WHPRMS August Blog: Earned Media: Do You Give It Your All?

One of the more interesting and gratifying aspects of my work in healthcare marketing and PR has been pitching stories to the media. Securing earned media can be a time-consuming and sometimes thankless endeavor, but there is nothing like a positive news story from an unbiased third-party source. I love earned media because it carries more weight than any form of traditional advertising. 


So, do you consider media coverage “gravy” if you get it? Or is it part of your overall media plan where you are giving it your all? Here are a few questions to think about this month:


Do you have an annual media pitch schedule?

What primary and secondary service lines do you want to promote throughout the year? What’s the timing? Who is the target audience? What kind of reach do you want with your pitches? How will you judge the effectiveness of the pitch?


How considerate are you of your audience?

Let’s be honest here, not everything we pitch has a high news factor to it. Be judicious about what you pitch. If you want to be a press release factory, then segment your pitches to the various media, giving thought to what medium works best for the story. Both print and broadcast newsrooms are much smaller than they used to be, and reporters/assignment editors don’t want to be deluged with your releases.


When you write your pitch, do you write it like you are a reporter?

What do you include in a pitch about a new piece of technology at your hospital? Do you talk about outcomes? Cost benefit? Exclusivity? How many of your patients have benefited from the technology? How it will revolutionize or improve the care in your area or region? What technology are your competitors using? Do you have a patient willing to talk about their outcome? What would they say about it?


Have your information ready and be prepared to share it. The reporter will obviously fact check it, so make sure it’s accurate. Be ready to address any shortcomings the reporter may bring up. The more of the narrative we spell out, the easier we make it on the reporter, the happier they are.


Do you always – always – follow-up on the pitch?

Again, news rooms are short staffed these days. If you are taking the time to write the release or advisory, you should take the time to follow-up with the recipients. Releases can get “lost in the shuffle” especially if you are a smaller player. If you are promoting an event on a weekend, send the release out a couple of weeks ahead, not a few days ahead.


Do you make the assignment editor’s job as easy as possible?

Write using inverted pyramid style with most important information first…and be succinct so they can read it quickly. As crazy as this sounds, you should be writing your pitch using AP Style because it adds credibility to your work. Be thinking ahead of time about interesting photos and B-roll footage that the reporter or reporters can use for your story.


Do you do what it takes to get coverage?

You can find a million “working with the media” tips online. Let’s face it: sometimes it’s not what you know, it’s how close you are. If your hospital is farther away from the TV stations than your competitors, offer to go there for on-camera interviews. Again, make it easy on them.


Are you on the lookout for national stories where your hospital can give the local perspective?

This portrays your organization as a thought leader. It’s easier said than done, right? You need nimble staff ready to speak on a moment’s notice.


Do you keep in touch with your beat reporters?

You don’t need to be, nor should you be, schmaltzy. You should be developing honest and ongoing relationships with reporters. You don’t always have to invite them to lunch, but
face-to-face meetings are usually more memorable. If you do this, you should be prepared to have a couple of story ideas that will peak their interest. Oh, and it never hurts to throw story ideas their way, even if it’s not related to your company.


Do you always, always respond to media interview requests?

You probably get calls from media asking for a subject matter expert on a story you didn’t pitch. Do all you can to help them, because they will remember it. If you have exhausted all your sources, be sure to call them back and let them know you made the effort.


Do you have any media relations tips you would like to share? Drop me a line.


Mike Wiltse is associate director of communications for Journey Mental Health Center in Madison. Comments or questions to this article? Email Mike at michael.wiltse@journeymhc.org.