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The use of PR during the COVID19 pandemic

Each week during the COVID19 outbreak, I am writing a blog series on crisis management, marketing and communications.

So far, I have assessed where we are in the assisted reproduction market since many clinics have suspended fertility treatment. I have looked at the importance of marketing during this time. Last week, I looked at the financial implications for both clinics and patients.

I have over 30-years’ experience in media and marketing, the last 16 years have been spent marketing to IVF patients. I am sharing my knowledge because I am passionate about helping couples and individuals fulfil their desire to have a family. The science is constantly evolving and I want my colleagues to survive this huge challenge.

I received a great response to last week’s blog, especially to my suggestion of a 12-month payment plan for patients. So many clinics have been in touch and I’m excited to launch this new payment initiative to patients next week . This ties in really nicely with National Infertility Awareness Week. Resolve, the US infertility charity has chosen the theme of ‘changing the conversation’, what better time to change our ways?

We have to change the way we are marketing to patients. Patients have been left high and dry with no date of when treatment can take place. They need our empathy during this time. We need to show compassion and that behind the scenes they are at the forefront of our minds.

How can we do that?

With budgets thrown out the window for 2020, making cuts is the name of the game. I have previously stressed that one of those cuts SHOULDN’T be the marketing budget. Marketing is not a cost, it’s an investment! And one of the sharpest tools in your marketing toolbox is Public Relations (PR).

“Advertising is what you pay for, publicity is what you pray for!”

The beauty of PR is that your only cost is the salary of your PR expert. Now is not the time to sing the praises of your clinic, that doesn’t help the patient who can’t get treatment! Let’s break down the value of PR and how it can be applied to your clinic at this time.

What is PR?

PR is a strategic communications strategy. You are communicating with the public through a trusted source. You are earning recognition as opposed to paying for it!

Patients are more likely to believe information they receive through a verified third party.

In contrast to advertising, which has to be repeated to get noticed, patients take note a lot quicker if they:

  • hear your name on the radio
  • see your clinic on the TV
  • read about your clinic in the newspaper.

As discussed in previous blogs, not every clinic has a dedicated marketing department let alone a PR specialist. Now is the time to invest in recruiting someone for this role. PR is a persuasion business. A good PR will analyse your clinic, find the positives and then generate a newsworthy story.

PR puts a positive spin on a crisis

Let’s face it, there really isn’t much good news at the moment! And the news is mainly COVID19 dominated. You need a really good story to stand out and get noticed. PR comes in to its own in a crisis. It puts a positive slant on a bad situation, I don’t think it gets much worse than right now.

There are two ways to generate a news story.

  1. Piggyback current news – in this case COVID19 and how your clinic is adapting its operations policy to reflect the needs of patients.
  2. Create your own story – this would normally be success stories, but I don’t think those stories are newsworthy enough in this climate. They are good on social media.

Think of your story from the readers point of view and most importantly the journalist who you are pitching to; is this piece of public interest?

If you imagine PR is a mirror, it’s the reflection of your clinic that you want to portray to your patients.

What does PR involve?

The role of PR covers writing the story and having the contacts for distribution. A big part of a PR’s job is to expand the business contacts of your clinic through networking. I keep a distribution list of not only media, but also important influencers who I want to know our news.

Your PR should also write speeches for clinic directors and spokespeople at the clinic. In the current climate you can organise online press conferences. These are useful for new executive appointments, new facilities at your clinic or to make a public statement. To get media attention, it is also worth reaching out to governing bodies in assisted reproduction and government ministers for comment. This adds weight to the worthiness of your story.

Writing the pitch

PR also write the pitch; this is not the press release itself. This is a feeler, reaching out to journalists to pitch the story idea.

This covers:

  • a short introduction to your clinic
  • outlining the issue that your story addresses
  • highlights why this story needs the journalist attention.

PR are also responsible for writing and blogging on behalf of your clinic, it’s a more personal way to get your story across with a more human touch. Infertility is a personal business; everyone is used to seeing politicians and experts speaking from home via conference call apps. Use this opportunity to give insight to life at home for your staff.

If any of your Drs and nurses have been deployed to the front line, this is a very newsworthy story. This focusses your patients on their importance as a medical professional in this difficult time.

Also use this time to conduct market research, what are your patients thinking about treatment? Are they still committed to treatment with your clinic? Are they worried about job security? Are they worried about paying for treatment? These answers give you a good insight in how to proceed with your marketing plan.

Your PR should subscribe to various news requests services. These requests are coming in thick and fast at the moment. Is your clinic being asked to comment? If not, now is the time for your PR professional to trawl the news and get involved in the conversation of a news story. Comment as an expert. Contact the journalist, give your response to the story. Did the article raise questions that you feel you could answer?

Please reach out to me to discuss any of the topics covered in this blog series.

In the coming weeks I will discuss your brand, online marketing, seminars, newsletters, video and podcasts.

Veronica Montgomery, Clinic and Patient Consultant

The Fertility Hub

Previous blogs in this series

Part one – COVID19 Crisis Management for IVF Clinics

Part two – Marketing and Communications During COVID19

Part three – Financial Implications of COVID19