4 Tips From A Former Healthcare Reporter

Oct 13, 2021

Career changes are rarely easy, especially when you study a field throughout college and subsequently work in it following graduation.

In August, I left a respected healthcare trade journal after nearly four years and ‘crossed over to the dark side,’ as they say.

There were several professional motivations behind the move, but one that excited me about joining the world of public relations (PR) was that I had already worked with numerous agencies during my time on the editorial side.

As I’ve settled into my new role, I wanted to share four observations on the PR strategies that I found most effective while in my capacity as a journalist.

1. Understand who you’re pitching to

Every PR representative should take time to do their research on the journalists and outlets that they’re pitching.

In my time at the magazine, I primarily covered healthcare finance, policy, and revenue cycle, among a handful of other industry-related topics. Still, I received countless emails from aimless PR representatives pitching me everything from CBD oils to a historian for the band Aerosmith. (Yes, this actually happened.)

Even those that understood I covered the healthcare industry for an audience of payer and provider executives would occasionally float article ideas and interview opportunities that simply missed the mark.

If you’re looking to place a byline or secure earned media with an interview opportunity, make sure you know who you’re speaking with and why it’s worth their while. I always found myself most responsive to PR representatives who weren’t just looking for free publicity but could see down the field about how the interaction would lead to a greater result for both sides.

2. Get to the point (and have other options available)

The only thing worse than getting a random PR pitch that’s off-topic is being forced to read several paragraphs to find out it’s irrelevant.

Short, timely pitches are always winners. The pitch should tell me what the topic is, who can speak to it, and when they’re available.

Additionally, a pitch should offer flexibility for both the PR agency and the outlet. If you’re pitching a potential source as an expert on revenue cycle management but they can also speak to the price transparency regulations and the effects on provider organizations, mention that in your email.

You should be providing as many onramps as possible for a client to appear in a story.

3. Relay expectations to your client

Understandably, most clients probably don’t fully understand how the world of PR and media works. That’s fine, but you have to be the one who explains the dynamics at play so they’re not disappointed by outcomes that don’t match their expectations.

Not every interview is going on the front page of The New York Times, but every speaking engagement, written Q&A, or byline adds up to meaningful coverage.

Additionally, media training to refresh even the most charismatic leaders should be the standard. During interviews I conducted as a journalist, I learned quickly which PR contacts had adequately gone over their notes with my subjects ahead of time and which ones threw them headfirst into the fire.

Don’t leave your clients treading water; let them know what the opportunity is about, why they’re qualified to speak on the subject, and prepare them for any extraneous questions.

4. Create a conversation

Some of the most reliable PR contacts from my journalism days were people who didn’t just pitch me and disappear into the night.

They stuck around and actually engaged with me as normal people do. Whether this was sending the occasional email to see what stories I was working on, interacting with each other on social media, or reading my content, it kept them in my purview as I went about my job.

Additionally, whenever I had a story to write on a tight deadline, I knew I could reach out to these reliable PR contacts and get the appropriate sources on the line.

This doesn’t mean that you have to be chummy with every journalist you come across, (odds are they aren’t always going to chummy in response), but breaking down the at-times acrimonious barrier between church and state can be helpful.

I hope that these tips based on my understanding of how media outlets operate can provide the world of PR with some useful tips to be more effective in the work we do.

Jack O'Brien

Jack O'Brien is Content and Account Director at Amendola Communications, based out of New York City. Most recently, Jack served as Content Team Lead and Finance Editor at HealthLeaders Magazine, where he authored the weekly HealthLeaders Finance eNewsletter and hosted the monthly HealthLeaders Finance Podcast. Beyond his work as a reporter, Jack recruited hospital and health system executives for HealthLeaders roundtable events, led high-level discussions related to healthcare finance and thought leadership, and moderated sponsored webinars. Jack also served as a founding member of the company's internal wellness committee and led the design team for creating the group's logo. Jack has served as a guest moderator for digital health programs hosted by Columbia Business School and served as the keynote speaker at the 2021 Toolkit for Independence conference. Additionally, Jack started his career at InsideSources, writing for NH Journal, where he produced a daily morning eNewsletter comprising a feature story and aggregated headlines from around the state and reported on the legislature in Concord. In addition to his work at HealthLeaders and NH Journal, Jack has been published in The Washington Examiner, The Altamont Enterprise and Albany County Post, The Williston Times, Red Alert Politics, The Legislative Gazette, The New Paltz Oracle, and The Little Rebellion. Jack has a Bachelor of Science degree in Journalism, along with a double minor in political science and law, from the State University of New York at New Paltz.