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Don’t sell snake oil: What you say matters

The role of public relations for healthcare companies is critical – and complicated. Compelling product or service information helps companies stand out, but they must pay careful attention to how media and consumers will translate it. Ask yourself: “Does it set realistic expectations?” “Does it promise what it delivers?” and “Do I have enough data to back up these claims?” before publishing it for the public.

Bottom line: what you say matters.

While this is common knowledge, it’s an adage that can’t be stressed enough. Gary Schwitzer, one of the six people we named as a healthcare leader to follow in 2016, recently hosted a podcast on the topic and MedCity News also wrote a piece about how healthcare media can hurt people. Both stories discussed the negative impact of a press release issued by the Translational Genomics Research Institute that had an inaccurate statement saying its drug had been FDA approved. This statement was not accurate. The therapy only had FDA sanction to conduct clinical trials – a big difference. But once the release was out, first impressions had already been made. One family even went through considerable emotional distress after learning the claims were inaccurate and the drug could not serve as a treatment option for their loved one.

Once a press release is issued or a media interview is concluded the way the message can be interpreted or printed is often out of your control. Therefore, it is critical that the statement, data and claims presented are accurate and complete. It’s also true that media play an important role in publishing accurate content. But limited budgets mean editors have less time to research each claim in the dozens of press releases they receive daily.

Ultimately, though, it’s up to companies to not spin their claims or provide false information. Here are some key takeaways of how to prevent selling snake oil.

  • Hire the right partner: The healthcare industry is a rapidly evolving and highly regulated industry. Selecting a PR partner with a deep understanding of and proven experience in the healthcare industry is critical. Your PR partner should ask questions about your research and statistics and demonstrate strong ethics when crafting public messages. While a goal of PR is to gain attention, a good partner will not sacrifice the integrity of the company by using flashy headlines simply to boost impressions. Some companies err on the side of caution in fear of not getting the communication right. A good PR partner can challenge your team to seek out quality data and provide guidance on the best way to accurately present the information.
  • Carefully select a spokesperson: Not only does what you say matter, but who says it can also have a big impact. Selecting a spokesperson, whether it is a doctor or another industry expert, who is credible can boost your company’s reputation. Look for someone who is willing to speak on the benefits of your company’s product or service without requiring financial compensation. When money is exchanged between a spokesperson and a company, the credibility of the source is questioned or compromised. It is also important that the spokesperson knows what they can say and what claims are not substantiated and should be avoided in media interviews.
  • Invest in accuracy: It takes a lot of time and research to make small advances to the toughest issues affecting health. Make the investment to conduct independent studies or surveys to secure the necessary data to back-up any claims. Also, do your research on any data you plan to publish from outside sources. Accuracy is not just the responsibility of the company distributing the news; product developers, researchers, communication partners, media and consumers all play an important role in ensuring accuracy, too.

Just like there is no magic bullet in healthcare, there is no magic bullet to healthcare PR. Take pride in the messages your company delivers. While one flashy headline might lead to lots of immediate press, it can also be damaging to your company and your customers. In healthcare PR, it truly is quality over quantity.

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