I want to tell you a story…

In the second of his blogs on how to write effective content for healthcare PR campaigns, Matthew D’Arcy passes on some tips for finding a compelling story.

In my first blog post on running a successful healthcare PR campaign, I argued that it’s important to have a compelling story to tell journalists and, of course, their readers.

To grab the attention of a busy media professional you’ll need to be able to tell them something new, something that demonstrates tangible achievements, and something that’s backed up by evidence and quotes. So, let’s say you want to promote the impact of a particular healthcare technology. Where do you begin?

Find your story

In many cases, you’ll be able to find story leads from business development, commercial or account management colleagues, who are likely to be closest to customers.

These individuals will know when a customer has achieved something significant, so build relationships with your colleagues and let them know you are ready to promote the work of their accounts. In other instances, more direct engagement with customers can help.

Encouraging customers to share their successes at user group meetings can foster enthusiasm for your product or approach. But it can also surface something significant for your content and PR agenda. You could also reach out to your customers directly and let them know you are happy to support them in creating ‘good news stories’ about their work – you want to put them in the spotlight.

Keep an eye out for leads

Monitoring social media can be a source of inspiration. I’ve identified a number of good stories for healthcare technology vendors over the years, just by monitoring conversations on Twitter on how their systems are being used. If you are engaged in social media activity already, this is likely to be part of your daily routine, and if it isn’t, it should be.

Attending relevant conferences where your customers are speaking can also be a good idea. They might give insights into how your system is being used. Or you might learn something new about your customer, their objectives and priorities, and how delegates (who may also be potential prospects) respond to their work.

Any external validation of the impact of your technology can be a good source, too. For example, has a Care Quality Commission report commented on improvements as a result of seeing your technology in action? Or have any clinicians sought peer-reviewed publication of care improvements that have involved your solution?

Speak to the right people

When you have your story lead, you need to build on it. Start by speaking to people involved. This might mean an initial briefing with a colleague close to the customer. Then, speak to the customer’s own project lead, who is likely to provide you with the detail of the achievement identified.

Beyond that, healthcare IT stories invariably impact on a wide number of people. Can you speak to IT leads, nurses, doctors, other users, senior executives, and even patients? They may have different perspectives on the impact your solution is helping to deliver.

Access to different voices can help to give authority to your press release. It can also give you the means to target specific publications that might be interested in a particular perspective or angle.

Ask the right questions

Don’t be afraid to keep asking questions to get the detail you need. What might seem obvious to the interviewee, might not be obvious to you or the reader. Make sure you have a full understanding of what has been done, and its significance, or you won’t have a chance of effectively conveying this in your press release.

Even a question that might at first seem obvious, can lead to someone giving you a great quote. The deeper understanding you have of the subject matter, the easier it will be for you to know which questions to ask. But think about the sorts of things the journalist and their readers will want to know.

Gather evidence

Speaking to the right people is vital, but are there any metrics you can uncover to strengthen your story? Has the customer measured impact before and after? Stories that show a substantial and measured improvement in outcomes, in efficiency, or in meeting important milestones, are more likely to hook journalists – and resist challenges from their readers.

Don’t expect the story to immediately present itself

The real story doesn’t always present itself without some digging. People on the frontline of the NHS don’t always recognise quite how newsworthy their achievements can be.

Clinicians, in particular, can be cautious about promoting their findings without substantial evidence and peer review. However, if you are sensitive to caveats and cautions, it’s usually possible to encourage people to come forward to promote their work.

I once conducted a full day site visit to a hospital to pull together a story on the impact of a technology go-live, only for the real headline to emerge as the lead clinician flicked almost dismissively through some slides in our wrap-up meeting. The clinical outcome I asked him to explore allowed me to craft a story that featured prominently in several national broadcast and print titles.

It was covered extensively across target trade press. And the resulting story featured in national government strategy, whilst allowing the hospital and technology provider to win several prestigious industry awards.

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