Keep Your Clients Close, and the Media Closer

Keep Your Clients Close, and the Media Closer

 In Health, Media Relations

Pitching the media a client story is one of the most important, albeit most challenging roles facing a public relations professional. Getting a reporter on the phone or via email is easier said than done and developing an engaging pitch that will capture the interest of reporters can add to the challenge.

At this year’s American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) Annual Meeting, a media panel discussion called “Covering Cancer: Perspectives from the Media” provided some insight into what reporters today, especially in the healthcare media sphere, look for when writing a story. The reporters featured on the panel included: Anne Thompson (NBC News), Liz Szabo (Kaiser Health News), Matt Herper (Forbes), Marilyn Marchione (Associated Press) and Sharon Begley (STAT).

The reporters spoke candidly about what they look for when covering a story—from favorite topics and personal experiences that led them to cover healthcare to speaking about tips and advice on how to get their attention (Hint: Being polite and following up goes a long way). Here are some key takeaways from the panel:

  • A story approach/coverage differs depending on the journalist and the publication
    • There’s no “one size fits all” when it comes to stories and topics that a reporter will cover. You can’t generalize about what all outlets are looking for.
    • Journalists want to write something important, ideally on a topic that someone else doesn’t already have information on. They want to connect with the readers.
  • Context and information is the key to getting coverage
    • A journalist will more likely cover a story that has facts and ideas that are easy to understand. If a story is interesting and includes varied perspectives, a reporter will more likely cover that story versus one that is harder and takes time to dig into.
    • People who provide context and explain how the information fits into the whole disease spectrum are more likely to get a journalist’s attention. Sources need to state facts, know the process of the drugs they are talking about and be specific.
    • Keep it clear and concise. This pertains to television interviews, but also to all media coverage. Get your point across plainly.
    • Journalists are comfortable and confident reporting on preliminary or general data that has been approved by the FDA.
  • Be accessible and keep a line of communication open
    • Keep an open dialogue. If a source checks in periodically with pitches and topics, then the journalist is more likely to cover another story. Don’t just start a conversation and then “fall off the map”—follow through.
    • Sources need to be respectful of the journalist’s time. Know their deadlines and respond to all lines of communications to get a story published.
  • Know who you are pitching
    • All those on the panel were beat-specific and focus primarily on the medical sphere/oncology/science space; however, lots of reporters in the industry are general assignment reporters. This means there is a chance that these reporters may not specialize in science and medicine and may not have the facts or background knowledge when going into a story.
  • It’s all about the audience
    • Know your audiences and what outlets they are going to for their information.
    • Know the data—and the difference in audiences who are looking at it (e.g., investors vs. patients vs. physicians).

It is important that PR professionals keep these takeaways in mind. Know your media contacts well, understand the data front to back and to consider the audience that will most benefit from the news.