This is my third year as a media and public relations strategist, offering my expertise to several brands including healthcare brands. Neither in my present nor in my previous journalist avatar, was I prepared for a world that’s been turned over on its axis. The abnormality has generated a revived an appetite – a ravenous urge to feed on facts: This is what differentiates the truth from the lies, the fake news from the real news.
When I started as a journalist in 1997, we barely had internet, and smart phones were a distant dream. News and fact-based reporting were deeply valued across the country, and twitterati didn’t even exist. Our world expanded beyond the mandatory 280 characters, and we were able to fit in our thoughts and opinions in a more elaborate, expressive manner.
It gave me immense pride to work in the news business. I was chasing real stories that mattered. It was when I decided to shift my career from news to public relations, the line between journalism and marketing began to blur. I couldn’t ignore the mushrooming media platforms popping up around me, each having a different way of communicating to its audience. The content suddenly became king, but also a pauper since it had to be stretched, pulled, hashed, and hash tagged to make its presence felt in the feeding frenzy.
To add to my discomfiture the digital age and the “clickbait” side of business suddenly started taking priority over authentic, factual information. Graphics and videos started replacing words and editorialized programming took precedence over hard news. In the era of extensive graphic consumption, people can now see what they want to see, customized, and packaged to align with their individual personal values and beliefs.
People sat up and started looking for the most relevant, accurate, and current information to protect themselves and their families. Be it the fear factor or fatigue, audiences no longer want the noise, they have again begun to prefer science over sensationalism, facts over fiction.
From the healthcare segment perspective, never before has healthcare communications and PR been so important. The humane sides of stories of real people, from corona warriors, frontline workers to the average Indian, the stories, real stories, have made a comeback.
The revitalized need for creating a conducive news environment has been augmented by the deluge and speed of information about the virus. It was overwhelming and confusing to the extent that newsrooms have an added burden of getting it right the first time, to avoid classic foot-in-mouth situations later.
So, how do I see it all unfolding for healthcare public relations? In my opinion, it means that if healthcare organizations are looking to continue being a trusted resource, our responsibility is to help them get it right to disseminate information to the press. We should stick with medical expertise, authentic and corroborated data, and patient stories. The bottom line is to maintain the honesty and integrity of all the information going out of our desks while ensuring that we can meet the basic tenets of “old school” journalism. Healthcare pitches need to be humble, gentle with as little propaganda as possible, and should resonate with the public emotions.
As a journalist turned PR professional, the past months have been our moment to rise to the occasion and to help the real healthcare heroes shine. Never before have I seen such a wonderful synergy between newsrooms and newsmakers. The theme – to provide correct information at all possible costs has been valued and respected across the stakeholders. The partnership between healthcare organizations, PR teams, and news and media channels has been heartening and satisfying.
This being said, I feel that we may have reached the peak of the coronavirus coverage curve. Unlocking has ensured that COVID-19 fatigue is blatantly visible in news coverage. The time has come for all of us to respond to the call of returning to normal life as we knew it in 2019. The demand for entertaining, lighter, feel-good stories is rising, giving a break from the data induced dark and gloomy news.
If I could take one silver lining from the past few months it would be the return of my first love – “journalism”. This phase has also shaken me and reminded several of my peers to stick to our mission as healthcare PR content strategists. We cannot deviate from the larger picture and must give the “normal” a fair chance to return in the era of limited attention spans. Across the channel of communication, from the organizations to PR companies and news and media companies, we have all happily agreed to slow down, cut through the noise, seek the truth, and stick to stories that truly matter!
The hunger for authentic and factual news is a good sign as it enables PR professionals and journalists to stick to accuracy in the context of fake news that has gripped the vast social media including the WhatsApp messaging service. Though fake news is rampant, there are also quick rebuttals of erroneous data and information. This is absolutely essential in the context of a blurred distinction between real news and fake news. There are journalists who have taken the responsibility upon themselves as ‘fact-checkers’ and built agencies and organizations to curb fake news on the social media and web. In print, unlike social media, as there is limited space to carry news and information, there is a natural tendency to carry only news that matters and news that is truthful. While web and social media have taken over news disengagement, it would be prudent to still believe in the old values of Print Media, which is seen as the source of trust on public matters, while the fact-checking on social media goes on. This combination of trust of the old world and the fact-checking of the new world will go a long way in building a new service that is authentic.