Don’t keep a tally on whose turn it is to connect. If you feel that you need more from people, then ask. We are not mindreaders. When you give a gift you can’t expect the same in return. Do things because you want to, and it is in your heart.
Welcome to another installment of our PR Strategy Series, where you can learn directly from top industry experts on how you can leverage media attention to grow your business.
I’m your host, Kage Spatz — here to help entrepreneurs, coaches, and service providers save more time, build more trust, and serve more customers. Today I had the pleasure of talking with Caren Begun
Caren Begun is a veteran senior media relations specialist and strategist specializing in healthcare communications for pharmaceutical, biotechnology, medical device, and manufacturing clients, among others.
Caren develops media strategies, writes creative story angles for PR initiatives, media trains spokespeople for interviews, scores media placements for branded and unbranded efforts, and identifies opportunities for her clients beyond traditional media that allow for thought leadership and expertise to be conveyed among key target audiences.
Thank you so much for joining us! Before we dive in, can you tell our readers a bit about yourself and how you got started?
After a three-year stint at an investment bank right out of college many years ago, I was encouraged by a neighbor friend in my building on the Upper East Side of Manhattan to check out the technology public relations firm where she worked. She felt that my energy and personality would be a good fit. I was intrigued.
For three years I worked with clients including IBM, Sony, and many more, learning the ropes. I found I enjoyed talking with reporters and providing content for their stories. A nutraceutical client came on board around the time my father became ill with cancer, and I liked how I could parlay my skills and abilities in the healthcare space, to help others.
Fast forward more than two decades, the majority of my experience is weighted in healthcare working on the agency side. I have partnered and collaborated with scores of physician experts and patients to share clinical results, research news, innovation updates, and compelling patient and customer stories, partnering with them to make sure that stories are accurate.
I have worked in agencies representing pharmaceutical, biotechnology, and medical device companies developing media recommendations, disease education efforts for patients, and direct-to-physician communication around data and research news. I find it to be very rewarding work.
As a successful business leader, which character traits do you think were most instrumental in getting you to where you are today?
Compassion — One of the traits that makes me successful is my compassion. Not just compassion about the patients we serve working in healthcare, but being empathetic and understanding of the journalists and their respective situations. We don’t always know what’s happening that day when we reach out to reporters.
Once, I hadn’t heard from a contact in a while and was getting concerned, as she’s usually responsive. After a few attempts, not with a pitch, but instead a heartfelt message or two, I later learned she lost a loved one to COVID. We bonded as a result, even more than we had previously, and she apologized to me for the delay in communication.
Journalists are people, too, and we need to be sensitive to their needs as well. It is not always about the story we are pitching, but the way we make them feel, and the efforts we go through to support, listen and make them feel valued.
Tenacity — As a media relations specialist with many stories to tell, I must find the right avenues in order to have them shared and to be impactful. Sometimes I have to nudge a bit to encourage interest. Of course, it is never easy being told “no,” or “we can’t cover this right now.” Ultimately, we do not have control over editorial content, and we must understand that reporters have to see the value of the stories we are telling as critical.
Tenacity can be perceived as negative, but often reporters apologize to me for not responding because they are often inundated. The proven golden rules of being polite, kind, and respectful are much more well-received than being pushy, rude, or demanding. While there is never a guarantee that the story we are pitching will result in a placement, we can start a dialogue with the reporter to find out if there’s a way we can make it work or maybe it’s not the right fit right now. This is how relationships are built.
If at first, we do not succeed, don’t give up. Try again, or find like-minded outlets that can share the news in a way that will reach a similar audience. One never knows, especially in healthcare if we are going to come across a reporter with a personal connection to a condition we are pitching, and a desire to share our story idea.
Years ago I was pitching a story in a local market on the topic of lung cancer. After being bounced around a few times, I was led by a producer who gave me a chance to talk more about the pitch, and I learned that he lost a loved one to this disease. You can bet there was interest, and a story and a deeper relationship evolved.
Personable — Connecting with journalists is not unlike dating or going to the hairdresser. We need to be willing to listen to them and support them in their challenges and successes. It is hard for me to capture this as it is such an innate part of my personality. I am proud that I have developed some friendships along the way. I know about some of their interests, likes, and dislikes.
