Twitter Tactics to Reach Reporters

Building Relationships Still Key to Success

It’s often said that it takes work to make a marriage work. Melding two lives, lifestyles and families is a constant challenge. Business relationships are more transactional, working best when each party has an understanding of the others’ specific needs and they can strive together toward a common goal.

Media relationships are somewhere in between – often having the transactional nature of the business relationship, but based on a somewhat more intimate level of understanding between the parties involved. It’s through that more intimate level of understanding that you can build a closer connection – in general, and especially in social media.

From a media relations standpoint, SPRYTE has found that Twitter offers an excellent avenue and opportunities for achieving a closer connection with print media targets via social media.

 

Understand the Reporter’s Needs and Interests

Being able to build such connections, of course, is part of the PR playbook.

To do that, you need to understand a reporter’s needs and interests. What motivates him/her? The best way to start? Simple. Follow them. Spend several days (or weeks) getting to know what topics and stories interest them. What are they writing about?  What else are they reading – and sharing via their Twitter feeds? What do their comments tell you about how they think? Maybe you’ll be able to identify some personal characteristics or interests that will come in handy later.

Make sure to share articles they write (especially if they involve you or your client), and to accompany the share with a favorable comment of your own (if warranted, naturally). Don’t forget to include to mention “@YourBusinessHandle” in the messaging.

More and more media outlets are using social media analytics to gauge the popularity and impact of their news talent, so there can be some real value from their standpoint. Be active, but don’t be obsequious.

Direct messaging, of course, can be a great advantage if you and your target reporter follow each other. And once you’ve established the rapport, you can follow-up with email, if it’s more convenient.

 

Seeing it in Action

Often, a simple “heads up” about an upcoming event can be enough to spur interest. Not long ago, one of our hospice clients was planning a special Gift of A Day (perfect day realized) for a patient – our client had rented out an old-time movie theater for a special screening of “Singin’ In The Rain” for her and her family. There was also a limo, a red carpet, a professional singer and greeters in yellow raincoats to help lend excitement.

Our target journalist was a community reporter for a Northeast Ohio daily newspaper. Based on her Twitter feed, it was evident she favored “human interest” type stories such as this. A Twitter message intrigued her enough to follow-up:

The Tweet led to a series of back and forth emails through which we set her up with interviews with family members and client staff, as well as the owners of the theater hosting the event.

The result was a huge feature story in the Akron Beacon-Journal on the front page of the community section, complete with color photos of the patient, family, limo, red carpet and raingear-garbed attendants.

Could we have done it without Twitter? Probably. But Twitter gave us the ability to quickly review our target, ascertain her interests, and deliver a short, enticing message designed just for her.

Twitter can be a time-saver as well as a strategic tool. But like any tool, you need to spend some time and experiment with it in order to become an expert craftsman.

Make Your Media Event about People

Transcend the Photo Op with Human Stories

Every organization has media events, and everyone thinks theirs is special, different, or worthy of news coverage. The truth is, journalists have seen many of these happenings before, covered them ad nauseam, and maybe even ignore them altogether.

One way to entice cameras, of course, is creating a really great visual, something that they just can’t live without. But sometimes there’s nothing you can add visually, and some photo ops just don’t get reporters excited because they’ve been there, done that. That’s when it’s helpful to turn to the human story inside of your media event to generate great health system PR.

That party for underprivileged children? Not a big deal to jaded editors, but imagine if one of those kids is reunited with a military parent on leave during the party? We’ve seen these stories time and again, but there’s always interest because of the emotions involved.

Take a deep look at not only WHAT is happening at your media event, but WHO it is happening too. In any group, there’s usually one or two participants for whom the event is most meaningful. If you can find those people, and learn their backstories, you can more easily sell your event, because now it’s not merely a “photo op” but a human interest story.

A Love Story…Broken

Take our health system client’s recent “virtual dementia tour,” for example. This is a recurring opportunity for caregivers and family members to literally walk in the shoes of dementia patients, such as Alzheimer’s sufferers, seeing what they see and experiencing what they feel through special goggles, gloves, headphones and shoe inserts. The virtual dementia tour is provided by a handful of companies around the country, which contract with hospitals, hospice companies, nursing homes and other organizations to deliver the experience to those with an interest.

