Having a well-designed public relations strategy can quickly establish your practice’s expertise with local referring physicians and with potential patients. In this article we’ll outline and dig deeper into 5 public relations strategies for your medical practice. 

There is growing demand for new information about health and medical treatments in the United States and around the world. The pandemic of 2020 has pushed this demand to new levels. 

Consider that Google handles one billion questions about health each day (that’s 70,000 health questions every minute). There are many newsrooms and blog writers looking for a physician’s insights on health issues to meet their deadlines and to develop new content.

So, what do you need to know?

1. Crafting Your Pitch

The road to becoming a regular guest on the news to share expert insights, all starts with successfully crafting your public relations pitches. A public relations pitch involves mapping out the strategy for your news story idea, putting that information into a news release and then emailing it to various news media outlets in specific cities you are targeting to cover your story. 

It is best to launch your public relations efforts on your local news market, because it’s easier to win coverage there than at the national level. 

As you map out your story idea pitch, ask two important questions. “Why would the general public care about this story?” and “What is the message I am trying to get out?”

Keep in mind you really have two audiences you are trying to reach with your news story idea.  The first audience includes the assignment desk workers, executive producers, editors, health reporters and guest bookers, who can either push your news release up the ladder to a decision maker, or not. Your second audience is the general public, (optimism here) when your pitch gets the thumbs up from newsroom managers, and they send a reporter to cover your story.

Write your news release carefully. Keep it brief and focused, and make sure the headline grabs the attention of the TV assignment desk worker or newspaper editor. He or she receives hundreds of emails and story pitches every day, so they will only spend several seconds looking at your news release before deciding whether to forward or delete it. Answer the “who”, “what”, “when”, “where” and “why” quickly, and include the day, time and location for the news conference or event in boldface type it is easy to read.

Your news release should include a quote from your team’s featured expert, and it must reflect one of the main message points you are trying to make. That way, if a web producer who is in a hurry publishes your news release as it is, you got your team’s expert on the news, offering an insightful comment which includes the message you are trying to get out to the public. 

It’s important to start your public relations plan at the local level to build relationships with decision makers at newspapers, radio stations and television stations right where you live. This is particularly important when you are trying to get coverage in a local, community newspaper.

Our DrMarketingTips Podcast recently featured Michael Eng, Editor and Publisher for the West Orange Times and Observer. In Episode 233, Eng talks about how the community newspaper is more likely to pick up a story about your practice adding a new office or doctor compared to a television newscast, which focuses on the broader region. Click here to listen to the episode.

Eng also suggests that you “think digital” when crafting your news releases. Local newspapers are working with smaller staffs and are shifting from printed stories to more digital content on their websites and social media platforms. News releases designed for digital formats are more likely to be posted on several digital platforms than just in the printed newspaper. 

2. Develop Three Talking Points

Your news release needs to focus on three main points, which will become your three talking points when you land that interview on the news. Your goals are to work in all three talking points and to stay on message even if something unexpected happens on live television.

Go into your TV or radio expecting to receive less time than you would like to tell your story. You have to become an expert at telling it quickly. Practice your three talking points, so you can repeat them in 10 to 15 second sound bites for the news. Also prepare a follow up response with more details when the news anchor says, “That’s interesting. Tell me more about that.”

Interviews for newspapers and digital publications may feel more laid back because there is no camera in your face, but stick with three talking points in case the reporter’s editor shortens the story. Get your message in there, and don’t worry about a lot of extra details which might get cut out in the editing process.

What happens when the news anchor strays off the topic in the middle of your live television news interview with thousands of people watching? Don’t be caught thinking, “Wait, what?” 

Maybe your interview is the fourth out of five he or she is doing that half hour, and the anchor hasn’t had time to prepare the way he or she wanted to. Maybe the anchor doesn’t know about that topic, so they just ask whatever comes to mind. Your job is to roll with it, keep your composure and stay focused on your three talking points.

We talk to our public relations clients frequently about how to put “the redirect” into effect at a moment’s notice. Sometimes the news anchor is playing “gotcha”, and they are trying to back you into the corner and make you play defense. You must stay composed and deploy the redirect, always returning to your talking points with confidence.

What happens when the anchor asks you a clearly unfriendly question? You should acknowledge it for just a few seconds and then redirect back to your talking points. You say, “We are looking into that and we will have that information soon, but what your viewers also need to know is…” 

Sometimes the exact opposite scenario will happen. The pitch for your news story strikes a harmonious chord with a decision-maker at your local radio station, and you get invited to do a longer interview on their public affairs show. In this case, you might get ten to fifteen minutes to tell your story, to actually say a lot about what you are doing in your community.

So how do you fill a ten minute interview on the radio? We asked Matthew Peddie, News Director of WMFE 90.7 FM, and Host of the Intersection public affairs show. In Episode 239 of the Dr Marketing Tips Podcast, Peddie says character development and telling stories are the keys to having a successful long format interview on the radio. Click here to listen to the episode.

Since we cannot see the radio interview, it’s good to develop a character in the interview who will be memorable to listeners. It can also be effective to tell a specific story about something your doctor did to help a patient and their reaction, or why a charity event had a strong impact on the people it benefited. Peddie says it’s about creating memories in the mind because there is no video to watch.

3. Push Through the Newsroom Maze

Maybe the biggest challenge to actually getting your story idea covered is pushing through the newsroom maze. It is great to have a strong story idea and a well-written news release, but you must know how to clear the hurdles and walk your story idea through the newsroom’s internal channels. Newsrooms are chaotic places many hours of the day, and you have to cut through the chaos to connect with someone who can advocate for your news release.

It’s important to know who the newsroom decision makers are, when they are locked away in meetings and when they are up against their most stressful deadlines. If you call the TV newsroom’s assignment desk three minutes before a newscast or during the middle of breaking news, they might remember you for all the wrong reasons. 

