Intro to Healthcare PR by Christine Kotler

Styrofoam wig heads. Wig heads?!? I needed two and I needed them fast because the news media was coming in one hour. My featured physician expert wanted to use Styrofoam wig heads to demonstrate a point about deep-sea diving and respiratory function. After a half-dozen calls and old-fashioned research in the Yellow Pages (years ago, in a pre-Google era), I finally found wig heads! I knew then that public relations, and especially healthcare PR, was going to be an adventure. This field requires resourcefulness, creativity, confidence, strategic thinking and endless amounts of energy. With more than 20 years in the business, my career in communications has been rewarding, challenging, interesting, exciting and fun.

I currently serve as the assistant vice president for marketing and public relations at Baptist Health South Florida—the largest not-for-profit healthcare organization in the region—based in Miami. On a typical day, I grab coffee (essential!) and my iPhone and start checking email. I also scan news headlines and social media sites on my iPad to see what is happening locally and nationally. Most days involve meeting with internal clients, handling media requests, brainstorming with staff, strategizing about opportunities and developing creative communications plans. Whether promoting a new center, treatment or pitching a unique story, we are constantly looking for ways to position Baptist Health as the go-to source for leading-edge healthcare information.    

Healthcare is one of the few growth industries in today’s tough economy. Recently, the national dialogue on healthcare reform has cast a negative spotlight on hospitals and healthcare organizations. To me, this is a great opportunity for PR professionals to reframe the conversation and focus attention on what is right about healthcare through meaningful and compelling stories.

The realm of healthcare PR is broad – from promoting hospitals and physician services to developing patient education materials to promoting medical devices, new technology and new treatments. You may handle everything from crisis response to event planning, community relations to employee communications, to media relations and more. The variety is what makes this field so interesting – no day is ever the same.  

Whether you are just entering healthcare PR or considering a career in the field, you may find the following tips helpful. I try to keep them top of mind in my own practice.

Top 10 Tips for New Professionals in Healthcare PR (not necessarily in rank order):

1. Be flexible:  Every day is different in PR – whether you are in healthcare or another industry. You need to be nimble, ready to change course and quick to seize opportunities on behalf of your clients.

2. Ask questions: You are new at this. Your boss expects you to work hard and to bring your best each day, but she also expects you to learn by asking questions.

3. Listen, listen, listen: And then, listen some more. Often, I hear students and young professionals comment that they entered the PR field because they “love people” and they are “good communicators.” Good communication starts with good listening. Before you can offer a client a solution, you need to really listen to how they define the problem or challenge.

4. Appreciate failure: This field is not for the faint of heart. Despite neurotic planning and the development of a dozen backup plans, things happen. Your beautiful outdoor event is blown away with hurricane-force winds or your celebrity speaker is a no-show as more than 500 guests eagerly anticipate her arrival. When something goes wrong, learn from it.

5. Play nicely with others: Throughout your career, you are going to work with a lot of people – some of whom you will like and others you will not. Business is about relationships.

6. Be resourceful: Know how to find the Styrofoam wig heads. And many other strange things that you will be asked to magically produce minutes before they are needed. Thank goodness for Google and FedEx.

7. Accept criticism with grace: Remember to say “thanks” when a supervisor or boss offers feedback or criticism about your work. Appreciate the fact that an experienced pro took the time to provide guidance.

8. Do your homework: Healthcare is complex. As communicators, we have to sort out the clinical jargon and develop materials that are easy to read and understand. Learn the terminology. Take classes or seminars in marketing, budgeting, healthcare administration.    

9. Show compassion: In healthcare, we have the unique position of caring for patients and their families when they are most vulnerable. We have a tremendous responsibility to be thoughtful, transparent and compassionate in our communications to various audiences.    

10. Look before you leap: Your mom was right. Before jumping into a project or charging ahead to seize an opportunity, pause for a minute to make sure you have a solid plan. PR is fast-moving, but a wise mentor once taught me that “speed kills.” While you need to be ready for action, PR requires strategic thinking and careful planning.

Rapid change and growth in healthcare, coupled with dynamic changes in PR and communication, make it an exciting time to be in this field – for new professionals and for seasoned practitioners.

Christine Kotler is assistant vice president for marketing and public relations at Baptist Health South Florida. She is a member of the PRSA Health Academy Executive Committee. She can be reached at Follow Baptist Health on Twitter.

Intro to Consumer PR by Mark McClennan, APR

Almost 20 years ago, Oscar Mayer crushed my dreams when it told me I didn’t quite cut the mustard to drive the 27-foot long Weinermobile. I was one of 36 finalists, but they chose only 12 to go hot-dogging around the country for a year.

I quickly recovered, joined a public relations agency and haven’t looked back since. For most of that time, I have been doing PR for consumer technology – everything from 3D game controllers and the first professional cyber-athletes, to online shopping, a free online dating service (you shouldn’t have to pay for love) and new forms of cash.

The realm of consumer PR is broad, and there are dozens of subspecialties within it. From beverage and restaurant PR, to music, technology, travel and consumer services, more than 70 percent of the U.S. economy deals with consumers. 

Consumer PR is a crowded field, and even with the social media explosion, you are fighting thousands of others for the same slice of attention. That, to me, is one thing that makes consumer PR so exciting. My day is one of non-stop motion. 

Every day is different, but it usually begins by checking my iPhone before I get out of bed to see the latest news and developments – spending time on Facebook, Radian6, Google+ and Twitter to see what I need to know. When I get into the office, I start juggling the demands of a number of clients and come up with creative ideas ranging from surveys and videos to analyzing Google Analytics and HootSuite metrics to see what is driving traffic to my clients’ websites.