In our research, we found that TV stations and some newspapers have covered virtual dementia tours when they’ve occurred in other markets, and one or two even covered a prior event in this health system’s service area of Philadelphia. On the one hand, that meant there’s proven interest in the topic among the media. On the other, it’s not particularly new. So how could we excite the media for this latest tour?

Upon learning that one woman signed up for the dementia tour because her husband, a patient at our client’s assisted living facility, had Alzheimer’s and wanted to see what he was going through, we were sold, and we thought we’d be able to entice the media with it too. We were told she’d be happy to talk with a reporter, and even accompany one through the dementia experience for the cameras (within the constricts of what the tour provider allows, for proprietary reasons).

This couple had been married for 65 years, and the husband has been suffering from dementia for the past nine. This was her chance to better understand what goes on inside his head, particularly since he is no longer able to speak. A local television health reporter was intrigued, and she determined early in the process that her story about the virtual dementia tour would be focused on this woman. The reporter even requested still photos of the couple in better times, which the wife was happy to bring along.

Coverage was not only assured, but it was now a highlight of that evening’s newscast. While most photo ops might, at best, merit a 45-second voiceover, now that this was about people, rather than a high-tech, visual event, the result was a nearly three-minute feature story.

Build People into your Media Event Planning

When planning outreach for your media event, build into your plans the people who will be attending. Attempt to learn the following:

  • What motivates them to be there?
  • Why is this important to them?
  • What is their “backstory” as it relates to this event?
  • What will happen to them after the event, or how will things be different?

Not everyone’s going to have a relevant story, let alone one that might be newsworthy, so you might have to speak with several people, or staff or organizers who know some of them personally. But you’ll find it’s usually worth the effort.

It’s academic to say that all news is about people, but if you have a human face and a great story to complement an otherwise ordinary activity, your event becomes much more than an event.

Great Stories = Great Earned Media

Seek Human Angles, Community Activity

It’s the age-old question: If a tree falls in the forest and no one is there to hear it, does it make a sound?

There are many ways to argue it of course. At its most basic, sound is vibrations in the air and whether or not there are ears there to hear it is irrelevant. But this blog is not about arguing the merits of old philosophical dilemmas. Rather, it’s about bringing attention to your organization’s events. And some might argue that if you have an event and no one is there to witness it, it really wasn’t an event at all.

But how do you go about getting the media to your events? It is incumbent upon you to get inside the mind of the viewer and the journalist and think about what’s newsworthy. We know the more salacious the better, and if anything bad or controversial occurs rest assured they’ll be out in force, possibly with helicopters. But if we’re being honest we also know that the media generally seek balance and will engage with a story that is interesting or has “feel good” value. These qualities, along with community outreach initiatives and technological breakthroughs can elevate the reputation of your hospital, health system or facility, and draw in journalists, so start by focusing your efforts there.
The Plan of Attack

A recent SPRYTE example illustrates this approach. Responsible for the promotion of the 2017 American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) Philadelphia Marathon, SPRYTE employed two of our tried and true tactics, the media advisory and the story pitch, to gain a tremendous amount of media coverage over five months, culminating with the AACR Philadelphia Marathon Weekend Nov. 18-19.

Media advisories were used for pep rallies and announcements, and pitches employed for feature stories. These included the story of U.S. Army Sgt. (Retired) Earl Granville, an Afghanistan vet and wounded warrior who ran the Dietz & Watson Half Marathon Nov. 18 on a prosthetic leg. It was a powerful story that begged for media coverage…and received it, from NBC10, CBS3 and Fox29.

Breandan Lyman also got media loving for his two unlikely paired hobbies: distance running and competitive eating. The frequent Philadelphia “Wing Bowl” competitor was featured in Philadelphia Metro the week leading up to the Marathon. These are just two of the many powerful and quirky stories that have value. You can view these and other Marathon earned media results at this link.

