Got Ink? Local media coverage boosts biz

Saturday, March 31, 2007

Getting your name out in your local market doesn't have to cost big bucks in marketing and advertising. There's an often-overlooked way of heightening your name recognition and boosting referrals that doesn't cost a dime--pursuing local media coverage.
That's the message Rhoda Weiss has been delivering to healthcare organizations--including HME providers--across the country for more than 30 years. As a veteran PR and marketing practitioner based in Santa Monica, Calif., and current chairman and CEO of the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA), Weiss believes HMEs have a great PR story to tell but aren't speaking up enough.
"The opportunities are enormous," said Weiss. "Media coverage provides a third-party validation of your company. The great thing about DME is that you have a message that's very visual, and that's what the media wants."
For HME providers uncertain about how to begin, Weiss suggests getting acquainted with the print and broadcast media that cover the markets you serve.
"Look at which reporters cover healthcare stories and identify story ideas that would be interesting to them," she said.
Don't underestimate the news value of your story ideas.
"Sometimes we're so close to things we don't realize it's interesting," said Weiss. "It doesn't matter if it's a piece of equipment that's been around forever. If it's new to the media, then it's news."
Nafe Alick, president of Alick's Home Medical in Elkhart, Ind., agrees.
"A lot of things we do as providers are newsworthy, we just need to do a better job of identifying those things and getting the word out," he said.
Alick's earned TV and other local media coverage of their breast cancer awareness open house last October by targeting the right reporters and being persistent in their quest for coverage.
"We can't be shy about promoting the newsworthy things we do," said Alick.
Family Medical Equipment & Supply of Peoria, Ill., earned a feature article in the Peoria Journal Star in 2001 by sending out a news release about an ownership transition.
"From that article we got dozens of phone calls and letters," said Chris Monroe, Family Medical's president and CEO. "We also saw a 25% revenue boost during the period we started sending out news releases."
While news releases are a good way to make a broad announcement like Family Medical's, Weiss recommends contacting individual reporters to pitch feature story ideas. But first, enlist a patient who's benefited from your products and services to be interviewed, as well.
"Reporters want to be able to humanize a story," Weiss said. "The first thing they'll say is 'Give me a patient to talk to.' Grateful patients will be happy to share their experiences."
Once a reporter's on board, Weiss recommends asking for sample questions, practicing responses before the interview, staying away from industry jargon and framing what you do in terms of benefits.
"Let your passion about what you do come through," said Weiss. "The media need you as much as you need them."