A Public Relations Primer for Professional Patient Advocates
Wednesday, August 10, 2011
Posted by: Nina Dunn
Companies are always looking for foolproof communications techniques to increase the visibility and recognition of their brands. Although there are no silver bullets in public relations, one way to get greater publicity than usual is to leverage news cycles around awareness days, weeks and months. Although the number of such calendar days has significantly increased, and as a result its impact on the media has shrunk, many major awareness days and weeks are still significant enough to attract reporters’ attention.
The idea behind this approach is to find a perfect match between your company’s activities and natural media interest in an issue around a certain day or month. For example, you might have noticed that the coverage of Alzheimer’s-related issues spike during the Alzheimer’s Disease Awareness Month in NovemberDina. With that in mind, a home care company or a retirement facility that specializes in Alzheimer’s care can leverage this media interest and raise awareness about care options for a loved one with the disease.
That being said, don’t expect reporters to drop their assignments and start writing a profile-type story on your company. Remember that public relations is only effective when you have something newsworthy to say and if you have working relationships with the appropriate journalists.
The beauty of tying your PR campaign to an awareness day is that it makes your story instantly more relevant and interesting. However, to gain maximum publicity during this short period of time, consider creating news yourself.
For example, let’s take Fall Prevention Awareness Day. You could release findings of a falls-related study; create a local event at an adult daycare center educating seniors and their caregivers about potential health conditions and physical hazards that contribute to falling; or organize a Tai Chi class for seniors in local parks to improve their balance.
Creating events around an awareness day in your community will consume more effort and time than sending yet another press release. However, these initiatives will generate positive coverage in key media outlets and position your company as an industry leader.
If you still haven’t developed relationships with trade media editors or appropriate general media reporters and bloggers, it’s time to do so. Several months before your media outreach, start familiarizing yourself with reporters’ writing and interests, follow them on Twitter, comment on their articles and then give them a call introducing yourself and offering an expert from your company who can provide them with insightful commentary on specific topics.
Contact a journalist only with the information you know she will be interested in. For example, a healthcare writer will be happy to report on new developments in Alzheimer’s research or how to care for a loved one with the disease.
To gain maximum publicity and to get ahead of the competition, media outreach should start early. While newspapers will need just a couple of weeks’ notice, publications with a longer lead-in time, like healthcare and general interest magazines, will require the content to be submitted three to four months in advance.
If your organization is not yet a recognized leader on a certain issue, it is important to establish your credibility before reaching out to general media. First, start writing blogs around the issue and discuss the topic on Twitter and LinkedIn. Then, reach out to relevant trade publications. In the case of Alzheimer’s Awareness Month, media focusing on healthcare, long-term care, aging and baby boomer-related issues would all be suitable. With trade media, more often than not, you will be expected to provide exclusive content authored by your company’s expert.
Once you gain recognition within a professional community, start reaching out to appropriate reporters in the general interest media. Think outside the box: health writers are not the only ones who will be interested in the consequences of falls during the Fall Prevention Day.
Associating with a larger issue will take some preparation and will require substantial efforts on the part of your communications team and key spokespeople. However, the return on your investment can be significant not only in the short run — increased visibility and name recognition — but also in the longer term, through an enhanced reputation, strong media relationships and the goodwill that will come through the initiative.
Nina Dunn is a communications and media relations expert at Spector & Associates, a New York-based public relations firm specializing in health care and technology. In her current role, Nina develops effective thought leadership campaigns and efficient communications strategies for the agency’s elder care and pharmaceutical clients. You can reach her at Nina@spectorpr.com or follow her on Twitter @Spector_Health.