Building an agile healthcare media machine

If you want to catch a fish, think like a fish - or think like a journalist to catch a journalist's attention and reel in the story you seek.

If you want to catch a fish, think like a fish. That simple but practical philosophy is as true in media relations as it is in fishing. Think like a journalist to catch a journalist’s attention and reel in the story you seek.

Just a few years ago, Mount Sinai Health System’s marketing and communications team was thinking more like a fisherman than a fish, trying to get reporters to bite, but not always prepared with the right bait and tackle at the perfect time and place. So, we applied the old adage to our public relations effort.

Mount Sinai had the sources and quality content, but it was not accessible enough for reporters. News media requests would come into a press office that was populated with generalists. Rather than flowing quickly through a communications pipeline, media requests seemed to enter a funnel, backing up as generalists tracked down information and expert spokespersons. Mount Sinai media mentions were largely reactive, rather than proactive, and our share of media failed to fully reflect the significance and accomplishments of the Mount Sinai Health System.

To better serve journalists, and ourselves, we adopted a newsroom model. Media specialists were assigned beats: cancer, cardiology, neurology. It was their job to become expert in their area, build relationships with appropriate doctors and researchers, and know what was happening within their assigned department at both at the Mount Sinai Hospital and the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai.

As soon as news breaks, we try to deliver expert analysis. That may involve reaction to a medical warning, a regulatory ruling, an FDA drug approval, or a new scientific study. Often, we will send just a few lines of commentary to appropriate journalists, allowing reporters under tight deadline to quote our doctors without even calling them for an interview. 

What had been a funnel is now a wide open pipeline of flowing information, and our results prove it. Last year, Mount Sinai Health System garnered more than 50,000 media hits, and was prominently featured in over 35,000 of the stories, a seven-fold increase from 2011. It’s a result of delivering what journalists want: rapid access to quality information and sources. That’s the bait that will lure reporters time and again.

Dorie Klissas is Vice President of marketing and communications of Mount Sinai Health System.

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