Becoming a Media Darling

Neil Baum, MD

Neil Baum, MD, is Clinical Associate Professor of Urology, Tulane Medical School, New Orleans, LA, and author of Marketing Your Clinical Practice: Ethically, Effectively, and Economically, Jones Bartlett Publishers.


Getting the attention of the media does not occur by luck. It requires time, attention to details, and demonstrating that your message is valuable to viewing, listening, or reading audience.

Anyone in healthcare public relations and marketing—from providers, to hospitals, to medical organizations and manufacturers—knows that capturing "free publicity" is increasingly difficult these days. Competition for space is fierce, and the news industry and media itself is changing rapidly.

Typical of this media metamorphosis, there are fewer newspapers and the surviving media outlets have smaller staffs and resources. Internet news platforms, on the other hand—with websites, blogs and even social media—have exploded. The "traditional" publications are scrambling to find a digital format that retains an audience and a revenue stream.

Here are some tips and tricks to getting in print, getting on TV, or on the radio:

1. Know the publication and their audience (readers/viewers). Become familiar with the publication and know the mindset of the readers or viewers.

2. Tune into station WIIFM or What’s In It For Me. Why is the writer or producer going to have an interest in your story, news, or message? If you can’t answer that question, then the writer or producer will not have an interest in your offering.

3. Set the hook. Throw out some bait and then hook the media. For example, if you have a new treatment for incontinence and you know that there are thousands of incontinent people in the community and your treatment can help them is going to be of interest to the writer or producer.

4. Know your own audience. Your message is for a specific target audience. Understand all you can about the audience you need to reach. Picture a representative individual that fits the description and write to this one person.
 An article for AARP is going to be different than an article for a paper that has newly married readers or viewers who have young children.

5. Target the editor/reporter (gatekeeper/decision-maker). Reporters have assignment areas, personal interests, deadlines, submittal preferences and a dozen other matter factors about what and how they present to their readers. Go to the Internet; read articles that the reporter has written and create your information to be useful and appropriate to them.

6. Bust through the clutter. A message or pitch with impact—one that is unusual, unique and/or notably interesting—can stand out in the crowd of a million other releases, grab the reporter's attention and (maybe) get published.
 If a national personality has been diagnosed with the condition you are pitching and you can give it a local twist, this will be of interest to the reporter.

7. Be timely. By definition, if there's nothing "new," it's history. A feature item may be less urgent, but can still have a timely angle.
 If you are a sports medicine physician and you know about a certain injury that happened to an Olympic competitor, you will likely get the attention of the reporter during the two weeks of the London Olympics.

8. Think local. People relate to news that's nearby and part of the world as they experience it daily. Be clear about how the information in a news release or story idea is grounded in, and meaningful to, people or businesses in the immediate area.

9. Watch your language. Editor's axiom: "No one will ever complain because you have made something too easy to understand." Be clear, precise, honest, straight forward and accurate in what you say. Avoid jargon, buzz words, clichés and super-technical talk even with sophisticated audiences.

10. Have command of your own material. Be prepared to field questions from a reporter who is considering your pitch or story. Know the facts and don't speculate. Understand that everything is on the record, and you are likely to be quoted. Send the reporter FAQs on the topic which can be used as speaking points during an interview.

11. Demonstrate your expertise on the topic. You can include your C.V. or send articles that you have written on the subject that clearly demonstrate your expertise.

12. Appeal to the heart and the head. Look for a compelling, emotional connection that's meaningful and touches the individual reader. How does your information help someone? What is the human interest value?

13. A little self-promotion may be too much. Public relations efforts inform, persuade and influence, but heavy-handed self-promotion is a turn-off in the news room. Likewise with puffery and exaggeration.

14. Hold your support materials at the ready. Generally, reporters and editors want a brief, to-the-point pitch or submittal to start. Let them know that backup data, reference materials, fact sheets, photos, videos or other collateral is available. There are exceptions to this, so it pays to know the preferences of the editor, reporter or publication. Sometimes secondary information-photos, video clips, and the like-can help inspire interest.

15. Probably the most important advice is to return calls to the media ASAP. You can be sure that the reporter is not going to track you down if you have pitched him\her with a story. These media folks are on deadlines and if you have a story that you would like to see get some ‘ink’ then you need to immediately take their calls or return them ASAP. I suggest you treat the media like a call from the emergency department or the ICU. You need to alert your staff that the media has priority and that you can be interrupted to take a call from a reporter or writer.

16. Finally, show your appreciation. Reporters appreciate a personalized "Thank You" for a job well done. Sending a thank you note is your way of acknowledging your appreciation and makes it likely that you will be called back again.

Bottom line: There’s an art to getting media attention. Following a few of these suggestions is likely to gather the attention of a writer or reporter. There’s nothing quite as exciting about having an article in print or being on the evening news telling about something exciting and newsworthy in your practice.