Sports medicine traditionally has the tendency to be a feel-good topic, combining advice on injury prevention and the importance of things like good nutrition for athletes.
It usually involves plenty of profiles of people who have recovered from serious injuries or excelled in an activity thanks to the latest techniques and procedures.
But because of recent performance-enhancing drug scandals, such as Tour de France doping and the debate over Barry Bonds, sports medicine is now expanding beyond the fitness pages and getting involved in controversy.
"We get tons of calls on stories like the Tour de France because we have the anti-doping experts who are out there on the front lines," explains Christa Dickey, director of communications for the American College of Sports Medicine. "On those issues, a lot of the media tend to jump to conclusions, and so we have to move quickly to clarify that these are health and safety matters, as well as performance enhancement."
The constant challenge for sports medicine PR is melding what, in many ways, are two distinct audiences: the elite athlete and the weekend jogger.
"Definitely, people are interested in the elite athlete, but reporters also want to know how that translates to the average person on the street," says Michelle Zimmerman, account manager at Phoenix-based Off Madison Ave.
Bill Staples, director of marketing and communications for the National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM), adds that with people staying active longer, sports medicine is getting more attention - and not just during the warmer months. "There's also a lot of interest around the holidays for stories because so many people gear up for their New Year's resolutions," he notes.
But even with pitches aimed at the average person, a good success story, especially one involving an elite athlete, is always compelling. NASM CEO Dr. Michael Clark is also the physical therapist for the NBA's Phoenix Suns, which helps open up media opportunities. Staples notes, "We're currently working with Sports Illustrated on how the Suns' Amare Stoudemire recovered from a serious knee injury and was able to play every game last year."
And while much of sports medicine coverage is done by health and fitness writers, there are ways to broaden your reach, especially with the right survey. "We just had a study on how ACL injuries are more common in women, and we're using that to pitch women's magazines," Zimmerman says.
Pitching... Sports medicine
Sports medicine is much more than illegal performance enhancement, so the current doping scandals don't really cast a pall over all media coverage of the category
Though primarily a health and fitness beat story, you can pitch sports medicine to the sports pages by offering experts who can comment on injuries involving elite, high-profile athletes
Because it involves health, this is an expert- and survey-driven beat, but make sure you also have good success stories that can help reporters both humanize and localize the issues