Leverage Patient Case Studies to Launch New Services

Patience Pays When Rolling Out That Shiny New Thing

Earlier this year, we shared a blog on how making your healthcare event about people can draw in the media. But the same goes for the launch of a new technology or service: framing your offering in human terms, and attaching a great patient case study, can turn a dry pitch into a must-do story, or elevate a three-inch business brief into a front-page feature story.

But be advised: it might take patience and discipline from all involved. Your CEO, lead surgeon, or department head might be anxious to let the public know about an expensive new piece of equipment. The marketing department or office manager might feel pressure to let people know about that new service or surgical technique so it can start returning the time and financial investment required to bring it on line. It’s up to the communications professional to rein in those impulses and help develop a plan that makes sense from both a business and media relations point of view. The payoff for waiting can be big.

Patient Case Study Sells “Air Expansion”

In October, 2017, a breast reconstruction surgeon for our client Holy Redeemer Health System began pioneering a new, noninvasive way of expanding the breast cavity for post-mastectomy implants. The technology, involving bursts of CO2 delivered via remote control at home, through clothes, instead of weekly saline injections in the doctor’s office, was both game-changing and visually friendly, as the manufacturer had provided samples to help explain the procedure to candidates. Dr. William Scarlett, also the health system’s interim chief of surgery, was currently the only physician in the region using the system, called AirXpander.

The urge to shout about this was strong; no one knew for sure how long Dr. Scarlett would have exclusivity with AirXpander. But we knew the first thing just about any reporter would ask would be “Can I talk to a patient?” The problem was, patients were initially few and far between. Additionally, as the process takes an average of seven weeks to complete before permanent implants could be installed, there’d be no success stories to talk about until late fall, at the earliest.

So we waited. By early 2018 he had several successful “air expansions” under his belt, and more importantly, was still the only surgeon in the Philadelphia area using it, according to the manufacturer. It was time to strike, and fortuitously, Dr. Scarlett had the perfect patient case study.

Miriam, a 69-year-old former Philly resident now living in Florida, had resisted implants until learning of Holy Redeemer’s offering through a friend. She had beaten breast cancer and had just completed the reconstruction surgery, and was making occasional trips back north for follow-up appointments and to visit family and friends. She was also the adoptive mother of three Asian daughters, now adults, and was using her journey as a teachable moment for them. Along those lines, she very much wanted to let other women know about the technology, which she felt significantly eased the reconstruction process. No one could’ve asked for a better patient to offer the media.

The local ABC station, to whom we’d offered the story exclusively, loved Miriam and promptly scheduled interviews to coincide with her next appointment in May at the doctor’s Bensalem office. In June, eight months after we first had a demo of AirXpander, the station ran a three-minute feature story. We are currently pitching AirXpander elsewhere.

Tell a Great Story, Even if You Have to Wait to Tell It

While not every patient case study will be as perfect as Miriam, it’s worth biding your time until you can find one or more who have been treated successfully and can proselytize about your new equipment or service. It’s always more effective to tell stories about people, rather than about machines, and if you can get patients to tell their own stories, better yet.

Waiting doesn’t have to be passive; you can use the time to gather more information, hone your pitch, or tease reporters with information, and the prospect of connecting them to a “great patient whose life has changed.” Offer an exclusive to one particular outlet in exchange for their forbearance.

You might not always be first out of the gate, but if you can present an exceptional case study, you’re more likely to inspire media to cover your shiny new thing.

Happy 36th (Wait, What?) Anniversary!

An Unexpected Pitch Can Pay Off

Conventional wisdom in public relations goes you should only bother promoting a company anniversary if the year ends in zero or five; nothing in between matters to anybody but employees (and even when it ends in zero or five it’s not necessarily newsworthy to outsiders).

So how did SPRYTE score a front-page-teased feature story in a local daily newspaper about their home care client’s 36th anniversary? Easy, we pitched it!

Earn Media by Doing the Unexpected

It’s a case study of how going against the grain can sometimes help with your reputation marketing campaign, and even generate earned media results. In this case, we benefited from the fact no one was expecting a story about an off-year celebration.

