This section provides you with information about pain management media relations outreach.
The media can be a powerful way to raise awareness of pain management issues and convey your key messages (click here for an example of key messages). But, all too often, you may become dismayed to read unbalanced or inaccurate articles that reinforce negative stereotypes about people with pain. As an advocate, you can work with journalists to share your personal perspective and represent the pain community. You can also encourage fair and balanced reporting by submitting letters to the editor and Op-Eds. Op-Eds are opinion pieces that appear opposite the editorial page of local, state, and national newspapers.
Newsrooms have changed dramatically over the last decade. Newspapers, once doomed as a victim of the digital age, have embraced the real-time nature of online news reporting. News outlets are now looking toward “hyper local” features, making your story more relevant than ever. Always remember that you are an expert in your personal or professional pain experience. Reporters rely on people like you to help them put a face to important issues like disparities in pain care.
As the landscapes of news rooms evolve, journalists continue to face increasing demands and shrinking budgets. More than ever, when working with reporters, it is important to do your homework and be prepared.
Basics of Media Relations
Advocates are often dismayed to read unbalanced or inaccurate articles that reinforce negative stereotypes about people with pain. Reaching out to reporters with your perspective can be a powerful way to advocate for yourself and others in pain.
- Proactive vs. reactive. Depending upon your situation, you may be engaging in either proactive or reactive media relations as an advocate. If the media in your area are familiar with you as a medical expert or patient advocate, they may contact you to comment on a story (reactive). When you are reaching out to media in an attempt to get your story covered, this is called proactive media relations. Whether you are proactively approaching the media or reacting to questions, preparation is essential for an effective media relations effort. Take the time to get your information together.
- Know your media. Visit the newspaper or television station’s website to see who is covering health topics. E-mail addresses and phone numbers are often listed at the end of articles or in the “contact us” section. Make sure that you read articles or view television segments that the reporter has worked on recently. If you are a health care professional, you can position yourself as a medical resource to reporters who are developing stories on pain management. If you are a person with pain or a caregiver advocate, you can work with reporters to tell your individual story. Most reporters prefer e-mail. In-person visits are not recommended.
- Know your media format. Are you reaching out to print, radio, television, or online reporters? Think about how these formats differ. You will have a better chance of successfully placing a television story if you can utilize a great visual and team up with a patient or health care professional to provide a more emotional interview.
- Develop your “pitch.” When you reach out to a reporter proactively, it is important to have your “pitch,” or story, thought through. Most news reporters develop stories structured as an “inverted pyramid.” This means that the news is delivered in the first section of the story, followed by the supporting details. This makes an editor’s job easier, since often the smaller details can be cut off the end of a story without affecting the core of the article. Keep this in mind when you are contacting the media – deliver your key messages up front, and be prepared to offer supporting details.
- Keep a media log. To avoid missing an important media opportunity, whenever you contact a reporter (and whenever they call back), you should keep good notes. Do not forget to call journalists back to maintain rapport after they have covered their first story on your message. It is much easier to re-sell a new “angle,” or aspect, of your story to such reporters than to start a whole new media relationship from scratch.
- Be respectful of deadlines. These differ depending on the news outlet. For instance, most daily newspapers’ deadlines are around 4:00 p.m. each day – clearly, this is not the optimal time to reach out to these reporters. Do not call during broadcast time. If the news in your area airs 6:00 a.m., 12:00 noon and 6:00 p.m., do not call at that time. Also do not call one hour before and after the newscast. Before a newscast, the producer is preparing for the upcoming news program and one hour after the newscast, production meetings are convened to have members of the staff discuss what went right and/or wrong during the newscast. It is best to call and ask your contacts when is the best time to call. Deadlines for television news programs vary according to the time of the show. If a reporter contacts you for a reaction, make sure to ask what the deadline is so that you can determine if you have enough time to assess the material that you’re being asked to comment on.
- Build your credibility. Reporters seek out resources that are accessible, quotable, and provide accurate information. Your status as a health care professional or a pain management advocate provides you with the perspective of an authority on health topics – pain management in particular – from either the professional or personal angle.