 

The Best Laid Plans…

Alas, it is possible to work everything just right and still miss out on media engagement. For instance, your charitable fundraiser can easily get bumped by another story such as a house fire or local scandal. That’s the nature of the beast. You can’t count on the coverage until you see it on air or in print.

 

Media is Not the Enemy

As we alluded to above, it’s easy to think of the media as that ogre that shows up to call attention to something bad, but this thinking is limiting and not altogether true. The fact is, media want newsworthy content. Giving them what they crave helps them as well as you. Once your story gets covered, it is free and, via social media, possibly viral publicity, ready to be merchandised and shared through your own social channels and other communications tool, as discussed in last week’s Insights blog.

The “Afterlife” of Earned Media Hits

Extend Reach by Marketing the Marketing

If there’s one thing SPRYTE is good at, it’s generating great earned media results for our clients. But what becomes of those terrific stories after they appear?

In days gone by, an article would run in a paper or magazine, (hopefully) be seen by thousands or maybe millions of readers, then get relegated to the recycling bin or bottom of the proverbial birdcage. The agency or client might add the clip to a digital archive, to trot out when someone asked for it down the road. More savvy organizations might get reprints made and add them to their marketing materials.

With the advent of the internet, however, those once-fleeting media “hits” have found an extended afterlife. Those wonderful stories live online, potentially in perpetuity, to be found by consumers, prospective employees and journalists researching your organization. (Unfortunately, so do negative ones, but that’s a topic for another discussion.)

As those stories accumulate, your SEO results will likely increase too. If you’ve read our prior blog on getting backlinks, you’ll have had success in getting journalists to include links to your organization in the online version of stories. According to Google, a whopping 99.2% of sites that show up in the top 50 search results have at least one external link. The more earned media hits you receive, the more valuable links back to your site from legitimate news sources…and the more your credibility will rise in the eyes of Google and other search engines.

SPRYTE, like most agencies, has always merchandised our media results for clients, but our clients have become more and more interested in merchandising them to their own audiences, whether those are patients and prospective patients, employees/doctors, prospective partners and affiliates, franchises or the general public.

And we’re very happy to help, by providing new introductory copy, writing social media posts, or securing digital reprints.

 

Beyond the Birdcage

Here are some ways we recommend taking that glowing media story “beyond the birdcage”:

  • Post the article on your organization’s website, either on your dedicated “In the News Page” if you have one, or your home page if the story merits marquee treatment. You can include a thumbnail, a link to the original source, or a readable image.
  • E-mail a PDF of the article with a cover note to your marketing list, or consider snail-mailing hard copies with a cover letter or handwritten Post-It note (“I just wanted to make sure you saw this great article…”) to particularly hot prospects.
  • Include the article link or the entire article in your organization’s internal newsletter.
  • Share the article link on all your social media channels, and encourage your employees or employee-ambassadors to share or post it on their personal feeds as well.
  • If you’re a franchisor, like a home care company, provide your franchise owners with a ready-to-use blog or paragraph and link that they can use on their microsites, if available.
  • Prepare copy for each of the main social media channels, making posting a turn-key process for franchise owners or affiliates. (Remember, you now have 280 characters to boast on Twitter!)
  • Make hard copies of the article for hand out at trade shows or expos, or to include in leave-behinds. Enlarge and mount the article on foam board for display at your booth or table.
  • Broadcast stories can be edited together and added to the website, played on a loop in waiting rooms, or shown during expos.

One SPRYTE client was so thrilled with the breadth and quality of coverage we generated that they revamped their lobby wall to create a “Wall of Fame” featuring our greatest hits!

 

Run with it, but Play by the Rules

A word of caution: check with the article rights holder before mass distributing any story. Linking to the original source is acceptable in most cases, and the Fair Use Doctrine may apply in many others, but as some stories reside behind paywalls, written permission and/or a fee may be required. Many publications also provide official reprints, including the masthead, at a cost.

Even if you’re not redoing the décor to highlight media hits, positive articles about your organization should become another arrow in your marketing quiver. Fortunately, there are many avenues to prolong the afterlife of great publicity!