Griswold Home Care had neither a special logo nor a year-long marketing campaign to mark its 36th year, especially after celebrating its 35th in 2017. What it did have, however, was a big party for staff, caregivers and partners. Local politicians turned out too and delivered remarks. So why was this party special?

After more than three and a half decades, Griswold Home Care still embraces the vision and values of its founder and matriarch, Jean Griswold. The business wasn’t begun as a moneymaking enterprise; it was sparked by one woman who wanted to ensure no senior was left vulnerable in their home as they aged, even if they lived alone. This mission, company leadership believe, is worth celebrating annually.

That’s the story we strived to tell to the local media. This wasn’t so much an anniversary but an annual thank you to the caregivers and employees who fulfill Jean Griswold’s ideal every day. It was about boosting morale, not celebrating a number, and there’d be more such celebrations in the future, each year on April 26th, zeroes and fives be damned.

This unapologetic approach drew attention in a raised eyebrow kind of way, leading one reporter to seek an interview with Griswold’s CEO. The journalist was already familiar with the locally based home care franchise company, having written about it the prior year…on the occasion of its 35th anniversary.

Don’t Overlook Great Photos, People Stories

To add more human interest to the pitch, we highlighted one particular caregiver who’d been with the company since its first year, and who was saluted during the event.

It also didn’t hurt that we offered good photos of company leadership and caregivers with the county commissioner and Pennsylvania state legislators. As is often the case, good quality visuals can help sell the story.

The resulting article, titled “Griswold Home Care plans ‘morale booster’” topped the newspaper’s business section five days after the anniversary. The lead of the story noted that Griswold simply didn’t want to wait four more years for another occasion to honor its compassionate employees. The story also included a paragraph about the longtime caregiver, Allegra Chaney.

Clear Messages Help in Reputation Marketing

Anniversary stories in general are valuable as they convey that the organization is enduring. This article in particular added the messages that Griswold has long-term, caring employees and is a good place to work – traits that are appealing to prospective patients, clients and staff, and which healthcare organizations should always try to include in their reputation marketing campaigns.

This event and the result illustrate that when it comes to media relations, the number of years in business is less significant than the people you employ, and how your organization stands out from others. Don’t overlook opportunities to mine what you’re doing that’s different or contrarian for press attention.

Find out more about SPRYTE’s Public Affairs and Reputation Management services.

Shine a Light on Your Docs

Social Media Can Help Humanize Your Front Line Physicians

According to the National Institutes of Health, patients only get to spend a median of 15.7 minutes in consultation with their doctor during an appointment. It’s hardly enough time to forge a relationship, or even get to know the doctor outside a purely clinical context.

But, hey, doctors are people too, and health organizations that spend a little time portraying them as such can create fans, inspire loyalty, generate valuable feedback and remove much of the intimidation in the doctor-patient relationship. And social media marketing is an easy way to do that.

Posts highlighting your physicians, and even nurses, nurse practitioners and other frontline clinical staff will put a face with a name, remove some of the mystery, and essentially humanize them among your followers. And they can give a morale boost to those you feature, particularly professionals who aren’t used to being in the spotlight.

George Clooney in a Lab Coat

Just ask Dr. Lorenz Iannarone, a surgeon whom SPRYTE highlighted for client Holy Redeemer Health System on Facebook in May…and who garnered 176 likes and 56 glowing comments from past and current patients. A largely unassuming man, Dr. Iannarone was praised for being compassionate, gentle and a good colleague, and one fan even called him “the George Clooney of medicine.”

Such testimonials don’t simply make a doctor feel good; recommendations from others (in person or online) are a key driver of medical decision making, so organic, heart-felt reviews can be powerful from a brand management point of view. They help deliver the implied message that your clinicians are kind, caring and patient-focused – whether or not they’re the second coming of Dr. Doug Ross.

It pays to schedule in recurring practitioner posts in your social media calendar. Holy Redeemer simply calls theirs “Practioner Spotlights” and they are posted weekly. Other organizations might call them “Featured Doctor,” “Featured Provider,” “Doctor Spotlight,” or something else. What you name it isn’t as important as the fact you’re doing it.

