Behind the Headlines With Fred Lake
Health care affects everyone, so health care brands need to appeal to and motivate a diverse audience. But how?
Fred Lake, senior vice president, health practice leader at PadillaCRT, says brands need to develop integrated programs with a mix of paid, earned, shared and owned media.
In this interview, Fred discusses why research is essential for developing a strategy, how to prepare for crises and the constant evolution of the PR industry.
How did you get your start in PR?
When I was 16 years old, my dad suggested I become a writer. So, I looked at my high school curriculum, and journalism was the only class that would allow me to write every day. I then became an editor of the school newspaper, and later, a reporter in college.
My first job was a news editor, where I decided to write health features. That work helped me to land my first PR job as a publications specialist for a hospital—ergo my entry into health care PR. I was hooked.
Turned out, I also loved communications strategy. Jump ahead 30 years, and I’ve been leading strategic health care programming for every type of client in the health care industry—hospitals, payer groups, national healthcare nonprofits and major pharmaceutical companies. It’s been an incredible career experience.
What are you most excited for in your new role as senior vice president, health practice leader at PadillaCRT?
I am entrepreneurial by nature, and my new post gives me an incredible opportunity to fully employ that ability to expand PadillaCRT’s health care practice. PadillaCRT has defined health as a strategic growth area for the agency. I am honored to lead a talented, smart group of health care PR professionals.
I am based out of New York, but we have offices located from coast-to-coast, where our expert health team has deep experience in pharmaceuticals, healthcare systems, medical devices and health care technology.
That expertise, combined with PadillaCRT’s other top-notch multi-disciplinary practices, give our health care clients the full complement of research, strategic planning, creative services, digital communications, social and traditional media, crisis planning, corporate reputation and internal communications.
What are some of the biggest PR challenges health care brands face? How can they overcome them?
Health care affects everyone. As a result, health care brands have a unique challenge to persuade—and motivate—numerous audiences. These include physicians, providers, payers, public health and patients.
We’re committed to brand-building for our clients and creating purposeful connections to every audience possible, which means developing fully integrated programs that reach all audiences who seek health care information, including paid, earned, shared and owned media.
What are the main components of a successful PR strategy?
Research and strategy. Period. Without research and strategy, a PR pro simply throws spaghetti against the wall to see what sticks. Unfortunately, many still jump straight to tactics without defining what makes a PR strategy stick.
No one can develop sound strategy without first understanding their client’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats—your classic SWOT analysis. Then, and only then, can you find a solution to achieve clients’ business objectives.
Research and strategy are actually the most fascinating aspects of PR planning. It’s what sets our agency apart, makes clients trust your work and keeps them coming back.
What are some of the differences in building a PR strategy for a large company versus a small nonprofit?
Strategy is strategy, whether you are a small nonprofit or a major health care company. Big or small, we have to gain a deep understanding of what a particular client needs to significantly move the dial. Know the barriers, recognize the challenges and then create a strategy that gets audiences to take action.
A major consideration—or difference—between a large company and a small nonprofit likely are resources, and, perhaps, the possible bureaucratic and political labyrinths we have to navigate to get work done for clients.
Have you ever had to deal with a major brand crisis? How did you handle it?
You cannot work in health care PR without a major brand crisis. I have had my share of managing major national product shortages, contaminated drug recalls and adverse reactions. Hopefully, if you’ve done your job, your client was prepared for every possibility to allow for minimal reaction or damage.
What is the biggest PR lesson you’ve learned throughout your career?
Everything changes in PR, all the time. But that’s a great thing. That constant evolution attracts me to this business. The health care industry is no different. It’s always evolving, offering new complexities and major challenges like no other area. And now, digital and social media are major game changers, making being a PR professional even more exciting.
My advice is to stay on top of trends. Read (a lot). Be steps ahead of your clients—be their change agents. Hire well, to get smart, motivated talent who share your enthusiasm for change. Be at the ready and willing to change gears.
Rapid Fire Round
1. My hobbies outside of work include…being a traveler. (Note, that I said “traveler” not, “I like to travel.” There’s a huge difference.)
2. If I was stuck on a desert island, I’d…explore and examine every aspect, right down to the last insect and grain of sand.
3. My biggest pet peeve is…people who purposefully treat others badly, particularly from a position of leadership (power of any kind). These types should not lead. Ever!
4. My favorite social media platform is…Snapchat; just have to love flash videos of life’s spontaneous moments.
5. One thing most people don’t know about me is…I love and crave silence.
6. The thing that gets me up in the morning is…extremely strong cups of coffee and my sense of adventure.
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