Donald Tepper is editor of PT in Motion, a publication for members of the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA). PT in Motion covers relevant legislation and association news, and “discussion of professional issues and ideas in physical therapy practice.” G2Comm works with a wide range of healthcare providers so I talked to Tepper to get his take on working with PR professionals.
Tepper provides some sage advice for PR folks who want to impress editors by delivering useful and valuable stories.
Know Your Story Inside and Out
Tepper has encountered PR pros who know virtually nothing about their own products or company beyond the press release. “If I’m interested in pursuing a story, I find it frustrating to ask basic questions and the PR person knows absolutely nothing,” says Tepper. “They can’t clarify anything in the press release or speak to anything beyond what’s in it.”
“A lot of PR people think their main function is to pitch. Trouble is they don’t know what to do next. They don’t know how to tailor a pitch to a particular news outlet.” It helps if PR reps have some honest curiosity and interest about what they’re pitching. Don’t just do a robo call.”
Know My Story Too
Tepper once worked in PR. “When I was on the PR end, reporters would call to ask questions; they knew the subject and the publication and I knew theirs. He doesn’t expect PR people to be experts on his publication but knowing Tepper’s story means knowing what’s relevant to his readers. “I may get a pitch about a chiropractor who offers a product or service but—because the focus is on the chiropractor—it’s not relevant to my physical therapy readers. But if the product helps PTs do their job, I’m interested. Tell me why it’s relevant.”
Know What Makes a Story Valuable
“Why should our readers care?” questions Tepper. “If [PR pros] can answer that, I love it. The size and exposure of your company is not important; the topic and angle you’re pitching is. Pitch me an interesting topic that readers haven’t read before; nuggets of useful advice.
Value for PTs means information that helps them operate their businesses better. For example, “we would write about what questions you should ask when evaluating EMR [electronic medical records] systems. Or concept pieces such as ‘What is Crowdsourcing?’ Both have relevance for PTs.”
If you’re pitching a product, the same value criteria apply. “One inventor developed a new cane – Swiss army knife of canes — that found its way into a larger article on inventors. We wrote about how the inventor came up with the idea, then how the product was developed and commercialized. That type of article goes over well.”
Journalists are always looking for credible and knowledgeable sources. Make your pitch attractive by providing a source “who is willing to be quoted and talks beyond yes and no answers.”
“We prefer to talk to clinical people at smaller companies. More productive interviews have been with clinicians who’ve founded and grown their own practices. They have both a business and clinical perspective.”
Highlighting contrarian points of view is also important to journalistic integrity. Tepper uses multiple methods to identify diverse sources, including social media platforms. “We’ve had articles where we’ll do basic online research and turn up great sources that way. We also have an editorial advisory group…[and] rely on APTA staff specialists.” If your sources understand the POV you bring to a larger story, you can make it easier for journalists to integrate their voices into their articles.
Know How to Write
Don’t let weak writing stand in the way of your story. “Many of the news releases and announcements I receive are not well written,” says Tepper. “If it’s poorly written or has grammatical errors, it reflects poorly on the message of the release. I recognize that releases are written to please the client, but it would be nice if PR people attempted to inform the client that if changes were made to the release it would make it far more effective.”
Good grammar is the minimum. To really stand out, you need strong, compelling language as well. “Too many releases use ‘PR language’ with terms such as revolutionary, extraordinary, and cutting-edge.” Cliches make readers tune out. Grab editors’ attention with clear, fresh language that explains the specific value of your story.
Think Before You Pitch
Tepper’s bottom line: “PR professionals need to understand that PR is more than pitching stories.” Before blasting editors, know the details, context, value, and interest of your story.
Image provided by Donald Tepper