Be careful what you claim in PR

Be careful what you claim in PR

Get your facts straight. In a continuing series on how to write effective PR content that will work for journalists, Matthew D’Arcy explores the perils of overclaiming your impact.

Good PR often means drawing out and creating compelling, positive stories. Afterall, effective media coverage of your achievements and the achievements of your customers can make all the difference when it comes to expanding your market presence.

But it is important to remember that a credible journalist will scrutinise any claims you make, just as an informed reader will. Press releases and PR campaigns must be established on effective evidence, and they must be careful not to overstate success. The following are a few tips on how to handle some of the more common pitfalls.

Don’t take all the credit

So, let’s say you have developed a great piece of technology. It has been deployed in a hospital. Twelve months later, staff are 50% more efficient at performing a certain task, or 10% fewer patients have developed a particular hospital acquired infection.

It might be tempting to lead your story with claims of how your technology has delivered these gains. But has it? Are there other programmes and projects happening in the hospital that might have contributed?

Have there been other external factors that have influenced improvements? Or is it, at least in part, down to the hard work of the healthcare professionals who use the system?

These are questions that can help you to position the achievement. Technology by itself rarely delivers the gain. The results will almost certainly rely on the use of technology and application by the busy staff who you certainly don’t want to alienate by detracting from their achievements.

A claim like ‘Doctors and nurses at X hospital have reduced serious infections by 10%, following the deployment of Y technology to support their Z initiative’ might be more appropriate.

Does your evidence stack up?

There are many different types of evidence you can draw on in a PR campaign. Speaking to users, project leaders and other people who have benefitted from a particular deployment can be a great way to add qualitative evidence to a story; and give your campaign the human element or voice of authority that journalists are looking for.

But, if you are basing your claims on these voices, assess the authority of your interviewee in relation to what they are saying. And, wherever necessary and possible, find ways to check and corroborate their statement.

Hard data and statistics can be equally powerful, but make sure the data is reliable, has a credible basis or external validation, is based on a robust sample, and that you can back up your interpretation of the findings.

Interpretation – could stats be turned against you

Even if you can justify your own interpretation of the evidence, could the same data be used to tell a different story? In my journalist days I would receive press releases making claims like ‘70% of users found the new system helpful’.

If those users are in an organisation of 10,000 people that has deployed a multi-million pound piece of technology, think about whether this could be turned against you. Could it generate a headline that reads ‘just seven out of ten users are happy with…’ or even ‘3,000 hospital staff are unhappy with the £Xm system’?

Extrapolation

If you have a decent sample to work with, extrapolating the potential wider impact in the market can be a reasonable and high impact way to present a story.

But don’t go too far. A pilot project might have helped to save £Xm. But even if your calculations tell you that once expanded across the entire NHS, the project could save £30 billion, you will be given a hard time trying to justify how you can single-handedly save the health service a quarter of its budget. 

Be mindful of clinical caution

Even with what you might consider compelling evidence, it is worthwhile remembering that some professionals, especially clinicians, may take more to convince than the average person. Are there opportunities to enhance any findings that you have about your achievement through peer review?

Also remember that an increasing number of organisations, from NICE to the academic health science networks, are starting to publish evidence frameworks for companies with innovations that they want to sell into the NHS. If these take off, you could well be asked whether you have complied with them, have the relevant regulatory safeguards in place, and are on important procurement frameworks. 

And finally, don’t lie.

It sounds really obvious, but don’t make claims in your PR that aren’t truthful. The press release that cried wolf will keep people howling at any truthful claims for years to come. 

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