When your goal is to educate your community about physical therapy and its value along a spectrum of seemingly endless health care options, your local press represents one of your greatest megaphones.
Not only does the press (i.e., TV, newspaper, radio, websites, etc.) already have the ear of a relatively diverse audience, many of these organizations have spent years establishing a high level of credibility within their markets.
And when the press opts to include you as an expert in its reporting, this level of trust gets passed along to you, your clinic and your profession.
In other words, being a source in your local media is about as close to instant credibility as you can get.
But, It Comes with Hurdles
As with anything worth doing, though, it’s not always easy to get the attention of your local media. While news, topics and stories are seemingly limitless, this doesn’t hold true when you’re talking about time and space … at least not in the media world.
A newspaper, for instance, only has so many inches to devote to articles, images, advertising and promotion. Same is true with the limited timeslots devoted to daily newscasts, both on TV and the radio.
This space shrinks even more when you consider the limitations news outlets place on health, wellness and lifestyle topics versus the coverage of breaking news and sports.
Opportunities, then, can be rather slim. And with others in the health care world also vying for attention, the simple act of engagement with the local press can feel frustrating – sort of like a milder version of The Hunger Games, where you’re never the last one standing.
If only you could predict the future…
You Can … See the Future, That Is
Yes, when it comes to the media, it’s always possible to see the future.
While you’re not likely to be very good at predicting breaking news on any given day, it is possible for you to identify major events, topics or themes that media of all shapes and sizes are likely to latch onto during specific times of the year.
(As someone who’s spent years working in the media, I can assure you that – save for breaking stories – a good portion of news cycles indeed exists on a repetitive and predictable loop.)
Once identified, you can improve your chances of contributing to the story (or stories) not by creating topics or themes of your own, but by “hitching a ride” with timely themes on which your local media is likely to report.
Live in an active community which hosts a bunch of competitive races and fun runs throughout the year? Hitch a ride with this topic by offering tips for preparing for that first 5K after a long winter’s break.
Summer’s winding down and kids are starting to prepare for back-to-school time? Hitch a ride with this theme by sharing safety tips for kids who wear backpacks.
A major national sporting event (e.g., the Winter Olympics) or tournament (e.g., March Madness) is on the horizon? Hitch a ride with these events by talking about the role balance and flexibility plays in winter sports success or how basketball players are susceptible to injuries like jumper’s knee.
The physical therapy clinics in the examples above didn’t just get lucky. In each case, we saw the future of what was likely to already be on editors’ and publishers’ radar, and we helped make these clinics part of the existing stories and narratives.
Dos & Don’ts of Hitching a Ride
Want to find a way for your clinic to hitch a ride into your local news cycle? Consider the following tips, dos and don’ts:
DO Anticipate Coverage
This requires you to think ahead a month or two. If it’s April, start thinking about what’s likely to be included as part of May and June’s coverage. Focus on topics, themes and/or events that relate (directly or indirectly) to health, wellness, sports performance, maintaining an active lifestyle, etc.
For instance, May is National Health Awareness Month, which could provide you with an opportunity to promote the positive effects exercise can have on the mind. For June, perhaps hitch a ride with the first day of summer (e.g., “Safe Hot Weather Workout Tips”).
DON’T “Me Too!” a Past Story
In other words, don’t chase a story that’s already run … even if you feel you’d have been a perfect source. Calling on the press after the fact will likely just make you come across as a publicity seeker.
If you’re already seeing coverage of a topic that relates to you or the PT profession, it’s unlikely you’re going to get your local media to cover the same thing again. So, as they say to quarterbacks after they’ve thrown an interception, just let that play go and think ahead to the next one.
DO Localize a Wider-Ranging Story
Even if you operate in a small town, don’t feel you have nothing to offer a topic, theme or event that exists on a national level. The press is often glad to have an opportunity to “localize” a larger story in order to make it relevant to their audience (and to hitch their own rides with trending topics), so take advantage of opportunities to help them make these local connections.
DON’T Be Impersonal
Physical therapists are all about being evidence-based, but don’t let that black-and-white approach in the clinic hold you back from being more colorful and personal in your dealings with the press. When working to localize a wider, national story (e.g., a story about opioid alternatives), use statistics and studies, but also don’t be afraid to be opinionated and personal. When you can, share stories of real local people who have been affected by the topic(s) at hand.
DO Offer a Fresh Take
People in the news media are often looking for fresh perspectives on stories that may otherwise be considered “typical” for the time of year. From holiday stress and New Year’s Resolutions to seasonal weather changes and national sporting events, people in the media just have to cover certain things. But they don’t like to be boring while doing so. That’s why whenever you can offer a fresh spin on a topic (e.g., advice on fitness apps during resolution season), you’re most likely to catch the media’s attention.
Heed these tips and you’ll find that getting some media attention for your expertise isn’t as hard as it seems. Share your experiences and insights with your community and watch them come to you.