Behind the Headlines With Lisa Martins
Lisa Martins, vice president at Finn Partners, says you must be open and honest with your audience and be mindful of what and how you are communicating with them.
In this interview, Lisa discusses the challenges health brands face, how to incorporate digital into your public relations strategy and why collaboration between communication professionals and clients is necessary for success.
How did you get your start in PR?
I very much enjoyed journalism and had a blast doing it. I had colleagues who went into PR, and that piqued my interest so I followed that path. Soon after, I discovered my passion for healthcare PR, and I’m happy to say that it’s worked out and was one of the best career decisions I’ve made.
What has been the proudest moment of your career?
I have been fortunate to have worked on national campaigns that have helped influence public health. Two particularly rewarding campaigns involved increasing awareness of adult risk for vaccine-preventable diseases.
You’ve worked with some of the world’s largest pharmaceutical companies. How do you approach PR for a health brand versus other brands? What do you do differently? What do you do the same?
In many ways, healthcare PR is a lot more personal because, after all, you are talking about someone’s health – their life. So it’s important to be mindful and thoughtful of how you communicate.
Also, what makes PR for a health brand very different than doing communications for a non-health brand are the many regulatory, medical and legal standards that must be met and the multiple layers of review required for all communication big and small.
This at times can be challenging to navigate and requires a keen understanding of science, public policy and problem-solving skills to strike the right balance. This ensures your message is health literate, doesn’t get watered down and, most importantly, helps people to live better (i.e., healthful) lives.
What is the same, whether you are communicating a health brand or a non-health brand, is the need for communication to appeal to an end audience with a message that motivates, resonates, builds greater awareness and sparks action.
What do you see as some of the biggest communication challenges facing health brands today? How can they overcome them?
I would say gaining back the public trust is hugely important particularly in health communications where you need to convey not only a health need and medical benefit, but also the value proposition and cost benefit to multiple audiences that have grown increasingly sophisticated, skeptical and vocal.
Being transparent is one step in the right direction, as is knowing your audience, communicating clearly to them and using an evidence-based approach to support your position. Remember, what we say to one audience reaches all stakeholders.
Another challenge is the sheer number of available communications channels – digital and traditional – and how this can fragment the audience. Personalization of these channels has led to consumers becoming more active gatekeepers in how, where and in what format they like to consume their information.
By staying on top of trends, doing your homework and connecting the dots, you gain a better understanding of where your audience is getting their information throughout the day, so you can tap into that market and give consumers what they want, where they are looking for it.
It’s no secret digital has changed the way we communicate. What are some of the benefits of digital communication? Is there a downside?
One of the biggest benefits is real-time, two-way communication. The ability to be nimble in getting a message out to a wide audience on multiple platforms and receive almost instantaneous reaction offers a feedback loop, allowing communicators to know what message is working, what is not and shift accordingly.
On the other hand, the benefit of speed also can be a downside. It’s important to be able to discern when there is a need for speed and when, perhaps, a bit more reflection and time is needed to deliver your message or respond on a digital platform.
Digital communication also is temporal, so it can lack the stickiness of some other forms of communication that by their nature have a longer shelf life.
While there is no doubt that digital is here to stay and should be embedded in thoughtful ways in all communications plans, it also needs to be supported by a surround sound of durable communication assets that can help keep the message and story alive in other channels.
How do you envision the future of PR?
The convergence of marketing, communication, PR and policy continues to have more of a collaborative voice in the overall audience-touch mix is the goal. Ultimately, understanding the customer drivers and environment is key to having voice.
PR can nimbly integrate within disciplines from advertising to digital to content creation, and offer added value from strategy to big creative themes and platforms. So it will be vitally important for PR practitioners to continue to partner with their clients, integrate and collaborate with other brand agencies as well as have their voices heard.
Measurement and analytics will continue to grow in importance as more and more tools are becoming available to capture and crunch big data, and will dovetail the trend toward value-based models. Showing the impact of PR on brands, on the market and overall client business objectives will grow in importance.
What advice do you have for those looking to begin a career in PR?
Be prepared to wear many hats and be collaborative. Core PR skills like strong writing and verbal skills, attention to detail, having a nose for news and being a relationship builder, still hold true.
Today’s PR professional also needs to flex and be prepared to get out of her comfort zone and be more integrated with other marketing disciplines.
I would also advise to never stop learning. Stay on top of what’s current in the sciences, public health policy, media, learn about new digital channels and what those may mean for your clients and their communication needs. I should add that persistence and tenacity also go a long way.
Rapid Fire Round
1. I always thought I’d be…a veterinarian.
2. If I could have lunch with one person, it would be…Pope Francis. PR people, advertisers and marketers all talk about market disruption. He lives it.
3. My hobbies outside of work include…training for and participating in obstacle course races.
4. My favorite social media platform is…Snapchat because it never disappoints in making me laugh.
5. The thing that gets me up in the morning is…knowing the new day brings new opportunities and possibilities.
6. My hidden talent is…I’m a bit of a dog whisperer.
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