When Media Worlds Collide

Specialization is Great, But Integration is Better

By Lonny Strum, Strum Consulting Group

I grew up in the industry in the late 70s and 80s at BBDO/New York. Just post-Mad Men era, though not too far removed. For its many flaws, BBDO/New York was a truly great agency. BBDO and its clients knew what it was—a TV shop for big brands which were looking to build their image through TV advertising. Not print, not radio—TV. In that era, BBDO was second to none.

My career moved to Philadelphia in the 90s where I ran two large local agencies—Earle Palmer Brown and later the Star Group—though much of what I learned about the power of TV advertising remained in my soul. Nonethetheless, I gained a deeper appreciation for “other marketing disciplines”—PR, Yellow Pages Advertising, Direct Response and later some early Web Development. BBDO had none of these other disciplines. It didn’t have to. There were other shops in the BBDO network and later the Omnicom Diversified Agency Services (DAS) network that did that “other stuff.” And in the 70s and 80s, the other stuff was myopically viewed as secondary.

Changes happened along the way, some subtle others not so. Even before that information superhighway thing took off (and I thought it was a fad—oops), the growth of “below the line” functions—promotion, DR, PR – grew faster than general advertising. Then media shops were spun off into separate companies, leaving the big ad shops as largely strategic/creative firms. Then all hell broke loose as digital shops grew and continue to grow. While traditional ad spending still is the dominant form of spending, I foresee the day in the not too distant future when general advertising is “below the line.” Truth of the matter is the line has now been blurred, and today there is no line at all.

Today the three media worlds—paid, owned and earned– are experiencing a convergence.  To be clear the three media worlds are:

Paid media is media you buy—TV ads, radio, outdoor, print, display advertising, paid search, TV spots, outdoor advertising, etc.

Owned media is as it says-you own it. Your web site, blog, YouTube Channel, social media pages, etc. The company controls the horizontal. The company controls the vertical. (see The Outer Limits)

Earned media is typically what people thought of as PR but which now has a broader application. From traditional  articles/mentions and word-of-mouth to new social media chatter, likes, reviews, links,  etc. — basically what people are genuinely saying about you digitally or not, that you didn’t pay for or control.

This convergence is kind of like a Vulcan mind meld and you need to have the wisdom and knowledge of Spock to orchestrate it properly.  Here’s the real challenge:

In this complex marketing world, marketing discipline specialization is so important. It is a full time job mastering the detail and gaining a deep and full understanding of a marketing discipline/media type particularly when layered with the digital implications that never even existed in yesteryear. Despite the need for specialization, there has never been a time where integration of those disciplines is more important. Said simply,

Specialization without orchestration yields no integration

(overuse of the “ations” I know, but you get the point)

My point is this: Never has there been more marketing specialization in distinct areas—traditional advertising, PR, media planning/buying, social media, search, SEO, digital advertising. Each element overlaps the other. In yesteryear specialized disciplines were handled by separate “departments” of ad agencies. Today they are handled by separate agencies.

So where is the integration happening? Mainly at companies by smart digitally focused, analytic-centric, renaissance marketing people. This integrator needs to be incredibly smart, versatile and visionary.

For those who are entering the marketing field, you should aspire to ultimately be that person. The person with the vision of how the pieces really work together. My advice is always try to learn about disciplines outside of your specialty, figure out how they work together, and then go to the head of the convergence class.

The Power of Pooches

Don’t Overlook Animals, Kids in Drawing Media

Never work with animals or children, goes the old show business saw.

The point is, you will be upstaged, even ignored, in favor of your cute or furry costars. But what might be anathema to a vaudeville performer, movie star or TV host can be a camera magnet for your organization’s community event. And in an arena where story and brand matter more than the individual, most healthcare communicators will happily cede the spotlight to the kids and/or creatures.

If You Want Press, Ignore Old Adages

Indeed, it pays to pull out all the stops if you’ve got something going on that involves animals or kids. A physical fitness program for youngsters, with gold, silver and bronze medals, can be a winner to a local TV station. And you’ll never bark up the wrong tree alerting media to a therapy dog recruitment or training session at your hospital, rehab center, or ambulatory care facility.

