In 2011, the Public Relations Society of America led an effort to modernize the definition of public relations and came up with the following:

“Public relations is a strategic communication process that builds mutually beneficial relationships between organizations and their publics.”

Simple and straightforward, public relations still remains about communicating useful information to an appropriate audience with the goal of fostering mutually beneficial relationships built on trust and understanding.

Taking a cue from the PRSA, PR professionals should constantly analyze our methods and be open to revisions and changes in practices in order to remain relevant in the fast-moving world of healthcare marketing. With an increase of healthcare professionals searching for information via the internet, collaborating on social platforms with colleagues to share information, and online public relations and marketing campaigns becoming the norm, 2014 has become a year of real change and challenge amidst healthcare communicators to keep our practices up-to-date and our respective businesses well-informed of the value of our efforts.

Currently, marketing and PR professionals have the opportunity to chart and navigate the success and progress of our practices by embracing technology and going beyond our traditional PR methods. If you are looking to position yourself as a results-driven communicator in the healthcare industry and become irreplaceable among your colleagues, consider these PR developments that are fast becoming the norm in 2014:

1) More healthcare professionals are looking for information online:

Though many seasoned yet “traditional” public relations professionals are comfortable with measuring success by how many print publications are picking up news, we must accept the fact that many healthcare professionals are now searching for information and data online, and the number of professionals turning to the internet for the most up-to-date information is growing by the day. The fact that traditional media is undergoing a substantial decline has been well documented, leaving us PR and marketing folks searching for more sustainable ways to disseminate messages to the masses.

Therefore, we should not underestimate the value of digital publishing. In fact, we should embrace it. For one, the placement of online news on healthcare-related sites, many times, becomes a permanent home for information. Online content optimizes SEO that can make the difference in whether your business is perceived as a player in the big leagues, or sitting on the sidelines. You can also easily obtain traffic statistics for the site and track how many people actually click on your specific news item to gauge the popularity or success of a particular item.

Moreover, with the advent of content marketing, online information is now becoming crucial for successful, integrated marketing and public relations plans. Unlike a traditional print placement, there are plenty of “edutainment” items that can optimize your online placement with links to additional information via videos, sell sheets, corporate links, articles, white papers, etc., – all with the end goal in mind of cultivating a lasting relationship with customers and increasing sales. If someone is interested enough to click on your news item, why not provide them with enough “extras” so they can rest assured that they are making an informed decision about purchasing your product or service?

2) Establish metrics for ROI:

While healthcare marketers should recognize social media and online venues as the preferred outlets for accessing news, at the same time, we need to control the ability to identify who our audiences are and how much interest are we garnering through analytics.

I used to think that KPIs, CPMs, and ROIs were designed exclusively for paid advertising campaigns. I was under the impression that it’s just too difficult to calculate the return on investment for the broad scope of a marketing and/or public relations campaign. But in order to justify our professional value, healthcare communicators need to get over the fear of true data and numerical formulas to gauge results. Nice solid numbers to report are what keep PR pros relevant and help our companies realize the importance of our critical role in their success.

Technology now provides increasingly sophisticated tools for accurately measuring the impact of PR. Not only can we calculate the success of public relations efforts through traditional circulation and traffic statistic numbers, but numerous tracking tools are available to public relations professionals that uncover important aspects such as consumer engagement, brand sentiment, actions directly attributed to incoming revenue, etc., while at the same time highlighting areas that may need some adjustments to optimize campaigns.

3) Get to know Sue in cube #2:

In recent years, boundaries have clearly been blurred for PR professionals, especially for those who have their feet planted in the era of traditional media. No longer should the PR professional work on his or her own little island. To know and understand how other departments in your organization are working toward client goals is critical to the success of an integrated PR and marketing program.

Social media marketing, content marketing, and SEO have all helped move marketing and sales into the realm of public relations. In turn, PR teams must get more intimately involved in marketing and sales to understand the complete scope of efforts. Integration of all written components (sales items, ads, white papers, articles, etc.) and other related information made readily available are key to providing potential and existing customers with resources they need to perceive you as not only a vendor of product and services, but as an important resource.

4) Treat your loyal “fans” like VIPs – because they are:

An effective PR team not only collaborates closely with corresponding departments such as marketing and sales, but also embraces the “fans” who in many ways are now a business or brand’s most effective spokespersons. These fans can, many times, seamlessly transform from writing comments on a message board to writing testimonials or even full-blown articles touting their success with a product or service.

Who better to promote your product or service than the people who really use it and love it? A brand’s superfans — the people who talk about them online, continuously support them and spread the word however they can, are extremely powerful marketing weapons. Connecting with fans and treating them well go a long way.

5) Ask the expert:

As experts in the healthcare arena, PR professionals are expected to be extremely knowledgeable in all areas of healthcare. Whether it be oncology, diabetes, dental or heart disease (and all the subsets and related conditions that come hand-in-hand with these categories) if we are not intimate with a healthcare issue, we either learn it very quickly or quickly fail at our efforts in making others understand the importance of a particular issue.

Charged with the difficult task of cultivating a unique targeted audience and engaging it with effective content, businesses are increasingly contracting freelancers or bringing seasoned journalists or outside agencies in-house to enhance their ability to develop and execute winning content strategies.

Yes, you should develop a clear understanding of your business, but there’s no shame in welcoming someone who may already have a handle on a certain subject or segment of the healthcare arena. Efficient PR pros can utilize outside resources as an opportunity to learn more about areas that may not be their particular area of expertise. We can then add the information to our arsenal of tools for a well-rounded knowledge of the field.

In the past few years, the ever-evolving landscape of public relations has been moving at a quick and steady pace, yet our goals as PR professionals fundamentally remain the same. By embracing modern technology and going beyond traditional PR boundaries, we can achieve greater results while presenting solid analytics to demonstrate the effectiveness of our efforts.