Developing a Targeted Media List
Become a consumer of your local news outlets. These include your local daily and weekly newspapers, specialty blogs and news microsites, television news, morning programs and radio talk shows. Look up contact information through the news outlet’s website. If that information is not available, then call the newsroom and ask the name and contact information of the health and lifestyle reporter. Your target media list may include:
Print & Online Media
- Health or science reporters
- Feature reporters (e.g., women’s section or aging, as appropriate)
- Community reporters for your area
- Bloggers for health or family sub-sites
- Contacts at specialty publications, such as religious or community-based newsletters
- Community calendars for events
Television & Radio
- Television health producers (more likely in larger markets)
- Morning show producers (radio and television)
- Health program producers (cable, public access)
- Weekly radio health and wellness program producers
- Community calendars for events
If you volunteer for a non-profit organization, many television stations have spotlights or features for community involvement, so you may want to target them. Note that sending material to the editor-in-chief is not likely to result in a story. Some of the anchors also write their stories, so consider them as a news contact for pitches. Also consider approaching editors outside of health. Consider the lifestyle or business editor with an out-of–the-box pitch. For example, a business editor would be interested in knowing the cost of treating pain patients who work every day and are able to function on the job versus someone who misses work constantly.
Talks and informational events are great opportunities to involve the press. Local weekly newspapers are a good target for these events. Review your local newspapers to identify the reporters who cover either your town or health-related topics, and invite them to cover the event.
Your event can also be an occasion to request a calendar listing. Nearly every daily newspaper and many television and radio stations offer online community calendars where you can quickly upload your event details for free. Submit listings at least a month in advance of your event, when possible.
Targeting your efforts, where appropriate, is key.
Social media is a broad term used to describe a popular trend in Internet-based communication that allows users to publish information, thoughts, and ideas on the Internet with the intention of engaging other users in conversation. Companies, politicians, and your neighbors are using social media to connect in the online world to form relationships for personal and business purposes.
Social media is distinct from the traditional types of media, such as newspaper, television and radio, in that anyone can publish material. Social media has the ability to reach a very targeted audience (e.g., “hyper-local”) who are interested in the topic being discussed, and information can be posted or modified immediately. Because of the nature of social media, keep in mind that, unlike traditional media outlets, editors are usually not overseeing accuracy or content. Blogs are a common form of social media, where you can read, write, or edit a shared online journal. Several people with pain have found blogging about their experience to be a powerful outlet, and their readers have found inspiration, hope and current information. You can also share your blog link with media. When developing stories, reporters read information for all sources, including blogs. Why not serve as a source?
Twitter is a free micro-blogging service that allows its users to send and read other users’ updates. In addition to use by family and friends, Twitter has found a real application among journalists, celebrities, thought leaders and organizations to keep people informed about what is happening in real-time. Several pain advocacy organizations have Twitter feeds and share news updates daily.
Consider reaching out to writers (bloggers) in the social media space with your pain advocacy efforts.
Getting Started: Keys to Noteworthy Publicity
A good news story addresses “who, what, when, where, why, and how.” Keep the following elements in mind as you are developing your pitch to the media:
- Timeliness – a reporter will only be interested in an event before it happens. Once an event has passed, your chances of coverage are reduced dramatically.
- Prominence – high-profile companies, celebrities, and local personalities are of interest to reporters.
- Proximity – your work in the community provides a great angle to local reporters.
- Significance – if possible, quantify the number of people in your area who are affected by unmanaged pain to emphasize how serious this issue is.
- Unusualness – try to take advantage of an unusual situation or event to make news.
- Human Interest – health care professionals teamed up with the patients that they care for provide great human interest angles for the media.
- Conflict – struggles from local to international proportions make good news stories.
- Newness – items that are considered “new” can range from scientific data to a new product to a disease state that is rare and has been in the media recently.
Be aware of current events that will impact the likelihood that a reporter will be interested in your story. A major network news story about pain is an ideal time to reach out to affiliates to offer a local perspective. A front-page story that is unbalanced or unfair towards people with pain can be an opportunity to write and place an Op-Ed (Op-Eds are opinion pieces that appear opposite the editorial page of local, state, and national newspapers). Community events or observances related to pain awareness are also good ways to interest media.
Also, gather a list of monthly health care observances: www.healthfinder.gov. Many of the local broadcast and print honor those observances with stories.
