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Evolution of the PR Landscape: A Journalist’s Perspective

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There’s been lots of talk lately about the changing PR landscape. Evolutions in digital technology, data and analytics, the growing importance of social channels and a media industry that’s been turned upside down, are all factors that have caused disruption in health and science communications. At LavoieHealthScience, we think it’s important to also maintain a focus on fundamentals. In fact, we believe more than ever in the importance of developing strong relationships with relevant journalists and fully committing ourselves to understanding their work and their business.

On April 25th, our founder and CEO, Donna LaVoie, moderated a lively panel discussion at MassBio entitled “How to Engage Busy Biotech Reporters” where a packed house of communicators heard from some of the most important journalists covering the life sciences scene today. Panelists included Gideon Gil, Managing Editor, STAT, Lisa Henderson, Group Editorial Director, Applied Clinical Trials and Pharmaceutical Executive, Lisa LaMotta, Senior Editor, BioPharma Dive, Angus Macaulay, Chief Revenue Officer, STAT, and Max Stendahl, Biotech Reporter, Boston Business Journal.

With their help, we got the inside scoop on how to build meaningful relationships that benefit both our clients and these important publications. Here’s what we learned:

A Day in the Life of a Journalist

It’s no secret that journalists are very busy. As such, PR professionals need to develop a keen understanding of their targets’ day-to-day schedules and take a mindful approach to outreach. This will allow you to capitalize on opportunities to reach a given reporter, pitch an idea and help establish a long-term working relationship that is beneficial and productive for both sides.

For Lisa LaMotta of BioPharma Dive, “crunch time” is between 8:00 AM and noon every day, as the team works to finalize their daily newsletter. In the afternoon, they typically work on longer-range stories, and may have opportunities to discuss ideas and consider pitches from communications pros.

Max Stendahl of the Boston Business Journal has a more unpredictable schedule given that the BBJ publishes daily on-line newsletters at 7:00 AM and 3:00 PM and their print issue goes out every Friday. Wednesday afternoon is deadline for the print issue, so this is not a good time to try engaging in a conversation or sending over a pitch. Sometimes, timing is everything.

Personal Relationships are the Key

Developing a personal rapport with editors and reporters is key to success, and every panelist commented on the importance of building relationships based on mutual trust and respect. In a world where journalists are inundated with emails and phone calls, all agreed that they are much more likely to open or answer a pitch if they recognize the name on their phone or screen. Lisa LaMotta from BioPharma Dive explained that she has come to depend on a growing network of trusted sources that she can consistently rely on. Max Stendahl at the BBJ also appreciates getting to know his PR counterparts at a personal level. “Never underestimate the importance of getting coffee with someone,” he said. Lisa Henderson (UBM) reiterated the importance of personal relationships, stating, “Face to face contact is important. Networking is important. Relationships matter.”

Angus Macauley (STAT, Boston Globe) concluded by reminding the audience that all media outlets put on events and networking opportunities where you can meet with reporters. He encouraged everyone to take advantage of this as it’s a “golden opportunity to build relationships and differentiate yourself from the sea of anonymous PR people out there.”

Media Research & The Art of Pitching

No matter how strong your relationship, your story idea needs to be on point. Communications pros must be up-to-date on the latest trends, issues and storylines that matter to each media outlet they are targeting. The question then should be, “How can I insert my client into the conversation?” Lisa LaMotta at BioPharma Dive also stressed the importance of having a strong subject line in your email and encouraged the audience to make their pitch titles “snappy.” As an example, she referred to a recent pitch she received entitled, “Cambridge Analytica’s Effect on Boston Biotech Marketing.” It was catchy, relevant and left her curious.

Gideon Gil, Managing Editor at STAT also stressed that “strong, unique ideas are as good as gold to reporters and editors,” as are fascinating personalities to profile. “Bring interesting people to us as we want to hear from experts who are doing innovative work in the field,” he said. Max Stendahl added that the Boston Business Journal doesn’t necessarily cater to a scientific audience, so he likes to hear from C-level executives who can give him a very high-level explanation in simple, relatable terms. (Think describing a biotech innovation to your uncle at the Thanksgiving dinner table).

Most importantly, all panelists underscored the importance of demonstrating a true understanding of their publications and the types of stories they cover. This will give you credibility over the long-term and can only be done through reading and researching.

It’s Not Just Earned Media

In addition to earned media, the panel also shifted discussion toward paid opportunities which, in many cases, have become more readily available as major publications focus more and more on their digital platforms. A few of our panelists encouraged the audience to explore these options, citing their distinct benefits.

Angus Macauley, at STAT, discussed how paid opportunities enable you to tightly control messaging and distribution. He also mentioned that they have a strong network of freelancers who can produce strong, on-message copy – or repurpose existing content for you so that it fits their publication from a user experience standpoint.

Lisa Henderson mentioned that Pharmaceutical Executive is branching out to a broader biotech audience, and offers Webinars, whitepapers, eBooks and other paid opportunities. She often consults on these projects, helping clients from a strategic messaging standpoint.

The team at LavoieHealthScience would like to thank our panelists and everyone who came out to participate in the discussion. We hope it was an informative experience and we look forward to hosting similar events in the future. For any immediate inquiries, please contact us at hello@lavoiehealthscience.com.

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