And if there’s anything more appealing than children and animals, it is their interaction with patients or seniors in the assisted living environment. Consider the potential of having kindergarteners making holiday crafts for veterans with elderly residents of your facility. Or inviting grandchildren and their pets to come for a special visit, complete with animal treats.

The Dog Days of Summer

The latter was an event held at the Lafayette active retirement community of Holy Redeemer Health System, one of SPRYTE’s clients. During its Dog Days of Summer Pup Parade, family members trotted their best friends in front of the center’s gathered residents, as an emcee introduced each animal and read its “biography” (“Rex loves sleeping at the foot of the bed, and will let you pet him under his chin all day…”). The well-attended event included doggy bags as gifts for the participating pups, canine-themed (but human-edible) snacks, and lots of kisses, licks and hugs. Along with highlighting the important role animals can play in the lives of seniors, some of whom have to give up beloved pets when they move into a facility, this was a ready-made, tug-at-the-heartstrings human interest story.

Is it any wonder events like this draw cameras? In this case, two local TV stations and a news radio station covered the parade.

Sell the Story, not the Fur

Be sure to let the event drive the cameras, not the other way around. Resist the urge to manipulate circumstances to put children or animals in a room. Instead, look for organic opportunities, and those that make sense from a seasonal or patient-focused standpoint. A mentoring program that allows children and seniors to interact monthly or quarterly during the school year is far more compelling than a one-and-done meet-and-greet.

Events created from whole cloth with no logical reason for being will be sniffed out by the media like a bloodhound on the trail of small prey. The Summer Pup Parade, which it is hoped will become an annual event, works because of the joy it brings the residents.

So take a look at what’s coming down the pike within your organization, and if kids or animals are involved, or make sense, go after media coverage with the tenacity of a junkyard dog. But remember: unless your spokesperson has the wit of a late night talk show host, don’t let him or her anywhere near a furry creature.

Harness the Exclusive

A Scoop Can Yield Results

When planning an earned media campaign for your organization, keep in mind the power of the exclusive. It can be used to forge a relationship with a reporter, or strengthen an existing one. And in our experience it might increase the odds of your news or story getting published or aired if the media outlet knows it is the only or first one who has the information.

At SPRYTE, we’ve cultivated many terrific relationships with healthcare writers both locally and in key trade publications and blogs. So when we have a strong story pitch or a timely news announcement for a client, one of the first things we ask ourselves is “Is there a key reporter we can offer this to as an exclusive?”

Usually, the answer will be obvious: that journalist whose outlet is most local or most relevant to the client. Other times, we’ll offer it to a friendly writer who previously covered the client. They might be one and the same, or they might be different.

A Laughing Matter: Nitrous Oxide

A recent example came when our client, a regional health system, became the first in the area to offer nitrous-oxide, aka laughing gas, to mothers laboring in the delivery room. Ni-Ox is a game-changer, as patients can personally control the flow of gas during active labor, and is completely safe for mother and child. It also hasn’t become widespread yet, so we knew there’d be interest.

We pitched a story including an in-person interview with the hospital’s director of women’s health, to the Bucks County Courier Times, a nearby daily with a readership that contributes a significant number of the hospital’s expectant mothers. The resulting story got prominent play in the paper’s health section, with multiple photos, and noted our client’s focus on giving patients more choices in their care.

But we were far from done. We then pitched the story to the Philadelphia Business Journal, the area’s most important business publication. As they don’t compete directly with the daily newspaper, we felt comfortable again offering it “exclusively.” That story ran three weeks after the other one.

And we are currently working with one of the local network affiliates on a story, which when it comes to fruition will be a local TV exclusive.

Because you’re putting all your marbles in one sack with this approach, it requires some patience, and it’s important to allow some time at the start of a campaign for this window of exclusivity, before going out with your news more broadly. Here are some other things to keep in mind when going this route:

Keep the needs of the media in mind. This might mean deferring to their timeline once you’ve made the offer (this is where the patience comes in).

Exclusive doesn’t mean “only.” Most journalists understand that it simply means they’re getting first crack, but others might follow. And they’re almost always fine with that.