Developing Press Materials
A “press kit” includes resource materials that journalists use in developing a story. These background documents enable you to provide your messages to a reporter in different formats. Years ago, these press materials were printed out and assembled into a folder for reporters. Now, thankfully, these are “soft” documents that are sent over e-mail, reducing the cost and waste associated with printing. Types of press materials include:
- Press release – The press release serves as a “prototype story” that is already written for the reporter. Journalists usually use the release as an outline to ensure that they cover all the news points and quotes you call to their attention, but reporters may adopt your prepared story with only minor edits. You are more likely to have your press release used if you write a tight, punchy lead that draws the reader in and includes quotes that are memorable and eloquent. Press releases are usually reserved for breaking news announcements or events. Your press release should follow a style of writing that follows the “inverted pyramid” format. Think of a news editor who needs to cut a story to fit into a limited amount of space. They will start at the bottom and “cut” their way up. Your press release should follow this format so that the reporters can quickly see the important information up front. Search online among trusted national organizations for examples of other press releases. Be sure to include your contact information, dateline (release city and date), and limit the release to one to two pages.
- Backgrounder – The backgrounder is an in-depth, two- to five-page “white paper” on a whole topic. The science of pain management, treatment strategies and options, patient access issues, and disease states are relevant topics for backgrounders. Look to pain advocacy groups for existing position papers and backgrounders, as they have likely invested the time and effort to develop these materials.
- Q&A – The “question and answer” piece addresses the 10 to 20 most common questions that you anticipate about pain management and patient access. This is also often called an FAQ, or “Frequently Asked Questions” document. The questions you really want to be asked – as well as the ones that you’ll find tougher to answer – should be addressed here. The Q&A is also the place to address those situations where you would prefer to provide the reporter with a concise written response (rather than an oral response during an interview).
- Fact sheet – The fact sheet is a single-page bulleted list of statistics and important points about a specific topic. Be sure to keep your fact sheets current and include citations.
- Bios – A bio (or biography) provides the reporter with the credentials or abbreviated Curriculum Vitae of one of the spokespersons for your pain advocacy; it is usually two to three paragraphs long and should not exceed one page. Make sure to include advanced degrees and title.
- Video – Media outlets are accepting videos from 3rd parties, even video taken via a cell phone. Consider recording your thoughts on video, capturing moments that show your pain story and provide inspiration.
You can find examples of these tools in the Resources section of Media Advocacy.
Handling Media Interviews
- Review your key messages. Try to anticipate some of the questions that a reporter may ask and rehearse the interview with a colleague or family member. A good answer is concise, accurate, easy to understand, and appeals to both reason and emotion.
- Assume everything that is said (or provided in written form) is “on the record” and will be published or broadcast. Assume that all information shared with a reporter will be made public.
- Clarify facts. If you are being interviewed by a print reporter, you may ask if it’s okay to review your quotes before the story goes to print to ensure accuracy. Some reporters will honor that request. However, you can offer to clarify issues and to encourage reporters to get back to you to double check facts, terms, and quotes and to otherwise resolve any potential confusion. If you inadvertently misspeak, correct the mistake as quickly as possible.
- Answer honest questions honestly, but do not answer “loaded” or ignorant questions.
- Remain calm and address the issue. It is appropriate when confronted with such questions to politely and calmly explain why the question is based on misinformation.
- Emphasize the points you consider most important. In all but live broadcast interviews, repeat your key messages again and again. Flag important points with phrases such as:
- “This is an important point.”
- “This is what people really should remember.”
- “Let me explain this key point.”
- “You should note that…”
- “I would like to point out…”
- Avoid being argumentative. Be patient but firm regarding inappropriate questions.
Offer feedback after publication or broadcast. Be gracious. Praise good work, and offer constructive criticism for unbalanced reporting. If the reporter is blatantly unfair (in light of key information provided, but ignored), consider requesting a meeting with the reporter and his or her editor to go over the key points again.
Working with Broadcast Media
Broadcast interviews deserve specific consideration, as their format is entirely different from the written word. Television and online interviews can bring a story to life, so appearance is particularly important. Talk radio is an excellent way to reach large numbers of people, and often provides an opportunity for extensive interviews.
Preparing for a Television Interview
Relax! An honest cause and a thoughtful person come across clearly on camera, provided you speak simply, directly, and are straightforward. Answer as if you were speaking to a neighbor who is not a health care professional. On television, being human beats being perfect. Use specific, vivid examples of patients who benefited from proper pain management.
Air time is precious. A typical television sound-bite is no longer than 15 seconds or about 15 words. Fill that time with your most effective message.
What to wear: avoid striped, patterned, or plaid garments, since they glow on the television screen – stealing attention from your comments. Also, avoid large, shiny jewelry. Men should wear a solid-colored shirt and a dark, solid-colored suit or blazer. The reporter may request that doctors wear white coats. Most television interviews are tightly framed, showing the top of the head to the third button on a man’s shirt.
