What I Learned from LISTENING to Reporters

Bernard M. Baruch, famed financier, political consultant, and philanthropist, once noted, “Most of the successful people I’ve known are the ones who do more listening than talking.”

This past week, I had the honor of moderating a panel of leading journalists at the 12th Annual ExL Healthcare PR & Communications Summit, held at Pfizer Headquarters in NYC. Coming together to discuss the impact of the 24/7 news cycle on healthcare communications, this elite line-up included Drew Armstrong of Bloomberg News; Greg Barber of The Washington Post; Katie Collins, Senior Healthcare Strategist at Twitter; and Ed Silverman, Senior Writer and Pharmalot Columnist at STAT News.

The fascinating—and extremely relevant—conversation among these busy reporters, editors, and media strategists naturally turned to the impact of digital communications, the state of journalism, and the very reputation of the biopharmaceutical/healthcare industry. Listening to their key insights about the world of journalism and pharma communications was invaluable—and I walked away with four key insights worth sharing.

1. The World Is Digital…Get Over It: Millennial Gen Y journalists grew up in and, consequently, have only known a digital communications environment. Their message to Gen X and Baby Boomers: If you’re not on board, you’re behind the times. No, newspapers aren’t dead, and they aren’t likely to be—but they are no longer likely to be “news breakers.” For pharma marketers and communicators, that has direct implications: Get the wires services and online communities onboard first.

2. Speed Is Essential, And Overwhelming: 24/7 really means minute-to-minute. Reporters want to get it first, and get it right—but get it first! Urgency rules, creating both challenges (driving out news in real time) and opportunities (you get to update and refresh news that continues to live online). Well-prepared communicators will have facts lined up in advance, and will keep in touch, flexibly, with their contacts as news evolves.

3. Content Still Rules: Even top-notch reporters acknowledge that sometimes the rapid pace of producing content results in sloppy writing—a message for all communicators. One of the benefits of living in a digital world is writing enough to tell your story—but no more. You’re no longer producing a piece to “fit” or writing to length. However, that flexibility comes with the responsibly to exercise even more discipline.

4. Pharma Communicators, Stick Up For Yourselves!: Don’t let the industry “bad apples” co-opt our story. Reporters believe that plenty of good news is coming out of the industry. Recent articles on immunotherapy highlight industry contributions to treatment advances. But for every step forward, there are two back. Some in our industry make headlines with out-of-line price increases and ask of clinical data transparency. We need to call them out and tell the world they don’t represent us. Reporters will listen.

In the words of Winston Churchill, “Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak; courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen.” You’ll be a better communicator for it.

  • Lee A. Davies

    Lee Davies is Director of Client Services, Health Practice at Makovsky. Lee oversees Makovsky’s media relations efforts. He previously served as the Director of Global Media Relations at Merck & Co. where he represented the company as a spokesperson for oncology, cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, and women’s health.


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