In most organizations, the “separation of church and state” that lies between advertising and public relations is sacred. This is particularly true in healthcare, where much of the external relations are meant to be educational, no profitable.
But that has changed in recent years, said Eileen Sheil, executive director of corporate communications for the Cleveland Clinic.
“Over time, the lines have blurred because media and other organizations are changing,” she said.
Cleveland Clinic is just one of the many hospitals nationwide delving into brand journalism – providing large amounts of content that includes print, video and blogs to patients and media outlets.
Brand journalism works particularly well in healthcare for a handful of reasons. First, hospitals often have well-known brands either locally or on a national level. It is also successful because shrinking newsrooms and television and radio stations are hungry for content. And finally, people have become accustomed to seeking out health information online and through social media sites.
The Cleveland Plain Dealer, the largest paper in Ohio, announced recently it will cut its home delivery to three days a week and one-third of its staff. For the Cleveland Clinic, that means potentially reduced access to potential patients.
Sheil said this kind of activity across the industry has forced hospitals’ public relations to find new ways to remain visible and reach their audience. Creating content in-house allows hospitals to hand it over for free or for a small fee to newsrooms.
One example is the Cleveland Clinic News Service. National media outlets that no longer have budgets for travel can just run video that Sheil’s group sends out. They also write content and send it to their affiliates across the country that need to fill space in newspapers.
“It’s become such a go-to source for media, especially in markets where there are not abundant resources, there is no reason not to run it,” she said. “It accomplishes what they (media) are doing and helps us maintain the coverage we would like to continue.”
The Mayo Clinic provides weekly 90-second video programs to stations in the United States and Canada through its Medical Edge Television News. Lee Aase, director of the Mayo Clinic Center for Social Media, said brands like Mayo come with a certain level of trust that news organizations appreciate.
They have also created radio programs and a print column that is syndicated through Tribune Media. Aase said they have created a three-legged stool – their informational content at Mayo.com, what they provide to traditional media and their blogging and social media efforts.
Providing content in such a wide array of venues allows hospitals to tailor their message, Aase said. They can do a 10-minute informational YouTube video on a specific condition that is 10 times longer than you would see on television news.
“Patients gobble that up,” he said. “They want to know everything they can.”
Creating this content not only enforces the hospitals’ brands, but it can boost revenue. Mayo licenses some of its content to media outlets. This generates money that supports the hospital and its marketing efforts. And while they aren’t able to specifically tie their marketing to increased profit, Aase said they do see a return.
“We did a YouTube video about a condition and 10,000 people viewed it,” he said. “After, we could see patient volumes for that going up a lot. We can keep our investment small with cameras and the return gets big quickly. It isn’t a big hurdle to cross to understand that we are making some money on it.”