Jack of All Trades

Healthcare Reporters on the Secrets of Successful Pitching

As healthcare communicators, when we want to raise the profile of a hospital or healthcare organization, or share a special story externally, we set aside a few hours to hop on the phone and pitch reporters. We’re confident that our story idea is fantastic, something the media couldn’t possibly pass up. Right?

Well, according to journalists who cover our industry, they’d like us to take a deep breath and think through a few things before we hit “send” on an email pitch, or dial their extension. That’s because these reporters are literally inundated with pitches, sometimes receiving hundreds a day.

So how do we break through the clutter, and catch the journalist’s eye?

Recently in the Windy City, the Publicity Club of Chicago assembled a healthcare reporter panel to give public relations professionals some sage advice.  Here’s a summary:

KNOW WHAT THE REPORTER REALLY NEEDS

If you’re pitching a television producer — like panel participant Stephanie Siegel of NBC News — she’ll want a human angle, a truly compelling person to interview and bring alive the breaking medical news of the day.

Aurora Aguilar of Modern Healthcare says that while she might incorporate some human interest elements into her stories, she’s driving coverage based on its impact on the healthcare industry – and it’s often beneficial to have statistics to illustrate that.  As an online and print publication, Modern Healthcare can, for example, take those stats and create a compelling graphic for readers.

KNOW THE NEWS ORGANIZATION’S CURRENT FOCUS

Aguilar says that in addition to measuring a development or trend’s impact on healthcare, Modern Healthcare is “spreading its wings” and delving now into other kinds of stories: New medical research, for instance, or consumer impact.

Panelist Charlie Brooks of CBS News highlights changes at the network that have its journalists producing content not only for a program like the CBS Evening News, but also for CBSN, the 24/7 streaming video news channel that launched less than two years ago.  A smart publicist, then, might include in a pitch an idea for set-aside content designated specifically for CBSN.

OFFER THE UNDERREPORTED STORY

Healthcare journalists must, of course, cover the important industry news of the day.  But they’re also looking for something to set their reporting apart: The important, but underreported, stories. Chicago Tribune reporter Vikki Ortiz Healy, for example, has covered various repercussions of Illinois’ current state budget impasse – but if a publicist has a unique angle, for example, on how that stalemate is affecting a particular person’s medical treatment, or impacting a healthcare organization, she’s open to a pitch.

CBS’s Brooks welcomes ideas on a variety of important-yet-underreported topics, including disparity in healthcare delivery quality, and on mental health care in the U.S.

Bottom line?  The cliché “think outside the box” is spot-on when it comes to your healthcare pitches.

CONSIDER SOCIAL MEDIA AND ONLINE CONTENT

Reporters today often are under pressure to cultivate a compelling professional presence online, and to generate page views on their organization’s website. The Tribune’s Ortiz Healy says that if a PR pro were to pitch a story featuring a subject who happens to have a big social media following, that would catch her eye – because the subject’s thousands of devoted followers would likely end up driving traffic to chicagotribune.com.

Charlie Brooks, of CBS, says that if a communicator has a story element that might provide good “sidebar” website content, to point that out in a pitch. Meaning, that at the end of an on-air story, an anchor could verbally suggest to the viewer that he “go to our website at cbsnews.com” for additional resources relevant to the subject at hand.

BE AVAILABLE. AND BUILD RELATIONSHIPS.

Healthcare communicators cannot underestimate the power of deadlines, says CBS’s Brooks. If he calls you out-of-the-blue, seeking an expert from your hospital who can get over to the bureau in 15 minutes for an interview, be ready!  Journalists are looking for reliable sources whom they can depend upon when time is scarce.

And they’re also looking for sources who provide value over the long-run. The Tribune’s Ortiz Healy says that she finds benefit in meeting expert public relations professionals for coffee from time to time, to touch base and share ideas.

As we healthcare public relations professionals know, there are many compelling stories to tell about our industry. Healthcare remains, literally, a vital component in the lives of Americans, and its ever-changing nature presents a real opportunity when it comes to communicating to critical audiences.

The good news is that the journalists who report on healthcare are open to our pitches – if they’re thoughtful, relevant, and timely. The key is to be a true partner to the press.