Using Mass Media to Spread Messages About a Quality Report

The mass media are not in business to help you. Their business is to sell advertising to companies who want to reach the people who read newspapers and magazine, watch television shows, and listen to radio programs. The “business model” of the media is to create and present content that grabs the attention of their audience.

Your job is to convince the media that you have information and stories that will be of interest to their audience. While a particular reporter might have a personal passion for what you are doing, she will still have to convince an editor or producer, who may not share that passion. Thus, your goal is to generate and present information and stories that resonate with a reporter, editor, or producer who lacks any passion for your topic. If you succeed, your message will get out to your audience (which should be similar to their audience), and that audience will pay attention to the media outlet because it is carrying your message.

Three fundamental ingredients for the successful use of media in a promotional campaign are:

  • Identifying the media outlets, both traditional and emerging, that your audience uses, especially but not exclusively for health-related information.
  • Building and maintaining relationships with media professionals.
  • Anticipating the possibility of bad press.

Identifying Media Outlets

One important thing to learn about your audience is where they go for general news and information as well as health-specific news and information. Some outlets will have broad audiences; others will reach more specific audiences. If you have the resources, you should try to reach both.

  • A “broadcast” strategy helps you tell the entire community, including all the stakeholders and policy makers, about you and your work. This is what people typically think of when they consider a media strategy.
  • A “narrowcast” strategy helps you reach subgroups in the community whom you have identified as part of your primary audience. Outlets may be tailored to reach:
    • Older or younger people.
    • Women or men.
    • People who come from particular countries or speak a particular language.
    • People who live in a certain neighborhood.
    • Very narrow audiences, such as the members of an organization or employees of a firm.

Another option to consider is emerging or “new media,” including a wide range of Web sites and blogs. These can also be broad or narrow in scope. A local newspaper may have more room for your story on its Web site than in its printed pages. You might expand the number of people you reach through a Web-based video of an interview on a popular TV talk show or a “podcast” of a segment on a local radio station. You could also draw people in and update them via Twitter and blogs, either those developed by others or one on your own Web site.

Examples of using the “narrowcast” mode of emerging media would be:

  • Promoting a report with asthma measures through the Web sites of virtual support groups for patients with asthma or their families.
  • Promoting a report with patient safety indicators by cultivating a blogger in your community who has a particular concern about patient safety.

Building Relationships With Media Professionals

Working with the media can require a great deal of time. You need time upfront to build relationships with specific reporters, producers, or bloggers, and time afterward to maintain those relationships.

Here are some specific steps for building effective media relationships:

  • Identify the reporters, producers, and bloggers who cover health care or science more broadly.
  • Meet with them to learn how they prefer to get communications from you (e.g., by e-mail or phone).
  • Stay in touch with them.
  • Give people plenty of notice of an upcoming story opportunity. Offer to share embargoed reports when you can if they will honor the embargo.
  • Give them opportunities to watch important events unfold.
  • In addition to a long-form story, try to craft “nine-second sound bites” that quickly grab the attention first of the media, and then of the audience. Use these in your “pitches” to journalists so they can then use them in their stories.

As with any relationship, it has to be a two-way street. Media professionals have a job to do, often under deadline, and you need to be prepared when the opportunity arises for an interview:

  • Learn how to be concise and clear.
  • Do not use jargon or acronyms.
  • Clarify your messages and stay on message at all times.
  • Get media training for as many key leaders as possible.
  • Generate possible questions you may be asked and craft good answers to those questions. Take the time to identify really difficult questions and figure out how to address them.
  • Either have good answers to questions or know when to slide out from under a question that doesn’t have a good answer.
  • Learn what the media thinks is interesting to their audience and be creative about “pitching” stories that respond to their notions.

Learn more about the kinds of stories you can offer to promote a quality report in What’s Your Story.

If You Get Bad Press

Many sponsors of quality reports stay away from the media because they fear negative attention. Bad press can happen because the people you worked with didn’t take the time to understand your work, because you were not clear enough with them, or because a third party with a axe to grind gave the media a distorted view of events. While any of these misfortunes can happen, they are not reasons to entirely avoid working with the media, but rather for doing it carefully and strategically.

The tips above for building and sustaining a media relationship can help prevent this kind of event. If you do this well, key media professionals will turn to you for your reaction or comment rather than simply report what one group or individual has to say about you. Ask for a chance to review a piece related to your report for accuracy before it is finalized, and be prepared to respond quickly enough to meet the reporter’s deadline.

How can you respond to negative coverage?

  • Address the issue calmly.
  • Provide the facts.
  • Shift the conversation to a more positive note.
  • Never say “no comment.”

Bad press really calls for careful self-examination by the project’s leadership:

  • Did you realize that there was someone out there who was that disgruntled with your efforts?
  • Have you done you best to address their concerns?
  • Have you decided that there is no way to work with them?
  • If so, can you articulate a reason for that decision that will be palatable to the public?
  • Are your communications about the project clear, or could they be interpreted in different ways?

Bad press can happen to anyone. Some of the most successful organizations providing decision support to consumers have figured out how to make the outcries of the disgruntled work to their benefit. When Consumer Reports was publicly attacked and sued by car manufacturers because they reported on serious safety problems, this situation gave them enormous visibility and, because they did not back off but demonstrated the basis for their assessments, created even greater trust among the public that the magazine was on their side.

Also in "Using Multiple Promotion Strategies"

Page last reviewed November 2018
Page originally created February 2015
Internet Citation: Using Mass Media to Spread Messages About a Quality Report. Content last reviewed November 2018. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, Rockville, MD.
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