Sometimes it’s not always about the pitch, but the conversation and connection with the person who is delivering it. I am more likely to have the reporter call me back and listen to my story if there is a personal connection. It really is about building trust.
What 3 media strategies would you consider being most effective in generating more business for a national brand?
The aforementioned strategies recommended for local businesses also apply to national organizations as well. However, much depends on the nature of the business you are promoting, as more may be required to truly stand out.
While public relations is not a tool for selling things, it does help to build awareness and trust. When done successfully, public relations helps to establish the connection to consumers, secure positive feedback on products and services, and helps build a business externally. As my work is heavily weighted in healthcare I will focus on this area for insights.
Know the Audience
There are many ways to engage audiences that matter to our clients’ brands including earned editorial, paid opportunities, social media, and owned content. However, we must develop meaningful content that is relevant to the audiences we are reaching, and messages that are meaningful with a call to action.
Audiences are not one size fits all. Let’s say we have a general pitch intended for a broad audience. While there are vital pieces of information that clients often insist on being included, each lead sentence or paragraph should be distinct and specific to the intended audience so that it is met with appreciation, interest, and consideration versus confusion and annoyance. I’ve been told that one pet peeve of journalists is that they don’t like being sent canned pitches, and that time invested to craft pitches to make them relevant does not go unnoticed.
For example, clinical data and regulatory updates for pharmaceuticals and medical devices are well received by medical and disease-centric trade outlets. Consumer media are more likely to be responsive to a patient experience. Investor and business media are more likely to be responsive to stock or market performance as a key driver of interest on top of the news being pitched. Similar to how we counsel clients to develop relevant messages to their respective audiences, the media are no different.
Leverage Testimonials and Positive Outcomes
The best way to drive interest in a brand is through positive experiences, happy customers, and favorable feedback. Sites like Yelp, Angie’s List, and Foursquare, just to name a few, are gold mines of information.
Word of mouth marketing uses feedback online and offline from reviews and conversations to develop a bigger presence within stakeholder communities to bolster reputation, boost brand awareness, attract prospects, and ultimately drive sales. Celebrate these golden nugget insights and experiences on your websites and social media.
The beauty of external feedback is all the natural, rich content that can be used to maximize a brand. From a healthcare standpoint, for patients with type 1 diabetes, you can bet they are checking out diabetes-specific blogs or online influencers for advice on diet, exercise tips, new research to be aware of, effective management tools and more.
Create 360 Surround Sound Story
Effective brand promotion requires a cadence across multiple channels. Blogs or social media posts, for example, helps to keep people engaged when there is fresh and relevant content. It is time-consuming but it’s an investment worth making.
As I mentioned before, there is a shift in how we are communicating from a traditional press release to pulsing out smaller, bite-sized pieces of information that show the many facets of a company, such as product updates, clinical news, thought leadership articles, or videos and images. And there are other ways to engage as well, becoming a part of the online dialogue by engaging through likes, comments, and retweets.
My rule of thumb is that we should really only create about a third of our content and the rest should be engaging in other content with influencers and being a part of ongoing conversations. For example, for pharmaceutical and healthcare clients, responding to, liking, and re-posting information from advocacy partners or organizations focused on specific therapeutic areas is another way to reinforce a brand and to demonstrate thought leadership.
One more before we go: If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?
If anything, I have learned, especially during this crazy pandemic, is that we need to make the time to connect with those who matter to us. Many of us sit on our laurels waiting for others to pick up the phone, write a text, or stop by for a visit. Sometimes we also lose touch with friends and family that it is hard to take the first step, feeling embarrassed for so much time that has passed.
My best friend from middle school and I had a falling out when we were in our late 20s. Due to various reasons our relationship just stopped. Thanks to social media, I reached out and we were able to reconnect and will never look back. We are sad for the years missed but know we have each other and our lifetime ahead. Therefore, I encourage everyone, adults, and children, don’t wait.
Don’t keep a tally on whose turn it is to connect. If you feel that you need more from people, then ask. We are not mindreaders. When you give a gift you can’t expect the same in return. Do things because you want to, and it is in your heart. If I want to make holiday cookies and share them, I do not wonder why someone has not done the same for me. Be who you are and surround yourself with those you love and who inspire you to grow.
There is so much value here — thank you for sharing so many insights with us!