When thinking about your answers, don’t look up, down, or to the side. It comes across as devious. Look right at the reporter interviewing you just the way you would look a friend in the eye when talking. If you are conducting a remote or “satellite” interview, look directly into the lens of the camera (displaying the glowing red “on” light). This looks more natural to TV viewers because they see the interview from the point of view of the camera lens.
Come prepared with toll-free numbers or website addresses you would like people to refer to for more information.
Preparing for a Radio Interview
The person who contacts you to confirm your radio appearance is usually the producer of the show. This person may be your only contact until you meet the radio show host on the day of the broadcast.
When participating in a live radio show, keep in mind that your remarks can be abruptly cut off when a commercial break comes up. Practice presenting your messages as brief statements that are one or two sentences long. Don’t try to present complicated statistics; chose one or two eye-opening and important facts.
If you are participating in a call-in show that permits listeners to comment or question you on the air, it is wise to prepare an expanded question-and-answer document to “prep” yourself. It is also wise to notify other pain advocates about the show so that some callers will be supportive.
Be prepared to cite references that back up the opinions you express.
To avoid surprises, check in advance with the show’s producer to set up a short agenda of topics you’d like to see covered on the air – and to find out if the show’s host will also have a list of topics. If the interview is going to be done on the phone, this is particularly important, because you will not be face to face with the host or the producer.
Only do an interview over the phone when you can call from a quiet, private room – with no noisy activity going on in the rooms next door or outside your window. Have a glass of water and tissues available.
When possible, use a “land line” telephone so you can be heard clearly. Try to avoid conducting a telephone interview with a radio station on a wireless or cell phone.
Avoiding Media Traps: Dealing with Negative Journalists
- Do your research. Prior to any media interview, gather as much advance information about the reporter as you can. Read other articles the reporter has written and observe whether the tone of the articles was impartial, sympathetic, or aggressively challenging. If the reporter has quoted a colleague, you might want to ask that colleague whether the reporter was accurate and fair. A reporter’s biographical information and previously published articles may also be accessible by searching the newspaper or television station website under the reporter’s name by searching through Google or Yahoo! News.
- Insist on ground rules. Tell the reporter that you would like to know the specific angle of the story. Any documents that you are going to be asked to comment upon should be submitted a day in advance so you can prepare. The reporter must accept these conditions in writing before you agree to the interview. Do not let the reporter break the ground rules during the interview. Say instead: “You agreed that it would be unfair to ask me to comment on a document I have not reviewed. I will be happy to answer after I have had a chance to examine this.”
- Limit the time period. To maintain focus on the agreed-upon topic, it is a good idea to set a time limit for the interview in advance. On-camera interviews should be limited to 30 minutes.
- Insist on control of the setting for on-camera interviews. Be sure that you are in a position where you can look directly into the camera or at the interviewer. A studio set where you are asked to look down to see a monitor showing an interviewer located in another city is not ideal. Downward glances make one look devious. Have the studio staff raise the monitor to camera level. Make certain that there is nothing in the background that is negative.
- Establish the parameters of your expertise. Welcome questions that are within your specialized area of training or your personal experience, but avoid answering questions that ask you to make a judgment about a field in which you are not an expert.
- Take control of your response. It is OK to comment on the medical impact of a politically charged issue, but not on the politics of the issue itself. For example, a reporter may ask if you think a public official is “going beyond the law in a manner that is restrictive and insensitive to the needs of pain patients.” Your best response to this loaded question is to point out that it is outside your purview as a health care expert or pain advocate to comment on how the law is to be interpreted and enforced, but that as a concerned pain advocate you are qualified to point out that certain restrictions are interfering with the ability to deliver care to patients suffering from pain, etc.
Letters to the Editor and Op-Ed Opportunities
Opinion pieces are good ways to get the public and the newspaper editors to pay attention to your messages. Letters are read regularly, providing you with an opportunity to communicate on the issues that have been covered. Keep the length of your letter to between 150 and 250 words, which is the ideal size for publication, and follow up with the paper to see if your letter will be published. Op-Eds are opinion pieces that appear opposite the editorial page of local, state, and national newspapers. They are an extremely powerful and cost-effective way to educate a large number of people about pain management issues and are typically 500-800 words.
