Public Relations Play Valuable Role in Health Care Marketing

To be successful, companies ranging from dot-com start-ups to well-established medical device manufacturers must keep their customers up-to-date on products, services and procedures. These customers look to the media — newspapers, magazines, television, radio and the Internet — for unbiased, educated and detailed reporting that will help them make informed decisions. Through their intimate knowledge of the needs, styles and focus of the appropriate reporters, public relations companies offer the most cost-effective and powerful method of disseminating company and product information to the media, thereby influencing the customer/patient decision process.

Simply stated, public relations firms help companies sell their products. However, public relations is not a replacement of traditional marketing methods. Rather, it is just one piece of the marketing pie. If properly executed, public relations can dramatically reduce the cost of other critical programs, such as advertising and trade show activities, to reach sales and marketing goals.

In the health care industry specifically, multiple audiences require individualized messages. Public relations efforts target the most appropriate message to each audience. For example, a medical device manufacturer needs to convey to the consumer/patient audience that the product will help them live better, healthier or more comfortable lives. The message for the physicians, however, should focus on the product's ease-of-use, patient compliance or reimbursement issues. The most comprehensive public relations campaigns target both audiences to simultaneously distribute the most appropriate and necessary information to each.

Generating media coverage begins with an understanding of the actual audience who will be reading or watching the piece. When targeting national consumer media, such as “Good Morning America” or “Dateline,” the campaign must appeal to the lowest common denominator — a subject broad enough that all 3 million viewers would be interested and could benefit from the information. Focused industry press, such as Urology Times or Pharmaceutical Executive, are more interested in detailed product or company news for an in-depth story that is more valuable and compelling to the industry.

For companies in the health care industry, approval or clearance by the Food and Drug Administration and the beginning of clinical trials are news events that can drive media coverage of medical products. FDA approval validates the safety and value of the product now available to the general public. The beginning of clinical trials notifies the public that a new treatment or cure may be available in the near future.

In addition to these types of hard news events, effective public relations efforts also target special events to generate media coverage. Examples include heart disease stories published in February to coincide with National Heart Month. Patients and physicians benefit from these stories that include the latest cardiovascular developments as well as a reader call to action, such as suggestions for improving diet and exercise regimens.

The success of health care public relations campaigns can be measured in several ways, increased public awareness of the treatment and increased sales being the primary results. Often, the general public will contact the company directly. These people are typically suffering from an existing condition for which current treatment options are insufficient. Physicians who are concerned about remaining on the cutting edge of health care technology will contact the company's sales force directly. When integrated with an effective marketing campaign, well executed public relations efforts can dramatically increase public awareness and drive sales for health care companies.

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