It would be nice if every PR professional could confidently state that nothing goes wrong when we pitch a journalist. But that’s about as realistic as the likelihood of a lengthy book about Donald Trump’s humility. A more fruitful exercise is to examine what most frequently gets in the way of a successful interaction with reporters, editors, writers and producers.

It’s volume. No, not the kind on an amp that goes up to 11, a la “Spinal Tap.”

One thing I know for sure – beyond 1980s pop culture references – is that journalists are flooded with emails and phone calls from PR people. Many of those emails and phone calls are horribly targeted, as you can find out from one of my guilty pleasures, PR Newser’s “Pitch Please” blog.

Survey Said

The blog’s cheeky writing prompted me to start asking reporters about the pitches they received.

  • A reporter covering science and medicine for a southern daily newspaper told me she’d received five pitches that day before 9 a.m. She too received misdirected product pitches. “I had one chewing gum pitch that drove me nuts,” she said.
  • A Wall Street Journal reporter covering the pharmaceutical business said he gets 40-50 email pitches a day. “I probably consider three to five per day that are worth pursuing or at least learning more about,” he said.
  • A Washington-based reporter who covers health care policy says she kept getting pitches for “healthy flavored water” among the 30-40 pitches a day she would receive.

The most stunning answer came from Julie Rovner of Kaiser Health News. She receives up to 150 emails a day, about five of which she considers worth a reply and another 10 are worth considering as potential parts of larger stories. Lest erstwhile flacks think Rovner’s answer means we should start calling her instead, she said, “I hate phone calls even more…Phones should be reserved for actual breaking news.”

Email, calls and what really works

Email, at least according to one survey, is still the way most journalists prefer to get pitched. But beyond knowing that, the actual lessons from my informal and not scientific survey are:

  • Some of you are ruining it for the rest of us. It’s so much harder to convey a client’s news if PR people are clogging inboxes with eye-rolling off-target pitches that wouldn’t be sent if just a little time was spent on research.
  • Relationships matter. Please work at understanding what makes news to a particular journalist. That doesn’t mean every pitch leads to a story – I wish! – but it certainly increases the chances of success if you aren’t seen as a total waste of someone’s time.
  • Realism is best conveyed to clients early. The ranks of journalists are dwindling and the ones still in the business are busier than ever. Even the most properly directed pitches are increasingly likely to not yield immediate success.

A key solution to the volume/clutter problem is for more organizations to take advantage of additional ways to engage with customers, influencers and allies. So many of them have great stories to tell, so they should be using the PESO (Paid, Earned, Shared, Owned) strategy. This is true even for those on small budgets, as they can develop owned and shared content without waiting on the results from that perfect email pitch. W2O Group president Bob Pearson built out the potential for owned content in June in PR News here.

Of course, we’re always going to pitch reporters. A PR agency’s clients expect it, and more importantly, a story by a credible journalist matters. That’s why it’s worth the time invested to develop better relationships and equally valuable to give counsel to clients about the right – and wrong – targets for stories.

We all know it will never work perfectly. Some reporters are going to complain about PR pitches no matter what happens. And, if we’re lucky, we will run across an approach like the one employed by a UK-based reporter, who replied, “I love you” to pitches he received. After all, doesn’t the world need more love?

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When it comes to hospital and health system use of social media, “it’s less of a question about whether you should do it; it’s can you afford not to,” noted UPMC’s chief innovation officer, Rasu Shrestha, M.D. (@RasuShrestha), at W2O Group’s inaugural #HITsmCIO Reception on April 12, 2015, in Chicago. Utilizing the capabilities of our robust MDigitalLIfe #Healthecosystem and advanced social analytics, W2O gathered together some of the industry’s forefront thought leaders and social influencers to review the results of our third annual study and hear directly from provider IT leaders on how and why they are using social media.

Social media data and advanced analytics are providing a crisp, new lens through which to view this community and better understand the critical issues that hospital and health system IT leaders face today. Where do they look for information? What are the key issues being discussed? And how are provider IT leaders engaging with their peers and the #Healthecosystem as a whole? This year’s W2O Group report – What Healthcare CIOs are Really Talking About – provides key insights and notable trends on how this community is utilizing Twitter to advance the health IT conversation, engage with their networks and drive awareness and education throughout the industry.

Not surprisingly, when it comes to the most popular topics being discussed among provider CIOs, electronic health records (EHRs) take first place. Following closely behind is mHealth, with other key topics including innovation, big data and Ebola. Being that it was a physician, not a reporter, who broke the story about the Measles outbreak at Disneyland via Twitter earlier this year, the fact that Ebola was also one of the top topics in our CIO community supports just how important a role social can plan in terms of improving public health awareness and communication among both clinicians and provider executives.

