Hospital’s brand journalism newsroom lands coverage on ‘Today’ and in The Wall Street Journal

Nationwide Children’s Hospital took the extra steps to package a story with brand journalism elements to attract mainstream attention. It worked. Here’s how you can replicate their efforts.

To get journalists to pay attention, you have to have a compelling and newsworthy story. But sometimes a killer story isn’t enough. The tools and tactics used are vital to get reporters to pick up your story and use your multimedia elements.

The media relations team at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio, takes extra steps to produce and distribute stories in a way that all kinds of media outlets—print, broadcast, and online—can easily and quickly report the news.

In autumn 2013 Pam Barber, director of media relations at Nationwide Children’s Hospital, and her colleagues found a story that they believed was just about a slam-dunk for their brand journalism efforts.

Download a free white paper, “How to be a Brand Journalist,” to learn what it takes to become a successful brand journalist and create news content on behalf of your brand.

The story centered on hospital researchers and their examination of breast milk that is sold online at “milk sharing” websites, often purchased by mothers who cannot provide their own milk. Researchers tested breast milk purchased online and found that three-quarters of their samples showed signs of bacteria or poor storage and shipping practices. The research was being published in Pediatrics.

But how could the media relations team ensure that the story would showcase the talents of Nationwide Children’s Hospital experts? Barber and her brand journalism partner, MediaSource, put their heads together to break down the multimedia elements needed to successfully produce, distribute and pitch the story.

First, identify the targets

Before any decisions are made about packaging a brand journalism story, Barber and her team had to determine which media outlets would be likely to want the story.

“This wasn’t a topic that the mainstream media had covered extensively,” Barber says. “We knew the story had potential for national broadcast coverage. Having research findings can make a story successful, and being in a peer-reviewed journal definitely helps.” NBC’s “Today” show was identified as a likely target for a story with such broad appeal, as well as top print outlets like The Wall Street Journal.

With such ambitious goals, the media relations team knew they’d need high quality footage featuring interviews with the study’s researchers—notably Sarah A. Keim, principal investigator at the hospital’s Center for Biobehavioral Health. However, health care stories usually require interviews with patients or research subjects, too.

“In our neonatal intensive care unit, we often have patients who can’t produce milk, so they get it from milk banks that donate breast milk,” says Gina Bericchia, senior media relations specialist for Nationwide Children’s Hospital. Allison Jones, a mother whose son was born three months prematurely at the hospital, agreed to be interviewed about why she accepted free donated breast milk from a milk bank.

The media relations team also decided to build advice into its pitch about the breast milk research: Milk obtained with a doctor’s prescription from the Human Milk Banking Association of North America is pasteurized, and donors follow strict guidelines for the milk’s collection and storage.

For reporters who might want to determine why some women decide to sell or buy breast milk from non-milk-bank sources, Barber and Bericchia put together a list of the online sale sites. “That way we could point journalists in the right direction, even if we didn’t have those sources,” Bericchia says.

Offer video in several formats

To get national coverage for a brand journalism story, the quality of the multimedia elements is crucial, says Robert Leitch, content technology manager at MediaSource. For the breast milk research story, MediaSource created a 90-second video news story, complete with interviews with researcher Keim and the mother of the premature baby.

“If you’re offering interviews with your experts, you want to make them sound good,” Leitch says. But the work doesn’t stop there: The multimedia newsroom that MediaSource created around the breast milk story offered the video story in various formats, such as MPEG4 and MOV, to meet requirements of broadcast and online news outlets.

The multimedia newsroom also offered sounds bites, b-roll, and audio versions of the video story, in addition to high-quality photos, a press release and the video script for news outlets, which journalists could use if they chose to report on and develop their own stories.

Producing these multimedia elements in advance of a study’s publication or embargo date is a smart move when the fast-paced news-pitching stage begins, Barber says.

“We’ve learned that in the world of research, articles can be in progress for months—and when they finally appear, you need to be ready to pitch them quickly,” she explains.

Once they knew that the Pediatrics article on the breast-milk research would appear in the November 2013 issue, Barber and Bericchia could help their media targets get what they needed for their stories. “The ‘Today’ show staff set up their own interview with the researcher, and found a mother who bought breast milk online,” says Bericchia. “For the Wall Street Journal, we gave them background on the study and also connected them with the researchers so they could do their own interviews.”

In addition to the “Today” show piece and the Journal story, the story landed in The New York Times, (which used the hospital’s packaged news story in its entirety), The Huffington Post, and many other online news sources, with a total audience of more than 800 million viewers. Perhaps the most positive result of the coverage was an announcement from—one of the top websites selling online breast milk—that it would start screening its donors and instructing them on safe handling procedures for the milk.

“Journalists want the freedom to create stories in the style of their media outlets,” says MediaSource’s Leitch. “When you train yourself to think like these journalists and give them the building blocks for their stories, your chances of getting placements is much higher.”

Download a free white paper, “How to be a Brand Journalist,” to learn what it takes to become a successful brand journalist and create news content on behalf of your brand.

This is the third article in a three-part content series on brand journalism. This series, in partnership with MediaSource, a public relations firm that specializes in brand journalism and was named Best Health Care Agency in 2013 and 2014 in Ragan’s Health Care PR & Marketing Awards, offers tips to communications professionals.

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