Ivan Oransky is VP and global editorial director of MedPageToday, and a former executive editor of Reuters Health. He also co-founded the blog Retraction Watch, founded Embargo Watch, and served as managing editor, online, at Scientific American, and deputy editor at The Scientist.
Oransky gave me his candid opinions on PR professionals, and allowed me to share them with you. The health journalist pulls no punches, while offering constructive advice that may help your pitches make it to a choice media outlet.
Do Your Research
“What bugs me is PR people not bothering to find me and follow me so they can figure out what I’m interested in,” says Oransky. “I have my own blogs and I tweet regularly; it’s not that hard to find me.” The surest sign you’ll be ignored by him? You email him an irrelevant press release.
“I get releases about country music!” he says. “I get about 300 emails a day; 200 are from PR people who send out press releases using the Howitzer approach. They are automatically discredited. They can’t possibly know what I cover if they’re sending me press releases via email that I haven’t asked for; 99% of the releases I get are irrelevant.”
Expertise in one field indicates integrity. In Oransky’s view, “The most credible PR people tend to be the ones who work at boutique firms and have taken the time to figure out what I care about. They tend to only focus on one industry. They’ve taken the time to study me – and therefore it’s worth investing my time. I have relationships with these people and with others at larger firms who’ve taken the same approach.”
“Pitch Less, Tip More”
The best way to develop a relationship with Oransky is to share “a study that really fits with what [I] do that no one seems to have yet.” “Pitch less and tip more” is another way of saying, “Help me out; create some trust there.”
This approach benefits PR pros in the long run: “If a clinical study comes out, provide me with a source who doesn’t have a dog in this fight, even if he or she isn’t a client. It may not seem that it directly helps you in the short term, but it means I’ll take your calls next time, when you have something to pitch.”
Show, Don’t Tell
Oransky hates “when PR people use nonsense words like ‘breakthrough study’.” If that’s true, show him, don’t tell him. Backing up your claims is especially important these days, when so many studies are funded by companies. Want to use hyperbole? Better back it up with evidence and credible sources.
While at Reuters Health, Oransky learned that when “the authors have significant relationships with companies, you’ll tend to see more positive results for the companies’ products.” To battle bias, he and his staff had “to put these studies in context.” They would “talk to proponents as well as skeptics of the study” and “look at similar studies from the past.” The more context you can add to your pitch, the more useful it will be to health journalists like Oransky.
Dare to Be the Skeptic
“Having my staff interview your client as a source only when they’ve published a study is missing the other bite of the apple,” he explains. “You can also be the outside expert. We want sources who are skeptical – not just the experts in your company.”
In covering studies we don’t look at journals as high priests of truth. They’re more useful than scientists shouting their alleged breakthroughs from the mountaintop, but we’ve seen how the sausage gets made. There, I mixed several metaphors!”
Think Before You Tweet
“Do not blindly pitch me on Twitter,” Oransky exhorts. ”Sometimes people don’t realize that Twitter is public, and they send me embargoed press releases.” Do, however, use Twitter to learn what Oransky cares about and connect with him via his interests.
When done right, tweeting can be more effective than email: “People who only know to contact me through my work email with the same press release they’re sending to hundreds or thousands of other reporters don’t know me,” he says. “They are self-selecting themselves out of my source gene pool.”
Put Down the Phone
Oransky is blunt: “Don’t ever call me to see if I got your press release. If you’re calling to do that, I can’t imagine we have a relationship. Not only is it a waste of time, but you’ll get a mini rant. It won’t be pleasant.” If you need more convincing, here’s a preview of just how bad a mini-rant might be.
The Relationship Comes First
Oransky’s recommendations echo the advice of most other health care and health IT journalists I’ve interviewed. Overwhelmingly, they are asking PR people to think like a journalist. Get to know Oransky–who’s made himself highly findable–and send him tips he can use. If you’re consistent, without flooding his inbox, you’ll build trust–and he just might give your next pitch a second glance.[END]
Photo source: MedPage Today