MEDIA ANALYSIS: BBC health news sets the agenda

The BBC news website’s recently redesigned health page is becoming the first port of call for PROs in the sector. Gemma O’Reilly looks at how to secure coverage.

BBC Health web page
BBC Health web page

The BBC's news website revamp has left no-one in doubt that the broadcaster is serious about its digital offering. The new-look site, relaunched last month, includes a greater emphasis on video and image content.

It inc­ludes promotion of the new embedded video service, extra emphasis on breaking news and live events, wider page designs and more ambitious use of pictures.

The health section of the site in particular has become increasingly important for PROs conscious that it often leads the sector's news agenda.

Mary Hicks, MD of healthcare comms shop Clew, advises that if a story provides a significant benefit to pat­ients it is most likely to achieve coverage on the BBC's health news site. ‘If the story concerns a genuine medical innovation then it will stand out.

BBC Health web pageA story with a pol­itical angle such as something that rev­eals unfairness, inequality or patients missing out - such as postcode prescribing - will grab their attention.'

Find a hook
She cites an example of a story that her agency successfully pitched to the site. One of the team working on GlaxoSmithKline's Cervarix drug (a cervical cancer vaccine) spotted figures from the NHS Cancer Screening Prog­ramme showing that the numbers of women coming forward for cervical cancer screening had been falling.

This fact had been overlooked by the media so the agency used it as a news hook. The agency gathered quotes for the BBC from key spokespeople inc­luding the screening programme, gynaec­ologists and cervical cancer charity Jo's Trust.

Providing spokespeople is key, says CCD Healthcare MD Justin Clark. Working in the client as part of the story using a heavyweight topic in the press, such as obesity, can create an opp­ortunity for coverage: ‘The site doesn't necessarily create an impact on sales but it does have an impact on reputation management.

Clients rate the site highly because of the perceived independence of the BBC. It's a fabulous end­orsement for a client because it is seen as the truth if it appears in an article.'

Appearing on the site can also prove a useful springboard to more coverage, says Ash Healthcare director Carys Thomas Ampofo: ‘If something is on BBC Online it adds credibility and can lead to other enquiries.'

The story may go on to be picked up by the BBC's other media channels. ‘The BBC is becoming more and more tri-media,' says BBC news health editor Richard Warry. ‘It is a big thrust of the BBC that its journalists are not just skilled in one craft.'

Thomas Ampofo suggests speaking to the online journalist after the story is sold in to see if it can be used in other parts of the BBC: ‘This has worked for us with 75 per cent of the stories we have had success with online.'

Right first time
This is doubtless a big opportunity for PROs, but also means the first pitch has to be well prepared as there will be less opportunity to re-pitch a story if initial attempts do not generate interest.

Attention grabbing:send unusual imagesStories appearing on the site are also picked up by a broader base of media, with freelance journalists trawling the health websites and using news stories as hooks to sell in feature ideas to the nationals and other media outlets.

News is not the only opportunity for PROs to target the health news site. The website also includes a ‘Features, Views, Analysis' section that can turn stories that did not make the cut for news into longer pieces.

Media Safari director Georgina Wright cites a recent example of coverage achieved for her Siemens client.

Pictures of a Peruvian mummy under exam­ination by a Siemens MRI scanner told a step-by-step story of how technical inn­ovations can assist with the dev­elopment of procedures in the clinical environment. ‘Unusual images can be a passport to a successful pitch,' she says.

Quick facts
--Frequency The website is updated throughout the day as stories break. Three stories are uploaded on to the website at midnight and a few more are added first thing in the morning

-- Audience The website attracts between 500,000 and 1.5 million visitors each week day (BBC figures)

-- Deadlines The agenda for the website is set at lunchtime. PROs should contact the editor before 12pm if they want coverage for the following day

-- Contacts BBC Online news health
editor - Richard Warry
Senior reporter - Nick Triggle

Two minutes with the editor
Richard Warry, editor, BBC news health

How much interest do you receive from PROs?
We get a lot of our stories via emails these days. If we wanted to we could run the site exclusively through press released material but we also run off-diary stories. I receive roughly 130 emails a day containing news stories.

What is the best way to contact the site?
Email us the story. Keep it short, snappy and relevant. We work to embargo most of the time and without that it minimises the chance of use.

What is your policy on receiving video content?
The BBC has a policy that we cannot use videos we have
not produced. There are occasional exceptions to that rule if, for example, we are unable to get access to filming medical procedures.

What kinds of stories are you interested in?
Health news has to be a genuine medical breakthrough. It can't just be an alternative treatment for a particular illness. It needs to be of positive significance for patients. Providing case studies will help. They need to be strong and easy to understand.

How likely is a health story to make it on to the BBC news home page?
We usually have one story on the main page every day. The editors will look at radio and TV coverage to see if it has been picked up elsewhere and this will influence our decision.

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