Visit your newspaper’s website for specific guidance and tips on getting your letters and Op-Eds placed. This is often found in the “Opinion” or “Contact Us” section. You can also submit these electronically; however, keep in mind that you still must include your mailing address and contact information, which won’t be published.
Content and Style Suggestions
- Be timely – Connect the Op-Ed to the release of a new survey, a recent article, or an event in your community. Timing is an important factor when submitting an Op-Ed.
- Do your homework – read the letter and Op-Eds that have been published to see what gets picked up. Concise, witty, polite submissions with a clear opinion expressed often make an appearance; name-calling and nastiness are usually rejected.
- Pay attention to style – Provide a title as well as the author’s name and affiliation. Make sure to mention your connection to pain awareness. Keep the submission between 500 and 800 words. Localize the article with statistics that provoke discussion and provide practical solutions to the issue. Finally, end with an overview of your stance. Include an anecdote that personalizes and provides human interest, and consider leading with that story.
- Find a messenger – Find the best author, or signer, of the Op-Ed. (A medical professional or state advocacy leader in the community may be ideal.) The author is critical in achieving publication of the article and maximizing its impact. Be aware that news outlets will want to know if the author has a financial interest or connection that should be disclosed.
- Submit for publication – Follow guidance provided by the newspaper to submit your letter or Op-Ed. Only submit original work for consideration – do not use templates, as they are often viewed as “spam.” Newspapers are competitive – do not submit to more than one publication at a time. Start with your first choice.
- Follow-up – Call the newspaper’s “Editorial Page” editor 3 to 10 days after sending your Op-Ed, and ask if it is being considered for publication. Think of your follow-up call as an opportunity to educate your contact about the issue of pain management – even if your Op-Ed is not published. If the newspaper passes on publishing your submission, you can submit it to another publication for consideration.
- Consider adding a “comment” online – Articles that appear online often allow readers to post a comment. This offers an immediate opportunity to join the conversation. You may want to thank the reporter for helping to raise awareness of issues faced by people with pain. If that point was missed in the article, you can note that here. While the tone of these comments is more casual than an Op-Ed or letter to the editor, be sure to keep your comment succinct and respectful.
Resources: Media Relations
The following pain-related organizations keep current press materials in their news rooms; reviewing these will give you a sense of the style of certain materials, as well as the latest pain advocacy community news:
Further Reading: General Information about Media Advocacy
- The Community Toolbox: Media Advocacy. Community Toolbox is a major community outreach resource. While the site does not focus on pain, it provides strategies, tips and tools for health-related outreach that can easily be tailored to your media campaign for pain awareness.
- National Cancer Institute: The Pink Book – Making Health Communications Programs Work. The planning steps in this book can help make any communication program work, regardless of size, topic, geographic span, intended audience, or budget. The key is reading all the steps and adapting those relevant to your program at a level of effort appropriate to the program’s scope. The tips and sidebars throughout the book suggest ways to tailor the process to your various communication needs. This resource is also useful because it stresses concept testing and evaluation.
- Institute of Medicine, The Future of the Public’s Health in the 21st Century (2002), Board on Health Promotion and Disease Prevention (HPDP), Institute of Medicine (IOM); Chapter 7. Media.
Checklist: Media Relations
- Read up on pain issues and be familiar with your local media.
- Visit pain advocacy organization websites and news rooms to stay current with the latest pain news.
- Think about your personal pain story and what information you would like to share.
- Develop your targeted media list.
- Write your bio and pitch.
- If you are working on a local event, develop your press release and other supporting materials.
- Check in with your employer (particularly if you work for a hospital, health system or university) to see if they have a public relations, public affairs or marketing department that you can tap into.
- If you belong to a professional or consumer pain advocacy organization, be sure to let them know what you would like to do – they may be able to help.
- Distribute your e-mail pitches to targeted reporters.
- Call to follow up and pitch your story.
- Keep track of feedback and interview requests.
- If a reporter expresses interest in your story, be responsive, be prepared and BE AVAILABLE!
- Don’t get discouraged – reporters are inundated with requests to cover stories; be ready and available for when the time comes.
And remember a few “DON’T”s:
- Don’t respond to a question “off the record,” or ask that information provided be kept “off the record.”
- Don’t tell a reporter after the fact that you don’t want the story to run/air (e.g., “kill the story”).
- Don’t place “demands” on the reporter (e.g., that the story is a certain length, that you can review their article before it goes to print).
- Don’t get discouraged – sometimes raising awareness through media takes a long time!