Expand your view of “exclusive.” As we did with the Nitrous-Oxide news, we offered it as a daily newspaper exclusive, a business press exclusive, and a television exclusive. You can also offer an idea as:

  • A trade media exclusive
  • A radio exclusive
  • An online/blog exclusive
  • A local exclusive
  • A national news exclusive

You can even offer these simultaneously, as long as none of the outlets directly competes with one of the others.

Use exclusives strategically. If you offer them to the same reporter over and over, they might lose their luster, and you’re missing an opportunity to build other relationships. Also, there might be times when an exclusive is not appropriate, like when your client has vital or timely information. Examples include tips for protecting yourself during an epidemic, or how the organization is responding to a data breach or cyber-attack.

Keep your word. Once you make an exclusive offer, you are obligated to stand by it and not approach a competing media outlet with the same idea. Violate this at the risk of harming the relationship.

Follow up, but be ready to move on. Contact the journalist once or twice after you offer the exclusive, to gauge interest. If they waffle, or don’t respond, send a final note saying something like “if it’s OK, I’d like to go ahead and offer this idea to another publication as I haven’t heard definitively from you.” Wait one more day, then do it.

The medical exclusive can be a valuable tool when embarking on a campaign. If you manage it properly, it can be a win-win for the reporter and your organization.

When Things Go Wrong in your Media Event

Planning can make all the difference – most of the time

There are many considerations when arranging a media event for your hospital or health system. It’s really not unlike a wedding reception. You spend a great amount of time on planning and want everything to be just right. The naïve believe that anything can be accomplished with proper planning. Realists, meanwhile, roll their eyes and know that it’s impossible to anticipate every little detail. This is where goals meet reality – where the rubber meets the road so to speak.

Anyone who has ever engaged a planner and thrown a big party such as a wedding reception can probably attest that months of planning cannot guarantee everything goes just right. Same holds true for media events. This is not to say that planning is futile. It just means that you have to be prepared for some unplanned circumstance. And if something bad happens, don’t fight it. Consider the instructions for being caught in a rip tide: swim parallel to the beach until you are out of it.

If something goes wrong, rise above it!

Recently, a series of media events in and around Philadelphia was effectively shut down by protestors. The noise-makers were afforded the freedom to protest, even though it negated best-laid plans and ensured the events would make the news for all the wrong reasons. In cases like this, the instinct may be to try and remedy the situation, but be careful not to make matters worse. For example, stepping in to try and stop protesters would make for great TV news video but could be dangerous and quite possibly damaging to your organization’s reputation.

Fortunately, strong planning can eliminate many problems. Basic considerations when planning a media event include venue, time, audience, guests, refreshments, security, media coverage, competing events, spokespeople, audio/video, promotion (before/during/after), and measurement. It may be a great time of year to hold an outdoor event. Go for it! Just be sure to have a backup plan. We recently had to move a sponsorship announcement indoors due to rain (the forecast 24 hours prior looked perfect).

Soon after identifying the need for a media event, conduct a kick off meeting where you can list all of the considerations. From that list, assign responsibilities.

Do not go it alone!

Try to set the date at least a week in advance in order to properly plan and execute. Try to conduct brief daily meetings so the team can report on preparations and identify problem areas. We understand the world doesn’t always afford a week. While it’s possible to condense the preparation window, know that some things may be off the table (bye bye ice sculptures and VIP guests!).

Huddle up, discuss, rinse/repeat

Finally, when your (hopefully successful) event is over, call the team back together for a lessons-learned meeting, or what the government calls a “hot wash.” This is often overlooked but EXTREMELY IMPORTANT. This meeting will allow you to measure success and identify missed opportunities. One example from personal experience: everything goes perfectly until the Q&A session at the end. Crickets. The lesson learned: have a few canned questions ready to go in the audience for such an occasion.

Be sure to formalize all of the lessons in writing it and refer to them the next time you plan an media event. This protocol can also be used for other occasions such as town halls or other high-profile events.

With a little lead time and lots of thought, you will be able to conduct a successful event while keeping stress levels down.