Inform, but Make it Personal

Practioner Spotlight, which appears Wednesdays, includes a summary of the doctor’s specialty, a sentence about where they earned their medical degree(s) or served their residency, and a sentence about their particular area of passion, if they have one. These posts often include a sentence on what the practitioner likes doing off the clock – a large ingredient toward humanizing them.

Of course, a good photo is mandatory. This should be a professional head shot or a good quality staged photo in a clinical setting. Be selective. A poor quality image or a shot of the doctor with a scowl or neutral expression won’t cut it. Make sure they’re flashing their pearly whites.

Here are some more tips for making your physicians part of your social content marketing program:

  • Brand your posts. You can frame your featured practitioner in your organization’s colors or other brand elements. Reserve this framing exclusively for your recurring spotlights. If the clinician is wearing a labcoat, make sure the logo is visible.
  • Highlight new docs. Welcome them publicly by putting them front and center in your social media, to introduce them to followers and patients.
  • Give shout outs when appropriate. Put the spotlight on a practitioner who has been recognized with an award or accreditation. You can use this tactic for personal accomplishments too, such as completing a marathon or being recognized for their off-hours charitable activities.
  • Make it easy for followers. Include the practioner’s office number or website and the name of their practice, if applicable, to facilitate appointments.
  • Be consistent. Whether you highlight someone weekly or bi-weekly, be sure to stick with it so it can build momentum, and followers expect to see it regularly. If you pick a day of the week, keep posting on that day.

Your doctors and other practitioners are the faces of your practice or system. Social media is a great way to part the curtain to let patients and other fans know who they are beyond the name on your website.

Mark Your Calendar!

Using Community Calendars to Promote Your Healthcare Event or Fundraiser

There’s a pivotal moment in the classic baseball movie “Field of Dreams” when Kevin Costner is standing in the midst of a cornfield and hears a voice say: “If you build it, he will come.”

With the support of his loving wife, played by Amy Madigan (and despite many questions about his sanity), he builds a baseball diamond on his cornfield and is soon visited by the incarnations of long-dead baseball greats reuniting to play ball.

As a healthcare communicator, you may need to have as much diligence and perseverance in promoting your healthcare screening, charitable fundraiser or community recognition event in order to achieve maximum interest and attendance.

As you are devising your earned media strategy, don’t overlook the value of good old-fashioned citizen journalism. Community calendar listings can be a  free and practical way to reach your targeted community supporters.

Do Your Homework

It sounds simple. Go online. Locate a website. Post your information. Those are the basics. Of course, there’s a bit more to it.

In other words, you’ll need to do some homework.

As with any marketing effort, you will first need to define your audience. Who are you targeting? Are you segmenting by geography? By demographics? By topic/interest? By income? Clearly establishing who you want to reach will help you decide on the best way to reach them.

Next you will want to determine the range of calendar listing opportunities that are available to you. Start with your local mainstream media. Local daily, weekly and independent community newspapers and broadcast television and radio stations often maintain community calendars on their websites that consumers can access and post to. (Note: We are seeing a growing trend in which websites require users to select a permanent User Name and Password in order to access calendar posting applications. Make sure to keep a running list of the sites, the User Name you select and your Password for future use. Or you can utilize a reliable Password app. You’ll save yourself a lot of time and trouble.)

If there isn’t a special community calendar, you might try sending in your information as a news tip. Often there is a special “newstips” email listed under the contact section. Or you can try to look up the local community news editor, if there is one.

Audience Interests

Who are you trying to reach with your message/event?  People interested in health or fitness tips or information? Senior citizens? Mothers or mothers-to-be? Parents with school age children? Family members of patients with cancer, cardio-pulmonary or other illnesses?

See if there are local support or special interest groups aligned with your topic or interest that might consider posting your information or making it available to their members.

One way to get a quick idea of what’s out there is to do a Google search: Type in “Community Calendar” and your relevant zip code.

The Message

The main thing, of course, is to make sure your target audience is getting accurate up-to-date information. For community calendar listings, it’s easy to put together a basic message containing the Who, What, Where and When that can be copied and pasted for the various sites.

