Cracking the code for healthcare reform media relations

Players in a year-long debate on healthcare reform are united in at least one respect.

Players in a year-long debate on healthcare reform are united in at least one respect. They're all vying to have a voice and a seat at the table.

As attention moves from the House to the Senate, everyone involved is looking to influence policy on issues that count most. More to the point, most participants are attempting to crack the code to capturing coveted top-tier media coverage.

Question is, how? How can you or your clients get a say amid what John Fritze, healthcare policy correspondent for USA Today, calls the "daily noise machine?"

It's hardly easy. Health reporters are inundated by self-serving e-mails and phone calls claiming to hold new insights. Most of these are never acknowledged or returned.

But breaking through the noise is highly doable. Here are a few tips for getting covered in top-tier media.

Play it straight. Forget about trying to manage reality with unscientific surveys or studies. Top-tier healthcare reporters are pretty smart and will poke holes in anything squishy. Use credible facts without the spin. Facts are always eloquent enough to speak for themselves.

Take a specific stand. It's not enough to be for or against reform. Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar of the Associated Press, for one, expects to quote a clear-cut point of view. Articulate a position on reform specifics.

Context is king. PR practitioners sometimes push for pitches that are too self-serving or blatant advertisements. Show reporters how your organization figures into the overall landscape. Connect the dots to trends. Show what competitors are doing.

Cultivate with care. Reporters appreciate receiving an FYI, a nice-to-know nugget, as distinct from an outright pitch for coverage. It might be a letter from patient groups to Senator Max Baucus or a clip from a trade pub. Reporters routinely assure us we should keep sending such updates. Eventually, an issue reaches critical mass, leading to the positive story you sought all along.

In the end, the competition for coverage of healthcare reform is stiff and the stakes high. But through media relations done right, you can deliver for your organization the results the doctor ordered.

Bob Brody is an SVP/media relations for Powell Tate, Weber Shandwick's public affairs division.

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