Dynamic Chiropractic – December 16, 2002, Vol. 20, Issue 26

Pitching a Story to the Media

By Christopher Malter
I commend Kent Greenawalt, president of Foot Levelers, Inc., and the Foundation for Chiropractic Progress (FCP) for their efforts in creating awareness of chiropractic on a national and regional level.
But more needs to be done to assist Mr. Greenwalt and his colleagues in achieving their objectives.

Unlike conventional medicine, which has an extremely sophisticated infrastructure and support system in place to assist doctors to market and position themselves positively in their local communities, chiropractic has nothing. DCs earn their degrees, obtain their licenses and then "wing it."

Therefore, to support Mr. Greenwalt, et al., I believe it's extremely important to also address this awareness effort from the other side of the coin. I truly feel that this column complements the FCP's efforts by empowering you - the doctor - with the correct communications tools to market yourself and your practice to key target audience groups.

Follow-up with Reporters

Once a press release is written and properly distributed to appropriate reporters, a thorough follow-up campaign must be deployed. This is the most important aspect of media relations. In every manner of distribution - email, fax, mail and wire - you will need to call a select number of reporters (step 1) to ensure coverage. When you call them back, you'll note that a large percentage of them just did not receive the press release. I often refer to this as the "news release abyss." It's analogous to losing that "one sock" when you do laundry. You wonder how it got lost, or fell out of the basket, but for some reason, you no longer have a pair of socks. The same holds true for press releases. Persistence is extremely important.

When you follow up with a print or broadcast reporter, introduce yourself, and then ask if this is a "bad time," i.e., if the person is on a deadline. Reporters may find this conscientious on your part, and will usually be more receptive to what you're saying. If they are on a deadline, schedule a time to speak. Your delivery and presentation are extremely important. Reporters are busy people, so you should write down a few key message points about the angle of the story before you begin your follow-up.

Once again, coinciding with your delivery, you need to understand the reporter you are dealing with. If you're speaking with a television assignment editor, you want to push the visual aspect of the story. (Remember, television viewers like pictures.) If you're speaking to a print or radio reporter, your pitch must be tailored to his or her beat, such as health or lifestyle. In most cases, you will need to refax or re-email the release to the appropriate reporter. Quite often, it will take three or four conversations before a reporter commits to pursuing a story (and before a managing editor approves it). But once a story is written or broadcast, the benefits far outweigh the negatives.

Accommodating Reporters

Even before a reporter can pursue a story, you should always have your "aces" - key people or sources relevant to it, who will offer substance and credibility to the report.

For example, if you're trying to pitch the grand opening of your new practice, you might want to have the reporter speak with the mayor; your first patient; and the president of the local chamber of commerce. Obviously, you'll need to establish these relationships before you offer them to the reporter.

Still another way to accommodate reporters is to provide photos. In virtually every medium except radio, photos are used. Quite often, newspapers and television stations cannot send a reporter to cover your event or activity. However, rather than lose the story, you should take photos of the event and forward them to the reporter. Between your photos, sources and releases, the story that is ultimately written or aired will contain so many of your message points that you'll wonder if you paid for an ad rather than if a reporter wrote the story.

One-on-One Meetings

Relationships with reporters are extremely important. However, if they don't know you, they will never know what you can offer them. Therefore, I suggest arranging one-on-one meetings with key reporters.

Step One - Identify Key Reporters

The first step is to identify key reporters that you'd like to contact, such as health reporters or news anchors. Once you've identified those who might be interested in meeting with you, conduct a little research. For example, read some articles that each reporter writes, listen to his or her radio program, or watch the reporter's television show. In this way, you'll become more familiar with their styles and understand the type of stories they present.

Step Two - Contact and Meet with the Reporter

Reporters work with key sources, who provide a wealth of knowledge and expertise that is either incorporated in or used as background information for a story. As a health care expert, specifically chiropractic, you offer a wealth of local knowledge and expertise the reporter can use for stories.

In contacting the reporter, proceed as you did with the follow-up and arrange a meeting to assist the reporter with coverage. Select breakfast, lunch or a meeting in the reporter's office. The best scenario, however, is to meet out of the office so that the meeting place is neutral. Focus on communicating your message points, and listen to the reporter's needs and how you can possibly assist.

Lastly, you should suggest paying for the meal, unless the reporter decides to pay. Remember, this is a matter of ethics; reporters never want to feel as if they owe you, or vice-versa. You are establishing a relationship with them based on knowledge and integrity, and assisting them in writing the story. Ultimately, once the relationship is established, you will be called upon as a media resource to either be included in articles, or used as a credible source of information for a story.

Christopher Malter
Weston, Florida
(954) 349-9102


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