HIMSS 2016: How to be a Public Relations Pro

The countdown has arrived. As the post-holidays haze melds into the pre-HIMSS panic, companies around the country are getting ready for the biggest health IT show of the year. At the same time, PR pros are preparing their pitches, and healthcare reporters are steeling themselves in anticipation of the onslaught.

“Our emails for HIMSS briefings look like a Twitter feed. There are so many pitches, so many emails that they just go in a flash and eventually all blend together.”
– Shaun SutnerTechTarget

To prepare for HIMSS 2016, the ReviveHealth media team interviewed our closest healthcare reporter friends about their HIMSS hopes and fears. The response was overwhelming, and in this blog, we reveal (almost) all.

Prepare for horror stories and pet peeves that will get your email address blocked by reporters forever. We’ve also thrown in a few best practices learned from these conversations and from our years of executing successful HIMSS campaigns.

Biggest Pet Peeves

Oh, the list was long! When we consolidated all the responses, a few egregious commonalities stood out.

  • Generic pitches that aren’t customized to the reporter’s personal interests or the focus area of the publication
  • Use of ridiculous jargon and words like “HIMSSanity” (also – make sure you know how to actually spell the HIMSS acronym! #downwithHIMMS)
  • Claims that you are “the leading vendor”
  • Receiving phone calls instead of succinct, data-driven emails
  • Last-minute pitches in the final two weeks before the event

“Out of the 100 pitches I get a day, at least 30 have font that was copied or pasted, my name misspelled, or obvious template sections that still contain items such as [insert PR person name here]. Those get deleted immediately, without reading. If the person asking for free PR to tens of thousands of people is that lazy and sloppy, I have to assume their client isn’t much better.”
– Nicole Fisher, Forbes

“If you pitch me something related to hospitals, it shows you haven’t done your homework (and in some cases makes me less inclined to open future emails from you). I hit the “delete” button without remorse.”
– Jenn Dennard, HIStalk

Best Types of Meetings

You’d better offer a C-suite executive and a customer/client for the on-site interview, or you’re out. In addition, other best practices for HIMSS interviews include:

  • Interviews where in-depth data or research will be revealed
  • Meetings focused around unique perspectives or trends
  • Access to researchers or other experts – anyone but a marketing or sales person!

“I only do interviews with CEOs or Chief Medical Officers or occasionally other C-suite people. I won’t do interviews with marketing people – although I love them to pieces.”
– Patricia Salber, The Doctor Weighs In

Preferred Data to Receive in Advance

We found a lot of variation here, so it’s important to already know the reporters you’re pitching. Whereas one reporter said he’d delete your email if it doesn’t have a case study included, another reporter said he only looks at pitches that go deep into a spokesperson’s background and expertise.

Either way, come prepared with the following suite of materials, but customization is king based on each reporter’s expectation:

  • Information on clients and case studies
  • Hard data, numbers, and facts about why you matter
  • A press kit that includes company and spokespeople backgrounders

“‘We put big data in a cloud for population health’ is not helpful to anyone. How many lives can be saved? What were the cost savings in 2014? And 2015? Growth metrics? Who are your clients and how exactly did they use your product?”
– Nicole Fisher, Forbes

Interesting News Worth Covering

The days of HIMSS reporters covering small product announcements and corporate news are over. Ditch that press release about your upgrade to version 1.2.56, and instead focus on:

  • Clinical stories and advancements that tie to real results
  • Unexpected perspectives and new trends (no more population health!)
  • Large vendor developments, such as mergers and acquisitions

“In general, companies sharing an undeveloped vision at HIMSS are less interesting than the ones who have been running around the block all year, establishing their identity.”
– Gus Iversen, DOTmed HealthCare Business News

Horror Stories

Of course, we had to ask our media friends about their biggest horror stories. There was shocking consistency across these – reporters are constantly promised access to CEOs and customers, then given a last-minute bait-and-switch to meet with a marketing person.


Seriously. Don’t. If you can’t guarantee that a reporter will meet with the person you promise, don’t make the pitch. And PR agencies, don’t be afraid to stand up to your clients and defend your HIMSS expertise. Our role is as strategists and counselors, and we need to educate our peers and clients on what works, and what gets you blacklisted.

Need more intel? Check out our 2015 HIMSS recap blog, with six communications takeaways to consider for 2016.

January 14, 2016
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