As a healthcare PR professional, I guarantee that you’ll spend more time dealing with crisis communications than you would like. From natural disasters to high-profile patients, lawsuits, and everything in between, reporters will call often and sometimes just hours before their deadline – if you’re lucky. Being strategic about how to handle reactive media inquiries is crucial and it will help ease the stress of you and your clients.
Here are some Do’s and Don’ts when it comes to activating your hospital’s strategy:
REACTIVE RESPONSE DO’S
Create a hospital reactive protocol checklist
There’s never a good time to receive a reactive and you’re usually juggling 10 balls in the air when you do. Why not be proactive and create a healthcare reactive response checklist? That way when the media comes a-knocking, you know exactly where to start and work your way down the list. Trust me, this will save you time and brain power.
Email the spokesperson with a recommendation
When a reporter calls, find out as much as you can about their story. What’s their deadline? Angle? What kinds of questions will they ask? Do they need a statement or an in-person interview? Once you’ve gathered your information, immediately draft an email for your spokesperson or stakeholder in this order:
- Reporter deadline
- Summary on the reporter’s ask
- Your recommendation
Providing a recommendation is crucial. Your healthcare stakeholder leans on you for expertise. Advise them on how to respond and who to involve (don’t forget about HR and legal if applicable), then move forward with your approach based on their input.
Understand the terms of your conversation with the reporter
As a PR professional, it’s vital to know that anything you tell a reporter can end up in a news story. Before you divulge any information, make it clear what you’re communicating on background and off-the-record.
- Background: Background information offers context that supports your client’s official statement. The reporter can use the information you share but they cannot name or quote you directly. They must attribute that information to your client. Make sure they understand that.
- Off-the-Record: This is best suited for a one-on-one conversation either in person or over the phone. The reporter must understand that the information provided is not meant for publication, and needs to be attributed and verified by another source.
REACTIVE RESPONSE DON’TS
Never say ‘no comment’
Never, in any circumstance, respond to a reporter’s inquiry with ‘no comment.’ It gives off the impression that your client has something to hide. Of course, there’s no law that requires giving an official statement, but you can talk to the reporter on background or off-the-record as well. Every interaction with a reporter is a chance to convey your client’s key messages. After all, when the other side is talking, and you’re not, they’ll end up shaping the story.
Do not give a cold interview
Don’t throw your clients in front of a reporter without prepping them first. No matter how many times the hospital’s CEO or physician has given media interviews, each opportunity is different. Brief them beforehand on the following:
- Information about the reporter they’re speaking to. What’s their interviewing style? If you know a specific reporter throws curve ball questions, warn your client.
- Questions that may be asked, so they’re comfortable answering them.
- Key messages they can incorporate in responses during the interview.
- Specific prep for the type of medium they’ll be interviewed on, whether it’s for TV, radio, or print. Each medium comes with its own set of nuances.
Never break patient privacy rules
Celebrities and politicians end up in hospitals too. Often times, reporters will call asking for health status updates, especially for high-profile patients. Health systems must adhere to strict HIPPA guidelines that protect patient privacy. Make sure you’re aware of your hospital’s patient privacy guidelines and what information you can and cannot share with media.
Don’t be an opportunist
It’s inevitable that other hospitals or health systems in your region will receive negative press but that doesn’t mean it’s an opportunity to kick them while they’re down. For example, let’s say a competitor is being blasted in the press for its plummeting staff safety records and the reporter trying to land an interview isn’t getting anywhere. Don’t be surprised if they call you to get your opinion on the matter and what you’re doing right (that the other hospital isn’t). This is bad ethics. Sure, they are the competition, but what happens down the road when that competitor bypasses you for a monumental strategic partnership?
Healthcare PR is complex. It’s one of the most scrutinized industries in the media. Remember that each negative reactive you receive is an opportunity to hone your crisis communications skills, so plan ahead and determine the best reactive response strategy that works for both you and your client.