The PR Story

newspaper-storiesAs I wearily settled into the cramped seat of a Spicejet flight to Mumbai this morning, I pulled out the Metro Nation a tabloid format newspaper and started flipping through the pages. Suddenly an image of my former colleague Dr. Deep Goel, the head of Laparoscopic and Bariatric Surgery at Artemis Health Institute, Gurgaon caught my attention. Dr. Goel was featured in the story along with a 200 kg Canadian patient, whom he had successfully operated upon (performing sleeve gastrectomy) and discharged from the hospital with in 24 hours. The story albeit poorly written (the journalist appears to be totally ignorant about medicine, medical procedures, surgeries et al), did manage to inform the readers about Dr. Goel’s superlative skills and about the Bariatric Surgery at Artemis.

Last week I had come across the story of a successful heart transplant in Chennai, when the donor was in Bangalore a team of surgeons from Chennai successfully harvested a heart in Bangaloreand transplanted it in a policeman in Chennai. Stories about Pakistani children being successfully treated for congenital heart diseases at Narayan Hridyalaya in Bangalore and undergoing liver transplants at Apollo Hospital in Delhi have routinely appeared in national media. Celebrities being treated at Leelawati and Breach Candy hospitals in Mumbai are also commonplace.  

Hospitals of all hues recognise the need for using media by sharing interesting medicalcases with them. They realise that a media story in well known publications is a great endorsement of the hospitalas well as the surgeon/promoters of the hospital. The media understands that its readers enjoy health stories and often feature these on its health pages. Most employ a few journalists, who are assigned the healthcare beat and these are the people, who are actively wooed by the hospitals.

Using PR effectively is vital for a hospital. Most of them these days hire PR agencies whose job is really to keep the journalists well informed about the activities in the hospital. They interact with the doctors and hospital administrators to cull out interesting stories and then try and interest healthcarejournalists into writing about them. They prepare dossiers and write press releases, coordinate interviews with the doctors, arrange for photo shoots, escort journalists for meetings with doctors and hospital bigwigs and in general ensure that the hospital continues to be seen and heard in the media. PR agencies also handle press conferences and other media events where hospitals make big announcements be it expansion, business strategy, hiring of a star doctor or a really mindblowing surgery. 

In the business of healthcare, where consumers look upon hospitaladvertising with a bit of suspicion PR assumes tremendous importance. It helps create the buzz around the hospital, showcases the skills of its surgeons, highlights its technical capabilities and often helps project it as a great centre of excellence. PR unlike advertising enjoys the highest degree of credibility with the consumers and most importantly costs nothing.

This to many a hospital may seem like manna from heaven. However, a good PR strategy is one, which is built around caution. Bombarding media with inane stories packaged as ‘path breaking surgeries’ is foolish. A smart marketer must realise that media would essentially feature stories, which in its estimation are of interest to its readers. It should carefully research all facts about a story, which it plans to ‘pitch’ to a journalist, check the veracity of the claims being made by the doctors, gather all relevant and as far as possible factual information and than only approach a journalist. The temptation to be seen in the pages of a newspaper as often as possible should be avoided as this will lead to an erosion of credibility both of the hospital as well as the publication.

Finally a comment on the unseemly side of PR, something, which is never written or acknowledged. In my experience I have come across organisations trying to woo journalists through means, which would clearly be unethical. These include junkets abroad in the guise of medical conferences, making them undergo fancy Preventive Health Checks, offering them huge discounts on hospital services and sometimes brazenly offering other gratification in cash or kind. While at hospitals where I have worked we never resorted to such practices during my tenure, I know of organisations and journalists who can be swayed by such inducements. This is utterly wrong and a self defeating exercise and one must steer clear from it.  

Media’s is a powerful voice. A hospital can successfully harness its power to its advantage by being honest, circumspect and absolutely transparent.

Pic courtesy www.flickr.com

 

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