How to Tackle PR for a Digital Health Startup

Digital health continues to grow as evident from reports across the industry, including those covered by Healthcare Informatics and Healthcare Dive. Changing healthcare economies – value-based care, market consolidation, major players entering/exiting state insurance exchanges, etc. – are simultaneously transforming the industry, creating a prime market for innovation. But the health and medical app arena is becoming quite crowded; one report stated that 259,000 such apps were listed on major app stores in 2016.

From a PR perspective, rising above this noise with a small team takes an integrated communications strategy with lots of advanced planning, prioritization and a data-driven approach.

So where do you start?

Balance Strong Foundations with Flexibility

Plan, plan, and plan some more but be nimble. Ensure all assets for your owned properties – blog, website, app store copy/approval, Google Analytics and goals, etc. – are locked and loaded. If visuals are a major part of your launch (and they should almost always be if possible), make sure that they tell a cohesive story much like your integrated communications strategy. Do you have all final logos and app images available in the common formats (JPG, vector files, etc.)? Does everything look right on your CrunchBase profile? Are all social channels – LinkedIn company pages and executive profiles, Twitter handles, etc. – buttoned up? For social in particular, leverage tools like to confirm availability of desired handles well in advance so all parties can come to agreement (if needed) on any second or third choices.

If your startup is running in complete stealth mode leading up to launch (i.e. no website, no social channels, etc.), it can be challenging to work out the inevitable kinks on launch day. The best defense: ensure that processes are designed to function like a well-oiled machine. This is especially important for smaller marketing and communications teams who may be pulled in several different directions on launch day. For example, tweets and social posts of media coverage and reporter RTs/tags must be reviewed and posted in a timely manner. Make sure it is crystal clear who will be approving which posts and when as a delay can create missed opportunities for exposure.

We’re Ready – Let’s Hit Everyone at Once…Right?

The blessing and “curse” of PR for digital health startups is the wide array of audiences and verticals. Within healthcare (which many consider a vertical), narratives can be sliced and diced in so many ways –angles can include tech/emerging company, general healthcare, mobile health, clinical specialties, etc. Each of these groups is comprised of distinctly different publications, thus they must be approached with different storylines and pitches. With a lean and mean team, it is especially important to align on which verticals should be targeted, when they should be contacted and prioritize accordingly. Understanding the pace and timelines of those respective outlets is also key. For example, it is unlikely that a clinical specialty magazine will cover you on launch day whereas a news-focused mobile health site will likely want an embargoed preview before launch. It is important that these expectations are managed with all stakeholders both within the organization and externally (ex. partners or investors).

We Launched! But How Do We Keep the Momentum?

You’re live and you had a great launch with top tier hits – what’s next? Once you are a few months out of a PR and company launch, it is time to dive into Google Analytics and the analytics on your social channels to see what worked and what didn’t work. Are you attracting the right audiences? Did that hit in your dream publication actually result in more conversions or downloads, or was it the Tier II trade hit that really did it? What is the correlation between media hits, web traffic and app downloads? Do some outlets have a larger impact on downloads vs. web traffic? These are all questions to explore after a launch to get a clear picture of what’s driving the bottom line. It should also inform your next 6-month PR plan.

Making a name for yourself in a crowded space can seem daunting, especially if your internal team is small. But with the right partners (shameless plug: @healthycomms!) and the right story positioned for the right audience at the right time, you will be successful. Then, let the data do the talking. Look back, evaluate and assess where you should go next to continue sustaining momentum with your target audiences.

Victoria Khamsombath
Account Manager


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