PR stands for pathetic response

Monday, April 26, 2010

Scattered throughout this issue are news stories about public relations.

There’s a Q&A in General News with David Ball, whom the New England Medical Equipment Dealers (NEMED) Association has hired to pitch positive new stories about the HME industry to the local media. Then there’s a story in Rehab about Michael Frisby, whom AAHomecare has hired to raise awareness of the mobility industry in the Beltway.

There are other PR-related activities going on, too—lots of them. Industry associations are hosting teleconferences to school providers on PR. And the leaders of those associations are getting columns published in local newspapers.

There’s even an e-mail making the rounds from industry associations to trade publications—HME News included—calling for us to promote a positive image of the  industry and to endorse H.R. 3790, the bill to repeal competitive bidding.

So when it came time to pick our NewsPoll question for this issue, we thought: “Hmmm…there seems to be a movement afoot in the industry to increase PR efforts.” That may have been wishful thinking on our part, at least on a smaller scale.

We asked our readers whether they had contacted their local media this year to pitch them a story about their company or an industry issue they’re concerned about. The results were pathetic! (And I don’t use exclamation points lightly.)

Only 41 readers took the poll. The first four months of this year, we had, on average, 148 readers take our polls. Only six readers chose to leave comments. Six! (There’s that exclamation point again.)

More importantly, a whopping 68% of readers reported that they had not contacted their local media this year.

While it’s worth a big pat on the back that industry associations are putting their PR efforts into overdrive, providers must also take matters into their own hands. Here’s why: Newspaper reporters are more apt to pay attention when someone in their community calls them about a story idea or to share concerns over an issue. No disrespect intended, but that matters a whole lot more than a call from a PR exec or an industry association.

There should be more of this going on: “I contacted the anchor on our local TV station, gave her some statistics on asthma in my community, informed her about an upcoming free asthma fair and expressed that this is a story worth telling,” commented Lisa Feierstein, founder of Active Healthcare in Raleigh, N.C. “I got an e-mail back to be at the news station at 9:30 a.m. and she will give me a three minute spot to talk about asthma and the fair.”

Is that too much to ask? AAHomecare’s Michael Reinemer reminded me that providers are busy; they’re unfamiliar with PR; and they’re—rightly so—mistrustful of the media (One reader commented: “The reporter did not use any of the information he gained from the visit. He just sensationalized the price difference, and there was no mention whatsoever about the service component!).

“It’s a start,” Reinemer said of AAHomecare attracting 25 listeners for “Fight ‘Competitive’ Bidding with Effective PR: How to Work with Your Local Media” on March 30.

But due to the severity of the situation at hand, there needs to be more than a start. There needs to be a movement—one that involves more than just industry associations.