Kaiser Permanente launches brand journalism website

Joining a growing trend in health care and elsewhere, the hospital giant launches a site to tell its stories, interest patients, and snag media attention.


On one webpage is an article and video about a California palliative care physician who says tai chi and qigong reduce seniors’ risk of falling.

Elsewhere you can learn that patients with HIV who miss clinic visits have significantly greater risk of death.

And there’s the news that patients who receive automated telephone calls urging them to get their blood pressure checked are more likely to control their hypertension than patients who don’t.

If the stories from Kaiser Permanente’s new Share website seem more dynamic and consumer-oriented than the usual hospital news release, that’s just the point. The health care provider is joining the ranks of organizations practicing brand journalism.

‘The intersection of earned and owned media’

The health care provider has planted its stake “at the intersection today of earned and owned media,” says Vince Golla, director of digital media and syndication. It embraces “the fundamental tenets of brand journalism: that we can and should be our own publisher and compete in that information space with everybody else.”

From Coca-Cola Journey to Adobe’s CMO.com, companies are moving beyond pleading with reporters to notice them. The movement especially shows promise in health care organizations such as Cleveland Clinic, offering human stories of recovery that offer intrinsic drama that makes for good copy and videos.

Kaiser Permanente is an integrated health care provider serving 9.1 million members in nine states and Washington, D.C. With more than 175,000 employees and 17,000 physicians in the organization, it has plenty of staff to draw from.

The health care system operates 37 hospitals and about 600 medical offices, “so we have a lot of stories,” Golla says.

Share News draws together its news center and community benefit sites. The latter covers matters such as health research and serving the community. KP wanted a site that was engaging and responsive and worked as well on a tablet as well as a computer screen.

The company wanted a site “easy to populate in an organization as large as ours,” Golla said. With its staff across the country, Share has a large pool of potential contributors in addition to the three staffers who “edit and do the air traffic control,” in Golla’s words. Share can draw on communicators and others throughout the system.

Overlapping beats

Communications Manager Farra Levin says Share has staff writers who oversee its beats, but those are overlapping more and more, turning people into generalists.

“It’s less about one person who is overseeing the piece; it’s more about where to go to get the resources,” Levin said.

Kaiser Permanente can also draw from a platform for storytelling already in place: its excellent Care Stories blog. One story features on a patient with whose doctor saved her life after a cyst on her ovary burst; another details the success story of kid who slimmed down from 220 pounds at nine years old. Care Stories and other blogs will be included in Share.

KP’s team built Share in WordPress, so communicators in the various hospitals can cut and paste headlines, summaries, and text and can attach images, before submitting content. Then the editorial team of three edits and publishes the work, Golla says.

The site emphasizes multiple forms of media, and communicators are challenging themselves to think more visually. A few years ago communicators looking into a story would have asked, “Is there an image or a video that goes with that?” Golla says.

Now it is assumed that there is a visual element. The questions tend to be more like, “Where is the YouTube video that goes with this article?”

Who is the audience? Golla says it’s anybody who is interested in learning about Kaiser Permanente and its integrated model, among them mainstream media, bloggers, influencers, employees, stakeholders, members, and people considering membership.

Creating conversations

“What I see us doing in Share is to create audience conversations around a lot of the great content that we have at Kaiser Permanente,” Golla says.

The site is designed so it can be viewed from tablets as well as desktop computers.

Whereas some such sites corral the promotional copy elsewhere, Kaiser Permanente links to some of its press releases of more general interest. One such headline reads, “Kaiser Permanente is Healthiest Employer in the Bay Area for Third Straight Year in San Francisco Business Times Survey.”

Share also curates content that can take readers off site. The site links to stories from the Los Angeles Times about climbing stairs for health and The Wall Street Journal about office interruptions. (You know who you are.)

Though the brand journalism approach is at heart an attempt to tell one’s own story, a little attention from the mainstream media doesn’t hurt.

Golla anticipates that will happen, but given the way media and information landscape has changed in the past decade, he hopes “it’s just as attractive to a magazine reporter or somebody who has 10,000 Twitter followers who is interested in us,” he says.

He adds: “We really have to look at the world much differently as communicators now.”

@r_working

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