When a Patient Becomes a Cause

Chart a Course of Compassion, Professionalism

The recent, heartbreaking story of Charlie Gard, the U.K. infant whose parents battled to keep him on life support and seek experimental treatment for his genetic disorder in the U.S., over the objection of his doctors, highlights an issue that all healthcare organizations need to think about.

“What happens when our patient becomes a cause célèbre?”

Wikipedia defines “cause célèbre” as “an issue or incident arousing widespread controversy, outside campaigning, and heated public debate. The term is particularly used in connection with celebrated legal cases.” Sometimes, the célèbre part becomes literal, with celebrities voicing opinions on one side or the other.

In the case of little Charlie, everyone from Donald Trump to Cher to Pope Francis weighed in to either offer assistance to the family or implore the hospital to bend to the wishes of the parents. There was massive public pressure on an institution that sincerely believed they were making the best medical decision given the circumstances – and which was no doubt concerned about their legal liability should the baby die when removed from their premises.

This kind of wellspring of sentiment, public opinion and media coverage is, fortunately, rare. But even stories that don’t generate words from world leaders or pop icons can become maelstroms at the local or regional level should word get out that a patient or their family is being “denied” free will or certain rights by a hospital, particularly where end-of-life is concerned. And usually, it’s the family – or one member – purposely trying to support their cause when they clash with the hospital or another relative. Telling your tale of perceived oppression to a TV reporter can be a powerful way to influence public opinion…and exert pressure on the other party.

When the “Correct” Thing isn’t the Popular Thing

When this happens, healthcare organizations need to tread lightly. Aside from navigating HIPAA rules on patient confidentiality, communications staff must deal with the natural human belief that we all have final authority over our personal health, or that of our children. Then there’s the legal aspect: doing the morally “correct” thing may be in opposition to legal requirements. For example, the compassionate move may be to take a patient who is virtually brain dead off life support, but the patient may have an advance directive prohibiting it, or in the absence of one, family advocates opposing it.

In the case of Terri Schiavo, the Florida woman who was in a persistent vegetative state, her husband and legal guardian sought to remove her from life support while her parents fought to prolong her life artificially. Prolonged legal battles, with the hospital and Schiavo’s doctors as key witnesses, caused a seven-year delay before her feeding tube was ultimately removed in 2005. Her name remains a flash point for patient and spousal rights.

The Eye of the Storm

So what to do when there’s a clash among family, or between family and hospital that becomes public? While each case will be different, here are some basics to bear in mind:

  • Designate a single spokesperson for the hospital or organization, but be careful in your choice. An executive might come off as more concerned with preserving reputation than the good of the patient or family, while the treating physician can credibly fall back on what’s best clinically in the circumstances. Think long and hard before trotting out a lawyer to speak for the organization.
  • Remember HIPAA. Talking specifics of a particular patient’s care is a no-no, even if the family is going in front of every reporter they can find. Limit comments to policy, protocol, and information already published elsewhere.
  • Expect fallout, and be ready for it. One of the best ways to defend your organization amid a public hue and cry is to demonstrate that you are adhering to standard procedures and protocols, and there’s nothing different or personal in the case at hand. The public needs to see that your organization acts legally and professionally, even if they disagree with your stance.
  • Be available. Despite the heat, offer opportunities for the media to have their questions answered, either one-on-one or during a press conference. Don’t bury your head in the sand.
  • Stay off social media. There’s little to be gained, and much to lose with a misstep, by posting or tweeting in a sensitive situation. However do share any public statements you’ve issued after you’ve disseminated them by other, more traditional means.
  • Know when to fold ‘em. Sometimes, a story will wane after a news cycle or two, or when the public gets consumed by something else. Don’t proactively reignite it through unsolicited statements. If courts are involved, don’t go out with news of even favorable rulings, but be prepared with a statement if the media seek you out.

Things can get highly charged when a controversial patient comes through your door or emotion clashes with clinical care. No institution wants to be in a volatile situation, but if a patient does become a cause, level heads and a reliance on existing protocols will keep you on the high ground.

Earning Backlinks with Earned Media

Quick question: Do you remember who the coolest kids in your high school were? More importantly, do you remember who got to decide who the coolest kids in school were?