Depending on the site, you may have to spend some time inputting specific information, particularly if your event or program runs over multiple dates. Make sure you have the proper times and locations, as well. (The simplest details can be the easiest to overlook.)

Also, make sure to provide a contact where interested persons may obtain additional information or clarification of details. Ideally you’ll have one person designated as your information contact, along with their name, email and/or phone number.

As a final touch, make sure to include your logo or some other visual that reflects your organization (or brand) or graphically supports the message and theme of your event.

Event planning is no field of dreams. Just because you’re willing to stage a special event doesn’t automatically mean people will come. You still need to make them aware of the event and why it’s important for them to attend.

In a lot of ways an effective community calendar program is like playing “small ball” baseball.  You’re not swinging for the fences. You’re bunting, running, singling and scoring by doing all the little things right. But that still takes preparation, alertness and the determination to get the job done.

Declare Independence from the Mainstream Media

Owned Media Lets Health Organizations Talk Directly to Consumers, Brand Loyalists

As we celebrate Independence Day, it’s worth looking at a great way for healthcare organizations to declare their independence from earned media: owned media and citizen journalism.

While that “third-party endorsement” can be valuable, so too can controlling your own messages, and speaking directly to those who are already interested or invested in your organization, such as current and former patients and community partners. Social media is the most visible and most recent tool to reach these audiences, but others have existed for some time and are just as useful for engaging and strenghtening the relationship with those who’ve benefitted from your services or have expressed interest in them.

Owned media simply refers to forms of mass communication you produce, or can control. Beyond Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and their ilk, owned media includes other forms of content marketing such as your very website, electronic newsletters, blogs, podcasts and online or print magazines.

Content is the Key

These tools, produced weekly, monthly or, more likely in the case of a magazine, quarterly or semi-annually, can help your practice or health system tell your best stories, share lifestyle tips and get out word of health screenings, blood drives, fundraisers and other events without going through media “gatekeepers.”

But just because you can control the content and the messages doesn’t mean you can put out just anything. Self-promotion, in small doses, is expected, but to get readers coming back and to create true fans, your owned media needs mostly to deliver content that is useful or educational, entertaining, compelling, or inspirational. Generally, the same techniques for gaining earned media apply to owned media: tell great stories, or provide something readers can’t get anywhere else. This applies to both print and online publications.

The stories you share, whether they are profiles of physicians and other staff, expert advice from your physicians, healthy recipes or the launch of new equipment or a new service (and how a patient has benefitted), can humanize your organization, send the message that it’s on the cutting-edge, or validate it as a source of valuable information, three key components of building loyalty.

Once you’ve established your format and have a consistent flow of content to feed it, you can repurpose those stories for other platforms, primarily your social media channels. Each post should link back to the mother publication or website to gain more eyeballs and more subscribers.

Citizen Journalism

Then there’s citizen journalism, a happy development that has only become more prevalent in recent years. Effectively complementing earned media, citizen journalism provides an opportunity to place your news, event, or other story online at third-party websites, with little or no filtering by editors.

These can include hyper-local websites like Patch.com, which has several thousand editions sprinkled in towns and DMAs across the country, and Tapinto.net, which is developing franchises at a rapid pace in the Northeast. Once you’ve registered, both sites allow you to submit content in the form of news releases, articles and event listings. Typically anything that’s not obviously objectionable and doesn’t violate site rules will see sunshine. Some online news sources will even let you post in multiple neighboring editions, or do it automatically for you.

Online calendars, either stand-alone like Eventful.com, or on traditional media websites (e.g. “6ABC Community Calendar”) are also a valuable way to promote the healthcare events, fundraisers and expos your organization might host or sponsor. Most, of course, give you the option to promote your event for a fee.

Personnel announcements, a frequent occurrence for health systems and practices, may also be submitted via online form to some publications like city business magazines, but more of them are now charging for placement, including your write-up and submitted photograph. However these can also be submitted as articles at the above mentioned hyperlocal sites.

The concept of media has expanded significantly over the past decade or so, and consumers have come to trust news they find online or in their mailbox from a growing variety of sources. By taking advantage of these new avenues, we can truly declare independence from media gatekeepers. Happy Independence Day!