Mastering Media Relations: Essential Tips for Hospital Leaders 

How hospital leaders can leverage media attention to shape public perception and health care policy.

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When a member of the media calls your hospital, it can elicit feelings of excitement or alarm. If the hospital has impressive or exciting news to share, media attention can scale the story to a broader audience. Unfortunately, unwanted media scrutiny can do the same.

“The media world changes fast. We have to stay on top of that. COVID reinvigorated interest in covering hospitals, and that’s great for us,” said Carrie Williams, chief communications officer with the Texas Hospital Association. “Reporters these days are stretched thin, juggling digital and video along with everything else. Building a good relationship makes everyone’s job easier. Hospitals are full of amazing stories, and they should be told.”

In today’s fast-paced, information-driven world, hospitals’ senior leadership members can’t afford to not engage with members of the media. Hospital employees are often thought leaders with a unique perspective that can better inform their communities and lawmakers to ensure health care policy and public perception is rooted in reality.

During the pandemic, hospitals were thrust into the media spotlight and health care leaders were revered as beacons of information. In times of crisis, media-savvy health care executives can help mitigate misinformation, provide necessary reassurances and outline clear action plans. This capability is crucial to ensure that hospitals can navigate crises smoothly while maintaining public confidence.

Post-pandemic, and in the subsequent 2023 legislative session, hospitals and health care leaders have instead been on the defense, repeatedly refuting the rampant misinformation about the true drivers of health care costs.

Even if hospitals are put on the defense, engaging with media fosters transparency, which creates trust among patients, staff, and the broader community, reinforcing the hospital’s commitment to honesty and accountability. By becoming comfortable with media interactions, health care leaders can help shape the narrative around hospitals, fostering a well-informed public and legislature.

THA Leadership Fellows interactive media training session
THA Leadership Fellows interactive media training session
THA Leadership Fellows interactive media training session
THA Leadership Fellows interactive media training session

Last week, the 2024 cohort of THA Leadership Fellows participated in an interactive media training session led by Jenifer Sarver, principal of Sarver Strategies. Below are some key takeaways that all hospital leaders can reference when considering or preparing for an interview with members of the media.

Before Accepting the Interview

Before you agree to participate in an interview with the media, consider the following:

  • Get a member of your hospital’s Communications team involved. When a media inquiry comes through, notify your in-house PR or Communications team. Typically, media requests will come through them, but if they reach out to you directly, send them to your Communications department for awareness and input.
  • Research the reporter and platform they represent. Consider the publication’s track record for accurate reporting. Read past stories that they’ve written on topics like health care finance, management, industry trends, policy and public health and pay attention to the angles they tend to promulgate. Try to find the reporter on X (formerly Twitter) to better understand their perspective and knowledge on the subject.

Preparing for the Interview

Once you’ve secured the interview, make sure you have the following ready:

  • Prepare key messages. Think about what you’d like the headline of the story to be and tailor your messaging. Keep in mind that reporters and the general public tend to tune out corporate jargon. Reporters tend to use and appreciate quotes that are concise and colloquial.
  • Find a good mix of data points and stories. Don’t belabor the interview with data. Pick the most salient data points (two to three at the most) that support your messages and a couple real-life stories that humanize your points.
  • Practice in front of a camera. Even seasoned communicators get nervous in front of a camera. To assuage anxiousness during the interview, film yourself reciting your talking points, data and stories. Remember, you are the expert; be yourself. If your interview is virtual, consider having your top messages and data pulled up on your screen.

Note, most reporters are working on a tight deadline, so don’t assume that you’ll have a lot of time to prepare.

During the Interview

You’re either talking to the reporter face-to-face or online, keep the following tips in mind:

  • Be confident. Remember, you are being interviewed because you are the subject matter expert with a unique perspective who the reporter wants their readers to hear. Make sure your body language reflects your confident demeanor. Sit up straight, maintain eye contact, smile when appropriate and use open gestures (nodding, leaning forward, etc.).
  • Stay on message. Stick to what you know and re-direct out-of-scope questions back to the points that matter most to your hospital and the general public. If you are asked a question that you don’t know the answer to, be honest and offer to research further to find the answer.
  • Be straightforward and concise with answers. Once you deliver a straightforward, concise answer, don’t give in to any urge to fill the silence with additional details that don’t add value.

After the Interview

  • Follow up with the reporter. If during the interview you volunteered to provide supplemental information (data, studies, white papers, etc.), make sure you send it to them promptly and request they let you know when the story may be published.
  • Read the article. Once published, read the article thoroughly to make sure your remarks are accurate and presented fairly. Keep your Communications department in the loop, and, if appropriate, consider sharing a link to the article on LinkedIn and Twitter and tag the author and publication. Doing so positions you as a thought leader and fosters goodwill between you, your organization and the publication.

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