Q: What are your strategies and advice as hospital media relations communications professionals to pitch news media in order to localize national media stories like surprise billing, Medicare for All, maternal health and others?
PUBLIC RELATIONS, NORTHEAST TEXAS & LOUISIANA
For our local and regional news outlets, there is simply no substitute for having a familiar face speak on a national issue. They want to “localize” the story and often look to us to help them.
Usually, the first internal call we make is to find a person with first-hand knowledge of the topic. We like that expert to have a friendly disposition towards our organization and the willingness to speak about their experience. Being able to say ‘yes’ to a reporter’s first question, ‘can you find me someone?’ is always a great feeling.
Time is really of the essence when it comes to pitching our take on national stories. The media moves so quickly and being able to offer experts to share their knowledge of local impact of a breaking or timely news story generates tons of media coverage and social media engagement. For that reason, maintaining a productive and communicative partnership with our employed providers and our licensed independent practitioners is a priority. Creating that collaborative environment supplies our communication team with qualified and readied sources while providing operational and personal value to the providers.
I often coordinate with my CHRISTUS counterparts in our other ministries to gather information on best practices and when possible replicate their successes with similar pitches. This helps us localize and organize stories in each of our ministries without having to reinvent the wheel. So, while we might work with people in similar roles across a number of media markets and use similar language and information in our messaging, we rarely believe in a single system wide news release. We try, whenever possible, to localize and tailor the pitch to the media outlet and the reporter we work to get to know.
We are blessed to have a fantastic social media team, and our ministry marketing leaders are always incredibly plugged into their communities. That helps to ensure that our messages align across every media market, but different members of the team also provide crucial insight into small changes in format and form than can make a huge difference in different markets.
Our overarching strategy for localizing national stories is deceptively simple: we work from the understanding that there must be a direct, friendly, local link to the topic at hand, and we cultivate the relationships that allow us to find those links effectively.
Parkland Health & Hospital System
DIRECTOR OF CORPORATE COMMUNICATIONS & PIO
TFirst, it’s important to keep an open mind when it comes to seeing opportunities to localize national stories. For example, with outbreaks of flu, mumps and measles grabbing headlines this year in Texas and nationwide, Parkland Health & Hospital System took the opportunity for our pediatricians and infectious disease experts to talk about immunizations and how vital they are to keep children and adults safe and well. We also used the opportunity to talk about Parkland’s “Walk-in Wednesday” clinics where parents can bring their children to one of our neighborhood-based health centers for immunizations without having to make an appointment. It proved to be a good reminder to get kids vaccinated before school began in the fall.
We also took the tragic suicides of two celebrities – Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain – as an opportunity to talk about suicide, something that is often rarely discussed frankly and openly. As part of Suicide Awareness Month in September we asked experts from Parkland’s Behavioral Health department to explain why talking about suicide is necessary and helpful, and to dispel the myth that asking someone if they are thinking of hurting themselves will somehow encourage them to follow through. In fact, the opposite is true. Our experts explained that research has shown that asking kids and adults about suicide does not increase risk and instead lets the person know that you are concerned. After all, how can you help someone if you don’t know what they’re feeling?
Finally, don’t be afraid to think “out of the box” when it comes to localizing national stories. For political reasons, you may not want to tackle Medicaid expansion but there’s nothing wrong with getting one of your gastroenterologists to talk about the dangerous side effects of eating too many Flamin’ Hot Cheetos. You’d be surprised by how many media hits you’ll receive.