Broadening Our Horizons: The Changing Role of PR Professionals in Healthcare

As healthcare public relations professionals, we have often suffered from an identity crisis. No one understands what we do, let alone appreciates it. Often we complain that the marketing folks get all of the attention – and the budget! If you are sulking away in your cubicle, it’s time to shake it off. The role of the public relations professional in healthcare is changing and our future has never been brighter. But, to get on board, you will need to adopt a broader view of how you can contribute.

News producer rather than news publicist

The Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism reports that newspaper newsrooms are 30 percent smaller than they were at their peak in 2000. Local TV now devotes 40 percent of its time to weather, traffic and sports. Clearly, with shrinking reporting resources, there are fewer bodies to cover your story. At the same time, consumers are beginning to abandon traditional news outlets and are turning to other sources that better meet their needs. The mindset change for the public relations professional is to see yourself as both a traditional reporter, as well as a news producer of your own media outlet.  Take a newsroom approach to your public relations program by prioritizing your stories by target audience and message and then publishing them through video, social media, blogs and stories written for your website. As journalists at heart, we understand better than anyone how to turn content into interesting and relevant information. By connecting your message to useful content, your “news organization” will become a trusted source for consumers as well as the media.

Globalist rather than specialist

The convergence of paid, earned and owned media is forcing marketing and PR departments to break down their silos and take an integrated approach to communicating with audiences. Today’s public relations professional needs to understand the power of Facebook advertising and search engine optimization as much as they need to understand the value of creating a dark page on their website for crisis communications.  PR has become a global discipline and PR professionals have the opportunity to elevate themselves as experts in branding, digital technologies, content management and social engagement, as well as media relations. The Cleveland Clinic has taken a very integrated approach to its new HealthHub blog, where writers, marketers and digital gurus work seamlessly to publish great content daily.

Consumerist rather than corporatist

Public relations professionals know better than most to communicate clearly and simply and to avoid jargon and “marketing speak,” like the word I have coined above. But often our role is to tow the company line and to be the voice of the organization. While that role will not change, the approach we take and the language we use should change. Today, healthcare organizations are just one click away from being able to talk directly with consumers. No longer do we have to depend on a reporter or a paid ad to reach key audiences. However, your audience is not necessarily interested in what you want to tell them. They have their own needs and are seeking information that is relevant and interesting to them. As writers by trade, public relations professionals are well-suited to lead their organization in achieving a balance between the need to promote services and the consumer wish for content that is valuable to them.

So where do you begin? First, adopt a more positive, futuristic mindset about the role you play. Second, broaden your knowledge and skills in editorial planning, writing for the consumer, social engagement and digital technologies. And, third, demonstrate your value through changed behavior that instills a new level of confidence and pride in you as a public relations professional.

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