Communicating in Chaotic Times
As I reflect on the state of the media in this country, the one thing that sticks in my mind is that “change is the only constant in life.” What struck me most about this quote is that it isn’t by a great business leader or politician, but by Heraclitus, a Greek philosopher from 2,500 years ago. More than two millennia later, this adage still rings true, especially as it relates to the continued transformation within the newsroom.
The past couple of years have been a time of significant innovation in media, and newsroom strategies have changed along with it and will continue to do so in the years ahead. While these newsrooms adjust to operating on a new path to gathering news and keeping pace with their competitors, there is also the need to recognize two significant changes.
First, media is becoming big business, and many media operations are looking to transform digital subscriptions into the main engine of a billion-dollar business, one that could pay to put reporters on the ground in 174 countries even if (or when) the printing presses stop forever.
Multiple national print media outlets are also embarking on plans inspired by the strategies of Netflix, Spotify and HBO. That is, invest heavily in good journalism while continuously adding online services and features — from personalized fitness advice and interactive newsbots to virtual reality films — so that a subscription becomes indispensable to the lives of its existing subscribers and more attractive to future ones.
Second, new and novel platforms like STAT News, Tonic and VOX are doing away with the newsroom and, rather than hiring staff, are relying solely on a cadre of freelance writers. They have truly emerged as the new kings and queens of content, contributing important work to outlets ranging from the most high-profile to those covering the most nuanced scientific news.
The emergence of fake news
Running on a parallel track with these information innovations has been the proliferation of what we now refer to as “fake news.”
The Trump administration is demanding an unprecedented amount of attention and creating more work for journalists than anything we’ve seen in recent history. This, coupled with the focus on “fake news” that, more and more, has come to mean anything that one simply disagrees with, is driving deeper discussions within all media about what this means for the industry in general. Many news outlets — including some of the most highly respected outlets — are adding staff to fact check every story coming out of their newsrooms. Others are ramping up their investigative and political units and hiring additional staff.
What does this mean for today’s media? We may be seeing more attempts to verify news and a renewed commitment to “real journalism” in an effort to guarantee that no false, or even debatable, statements are published by top outlets where they risk losing credibility.
Interestingly, in the healthcare space, the pharmaceutical industry has been living with this for a long time. The stakes here are huge and the industry has to get a handle on the flow of information to protect not only their companies, but the patients they serve.
Efforts to combat fake news and maintain trust need to center on creating credible content, keeping ahead of trends and issues as they emerge and (quickly) countering inaccurate information.
Getting the job done
Given these challenges, breaking through with your messages in today’s media environment is tough, and the healthcare industry is certainly not immune to the changes to newsrooms we’ve seen in the last few years.
I recently had the honor of serving as co-chair of the 13th ExL Pharma Public Relations & Communications Summit, one of the largest gatherings of communications professionals in the pharmaceutical space. At this year’s Summit, we explored these obstacles and provided best practices to overcome them while ensuring key audiences are reached.
Regardless of the myriad challenges communicators face, I am always so impressed at how quickly and nimbly our industry is able to adapt to “get the job done.” Three key themes stuck with me:
Breaking through with your story. What does it take to get a reporter interested in your story? This is the key to getting covered in today’s environment. Your story needs to do more than just “add noise,” it must provide value to your audiences. Also, reporters are competing with bloggers, social influencers and others who are pushing out information quicker than the media, so the speed at which you can get them information could decide whether or not your story runs — reporters have less time to get their stories right, so providing them with immediate access to what they need is critical.
Channeling the patient voice. Now more than ever the consumer voice is heard and it’s making a difference. It seems that everyone wants to hear from real people, and patient influencers can humanize your story and help you get your messages out. However, they are only effective if they are seen as credible and genuine, so maintaining the trust of their communities is critical.
Telling the customer story. Times have changed, healthcare has become very personal, the brand is no longer at the center of the universe, and new approaches are needed to reach audiences. One approach is through brand storytelling, and the key here is finding ways to inspire through stories. However, the story is about the customer, and the brand is just a plot point in their story. It’s not about what you’re selling, but how what you’re selling ties into your customer’s story.
Changes within the newsroom show no signs of slowing down and, as communicators, we will continue to adapt to these changes and find new ways to break through with our messages to benefit the patients we serve. It will certainly be interesting to see where things head in the years to come.
Written by: Wendy Lund, CEO, GCI Health