One of the most popular sessions at the in-person HITMC Conference is the panel discussion with editors from healthcare media. Since we couldn’t be together for this year’s conference, we thought it would be helpful to provide some PR insights from our very own John Lynn, Chief Editor at Healthcare IT Today. He’s the one that has been on the receiving end of thousands of PR and story pitches.
The following is an interview with John Lynn.
Tell us about yourself and Healthcare IT Today
14 years ago I was working at UNLV where I was in charge of implementing an EMR in their health and counseling center and providing top to bottom IT support. As I learned about EMR and healthcare IT, I decided to start a blog to share what I learned. I was learning SEO (search engine optimization) and I figured it was a good resume builder. Long story short, I was successful with SEO and when the government poured $36 billion of gas on the EMR fire, my blogs exploded and 10 years ago I quit to become a full time blogger. During that time I alone was writing a new article every day on 2+ sites for at least 2 years. Since those beginnings, it’s amazing to think that we’ve published over 13,000 articles on Healthcare IT Today and generated too many millions of views to count. I feel grateful to do what I do since I think that what we share with the Healthcare IT Today audience makes a difference in readers lives and improves healthcare in some small way.
What’s the best PR pitch you’ve ever gotten?
How do I choose just one? It’s like picking children. Although, there’s one that stands out in my mind. A major EHR vendor emailed me and said, we have a story we want to share with you, do you have time to hop on a call? That was it. That was the pitch. It was so simple and intriguing I had to take it to see what they had in mind. I could tell from the tone of the email that something was going on. Turns out, the EHR vendor had run into an EHR certification issue which meant that their clients might not be able to get their EHR stimulus money or that it could be clawed back because they weren’t using a “certified EHR.” This was a big deal and I was excited to be able to share the story. Looking back now, it was impressive that this EHR vendor was willing to report this issue rather than hide it like a couple other EHR vendors did and suffered massive penalties for their fraud and hits to their reputation.
After they shared the news with me, I asked them why they reached out to me for the story. They could have called anyone about it. They said, “We thought you’d be fair with the story.” I appreciated the vote of trust and have always worked to be fair in the stories I write. Although, most important is I want to be useful to our readers.
What are some of the things you get in pitches that really bother you?
I’m bothered by all the classic mistakes like calling me Steve when that’s not my name or asking me to cover their story in a publication that I don’t write for because they did a copy and paste job and didn’t replace it. It’s not a massive issue for me since I’ve made plenty of my own copy and paste errors, but it’s often an indication of a bad story and a bad pitch. So, the warning flags go crazy when I see it.
The thing that probably bothers me most is when someone doesn’t personalize the pitch. This is particularly true when I know the person. How hard is it to add a sentence or two at the top to make it personal to me? I’m not saying the whole pitch has to be personalized, but when I get a robotic pitch I often provide a robotic response (which is likely a click on my email archive button). At the end of the day, it bothers me if someone sends me a pitch that doesn’t add value to the work I’m doing which is trying to help my readers learn something useful. Turns out, that’s a high bar that I’m trying to get over every day and is true for those pitching me.
Kind of related to this is the pitch that doesn’t get to the point quickly and/or hides who is really pitching. We all know how it works. I don’t mind writing about companies that are doing or saying interesting things. There’s no need to try and hide who the company is in your pitch to me. Plus, it’s generally a bad idea to ramble on about what’s happening in the industry. I live this stuff every day, so get to the good stuff and skip the background.
How do you feel about being pitched on social media?
Love it! My approach is basically ubiquitous communication. I like to check it all. Plus, you’re more likely to get a quick reply on social media than a long email. Not sure why, but it’s true. Plus it kind of fits into my previous comment. If you only have 280 characters for your pitch, you have no choice but get to the good stuff quickly. Although, if you’re pitching on social media, it’s even more important to personalize. Otherwise, you get grouped in with the spammers.
How has your coverage and the pitches you’ve received evolved during COVID-19?
I don’t know where all these PPE, Vaccine, CBD, etc companies got my email and thought it would be a good idea to pitch me. It’s been amazing how many pitches like these I’ve received when we’ve never covered such things. We stick to healthcare technology with a little taste of the healthcare business on the side. If it doesn’t have some sort of healthcare technology angle to it or at least a business of healthcare topic that likely impacts technology or uses some sort of technology as a side story, then I’m probably not going to cover it. However, they seem to not care and are just sending BCC emails to any publication that has healthcare in the title.
More to this point, the volume of pitches I’ve gotten has just exploded. I’m not sure why COVID-19 has prompted everyone to start thinking “we should send more pitches.” I guess part of it makes sense since every health IT organization is working to evolve their product to the current environment. However, it has been a bit overwhelming. All of the press people I’ve talked to have had to increase their story filter and say no to a lot more stories.
As my friend Neil says (slightly modified), 1 of me 1000s of you. We can only do what we can do with the time we have available and that means a lot of people aren’t going to get their story covered even when it’s a good story.
If you could share one piece of advice for those pitching you, what would it be?
My biggest piece of advice when pitching me or anyone would be to make it as easy to publish something relevant to my audience as possible. Sometimes I read through pitches and think, why are they making me work to figure out what the real story is here? If that happens, it rarely gets covered. Make it easy to see why what your pitching is relevant and how we can easily share that story. Remember that your pitches are competing against all the other stories I’m looking to share on my own. And 13,000 articles in, those are often easier to write than one about your company.