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Translating Clinical Research into Stories that Capture Media Attention

May 1, 2017

By Susan Pyle, Senior Vice President

*This article originally appeared in MM&M and can be found here.

Nothing in life is to be feared. It is only to be understood.” — Marie Curie

If you are a PR professional who has spent any time in the healthcare industry, you know the one word that strikes fear into the hearts of even the most seasoned communicators — data.

On its surface, data communications may seem complicated, confusing, or boring, but the reality is quite the opposite. Behind the clinical trial protocols, primary endpoints, and P values lie the exciting promise of scientific innovation and the proof that brings life-changing and lifesaving new medicines to patients.

Without clinical trial data, it’s unlikely that any of the 500 new medicines approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration since 2000 would exist today, making data critical to the foundation on which our companies and brands are built.* Therefore, we must embrace and celebrate communicating new data, not dread and fear it.

If the thought of writing a press release about a late-breaking abstract at ASCO or a new study published in The Lancet sends you into a tailspin of anxiety, however, here are a few approaches that we’ve found helpful in translating data into attention-grabbing stories that the media will want to cover.

  • Write clearly and concisely: Translating scientific lingo into everyday language is a must when writing a data press release. Prior to writing your release, draft three concise key messages, in plain words, that convey the conclusion of your study and why it matters to your audience. Use the messages to craft a short attention-grabbing headline and one to three subheads that will stand out and tell your entire story to a busy beat or trade reporter who is likely scanning dozens of releases.
  • Elevate your story with images: Photos, videos, and infographics make wonderful ways to bring your data to life visually. Dramatic before-and-after photos from the trial will command attention. For drugs with new mechanisms of action, engage a scientific animator to create video content explaining how the drugs work. Infographics can make data more meaningful to reporters, helping them visualize and more easily understand complicated aspects of the trial, such as enrollment criteria, study design, and results.
  • Enlist memorable spokespeople: Lead investigators, medical directors, and patients enrolled in trials are all resources you can tap for media interviews. Identify spokespeople with energy and passion for the data and its implications for patients. Prior to any media interviews, brief your spokespeople about the media outlet and the potential questions that reporters will ask. This will help your spokespeople plan clear, yet memorable, talking points that reporters won’t be able to resist quoting in their stories.
  • Target the right outlets: Issuing a press release over the wire may generate a few articles organically. However, the key to securing meaningful original coverage is targeted pitching. Once your key messages, release, images, and spokespeople are set, create a list of targeted media and customize a unique pitch for each. Include health and industry trade outlets on your list, and consider business and disease-specific trade outlets — even bloggers — that are influential in your disease area.

As with any pitch, your clinical data story will vie for media attention against a superabundance of both related and unrelated health news. But if you follow these tips, you will not only improve your chances of securing coverage of your data, but also be sure that the media tells your carefully crafted data story.

For more Tonic tips or to ideate around your company’s next big data milestone, visit Tonic Life Communications here.