The best part of my day is brainstorming with all the creative professionals at our agency. Just last week we came up with a city-by-city heatmap highlighting the worst cases of identity manipulation and a creative campaign for Comic-Con. What happens on a daily basis changes quite a bit. However, there are a few pieces of advice that I have found useful over the years. The following are four tips for new professionals looking to break into and develop their careers in consumer:

  • If you don’t love what you are doing, don’t do it: Find something else, both for your own personal satisfaction and because people that have a passion for their job will lap you and leave you in the dust. Every single day I am excited to wake up, see what has happened with my clients and their competitors and go to work with a great group of people.

  • Every opportunity is a networking opportunity – and I mean every place: Work, dinner, church, sitting in the airport or playing sports. Keep in mind, networking does not mean “What can you do for me?” Good networking involves helping others and making connections, just like investing in your 401k. At first, your network seems small, but if you keep it up, the beauty of compound interest gives even someone who is an average networker an amazing web of contacts and influencers in just five to 10 years. Don’t be intimidated just because someone has been doing consumer PR longer than you have been alive. You have a valuable point of view and experiences they do not have. Share it.Networking is also the best way to break through the HR roadblock and get an interview and possibly your dream job. Having a news snippet to share at the interview to show you have done your research is also strongly suggested.

  • Change is constant: With consumer PR, change is constant. You need to keep up on the latest trends. Ten million people joined Google+ in the first three weeks–is that something your company or clients should leverage? The only way to know is to try it yourself. This often means putting the time in after work. Just keep in mind, you need to look at things through your clients’ and your company’s eyes, not your own. This also means you shouldn’t be wedded to any one thing. Discussing a Facebook strategy is the wrong question. You should be looking at the social networking strategy. Facebook may not even be here in five years. 

  • Everything matters: As a consumer PR pro, you need to be a subject matter expert, but your subjects can be featured in everything from “Sex in the City” to USA Today; TechCrunch to “Captain America.” This means you need to keep up with quite a bit. Read constantly. You will be amazed when an obscure piece of knowledge helps you connect with a reporter or a client.

Consumer PR is a thriving, dynamic market with an opportunity for you to do whatever you want. If you have a goal – go for it. However, keep yourself open to new experiences. In consumer PR, you can be sure you will have a new challenge every day.

Mark W. McClennan, APR, is a senior vice president at Schwartz Communications, where he heads the research group and co-leads the consumer technology practice. In his spare time, he writes blog posts on how Dora the Explorer teaches you all you need to know about PR and does stand-up comedy.

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Summer Book Club-July: Be Your Own Best Publicist Discussion

From the moment I read the title of the latest book club selection, “Be Your Own Best Publicist: How to Use PR Techniques to Get Noticed, Hired, and Rewarded at Work”, the human resources side of me was intrigued. Authors Jessica Kleiman and Meryl Weinsaft Cooper, offer a fresh perspective on marketing yourself by using basic PR skills to create and manage your professional reputation as you climb the corporate ladder.

Managing reputations of organizations is no different than managing our own reputation. You are representing yourself when you go into a job interview or pitch an idea, so why not put your PR experience and skills to work for you? Readjust your thinking, and view yourself as your client. How would you sell…you? The thought is a little scary, but Kleiman and Weinsaft share their tips and techniques to help you through the process. Below, I outline four of my personal takeaways from this book club selection:

Prepare Your Pitch

Spend some time thinking about your elevator pitch and perfect it. “Knowing how to communicate concisely and clearly will help you hook the interest of whomever you are pitching,” say Kleiman and Weinsaft. Concise is the key word—you want to be mindful of everyone’s time, especially someone who may hold the key to you future.

Craft Your Message

You’ve got their attention, now what? You landed an interview or that important meeting from your great pitch, so now it’s times to expand your message. Kleiman and Weinsaft say you should build out your pitch to a speech focusing on three key attributes or goals. As you create your message, keep in mind your target audience. Practice makes perfect–once you have finished creating your message, practice, practice, practice.

Build Your Network

With competition for job opportunities becoming tighter and tighter, sometimes knowing someone on the inside can help you get your foot in the door. As PR pros, we know the value of relationship building. Kleiman and Weinsaft stress, “the most important thing you can do is to build a rapport between yourself and those with whom you are looking to do business.” The title of Chapter Four says it all – It’s All About Who You Know (and Who Knows You). Build a network of trust by following-up periodically just to say hello. Avoid reaching out only when you need something.

Protect Your Personal Brand

Always put your best foot forward because you never know who is watching. You’ve worked hard to build your reputation so protect it. Kleiman and Weinsaft remind us that how we dress, how we speak and the people we choose to surround ourselves with can influence other’s perceptions of us. Social media makes it easy for us to share our personal thoughts online. Protect your online reputations by managing what you say and share online. “Before posting a comment, images or video, think like a publicist would about a client,” say Kleiman and Weinsaft. You should not only be monitoring what you say, you should also monitor what others are sharing about you as well. Again, think like a publicist, always be prepared for what could go wrong and have plan to correct what has gone wrong. 

I enjoyed reading this book, it satisfied my both the HR and PR side of me. There are many more PR tips and techniques Kleiman and Weinsaft share on self-promotion, including sections to create your own “Personal PR Action Plan”.

Let’s talk about the book…

  1. What will you do differently because of reading this book?
  2. Tell us some of your own personal tips on creating your personal brand.
  3. What are some of your favorite tips and techniques the author shared?
  4. Do you believe it’s important to integrate social media into your life? Why or Why not?
  5. What tools do you use to manage your online reputation?
  6. We all make mistakes—to err is to be human. Where have you tackled a crisis concerning your personal brand, and what did you learn from the experience?