Top 5 Topics

We also looked at the growth in trending topics among the community. As you’ll see, mental health and innovation had the highest growth year to year, a strong indicator of two areas that are becoming an increasingly important part of the healthcare technology conversation. The chart below also shows the rise in discussion about cancer, leadership and healthcare IT social media (#HITsm), as well as many others:

Percentage Growth

To better understand who CIOs are engaging with, we looked at both the most retweeted and most followed among the community. In terms of the most retweeted, they are:

  1. Vala Afshar (@ValaAfshar), CMO at Extreme Networks
  2. Eric Topol (@EricTopol), cardiologist and Medscape editor-in-chief
  3. Brian Ahier (@ahier), Director of Standards and Government Affairs at Medicity
  4. Farzad Mostashari, M.D., (@Farzad_MD), former National Coordinator for Health Information Technology and founder of Aledade, Inc.
  5. The New York Times (@nytimes)


As you’ll also see included in the image above, the most followed CIOs and CMIOs are:

  1. John Halamka, M.D. (@jhalamka), Chief Information Officer, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (BIDMC)
  2. Will Weider (@CandidCIO), Chief Information Officer, Ministry Health Care
  3. Luis Saldana, M.D. (@lsaldanamd),Chief Medical Informatics Officer, Texas Health Resources
  4. Dirk Stanley, M.D. (@dirkstanley), Chief Medical Informatics Officer, Cooley Dickinson Hospital
  5. David Chou (@dchou1107) Chief Information Officer, University of Mississippi Medical Center

In terms of the most @mentioned CIOs, Dr. Halamka is one again at the top of the list, with two Texas Health Resources’ social power houses coming in next. The top five list includes the following (though please be sure to check out the presentation below for more information and the expanded list):

  1. John Halamka, M.D. (@jhalamka), Chief Information Officer, BIDMC
  2. Edward Marx (@marxists), Chief Information Officer, Texas Health Resources
  3. Luis Saldana, M.D.,(@lsaldanamd) Chief Medical Informatics Officer, Texas Health Resources
  4. Sue Schade (@sgschade), Chief Information Officer, University of Michigan Health System
  5. David Chou,(@dchou1107) Chief Information Officer, University of Mississippi Medical Center

 Most Mentioned

Additionally, as you see above on the bottom half of the slide image, CIOs are sharing more information from top tier, national media outlets than trade publications. The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Forbes, Washington Post and Harvard Business Review produce the most frequently linked to content by this community. As for the most liked to trade media outlets, these include Healthcare IT News, FierceHealthIT, Becker’s Hospital Review, iHealthBeat and

Being that this is social use that we’re analyzing, what about the blogs, you ask? In terms of the most linked-to blogs, Kevin Pho, M.D.’s blog (@KevinMD) was shared the most among this community, with top articles related to both personal health and healthcare technology, with HIStalk and The Health Care Blog coming in next. The top five most shared blogs includes:

  2. HIStalk
  3. The Health Care Blog
  4. Gates Notes
  5. EMR and HIPAA

We also looked at provider CIO following patterns and discovered that our community is engaged with a mix of industry organizations, government entities, leading trade outlets and thought leaders, including HIMSS, ONC, Healthcare IT News, TedMed, and Farzad Mostashari, M.D. Additionally, organizations including Cerner and EMC Healthcare are among the top accounts who are following the CIO community.

Following Patterns

Still hungry for more analytics goodness? Please see the presentation below for our full research report be sure to follow @W2OGroup and #HITsmCIO for the latest findings, news and updates from our community!

For a deeper dive into the research and to set up media briefings, please contact:

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For CEOs and CCOs alike, real time comprehension of an organization’s position in its evolution is arguably the most important skill to direct the future.

Why? Knowing this allows for the one competency every organization needs to master – innovating the business model.

In this issue of CommonSense For The C-Suite we posit the underpinnings necessary to align business, communications and operational strategies at various points in a company’s trajectory.

We hope you find it relevant and useful.



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How is social media and analytics transforming leaders?

Are managers grasping the significance of a workplace where information is democratized and expectations for open, transparent, authentic relationships are now the norm?

This issue of CommonSense…for the C-Suite delves into the new construct reshaping how organizations lead and manage people.

We hope you find it informative and useful!

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In March of 2007, I wrote a note to the staff here about the emergence of a new health blog that I thought had the potential to upend the health reporting world. The outlet was the WSJ Health Blog, and it promised to marry the Journal’s excellent reporting with a certain degree of take-no-prisoners snark and honesty. The Health Blog’s first writer, Jacob Goldstein, told me early on that his charge was to write “all of the things that we know as true but can’t really say in the paper.”

It was half-threat, half-promise. Jacob was cranking out a half-dozen posts on a busy day, covering the silly and the serious, and leaving no stone unturned. Outrageous executive compensation was called outrageous. Goofy television commercials were called goofy. Drug reps were compared to Faustus. And the perspective of everyone from key researchers to hospital CEOs were put on display. It was a fun read and an important read. Everyone tuned in.

That was 2007. Jacob is long gone. So is his boss, Scott Hensley (who has brought the spirit of Health Blog to NPR’s Shots blog). Over time, the blog became understaffed, and the tone had slowly morphed from a saucy, comprehensive teller of truths to a good-but-not-great source for basic consumer health news, with a handful of biopharma briefs. Yesterday, the WSJ announced that they were killing the endeavor after a 5-year-run.