Sometimes it seems we’re never going to stop getting asked such questions – especially for those of us who do earned media and content marketing for a living.

The modern day version of that first question is: How do you know if your website is popular? The answer is simple: Because Google says so.

That’s only a slight exaggeration. Since its founding in 1998, when Google introduced the notion of using ranked backlinks to determine a website’s importance (as opposed to the then-predominant method of counting how many times a search term appeared on a given page) the importance of backlinks has continued to guide Google’s approach to website rankings and search engine optimization (SEO).

The Example of Earned Media

An underlying tenet of an effective earned media strategy is that gaining independent recognition and/or support for your company, product or service provides stronger and more effective validation than paid advertising. Who are you more likely to believe – an unaffiliated third-party who says positive things about a company, or a paid company spokesperson?

An effective backlink strategy starts from the same premise. Over the years, Google has developed and refined its algorithms so sites that utilize artificial SEO enhancement strategies (paying for backlinks, stacking keywords) are identified and penalized in Google rankings.

In short, backlinks must be earned – just like earned news media. In order to earn backlinks, your website needs to provide organic content that is good enough to earn backlinks. Without legitimate content, third parties have nothing to link to.

Even if your company has earned media recognition in a news story or posting, gaining the additional enhancement of a backlink to your website isn’t guaranteed.

What the News Media Wants

Policies concerning whether or not news entities will link to the websites of companies cited in articles vary from organization to organization. Generally speaking, news organizations tend to take a conservative approach. There are several reasons:

Financial: News organizations have been undergoing financial challenges for many years. Many have instituted strict paywalls that require readers to subscribe before accessing news from their sites. Unless/until such company links can be monetized, news entities may consider such links as “free advertising.”
Independence/Ethics: Providing links to companies’ websites may be viewed as implying an unwarranted relationship between the news source and the news outlet.
Technical/Time Constraints: Often decisions to include such links are at the discretion of the reporter (depending on the outlet’s policy). However, the actual creation of the link is done by the outlet’s technological team. Busy and harried reporters often don’t have the time to follow-up on such details.

Differing Approaches

Recently SPRYTE Communications surveyed a range of national, regional and local news entities to ascertain editorial policies about providing backlinks to company websites.

Among national news entities we surveyed, the predominant policy was that if a company appeared in a news story, then there may be links to other stories featuring the company or the main issue involved, but not back to the company website.

Regional news entities offered something of a mixed bag. Many followed the guideline noted above – by linking to other stories the news entity wrote about the company or the issue on which the article focused. In addition, it was noted that company backlinks potentially might be viewed as a form of (unpaid) advertising for the company covered – thereby casting suspicion on editorial independence or risking the wraith of paying advertisers.

Other regional news entities will link to specific information on a company’s website if it provides additional information that is directly relevant to the story. For example, a large Midwest city paper ran an online story about a volunteer recruiting effort by one of our clients, a national hospice provider. It included a link to a volunteer sign-up page on our client’s site, and one to the page of a national hospice nonprofit information group that described Medicare regulations concerning the percentage of hospice care that must be provided by volunteers.

Local news entities likewise offered mixed reactions. One local TV station in the Midwest noted that when possible, stories posted online will contain links to organizations and companies that feature prominently in their stories, particularly if it’s a local “good news” story. Other TV outlets, particularly in larger metropolitan markets, rotate their stories so quickly that incorporating backlinks would be too difficult and time-consuming.

Conclusion

Many news organizations are wary that providing a backlink to a company featured in a news story might appear to provide an undue commercial endorsement. At a time when many news organizations are facing serious financial challenges just to stay in business, it’s a consideration that can’t be ignored.

However, you can increase your chances of getting a backlink if you can point to content on your website that provides important additional information or details that enhance the earned media story that features your company.

If your content is worthy enough, a reporter may recognize its value and provide a sought-after backlink to that relevant information, thereby gaining the much-desired enhanced SEO creds.

Understanding and supplying what news outlets are looking for are routine tasks for experienced earned media professionals. Developing content that effectively balances what the media want while promoting the interests of our clients is where we earn our keep.