October 22, 2019  |  by Ashley Stanford Cone

Story finding, no matter what industry you work in, can be tedious. In healthcare public relations, finding the right story — and by right story, I mean one that resonates with readers, is relevant and timely to your organization, and makes you feel good about the work you do — is exhilarating, but can also be overwhelming. It’s not difficult to find a good story due to a lack of ideas or content — we have plenty of this, maybe even too much at times. The difficult part is finding a story that your audience can easily digest and find meaningful, while at the same time aligning with the goals and mission of your healthcare client’s organization. 

It’s a lot to live up to. Not only do you need to identify, write, and sell a good story, but you also have to manage the expectations of your stakeholders. You’re somewhat of a juggler. On one hand, you’re responsible for managing the organization’s reputation, highlighting exciting new services, telling inspiring and human-focused stories, and keeping internal stakeholders happy on all accounts. On the other hand, you’re also tasked to protect the privacy of those being cared for within the healthcare system. 

So, how can it all be done? Depending on the size of your team and available resources, your options may vary. Below are a few tips on how to best manage your story finding and storytelling process by focusing on strategic alignment, writing to your audience, setting realistic expectations, and most importantly, finding balance. 

Strategic Alignment

Get to know the organization’s high-level strategic priorities and goals. Understanding their short- and long-term trajectory will allow you to prioritize and strategically plan for high-impact results. Also, consider including a buffer or some flexibility within your plan, to make room for work that might not fit within a top priority, but could be a positive human interest story, increasing engagement within your audience.   

Recognizing all the moving parts in a system, as well as key consumer entry points, is also important. Are partner referrals relied upon as entry points, or is the focus on a particular program or service? Once you have identified the organization’s strategic focus, you can then align the work with services targeted for consumers. Meaning, your c-suite may identify financial sustainability as a strategic priority; however, when it comes to storytelling, is that important to your audience? How can you make a human-focused story align with a strategic priority, yet still be relevant to your audience? Keep an open mind when thinking about your stories, how they fit within the organization’s overall strategy, and different angles you might take in sharing them. Don’t be afraid to think outside the box to make your stories pop, making them interesting and shareable. 

Writing to Your Audience 

When you write and pitch stories,  you need to make sure they are relevant, timely, and impactful. In healthcare, you have to know your audiences, as well as listen to what’s important to them. Before you start your work, understand who you’re trying to reach, and on which platforms you will reach them. Is your story targeting physicians and internal employees? Is it focused on mothers who manage their family’s healthcare and regularly engage on social media? Do you need to write a long-form article about adolescent sleep, or would a listicle on sleep tips suffice?

To better understand your target audiences, choose your top three to five and consider creating personas. An audience persona is a fictional person you create to better understand their needs and interests. For example, creating a persona focused on survivors would help guide content relatable to those who have survived a disease such as cancer, or those who are living with a chronic illness. You can create primary and secondary personas, based on your strategic priorities, but make sure you identify their characteristics, develop descriptions and backgrounds for each persona, and make them realistic.

Another consideration is understanding your audience’s varying levels of knowledge. Make sure your content is written for your reader, with health literacy in mind. For readers to understand and digest the information you’re sharing, you need to make sure you’re addressing diverse audiences by being culturally competent, as well as incorporating plain language that anyone can understand. 

Setting Expectations and Finding Balance

As a communicator working with healthcare clients, there are many demands. With a plethora of heart-warming, educational, and innovative stories to tell, learning to say no or providing varying options to stakeholders is imperative. Don’t forget, you’re only one person, and unless you have a large team to support your efforts, it’s important to set realistic expectations to provide high-quality outcomes.

Due to injury and illness, you will always have a multitude of storytelling opportunities to raise awareness around a healthcare brand. There are so many stories to be written about life-saving surgeries, children beating cancer, or trauma patients surviving the odds and beating death. However, unless balance can be found in your work, you may feel overly stressed, overwhelmed, and burned out, as well as run the risk of having an unfocused strategy, and in some cases, not being the best storyteller that you know you can be. Begin to think differently about your work. Provide strategic guidance to your stakeholders. Educate them on the types of stories you, local/national media, and your readers are looking for, as well as how important it is to utilize various digital platforms in your storytelling. Educate your stakeholders about the power of social media and why a press release and segment on a local TV station may not meet their goals. Don’t be afraid to say no to a request, but provide other options that will result in satisfied stakeholders and impactful outcomes. 

Setting expectations allows you to find a healthier workload balance, decreases stress, and increases overall workplace wellness and satisfaction. As you begin to set your strategic priorities, look at your requests. What can wait and what is immediate? What is strategic and what is a one-off story? Can you make a larger impact for your client through a social media campaign versus writing multiple blog posts, or do you need both? Once you identify needs and opportunities, space them out, create an editorial calendar, and utilize subject matter experts. This allows you to say no less, make internal stakeholders more accountable, and produce more frequent and higher-quality content. 

As a healthcare communicator, you have many story finding and storytelling opportunities ahead of you. From traditional media and press releases to digital and social media, the sky’s the limit to what you can accomplish. With a strategic plan in place, quality content written for your targeted audiences, and a good workload balance, you’re on the right track to keeping stakeholders happy while increasing awareness for your client’s healthcare brand.