Over the past few months, health journalists have been put into the limelight as they provide valuable information on the pandemic. Their jobs are crucial for keeping the public safe and informed about what’s happening in the world today.
I recently attended the MED-PR conference hosted by Wynne Events, which connected fellow PR professionals like myself to more than 15 journalists, editors and producers from different publications that report on health, medicine and wellness. At the conference, most reporters agreed that coronavirus makes up at least 85% of their current focus and coverage.
In other words, medical and health writers are slammed. If your news doesn’t relate to something happening within the last hour, they’re likely to consider it old and move on.
But all hope isn’t lost. There are a few things media pros should keep in mind to stand out to health reporters and increase their chances of getting their stories told—even during a pandemic.
1. There is no lead-time.
With the exception of long-lead print opportunities, lead time doesn’t exist in health and medical reporting anymore. Between finding credible and reliable resources and battling rapid news cycles, journalists don’t have time to waste. They need sources, and they need them now.
If you’re pitching a reporter a resource that ties in with the latest COVID-19 development, pitch them as soon as possible. Your pitch should get to the point, make it clear what your resource’s area of expertise is and offer the spokesperson’s availability. Be transparent on how the reporter can get in contact with your expert and how they can navigate setting up an interview. Also, don’t forget to make your subject line clear on what you’re reaching out about. A good pitch is only effective if the email gets opened in the first place.
2. Reconsider timing expert resource guides.
In a pre-pandemic world, evergreen expert resource guides and pitches could be used as a way to build relationships with journalists. Now, unless they’re relevant to a timely news peg, they’ll get lost in reporters’ inboxes. Many health and medical writers mentioned that receiving expert resources pitches are unlikely to get you banned from their inbox (some even mentioned filing these types of pitches away for a rainy day), but they aren’t likely to garner you immediate coverage or a conversation.
Before hitting send on an expert resource guide, do your research. See if your spokesperson fits into the current conversations happening in the media and only pitch them if they have relevant opinions on what’s happening. If they don’t fit into the current media landscape, press pause on sending them a pitch and reevaluate if now is the right time.
3. Assets are your biggest asset.
Due to social distancing guidelines, many reporters are unable to capture photos, b-roll or visuals to accompany their stories. Given that adding images to content can help increase engagement by 180%, reporters risk missing out on the opportunity to tell their story visually.
Compelling visuals are a great way to make your pitch stand out. Work with a photographer or videographer to capture photos and b-roll that can accompany the story you’re trying to pitch. If you’re short on time, most smartphones nowadays can collect high-resolution photos that you can use to send to the reporter.
Another asset that’s in high demand are human interest stories. Reporters are in need of the personal stories of how the pandemic—or whatever is happening in the news cycle—is affecting real people. When relevant, offer to connect the reporter to patients, end users, frontline workers or the day-to-day heroes that are being impacted by the current climate.
4. Keep their audiences in mind.
The first thing you should do before pitching a reporter (pandemic or not) is to look up what they write about and who their audiences are. In general, health reporters for a national newspaper or national television programs are looking for experts to comment on the hard news, whereas lifestyle health publications want to provide commentary on unanswered consumer advice questions. Pay attention to the experts and topics the journalist is covering and make sure your story angles are relevant to them.
5. Pitch non-COVID related news.
Yes, it’s still possible to pitch—and secure—non-COVID related news. Keep in mind that for most daily publications, the news needs to be spectacular or demonstrate a real impact for the populace at large. If there is a new drug development that’s making it to market or an untold story that impacts the health of constituents, you can still reach out to the media. However, be prepared to justify why this news is important now. As always, research to make sure the reporter you’re pitching isn’t on a hard press deadline or working on a breaking news story.
In addition to national daily publications, long-lead print publications are also interested in non-COVID related news. Given that many of them work on their print issues 4-6 months ahead of the publication date, editors are looking for evergreen stories that will still hold up six months from now.
COVID-19 has inherently changed how we interact with health and medical journalists. But by adhering to these tips you can strengthen your relationships with health journalists, make your pitches stand out and ultimately, secure meaningful coverage for your brand.
Tori Simmons is a media relations specialist at Geben Communication, a boutique PR and social media agency located in Columbus, Ohio.