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Events in Review
Experts Provide Focus on Healthcare PR at PRSA Philly Event
By Andrew Post, Principal, AWPost Marketing Communications, LLC
“How to Create Effective, Thorough Storytelling in Healthcare” was the topic of PRSA Philadelphia’s February 27, 2018 event. Held at the American Association for Cancer Research, it featured a stellar panel of healthcare PR experts. Panel members provided key insights about the dos and don’ts of effective healthcare storytelling.
The panel included Stephanie Byrwa, Public Relations Manager, Shriner’s Hospital for Children; Bonnie Grant, Executive Director, PHL Life Sciences (a division of the Philadelphia Convention & Visitors Bureau); John Held, Director of Communications and Brand Management, American Board of Internal Medicine; Robert Field, Professor of Health Management and Policy at Drexel University and HealthCents blogger on Philly.com; and Jeremy Walter, Director of Media Relations, Temple University Health System. Also in attendance was Brendon Shank, Immediate Past Chair of the PRSA Health Academy, which sponsored the program.
Stephanie kicked off the meeting by posing the following question: What happens when storytelling goes wrong? Responses from the panelists included the insight that the story is not about the story, but about who’s reading the story. In other words, whom are you reaching and what are the preconceptions they have that will color your story?
Stephanie pointed out that there are many emotional issues in healthcare. Talking about knowing when to draw the line between telling a story and exploiting a situation, she gave the example of a girl who had lost both legs. The girl’s mother reached out and welcomed the opportunity for communication, feeling that the story was one that deserved to be told. John noted that when it comes to telling stories about people with cancer, many people want to tell their stories and don’t feel exploited. Following up on this observation, Jeremy spoke about the aftermath of the 2015 Amtrak derailment in Philadelphia, in which eight people were killed and over 200 were injured. He explained that, in handling interview requests, including two from Hardball and Anderson Cooper, he needed to balance Temple’s desire to participate in the story, while managing any public perceptions that Temple was exploiting the situation.
Speaking about the web and social media, Robert noted that, generally speaking, the more controversial content is, the more page views it generates. But he explained that there is a difference between getting page views and getting page views that you want. Be careful of controversial headlines, he warned. Regarding social media best practices, panel members noted that while planning is essential, luck also plays a part, as when the right content is posted at the right time. An example was a blog post on VIP medicine (how VIPs allegedly receive better care than non-VIPs) that wound up on Reddit, the social news and media aggregation website. Robert expressed amazement at the shelf life of some posts and Bonnie highlighted the value of retweeting.
One topic that received a lot of attention was the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), which protects patient privacy. Stephanie asked panel members how they coped with HIPAA consent guidelines. Jeremy emphasized the importance of having conversations with physicians before they take part in interviews. Stephanie also noted the importance of keeping track of, and managing patient consent forms.
Another topic that received attention was podcasts. Robert noted that they’re a great tool, but need to be informational. John Held agreed, stating that the logistics of podcasts are easy, but what’s important is the content. The focus should be on people and stories. He talked about hitching your wagon to current trends. One example was World AIDS Day and the good news that fewer people are dying of AIDS than ever before. Jeremy said that while there’s definitely a place for podcasts, you shouldn’t do one just to have one: You need a good story and an appropriate allocation of resources. Robert cited the Public Health Minute, a New York-based National Public Radio program, as an example of a successful podcast series. John added that his CEO loves doing podcasts and – this is important to all you PR professionals – is happy with his communications department because of it.
During the Q&A, one audience member asked “How to Manage the No” when a story featuring a doctor isn’t picked up by the media. Jeremy and John both said that it’s important to manage expectations about media placements without discouraging doctors. Robert spoke about looking at the media relations process as a long-term investment that involves developing relationships and skills – all of which can be a learning experience for doctors. Stephanie added that one good way to appease a disappointed healthcare professional is to post his or her story on the organization’s website.
Please navigate here to listen to this event in its entirely. Please fast-forward to the 9:00 minute market to begin listening.