“Media Straight Talk” is a CCCVitalSigns series that highlights the opinions of journalists working for top media outlets. Each part of the series will cover different topics affecting PR professionals. Names of these journalists are withheld due to their companies’ policies.
Today when we think of Michael J. Fox, it’s more so for his personal health struggles and commitment to the Parkinson’s community than his role as Alex Keaton on “Family Ties.” Actress and comedian Mary Tyler Moore has leveraged her fame to speak out about diabetes for decades. And Magic Johnson, because of his public personal journey with HIV and his work with pharmaceutical companies and other organizations, is top of mind when it comes to celebrities talking health in the media.
Health reporters know that celebrities make news and gain the attention of viewers and readers regularly, which is why healthcare reporters will always find an interest in their story. But stories of “real life” people facing health obstacles can generate interest and conversation, too. In the last “Media Straight Talk” we learned that reporters are looking more and more at everyday patient stories instead of just focusing on celebrity interviews. I spoke to a number of health reporters across TV, health trade magazines and women’s books to uncover when a celebrity may be most appropriate, the impact “average Joe” patient stories may have, and the most impactful health interviews they’ve conducted or seen.
The reporters I spoke to agreed on one thing — readers or viewers must relate to a topic and spokesperson, and trust the person being interviewed. Just because a celebrity has “star status,” doesn’t mean they are right for a story with the news outlet. Their audience needs to like and trust the celebrity, and feel that the conversation is genuine. For example, one reporter I spoke to praised Christie Turlington Burns for her work with the Every Mother Counts campaign. And while the reporters I interviewed spoke highly of Michael J. Fox, Magic Johnson, and Mary Tyler Moore, one noted that celebrities like Suzanne Somers and Jennie McCarthy have the ability to make an impact in health arena based on their star power, but are often spewing inaccurate information, diminishing their trust with the media outlet’s audience.
All the reporters I spoke with agree that health-related interviews with everyday patients tend to be more authentic, genuine, and detailed. They have more time to provide and share the important ingredients for creating a powerful and buzz-worthy health story. However, it’s critical that reporters have a timely hook to generate interest and reel viewers or readers in to an interview with someone who is not famous. For example, if a new study comes out, an interview with a patient living with the condition can be impactful, but may feel “dead” without the connection to the study.
Based on these discussions, celebrities and “average Joes” can both make an impact when talking about health with the media. Media tend to find more immediate trust and authenticity with everyday patients, but can find it in some celebrities, too. The time patients have to spend with a reporter is valuable and hard to find among stars, but celebrities can share more on their life and current work that audiences want to hear about. Both celebrities and patients can be passionate about a health topic they hold close to their hearts. It is that passion and honesty that sparks interest and garners the public’s attention.
Do you have another topic you’d like to hear a reporter’s view on? Please let me know for an upcoming “Media Straight Talk” blog post.