Guest post: Know thy audience

By Brad Dodge on May 15th, 2009

Anthony Guerra, Editor-in-Chief for Healthcare Informatics, provides some solid tips on working more effectively with the media.

Selling is selling, and we’re all selling something. For me, I’m selling my audience, knowledge of the industry and professionalism when I try to get a healthcare CIO on the phone. I’m selling the fact that I know this industry better than any journalist out there, that I won’t ask them to define EMR or HITECH, I won’t ask them to explain the difference between acute and ambulatory, I won’t ask them what best of breed means. I’m selling the fact that I know how to get what I need from them in less than 30 minutes, I won’t misrepresent what they’ve said, and I will never write about something just so the magazine’s sales staff can book a quarter page.

How am I able to make all these assertions? First off, I’m a professionally trained journalist (something quite rare in the B2B field), I’ve got over 10 years of experience, and I’ve built a reputation for fair but tough interviewing. I research all my subjects before I even attempt to get an interview, and above all I strive not to waste anyone’s time.

Why would I expect anything less from someone trying to sell me something? Make no mistake about it, as a PR professional, selling is exactly what you’re doing. Your job is to sell me your client, to get them mentioned in the media, to spread their name far and wide as “the leading” provider of something or other. But before picking up that phone, even before sending that email, have you taken the time to find out who I am?

I’m not necessarily referring to what kind of books I enjoy, though with LinkedIn and the like, it’s amazing how much you can learn about a person (I do update my reading list on that site). I am talking about knowing what kind of pitch will work on me based on the strategic mission of the publication (who are the target readers?) and the tactical means used to deliver on it (staff written content, contributed content, or a mix?). I am talking about knowing the values and priorities of the editor you are approaching.

For example, I don’t accept contributed articles submitted through PR intermediaries. I know these articles are usually not written by the person whose byline they carry but by the person sending the e-mail the article is attached to. Other editors could care less, but it’s an absolute no-go for me. To other editors, you’ve just given them a decent two-page story to fill a hole in their upcoming issue FOR FREE, and they love you for it. That’s fine, I’m not judging anyone. That’s just not the way I work, and you should know that before you reach out.

There is one pitch that will work on me every time, and it goes something like this: “Hi Anthony, this is so and so from so and so PR, our client has just sold their system into hospital X and the CIO would be very happy to talk with you about it.” Done, set it up. You can even sit in on the call if that would be fun for you. Actually, listening to the interview is a good idea. The sources in this industry are lifers, the best journalists are lifers too, so why would it be any different on the PR side? If everyone you deal with lives, eats and breathes healthcare IT, how much tolerance can there be for someone who, “just works here”? Sitting in on an interview can be a great way to learn the subject matter, as long as you don’t break one very important rule (see #2 below).

The point is that each editor requires a different pitch and some are more finicky than others. Before you pick up the phone, before you start pounding on that keyboard, be sure to know thy audience.

PS: As an added bonus, enjoy the following tongue-in-cheek Top 10 list. (I’ll expand on some of these in upcoming posts):

Anthony Guerra’s Top 10 Most Annoying PR Moves

10. Approach multiple editors on staff independently with the same pitch, hoping you’ll get lucky with one.

9. Put out a release announcing that a person or group you represent is “applauding” another person or group.

8. Overdo the pleasantries if I accidentally answer my phone.

7. Address an e-mail to me as, “Dear Andrew,” or worse, “Dear Tony.”

6. Attempt to get free market research from me by “picking my brain for a few minutes.”

5. Ask if you can, “See a copy of the article before it’s published.”

4. After I’ve asked an interviewee for their contact information, interject with, “You can go through me!”

3. Call me to “follow-up on an e-mail you just sent.”

2. Answer a question while chaperoning an interview.

1. Casually mention that you are an advertiser during a pitch.