Thursday, May 17, 2007

Healthcare PR and Social Media

Recently, I sat on a panel for PRSA Healthcare on social media. I brought along the PR blogger perspective, and sat on it with the VP at Technorati and Amy Tenderich, from Diabetes Mine.

Healthcare is different from other practices in PR. You have the whole direct-to-consumer guidelines from the FDA, and then you have a ton of other issues in dealing with the press and social media.

But, it's beyond that. When you are working in social media, you are entering a community. Too many PR people don't get that - they view social media - or just blogs - as another media venue, that can be pitched. Just today, I was sent a press release from a firm in Los Angeles - no pitch letter, no garnering my interest on the subject, just the press release. And, that does not work.

When explaining social media, I use a Town Hall analogy. From a conversation with a friend, she wrote it out like this: Imagine a small New England town with a highly civically-active community. On a regular basis this tightly-knit community hosts Town Hall meetings to discuss current events, areas of concern, etc. Now imagine someone wholly unconnected to community coming in, raising a topic of concern and just leaving. Town Hall meeting members have every reason to be annoyed, incensed and even hostile.

Now take that Town Hall scenario, multiply it exponentially, and stick it online - where anyone and everyone can see it. The quaint little Town Hall is now a blog. And the outside, rude intruders are PR people - those that neither seem to care or understand the community, but are just following orders to get "ink" no matter what.

Me and Amy

For healthcare, take that Town Hall scenario, and put it in the hospital ward. With some health blogs, you are either talking to the patient, or the patient's relative.

Now, unless you have ever been sick, you cannot truly empathize with that scenario. So, imagine some asshat barging into your hospital room to talk to you about new medicines, or a new treatment. That's the PR person trying to pitch you on something - or just imagine them not even saying hello, but just dropping off a press kit / press release. That, essentially, happened to me today.

Okay, going to take it personal here - something, I rarely do on the blog. I was a relatively sick kid - surgery at 9, surgery at 21, surgery at 21. So, when I hear PR people saying "let's pitch this community or that community," I want to scream. Just because you do outreach for one type of client within a healthcare community does not give you carte blanch to reach out to the group for another client. These are relationships that you have built, but you are a guest in that community. To treat it otherwise is being exploitive.

Here's a perfect example: because of my surgery at 21, I have side effects that occur once a year. I take some pills for one week, and it is over. But, I do check Google Blog Search and Technorati (when it works :P) and look to see if there are any advances or new medicines on the horizon. Last time I did this, I found a 25 year old guy in Los Angeles that was going to have the same surgery as I did at 21. I wrote to him, told him how the surgery went for me, and we have been in email correspondence since then.

Yes, I became a part of a community. Am I going to pitch him some product now, because I have built a relationship there? Not at all - it's tacky, it's exploitive, it's just wrong.

Put yourself in his shoes - or any other healthcare blogger that is a patient. You have to be smart in reaching out to any blogger, but hypersensitive in reaching out to healthcare bloggers. Pitch things that are relevant - new medicines (yes, that can work), new procedures or needles, new fundraising efforts - but don't pitch vertical products that can be view as just, well, insulting.

For the podcast, and to see what else was discussed, check it out here.



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Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Lessons from the foreign press

Every year, the Press Club of California has an event touting the best and the worst PR departments to work with in the Valley. The Press Club is a group of foreign press / reporters that are based in the Bay Area, and it is always interesting that there are PR people that just don't like to work with reporters.

Seems counterintuitive, ya know?

This year's best PR departments were: Intel, Ingres and Pandora. The worst were: Apple, Nintendo and Electronic Arts.

The program also had a series of three interviews - below are my notes from those interviews to get a good take on the workings in the Valley. And, well, I was lucky enough to be invited and be the only PR blogger there. Because I'm like Mims.

First up was Karsten Lemm, a correspondent for Stern Magazine - who briefly worked for a host of magazines and newspapers in Germany. Lemm also works with the German GQ and Facts. He was interviewing Anil Dash, the Six Apart evangelist.

Anil Dash: It's still very early for corporations to blog. Being judicious and honesty from PR people will help build a relationship with bloggers; for a corporation, blogging is a good venue for content and communications.

It's not a zero-sum game of New Media versus Mainstream Media.

Do bloggers have the ability / finance of doing the investigative reporting? It's not a zero-sum game, but look at the mainstream media blogs themselves. They are getting the live stories, and covering in-depth stories from within the publications, and going deeper with stories.

Traditional media will do the deep story. The deeply researched, investigated stories will be mainstream media, but bloggers can do group blogging and investigating. With bloggers, though, there is going to be stuff that is wrong, and even the best institutions will make mistakes and correct them.

