Building Relationships with Healthcare Journalists

The More You Know, the More They Want You on Speed Dial

Capturing the attention of a healthcare reporter is the age-old challenge for health communications professionals.  But you can improve your odds if you remember the “relations” part of public relations.

In a recent webinar hosted by the New England Society of Healthcare Communications (NESHCo), of which SPRYTE is a member, Jessica Bartlett, the healthcare reporter for the Boston Business Journal, shared her advice for building mutually beneficial relationships with reporters.

Her tips go beyond the healthcare industry; touching on, for example, simple ways to stay in contact with reporters so they’ll be more likely to read your next pitch.

These days, that means following the reporter on social media, primarily Twitter in Bartlett’s case, getting a sense of what kind of stories they write, and where their passions lie, both professionally and outside of the newsroom.  Open a friendly dialogue, like and retweet their tweets (tagging the reporter), and above all, reach out occasionally when you’re NOT pitching a story, to share something of interest, or to compliment a recent story.

That’s a great way to build your creds as a friendly source, but with a growing universe of journalists covering every industry, it’s not practical with everyone.  At minimum, you should look at social media profiles and read recent articles by reporters you want to pitch.

Bartlett is not unlike other healthcare business writers in the topics she likes to cover. These include:

  • Growths/mergers/acquisitions
  • Hiring/layoffs
  • Groundbreaking science with business implications
  • Financial changes
  • Lawsuits
  • Policy proposals with large scale ramifications
  • Executive changes
  • Local takes on national hot healthcare topics
  • Analysis of healthcare trends with large impact

Before sending the pitch, ask yourself whether your story will interest a large number of people, is healthcare related, and above all, why it is important now.  Bartlett notes she’s far more likely to open and consider a pitch, among the hundreds she receives weekly, when there’s a timely element.

Her point speaks to a reality of journalism: breaking news is always hot, while more “evergreen” stories — even those with merit — get relegated to the back burner.  Although print deadlines and print publications are still foundational in our industry, daily e-mail blasts and the online publication need constant feeding, so timely content is always welcome – and prioritized.

Keep in mind a good journalist relationship should go both ways.  The writer will know you’re “in the know” about your clients and can put her in touch with appropriate spokespeople quickly; and you’ll be more comfortable when responding to negative news or discussing controversial issues, like a strike or lawsuit.

Remember, too, that from the journalist’s point of view, being first is only second to being accurate.  So if you can respond quickly, preferably before anyone else, you’ll be much more likely to get your organization included.  And the reporter will be more inclined to reach out to you the next time. That’s what media relations is all about.