The Health Blog helped create the modern health-reporting landscape, and it’s hard not to see echoes of Jacob and Scott’s original vision in Shots, in the online work that Matt Herper does at Forbes, in newspaper health blogs in places like Boston and Los Angeles. (And I was remiss in not noting Ed Silverman’s Pharmalot here in my initial draft. Pharmalot wasn’t directly influenced by Health Blog — it launched actually launched just ahead of the Health Blog in the heady late-winter of 2007 — but the competition between the two unquestionably strengthened the pharma media as a whole. Pharmalot is still going strong, a testament to the power of Ed’s years of focus.)

But good work and an impressive parent outlet is no guarantee of lasting success. The Health Blog outlasted the New York Times’ Prescriptions effort (shuttered in February) as well as health blogging efforts at USA Today.

And while we should take a moment to look back and mourn what was and could have been, there are three mammoth lessons for those of us on the marketing/communications side who are, increasingly, touting brand-created content as the Next Big Thing. But the Health Blog shows that “brand journalism” isn’t as easy as it looks. Here’s why:

  • Blogs are Beasts That Must Always Be Fed: Creating great content, day-in-and-day-out, is a tough, tough road. The Wall Street Journal is a jewel in a News Corp. empire that could hit $10 billion in profit this year. They have some of the best writers in the world. And they couldn’t prioritize the blog. Can your company do better?
  • People Matter: During salad days at the Health Blog, the blog had a definite voice and a definite perspective, thanks to Jacob and Scott. When they left, some of that voice was lost, and while the writing and reporting remained top-notch, it served as a reminder that the best social media efforts are always associated with a person (Scott Monty at Ford, Frank Eliason at Comcast, even Arianna Huffington at her eponymous news site). Will your brand journalism have a recognizable face?
  • Own a Niche: When Health Blog launched, they owned a certain topical niche: the business of health, writ large. This set them apart from what was then — and is now — the much more competitive space of examining every piece of consumer health news. But as time went on, the topics covered were less and less distinct from the offerings of a dozen other reputable sites. And while the quality was never in doubt, the lack of focus meant that there were fewer surprises. If you’re going to get in the content game, what will you be able to provide better than anyone else?

Of course, the archives of the Health Blog are still available, so take a moment today and remember. To get you started, here is the welcome post, from way back in 2007.

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It’s pretty easy to keep track of the highly visible trends.  If we look at the rise in importance of the mobile phone, we’re swimming in data and perspective. It’s almost too easy to keep up.

However, often times, the most important trends — the actual game changers — are less obvious, rarely discussed and, as a result, they end up being more disruptive.  Said another way, they present leaders with a chance to innovate and separate themselves from their peers.

So I like silent trends and look continually for the game changers.

One that recently caught my attention relates to content consumption.  There is actually a silent revolution occuring right in our homes and in the workplace.

The trend relates to how we learn.  Here are three pieces of this trend to consider.

First, we know that kids under 18 generally consume content from three channels, simultaneously.  If you have a teenager, we see it everyday as they play a videogame, respond to text messages and go online to find tips on the game.  They are the leaders of “simultaneous learning”.   If we think of adults, we’re also changing.  The second key point is that 92% of Americans get their daily news from multiple platforms (Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project and the Project for Excellence in Journalism 2010 survey).  The third point, also from Pew research, is that almost 60 percent of people get their daily news from a combination of online and offline sources.

Here are a few related observations I have that I’m going to study much more closely in 2011.

#1 — Unstructured & Structured Data are Aligning For Us — we often resign ourselves to think that unstructured data is unobtainable. This is actually wrong, since simultaneous consumers of content (Generation Z) will often provide structured data (online conversations) about the same topics they care about when they text.  We may be able to consume multiple sources, but our brains still stay focused on a single topic, so our habits are easy to track.

#2 – Media is Plural — the days of saying the Wall Street Journal or the New York Times has the most influence are no longer relevant.  Today, the question is which basket of media is most important to reach our customers.  In that basket, WSJ and NYT will still be there, along with Huffington Post, personal blogs and other content sources from video, images, data and more.  The question is how big is the basket and do you know what is in it for your customers?

#3 — Stories are Absorbed Over Longer Periods of Time — since we now read stories offline and online, we often do this over longer periods of time. We may start in the morning reading a newspaper, check on the same story online during the day and then search later in the evening or days later on the same topic to refine what we have learned, if we care.   Gone are the days where we read one story and stopped.  So newscycles are actually changing in length, breadth and in ways that are not as obvious as simply tracking how many news articles appeared…’s much more than that.

As you go forward, ask yourself these questions about how customers are consuming content you care about.

What are the “multiple content sources” that reach your customers most often?

Is their a hierarchy of importance and how do you know?

How wide and deep is your newscycle, if you look at all forms of consumption?

Are you analyzing via structured data what folks may be discussing in unstructured data and how do you know?

This is a massively important and silent trend.  Companies who figure this out will build advantage and their customers are likely to appreciate it.  More in 2011.

All the best, Bob

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