Merriam Webster, The Who, and Hacking Churnalism

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Today we’re channeling The Who, Merriam Webster and one of my longtime favorite fellow patient empowerment buddies, Gary Schwitzer, who reminds me at least weekly why we just can’t trust the media without very careful review.

As follows:

I love a new word. When this one appeared in my inbox last week, I wanted to share it with you because it’s an important concept for advocates and patients alike.

Today’s new word is: Churnalism. (Take that Merriam Webster!) Churnalism is the product of lazy reporters and journalists who, without further investigation or review, simply reprint (or broadcast) a submitted press release or video roll from companies looking to profit, like pharmaceutical companies or medical device makers, or others looking for donations or grants (called “soft money”) like university or non-profit research centers, or anyone else who might make money by getting their information shared.

I encountered that new word churnalism in this headline, found in Gary’s Health News Review (HNR) newsletter:

Chicago Tribune repost of news release sets new low for churnalism

Here’s the problem Gary and his team at Health News Review address:  “News” is published and broadcast every day that makes its readers and listeners sit up and take notice – and is usually at least partially wrong or incomplete, and therefore misleading.

Health News Review does just what its name suggests. They review that health news: published stories and articles (text and video) produced by mainstream media and those press release submitters, and they rate them according to a list of criteria which, when met, make a story solid, objective news — information that can be trusted. The best a story can be rated is 5 stars. The worst is zero.

Now, it strikes me that churnalism by itself is already the definition of LOW, so to say the repost by the Chicago Tribune was the lowest of low – well – I had to check it out. On the HNR scale – it hit that goose egg, that zero. Ouch.

We have all fallen victim to this deception. We read or hear things we want to believe! We read or hear things that strike fear! But so often we aren’t getting the real truth.

Here are some sample headlines with their ratings:

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Shark Tank, Narrative, Your Audiences – and Success

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I’m a huge fan of TV’s Shark Tank. Not an episode goes by when I don’t learn something about business, investment, marketing or some other tidbit I can use in my work. My favorite “shark” is Barbara Corcoran because I find she bases her investment decisions on smart money-making plus appropriately enthusiastic entrepreneurs who share their stories of passion and work ethic.

This season there is a new shark in the tank, Troy Carter, who prior to this was totally unknown to me. Seems he used to be Lady Gaga’s manager, and is known for media production. He’s certainly on my radar now, big time. Barbara – watch out!  Troy may be giving you a run for your money into my “favorite” position!

Why such a quick pivot?  For the simple reason that one of Troy’s interests in an entrepreneur is “narrative.”  In the episode I watched, two entrepreneurs were seeking a quarter of a million dollars for selling SOCKS (of all things). All the other sharks wanted to know about data and statistics – how many have you sold, how much does it cost to make them, etc etc. But Troy asked them, “What’s your narrative?”

Yes – narrative is important enough even to sell SOCKS!  Yet – it’s barely mentioned in other business circles, at least not using that terminology, and not so intentionally.

But I believe that for us as patient advocates, narrative is one of our MOST IMPORTANT MARKETING TOOLS. So let’s look at it more closely – what, why, when and how.

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Why It Takes So Long to Acquire a New Client

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We live in an instant gratification world, don’t we?  I suppose we could harken back to BF Skinner’s hungry rats, then combine that with the expectation of instant answers we get from the Internet to understand why we, as human beings, want and expect everything to happen the MOMENT we want it to happen!

Think it… will it… snap your fingers – there it is.

This concept came to mind after a conversation with my husband. He recently retired from his field engineering career. He loves to golf and fish and this time of the year, doesn’t lack for anything to do or play. But we also knew that if he didn’t have something to keep him busy the rest of the year he would drive me nuts with his nothing-to-do. (I know some of you can relate!) So together we have launched a new business for him, all internet based, advertising funded, and great fun.*

This week we were discussing the progress (or lack thereof) of acquiring advertisers for the site. I am thrilled at our progress. After all, we have been online for only a few months, we average about 50 visitors a day which, for a new site, is actually quite good. But we need lots more content and lots more visitors before we hit our stride with advertising.

But he is frustrated because he doesn’t think enough paid advertising is coming our way. Why is it taking so long? Why don’t all these potential advertisers think we are the best thing internet advertising since sliced bread? Why aren’t they sending us all their advertising money yet?

At that point I realized – that’s exactly what I hear from new advocates.  Not enough clients, not fast enough – resulting in frustration, and then, too many that just give up their practices because they didn’t anticipate they would have to wait so long.

Patience!  Please!  Patience!

For budding advocates, there are two main reasons the acquisition of a new client takes so long.  Let’s take a look at them.

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Surprising Wisdom from Chipotle Will Make Your Day

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About once every five or six weeks I splurge on Chipotle for lunch. Love it – guacamole and all (Have you tried their corn salsa? Yum.)

On my most recent visit, I did something I had never taken the time to do.  I read the take-out bag. That’s right. If you have never purchased take-out at Chipotle, you may not know that there is a great deal of what looks like plain old text on the bag. I had never paused to read it, assuming (uh-huh) that all that text was just promotional in nature – and who has time for that?

But I was so wrong! 

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Misleading Headline Provides an Opportunity

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This week the Chicago Tribune featured patient advocacy as a growing trend – a marvelous exposure to private advocacy for the uninitiated (uninitiated = most of the known universe).  Several of our APHA members were mentioned in the article and for the most part, it was an excellent representation of the status of private advocacy.

Except for the headline:

tribheadline

Now, most of us are intelligent enough to know that headlines are created to suck in readers, and too often, intentionally focus on some point that doesn’t really represent the story – just draws those readers.  And so it was with this headline, too.

It’s unfortunate, because too many of us are guilty of seeing a headline and drawing conclusions, without ever really reading the story. There may be millions of Chicago Tribune readers who saw only the headline and didn’t read the story, and therefore won’t consider contacting a private patient advocate because – as per the headline – they think it will be too expensive to pay for that help. 

Sad, but true.

But that headline did one thing very well. That is, it gave us a good opportunity to explore the concept of “costly” – and turn this negative into a positive. 

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