will you be billed by the hour or by scope of deliverables? Based on my experience, the latter will get you more value. Teams won’t be clocking out the second your hours for the month are used up; instead, they’ll work tirelessly to successfully execute your campaigns with no limit to the time they put in. And don’t get caught in the trap of assuming a higher retainer equals better service, especially if you aren’t going to be one of the agency’s largest accounts or if they don’t specialize in healthcare or healthcare IT.

The fit matters

Once you’ve narrowed the field of potential agency partners to a fully vetted top five, you can reasonably assume that any of them are capable of handling the nuts and bolts of PR and marketing. That’s why I recommend focusing on the fit to help you make your final decision. Does it feel right? Is this the company and are these the people that you want to serve as an extension of your own team? And where do you fit in their agency world—or to put it another way, what’s the pond look like?

Ultimately, every organization has to decide what’s right for them based on a host of factors. Understanding how agencies differ beyond the simple metric of size will help ensure the strengths of the PR and marketing agency you do select align with the work you want them to do and the results you want them to deliver. In some cases, a bigger agency can be better—but as many of the largest healthcare and healthcare IT companies already know, it isn’t always best.

Going from Serviceable Company Spokesperson to Media Rock Star

Video: Going from Serviceable Company Spokesperson to Media Rock Star

At one point or another we’ve all sat and marveled at an amazing company spokesperson. You know the type. They get on-camera, or go behind a microphone, and they just look or sound comfortable.

For some, it is without question a natural ability. Surprisingly, however, for many others it’s actually an acquired skill, learned through many hours of practice. After all, do you really think Bill Gates or Jeff Bezos started out as cool, calm and credible company spokespeople?

Anyone who knew them before they were famous can tell you that wasn’t the case. They had to get past their natural tendencies in order to help promote their companies and ensure their visions for the organization were fulfilled.

The same is true for many other corporate executives. They made a conscious effort to learn the skills and techniques to be able to deliver their corporate messages in a way that encouraged others to listen.

In this video, Amendola Communications Media Relations Director Joy DiNaro shares some thoughts on what it takes to be a great company spokesperson/media interview – and how even inexperienced executives can acquire the necessary skills.