You should also remember that if you don’t call after you send a news release, you are leaving your push for news coverage hanging in the balance. Call the news desks at the appropriate time to make sure someone actually sees your news release and skims the headline. Otherwise, it could get buried in the swirling shuffle of emails, phone calls, interruptions and redirections. 

Building relationships with editors, health reporters and story planners is a strong strategy. They are open to hearing your ideas if you present them briefly and in an organized way. Guest Bookers can really help your cause if they like your story idea. A guest booker spends much or his or her shift working to find interesting guests to do news interviews. If they book your doctor as a guest, you can help them by getting them information quickly, sending them talking points, Skype addresses, cell phone numbers and handling logistics to make their lives easier.

Need a strategy for getting your expert locked in on speed dial when the news producers need to find someone quickly for an interview? If your team is easy to work with and you always say “Yes, I can do that interview”, they will keep calling you. The rule is to never say no to the invitation. Don’t let someone else sit in the guest’s chair and steal your doctor’s glory!

4. Time Your Event to Win Coverage

This next topic is a critical consideration that some groups don’t think enough about, and it can make all the difference between getting on the news and feeling disappointment after all of the work you put into pitching the news media. You have to time your event to win coverage.

Set up your event or make your expert available at a time when reporters can actually get there. It’s tempting to have a relaxing event with a large crowd during the weekend, but if you really want news coverage, you need to plan your event on a weekday morning.

Why? Because newsroom staffs are shrinking across America, and they often don’t have enough reporters or videographers to cover your weekend event. Those news crews have to cover breaking news first, so your event has to be second and not fifth on their list of possible stories for it to win coverage.  

 Schedule your story or news conference at 10:30 a.m. or 11 a.m. on a weekday, when there are more reporters and videographers working. This gives the dayside news crew time to attend their morning meeting and get to your event. If your event is brief, you might get covered on the Noon newscast and again on the 5 and 6 p.m. newscasts.

Everyone likes to work with someone who makes their lives easy.  That’s why it’s helpful to understand “cut off times”. A TV news crew must quickly complete two different tasks to get a story on the news on time.  

  • Part A of their job is to quickly find the person they are going to interview. This is why it is a huge benefit for your doctor to be on speed dial. 
  • Part B is to put the story together and to be ready to do their live appearance in the newscast, or to make sure their edited story gets fed back to the station on time. 

So the reporter and videographer have to interview their expert or story character, pick the video clips they will use, write the story, edit the story, set up their live shot and be in place for their appearance in the newscast. The clock never stops for them despite the pitfalls that pop along the way. You want to be available to the news crew as quickly as you can, as close to their location as possible and with the least amount of drama possible. 

The other part of timing your story to win news coverage is making sure it is a timely story in line with the issues and topics the newscasts are covering at the time you want your story to go public. Don’t schedule a story about a ribbon cutting at a new doctor’s location on the same day that your Governor is in town discussing why his or her COVID-19 response plan does not seem to be working.

During the last several months, our team has come up with several timely story pitches for our doctors’ group clients, focusing on the COVID-19 pandemic. If that’s the hottest topic where you are, focus on a news release that appeals to the broadest audience within the general public. That’s why the news is called broadcasting. 

We have successfully leveraged news releases about the future of telemedicine, a scholarship awards ceremony that had to be held virtually due to social distancing, and digital eye strain from working at home during the pandemic, into stories that got covered in the news. Sometimes, you can pitch your story as a badly needed break from COVID-19 overload, and get a story covered in the news that way.

5. Join the Newsroom Team

“Welcome to the newsroom. Please sign in here. Now where is that video you have for us?” Those shrinking newsroom staffs mean you can join the newsroom team for a day by shooting video of your event for them. Our clients have two minutes of video edited and ready to go when the producer’s phone call comes in. When our clients are booked as guests on the news, we send that video to the news producers to improve the quality of our interviews.

Many times a news agency that could not make it out to your news event will use cell phone video on the news if you shoot it well and email it to them. You should plan to shoot video at your event, have someone email it to the newsrooms and then call to make sure they know it’s there.

The last line of defense for your story pitch is to become a de facto web producer. This is your last ditch effort to win coverage. The news agency did not send a camera crew to your event, but you took great pictures or captured fantastic video footage. Email the images you’ve taken to the news agencies with your original news release, call them and ask them to forward the email to their web producer to post a story online. When this works, you have a story online, and you can send out that story link on all of your social media platforms to repeat your message again.

Use These Strategies to Grow Your Practice

These five strategies you need to know about public relations and your practice will help you win coverage and position your physicians as authorities on health issues in your region. 

Having effective public relations strategies in place can quickly establish your group’s expertise and attract more patients to your practice, instead of giving all the glory to the health Google search.

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Keeping Your Medical Practice Relevant During Coronavirus

Patient messaging must be very deliberate because this target audience is really paying attention to the communications coming from your practice. This elevates your marketing team as a critical component beyond communication and into practice builders. The efforts to build your practice as a stable resource during troubled times should even extend to engaging remote or furloughed employees. Authentic communications on social media, on your website, and in other channels, provide the stability your patients, employees, their families, and the community at large are desperate for when so much seems uncertain.

The biggest takeaways from the COVID-19 pandemic are that now is not the time to hit the brakes on marketing. The most successful practices look at this as an opportunity to try new things, like telemedicine, or social media marketing, so that they have a backlog of patients ready to come to their practice when reopening is complete. During this time, medical practices should:

  • Pivot fast from marketing strategies and stay nimble.
  • Remain ultra-sensitive to messaging across marketing channels.
  • Use marketing to stay relevant to their target audiences.