Making Creative PR Efforts Work If Advertising Commitment Is Expected

In spite of increased health news opportunities, some PR professionals are slamming into editorial coverage barriers when they can't produce "value added" marketing incentives for some news outlets. This situation tends to be most prevalent among small community newspapers and trade association journals, according to many PR professionals. In Part 1 of our coverage on physician relations, HPRMN highlighted exciting media training workshops targeting doctors and how to creatively pitch the media to land high-profile coverage. In Part 2, we take a look at some integrated communications solutions to overcome editorial roadblocks when there is the perception of an up-front advertising commitment. The overall PR consensus comes down to this: Most news outlets draw clear and distinct lines between editorial and advertising, but when confronted with a news outlet that either blatantly or subtly demands an advertising commitment for editorial coverage proceed by: Deciding how important that news outlet is to your overall communications plan and carefully negotiating your PR/advertising mix; orRefusing to play the game by ceasing to pitch the medium and looking to other opportunities to raise awareness for your client in the market through expanded media relations efforts and more aggressive integrated communications opportunities, including special events, direct mail and Web promotions. (The flip side of this issue is addressed in our cover story involving the Virginia Department of Health and accusations that it required news coverage before advertising with TV stations in the market.) 'Mixed Messages' Mike Szimanski, president of MMA Public Relations & Advertising in Baltimore says creatively pitching a PR story involving a non-advertising physician doesn't cut it anymore with a major TV station there. WBAL, the market's NBC affiliate, has been accused of showing editorial favoritism toward physicians at Mercy Hospital and the University of Maryland Medical Center, major advertisers of the station. These sentiments were echoed in a front-page story, last month, titled "Mixed Messages" in the Baltimore Business Journal. In the article, area marketers claimed the station tends to devote its medical news coverage to advertisers. While the station countered that although its "partnerships" with the hospitals serve an "educational" purpose, it does not shut out any outside medical organizations. According to Szimanski, this trend began a few years ago when aggressive managed care marketing first became an issue. Before, he was successful at getting his three to five physician clients TV air time where they offered medical advice. But now these broadcast media relationships are virtually gone. Szimanski deals with these broadcast barriers by focusing more on print coverage he can obtain with the Baltimore Sun, Jewish Times and the Baltimore Business Journal. Confronting this issue with small community papers should be handled on an individual client basis, says Lucy Rosen who runs Business Development Group, a marketing firm in Oceanside, N.Y. "I've been asked [by Long Island community newspapers] 'What kind of ad budget do you have?'" Since community papers can be strong vehicles for local physicians and new health center openings, she is forced to look beyond these vehicles for raising client awareness, by pursuing direct patient marketing opportunities, strategic referral programs and encouraging physicians to network outside of their professional comfort zone. When HPRMN spoke with Peter Sloggat, editor of the Long Island Newspapers, which includes three weeklies for a combined circulation of 18,582, he refused to comment on whether the publications required an advertising commitment for editorial coverage. However, he did say that health news was not a top coverage priority; schools and politics were. Trade Obstacles On the trade side, the editorial hurdles tend to involve coverage biased toward membership organizations and advertisers. Rosen, who represents several women's centers and organizations, says a select few trades will not run conference listings unless there is an advertising commitment for the conference. "It's really a disservice to doctors needing information about continuing medical education programs not to run these listings." According to Rosen, the publications guilty of this practice include the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology and the American Journal of Nursing(AJN). HPRMN spoke with AJN's Editorial Director Santa Crisall, AJOG had not responded by press time. Crisall says AJN doesn't run conference listings although it is looking into covering them in the near future. And, in terms of exclusively covering member organizations, Crisall says AJN often publishes editorial that is not generated from member organizations. Rosen bypasses these publications, using trade vehicles she's found to be more receptive to PR pitches like The Hearing Review, The Female Patient, and The Journal of Family Practice. (Business Development Group, Lucy Rosen, 516/594-2367; MMA Public Relations, Mike Szimanski, 410/385-0775; American Journal of Nursing, Santa Crisall, 212/886-1359) Overcoming Barriers to Coverage When confronted with a news outlet that expects a marketing kickback, "Go play ball on another field," says Nancy Rose of Nancy Rose & Associates in Washington, D.C. Rose, who represents physicians and nonprofit healthcare organizations, suggests: Distributing educational booklets to the media that promote your physician's expertise, like reducing cholesterol, managing diabetes and clinical trials;Pitching a news outlet for follow-up coverage even if they did not use your client in an initial story; andBeing selective about clients whose expectations you can't possibly manage. And Anthony Mora, a former journalist and magazine editor, who heads up Anthony Mora Communications in Los Angeles advises: Stressing to physicians that the PR process is not a "fire sale"; it takes time to see coverage results. Source: Nancy Rose & Associates, 202/244-1024; Anthony Mora Communications, 310/207-6615)

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