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A long tail

To keep the media interested in what you have to say and ensure that your story has a "long tail", you need to be nimble and agile
A cat's tailThe concept of the 'long tail' was first used by Chris Anderson of Wired magazine. The eponymous article, later the subject of a book, outlined a new business paradigm that explores the relative merits of niche versus mass markets: Forget squeezing millions from a few megahits at the top of the charts. The future is in the millions of niche markets at the shallow end of the bitstream.

How can we use this long tail idea in healthcare PR? All aspects of the marketing mix benefit from repetition. Extensive market research has shown that: brand recall peaks after around six sales rep visits; advertising usually follows the classic path of a launch DPS, single pages then abbreviated ads to create and subsequently maintain awareness; mailings are often created as a series, designed to drive awareness of a range of key messages and good websites have multiple 'entrances' with extensive links to optimise search engine listings.

PR is no different when it comes to benefiting from multiple hits. Driving the coverage, however, is far harder through editorial than advertorial - journalists want news, a story that is different or an angle that appeals specifically to their audiences. Once the news has broken, why should they repeat the story?

Benefits of making a story last
The benefits of a long tail go beyond the immediately obvious. Story content becomes more credible and trustworthy the more different sources it comes from. The more times a story is run, the more opportunities there are to get across your key messages. In addition, your audiences will be more exposed to a particular story and are therefore more likely to remember it at the point of decision.

This is not really rocket science, but how often are releases issued in the solitary confinement of a one-off media tactic?

Repeated coverage also improves the opportunities to engage with your target audiences, increases your share of voice and the competitive hurdle for other brands, and, quite simply, increases your return on investment (RoI).

Good use of digital media will also help drive your key words higher up search engine listings; after all, we no longer search for websites, search engines do that for us.

Corporate sites should be constantly up-dated; good use of microsites (specialised sections of the main site, with their own address) can generate additional web traffic and a liberal sprinkling of meta tags (key words embedded in your website) can drive up your search engine listings.

Target message matrix
Target audiences Key messages
1 A B C D
2 A D X Y
3 A X Y Z
4 A C Y Z

Making your story last
There are a number of opportunities to extend your media tail. However, don't assume that all of the tactics will work every time for each brand.

Each tactic must have either something new to say, something old to say in a different and appealing way or be aimed at different target audience. The three most important aspects, however, are:
1. Creating an overall plan, timed to meet the likely deadlines of your target media vehicles
2. Maintaining the agility to respond quickly to ad hoc opportunities which arise
3. Link your PR strategy to the rest of the marketing mix.

Creating a plan
As with all good PR campaigns, start with your objectives, which should include target audiences, timings, key messages and your message matrix, ie, the key messages by audience. Varying these by audience can increase the chances of coverage, as well as helping to drive a good spread of messages. Using a target message matrix will also allow you to customise your releases to the target vehicles and also any supportive and follow on materials. Don't expect one size to fit all.

You should also consider reach versus scale. The ubiquitous media buzzword 'reach' is quickly being usurped by 'scaleable engagement'. This involves mixing the usual mass media vehicles, such as consumer and trade magazines, with much more targeted niche opportunities which engage smaller audiences with messages specific to their needs. Taken to an extreme, n=1 targeting.

The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry and independent of your best efforts, the media world often just won't respond in the way that you would like and when you need it to.

Hence, the need for agility - a keen eye and constant monitoring of media activity will often identify opportunities to piggyback a particular story, through supplying background materials to the journalist, generating comments from third-parties and repackaging existing materials in response to a breaking story.

Many front-page stories are driven by government or research-based findings of new diseases, epidemiology, morbidity, etc and follow-up stories benefit from the context of market data - enter your story stage left. However contradictory this may sound, your plan must allow for this agility, with your client or your internal communications team, with processes in place to respond quickly and effectively to media opportunities and requests.

Extending your media tail

News release

Bread and butter story breaker

Letters to the editor To highlight an issue or in response to study/article

Detailed story expanding on the news

Interviews (print and broadcast) Third-party support
Surveys Different cuts of the data
Regional comparisons
Follow-up after a set time to show changes
Trade vs consumer Many of the trades follow-up consumer stories, eg, 'Could eating sausages cause bowel cancer' broke in the dailies and was followed up in GP press
Case studies

Real people and real outcomes

Timing Get the strategy right from dailies, to weeklies and monthlies
Piggyback other similar news Your angle could give depth or breadth to a topical news story
Repackage/re-release at congresses or other events Either use existing coverage on your exhibition stand or repackage materials for the press office
Mailings with relevant coverage to target audiences Extends the life and reach of your coverage
Coverage/relevant on the brand/corporate website Microsites or VPOs are an ideal vehicle to generate further interest in news items
Webcasts/podcasts Ideal for busy professionals who want to catch up with the news out of hours
Viral Still in its infancy but worth investigating, eg, GSK released a brilliant video on You Tube about restless leg syndrome
Blogs Apart from brand or corporate blogs, these are best left to your publics. Some companies have already been stung through disguised entries or corporate updates to wikipedia
Advertorial Not true PR, but worth considering when editorial has dried up
Coverage in sales materials

Extends the life and reach of your coverage and gives the salesforce additional talking points

Links to the marketing mix

Share of voice is additive across the marketing mix and PR is an ideal vehicle to sensitise your chosen audience to other aspects of this mix; whether it is salesforce, mailings, advertising or events, media coverage can both precede and support these activities and in some cases, such as congress activity, report on them.

All resulting coverage can also have its use extended through mailings and/or use by the salesforce (do make sure you have royalties covered).

Sue Elms, executive vice-president at Millward Brown's Global Media Practice takes the view that: The role of the media is to advance the brand agenda.

The contributions from the various specialised media must flow together with complete clarity, so that at the moment of decision, people have strong brand memories to call upon, clear associations and a sense of brand leadership.

One final aspect of a long media tail that is particularly important to healthcare, is that we often have a long tale to tell. This includes mode of action and disease targets to quality of life, morbidity, mortality and economics, as well as an increasing number of decision makers, influencers and stakeholders.

The longer the tail therefore, the greater the chance of creating the right context and brand memories at that important decision-making moment.

The Author
Paul Kiernan
is director of healthcare at GCI London. He can be contacted at

2nd September 2008


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