Find Success at HIMSS 2019: Advice from a Former Healthcare Reporter

, Feb 4, 2019

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For anyone working in healthcare IT, the most wonderful time of year is finally upon us. HIMSS 2019 starts next week, and will bring over 40,000 health IT professionals back to Orlando to brainstorm, network, learn, and just chat about the biggest healthcare topics in the industry.

Everyone wants to find success at HIMSS, including your healthcare IT clients. The week-long conference is filled with healthcare providers, technology vendors, PR professionals, and of course, the media. So, how do you stand out? What does it take to get a reporter’s attention and then land an interview for your client?

Stay positive and resilient, without being annoying

As a former healthcare reporter, I’ve sifted through the hundreds of pitches sent through email, over the phone, and even through social media outreach. Simply put: it’s overwhelming. Or rather, it can easily become overwhelming if you’re not prepared.

I would create a separate folder in my email, just for HIMSS pitches. Oftentimes I didn’t even read them first – I would just see HIMSS in the subject line and file it away to sift through when I knew I had more time. Reading through so many pitches gets very repetitive, very quickly. I’ve previously outlined things to keep in mind when pitching healthcare reporters, and all of that advice still holds true with HIMSS outreach specifically.

But, here’s one additional piece of advice: HIMSS pitches need to be short and sweet. Everyone is debuting a product, announcing a merger, or releasing groundbreaking survey results. You need to explain right away what’s new, why it’s special, and who you’re offering for an interview. Several outlets will want a healthcare customer, and not just a vendor, so be prepared for that as well.

Don’t be afraid to follow up, but do allow for more than five minutes from your initial email to call and ask the reporter if she received your email (true story: it happened to me on more than one occasion).

Triple check all meetings

With HIMSS being a time when a lot of emails are sent and received, things can fall through the cracks. That being said, it is still critical to triple check all interviews or meetings that you arrange. This includes vetting your source, conducting research on the media outlet (are you 100 percent sure this is a topic they cover?), and verifying that all parties involved know where they are going for the meeting.

These all sound obvious, but it only takes one small, mundane piece of information to go missing or be misinterpreted and your weeks – or even months – of preparation could be all for naught.

For example, one year at HIMSS I was set to interview a woman who was an expert in a specific area of healthcare that I covered. I get to the booth and start to ask my questions when, surprise, this woman has no idea what I’m talking about. Her specialty is in an entirely different area, which while interesting, but was not actually a fit for my publication.

It turned out that the PR person whom I had originally been working with (and who was not actually attending HIMSS), communicated with another, separate PR firm who would be at the conference to finalize day-of details. Something was lost in translation, and everyone was missing the ending they had wanted.

Attend education sessions

There are hundreds of education sessions taking place over the five-day conference, ranging in healthcare topics, and lasting anywhere from quick 20-minute chats to over hour-long panels/presentations. Needless to say, there is something for everyone.

Personally, I loved attending education sessions as a journalist. It was a great way to meet healthcare providers and hear straight from them which products/systems are working, and which are not. Even if there wasn’t enough information for a full article, it was a great social media opportunity. I could often live-tweet through the session and work on getting online interactions and discussions going.

The education sessions are a great opportunity to learn and network. Is there a topic that aligns with what your client’s company does? Have them sit in for 20 minutes and see how other people in the same vertical are approaching a particular problem. Encourage clients to mingle with other attendees. There might not always be media sitting in the crowd, but you never know who you may talk to that has that extra connection that you’ve been looking for.

Utilize pre- and post-HIMSS ops

HIMSS is a week-long conference, but time is a premium commodity. Reporters’ time slots will fill up quickly, but do not get discouraged. I can guarantee that the media is trying to cram in interviews, attend education sessions, actually write up/post articles, account for walking time (the conference layout is often quite widespread), and save time to eat.

But that doesn’t mean that your only shot is HIMSS itself. If you can make an accurate, timely pitch, you may be able to garner interest for a pre- or post-show interview. The right healthcare topic will still hold water once the conference craziness dies down. A news hook often helps tie in the immediacy for posting something during HIMSS, but if you have a strong subject matter expert with a unique perspective, reporters will likely be willing to find other times to speak with them.

HIMSS is an ideal opportunity for everyone in healthcare IT to network and self-advertise. Take advantage of the conference and cultivate relationships to help your clients get the most out of HIMSS.