As for blogs as a business tool - it is still the early days of blogging, but the benefits are huge. People do not talk like a press release - there is still the need to do the press release, but tell the story in the natural, conversational voice. On the practical level, PDFs are not going to be found and linked by bloggers, or as easily found. Make it more personable, make it readable.

The next interview was with Jean Baptiste Su from The French News Agency who interviewed Chris Shipley from Guidewire Group and DEMO (here's my interview with Chris from a couple years ago).

Chris Shipley: To find the right companies for DEMO, I look for new products, those coming to the market for the first time, or something that the the market is unaware of, or products and services that are new ideas. It is about pushing the market, changing the market.

There should be events and platforms for young companies to get a leg up in the industry, hope that they are successful. There is a fee to participate, and it may be limiting. The efforts that go into making it affordable for young companies, the connections to investors - there is a lot that goes on in the background. DEMO is about the companies and launching on the market.

The profile of DEMO is a value-add of itself. The process is informative and, it is a launch date that is in cement for companies. It coalesces the team around the launch. Plus, 80+ reporters come down to the event.

From the last DEMO, there were 200 million media impressions - you are not going to get that from every event.

As for how do the credentials at DEMO work? We look for active journalists, and do not do press passes for non-copy producing editors. It is not part of the credentialed press, and we poll the companies and see who they are trying to reach and reach out to those publications. It is not broad, but targeted outreach to bring in reporters.

We recently started Innovate: Europe. It's not just about US companies or European companies, but about both. It is about creating dialogue on what start-ups go through in Europe, help innovate Europe and bring together the VC and European start-up communities.

Guidewire Group is a market intelligence firm on early start-up companies in emerging markets. We cast the net globally and talk to start-ups, and help them connect and be more effective, and help the whole process. But we also map the market, provide context on how markets are being developed. The average issue of our publication has ten to twelve profiles and briefs.

The start-up market is changing with the efficiency of capital - low overhead, start quickly - and it's a good thing with the ability to experiment with new businesses. The VCs have not been able to adjust yet, and the low-level of funding is changing the field.

The European start-ups are more enterprise level applications, and value the business model of pay. There's less ego over there (generally). It is less consumer focused, and more enterprise.

We are receptive to the changing landscape of journalism, and if you are influencing an audience that is important to our companies, we welcome you to our events.

The last interview was Tom Sanders of Silicon Valley Sleuth / VNU.net with Tom Waldrop, Director of Global Communications Group, Intel.

Tom Waldrop: How does Intel look at blogging? It has to feel right for your purpose and personality - blogging is not for everyone.

Intel has people that are pushing for social media, and there have been people out there in social media. The IT@Intel blog - it is quite varied on what they address on the blog, ranging from the technical to the philosophical.

For blogging, the next step is that the Intel Fellows are going out next; but social media is a one step at a time thing for Intel.

There are companies that are doing social media right and that I respect, but it is different for each company.

Remembering back in the day when C/Net launched, no one was really sure if it was journalism because it was online. They had a lot of bad information, and in retrospect that was stupid, but one day when talking to top-tier media, they found out the reporter was reading C/Net to find out what was breaking news from Intel.

With bloggers, there are two kinds of bloggers: journalists extending beyond print and normal editing stuff; the other type of blogger is one that is reporting news. It's just like the traditional model of journalism that has evolved over the years. There is the winnowing out to find out who is the real journalists, but I would not discount anyone right now.

The lesson now is from Web 2.0 - the rapid proliferation of information, and heating up things.

We had an issue that started in newsgroups and Compuserve, broke in a trade publication, went quiet but stayed alive on the Internet, and then was broken by CNN and it became a huge issue. Two lessons: the Internet is powerful, and if traditional media had not grabbed onto it, it would not have blown sky-high. Not sure if it's like that today, as there are more news aggregators.

Intel is in the baby steps - yes, we do look for the good and bad stories on blogs, continually. We are beginning to podcast (the Web 2.0 version of VNRs via Podtech and our own Website), post on YouTube (sometimes guerilla, sometimes straight up), but baby steps - we are not promoting stories on Digg. We have the RSS feeds on the corporate site.

[Tom Sanders brought up an example of how Yahoo! broke the news over its blog on unlimited storage for email.] There will be blogs from PR that will be sniffed out, and there will be the natural speak that journalists will pick up on. Communicators find the design - find the message, find the audience, what effect you want to have on the audience. It's all about baby-steps, though, for large corporations.

Post updated for clarification.

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