By Blair Broussard, Vice President of AR|PR
The South is full of health IT innovators. This includes the emerging bio innovation centers like the one we have right here in New Orleans. In fact, as we approach the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina next month, we can reflect on how far our city’s healthcare has come. With the help of local public officials and organizations such as Louisiana Health Care Quality Forum and our local Health 2.0 chapter, the healthcare-related hardware, software and services cultivated in the region are digitalizing the healthcare ecosystem, expediting R&D and, in some instances, driving innovation powerful enough to prolong and save lives. Of course these technologies deserve to be communicated to the world, but with a cluttered media landscape, how can your company cut through the clutter and #makenews?
Hiring a PR agency may seem expensive and unnecessary – they only write the press release and put it out onto the wire, right? WRONG. If that is your perception of Health IT public relations, I apologize. You’ve been a victim of a bad PR experience. Public relations, in fact, can help Health IT companies gain credibility and visibility, earning your brand headlines, funding and clients. But before you take the PR plunge, it’s important to consider all your options and select the right PR firm that can be your long-term partner in both brand awareness and lead generation efforts. The following is a Who, What, When, Where, WHY guide for health IT companies to find the right agency partner.
WHO: First things first, you need to determine if you are ready for a PR agency. If you jump the gun you will experience accelerated burn rate and zero results, so it is very important that you get your proverbial ducks in a row. The health IT company that is ready for PR has:
- Secured Intellectual Property. You must be the first to file – not the first to market – for your invention to be legally protected. Call your friendly attorney before engaging a PR rep.
- Has a solid product roadmap. Marketers need to know where your technology is today…and where it’s going in order to strategically position your brand.
- Has a budget allocated for it. There’s nothing worse than starting external communications and then abruptly ceasing them due to limited cash flow. It can hurt your industry credibility and signal business distress.
Choosing a PR agency shouldn’t be taken lightly. There are more PR reps than there are journalists today, giving you plenty of options to choose from. From global monolithic agencies to boutique shops to independent contractors – there’s lots of talent out there. These two tips will help you to identify the agency that’s right for you:
- Find a PR firm that truly understands the Health IT industry. For example, an electronic health record company should look for a firm that specializes in tech and healthcare. The firm should know what “IDN,” “MU” and “TAT” stand for. Many firms claim to be an expert in multiple industries – from consumer goods to sports to healthcare to technology. Find an agency that has deep experience in your healthcare sector – that firm will be a better long-term partner and have less of a learning curve as it on boards your account.
- Find a vendor that offers the types of services you need. If you’re a healthcare software company, you’ll need lots of case studies, analyst relations and white papers. In contrast, if you’ve built an app for patients, then you’re much more likely to need a firm that has experience in social media and consumer media relations.
As with most things in life, timing is of the essence. If your company has recently closed funding, reached a significant milestone, is attending an upcoming tradeshow like HIMSS, added notable members to your leadership or launched a new product…then the time is NOW (or a few months ago, really.) But please remember, PR is a process. Be sure you’ve allotted time for planning and research, and provide timely feedback, quality direction and insights to ensure the agency relationship moves swimmingly.
Short and sweet advice – If your company is headquartered in New Orleans and your pilot programs will be in the South – you should probably focus on Southern agencies that have strong local and health trade media relationships.
So, you checked off all the items mentioned above. Not it’s time to pull the trigger and sign a contract. Why should you make the investment in PR? Simply put, PR has a myriad of “silent” benefits (or outcomes). No one explains these phenomena better than serial entrepreneur turned venture capitalist, Mark Suster. In a recent blog, he says, “PR is an insanely valuable activity in early-stage companies” for the following eight reasons:
- Business Development
- Fund Raising
- Staff Morale
- Enterprise Sales
- Future PR
- Customer Acquisition
You might ask, “why is an agency better than an in-house communications manager?” In today’s digital and highly specialized marketing environment, it’s nearly impossible for an early stage company to find an in-house staffer who fully understands media relations, SEO, social media, content marketing and branding. Not to mention, unlike an in-house marketing generalist, a PR agency will provide you with two, three, or maybe even four people supporting your brand each week – bringing different perspectives, strengths and skill sets to your account. If you’re looking for ready-made media connections, keep in mind that an external firm can offer their Rolodex of journalist relationships, too.
It may not be the right decision for every company, but if you meet the aforementioned criteria and are ready to land headlines, attract investors or increase lead generation, a PR firm can bring that depth of experience and knowledge for a nice price.