DEC 9, 2011 11:19am ET

CEOs: Do You Know What Your PR Folks Are Doing?

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Attention health information technology vendor and consultant CEOs: Are you happy with the ink you get in trade publications?

Before we start, I must emphasize that there are very talented and productive PR and marketing people in health I.T.; I do not wish to paint your outreach people with a broad brush. But... the really good ones are a distinct minority.

With multiple print publications that also have online news and daily newsletters, it is ridiculously easy to get ink in the health I.T. trade press. But the majority of PR people are missing those opportunities a majority of times because they want to do things their own way or just don't do their homework.

Many publications, including Health Data Management, have editorial calendars showing topics for the magazine cover stories and features scheduled for the coming year, as well as a tip sheet for pitching stories or news bulletins. But most PR professionals don't get the calendars and tip sheets, and half who do don't follow them. They'd rather go fishing, casting a line in the water and hoping something bites.  Yes, following different procedures for each magazine is a pain and added work. But the reward is a much higher rate of success.

On Dec. 8 alone I got pitched to write stories about access management, data center transformation, data breaches, user authentication, user testing, board engagement, flu shots, e-discovery, electronic recycling, master data management, payer analytics, performance measurement, cloud computing, language interpretation, research facility requirements, transforming your business and a 2012 forecast.

That's 17 stories, not counting pitches unrelated to health I.T. No one pitched me for the story I'm actually working on now-the drug shortage and the role of I.T. to mitigate issues. That story isn't on the editorial calendar, but no one asked what I'm working on. They just went fishing and came home with an empty bucket.

Here's other stuff your PR folks, whether inside or outsourced, should not be doing:

* Returning phone calls or e-mails late and saying, "I didn't know you had a deadline." Really.

* Having your news of an acquisition or other major development leaked early and telling other publications you'll issue a press release in two days and will be happy then to talk about it.

* Issuing a release bragging of a client winning a HIMSS Davies award three months after the awards were announced and publications covered them. That just makes you look silly.

* Asking to be notified when the magazine will be writing stories on specific issues.

* Sending requests to meet at a conference after the conference.

* Pitching news that's already on the Web site or newsletter, or a magazine story that was just done.

* Sending out a press release with the contact information for a person not in the office that day.

* Describing your company in marketing jargon that sounds good and explains nothing: "the revolutionary cloud-based healthcare management solution provider."

* Not knowing what your company or client does, except in the most general terms. A representative for a customer relationship management vendor should know the difference between CRM and EHR software.

* Interrupting a reporter during an interview with a company executive or client to steer the conversation to specific "talking points."

* Not knowing the reporter doing the interview, his or her style and knowledge of the subject. A lot of the trade reporters have been around for a long time--your people ought to know how to deal with them.

If you're thinking of outsourcing your PR, here's a couple issues to keep in mind.

The size of the outsource company does not matter--a national firm is no better than a 10-person shop or even a solo professional. What matters are the experiences, institutional knowledge, relationships and work ethics of the people doing the work.

Many companies outsource PR and retain in-house staff. But if you outsource there's a reason you did that, so make sure your internal staff are listening to the ideas and advice of the outside professionals. With no oversight, internal staff often will insist on things operating just as they always have and spend most of their working hours bickering with the outsiders. If you are wondering why company mentions in the trade press went down after outsourcing, it's often because your outside help isn't being allowed to do their jobs.

Comments (4)
Thank you for this frank input. PR people that don't pay attention to these details give every PR person a bad rep. Let's hope many CEOs and PR people (internal or outsourced) take note of your sage advice.
Posted by Tracy H | Monday, December 12 2011 at 12:23PM ET
These are all good points and you're right - if you don't target a trade pitch to a time/place/person then don't bother. Trade journalism is, on the whole, a lot more professional and knowledgeable than consumer pubs, and should be respected as such.

My only contention to this blog is the aversion to PR trying to steer back to talking points - there's a fine line between allowing the conversation to flow (indeed journalists need to do this to eek out the most interesting news/views) but journalists have to be aware that talking to an executive isn't a right - a CEO or executive takes time (and money) out because he/she has a vested interest to put across the 'message' whether or not a journalist wishes to write about that.

The relationship between PR and trade journalism is always give and take, so a good journalist should suck up some of the PR spin out of respect for the relationship, and PR people should also be ready for their crafted message to be ignored completely or indeed to get no coverage at all. This is the nature of the relationship.
Posted by Lee J | Wednesday, December 14 2011 at 10:29AM ET
Appreciate your insight here, and I agree with the points you make. Knowing the publication, your publication and any publication that a PR practitioner pitches, is vital to success. I will add that PR professionals also like to work with reporters who have done their homework on a topic...or, ask for background or an information interview on a topic they don't know. Your comments demonstrate your expert reporting skills...thanks for sharing.
Posted by jlofstrom | Wednesday, December 14 2011 at 11:15AM ET
Thank you for pointing out that the size of the PR agency doesn't matter!!! As a small firm that specializes in health IT, we have invested years of our lives in learning the industry, and the media and analysts that cover it. As a result we devote substantial time to research and relevant storytelling before reaching out so we don't waste anyone's valuable time. It's unfortunate this is not standard practice across the industry - I think email makes it too easy to cut corners. Thanks for the refresher. John Raffetto
Posted by John R | Tuesday, December 20 2011 at 6:58PM ET
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Physicians, frequently perceived as a roadblock to a high-quality/low-cost paradigm, often spearhead IT advances central to the effort.

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