Diagnosis; Sharing the Story

By Karen Hendricks

If you would have told me last week that being a doctor was a lot like being a PR practitioner, I would have laughed.

But this week I learned that it’s actually the truth, because it all comes down to “the story.”

Former CBS News Producer-turned-MD Lisa Sanders helped me arrive at this revelation, as I had the pleasure of hearing her speak earlier this week.  Author of the New York Times Magazine “Diagnosis” column, Sanders provided the inspiration for the wildly popular and offbeat TV show House.  Dr. Gregory House, aka Hugh Laurie, solves medical mysteries by using his instincts and clues, often gathered through unconventional means.  His demeanor doesn’t exactly encourage his patients to talk to him and tell their “stories.”

As a former journalist, “stories” have always been at the heart of Sanders’ work, even when she made the transition to the medical field.  One of three Technical Advisors to House, Sanders dreams up the shows’ fascinating medical storylines.  Her latest book Every Patient Tells a Story describes “Medical Mysteries and the Art of Diagnosis.”  It all comes down to patients who communicate their stories accurately and doctors truly taking the time to listen to their patients’ stories.  Between 70 to 90 percent of all medical diagnoses are made, not based upon physical exams or specialized tests, but upon patients’ stories.But Sanders’ use of “the story” doesn’t end there.  She contends, one of the most powerful gifts a doctor can give to his/her patient, is the communication of a diagnosis.  How the doctor relays this information, explains a disease or shares information, is the first step to helping a patient heal.  Sanders writes, “A story that can help a patient make sense of even a devastating illness is a story that can heal.”

Ok so what does this have to do with PR and marketing?

Just as doctors search for diagnoses, PR and marketing professionals seek “diagnoses” for their clients.  The messages and stories that form the backbone of a PR or marketing campaign are often found, not by examining the number of website page views or other diagnostic numbers, but simply by listening to clients’ stories and employing them directly into the heart of the campaign.  Compelling, stories, emotional, human and fascinating, translate into a more effective PR or marketing campaign.  Take the time to find out why or how your client is unique (I know—over-used word but it fits) through their stories.

I once interviewed an artist who had an unusual, but beautiful, perspective on landscapes that seemed to stretch on and on in layers.  As one of dozens of artists I interviewed for an arts festival’s PR campaign, he explained that he preferred painting from high mountaintops, as high an elevation as he could reach, for a birds-eye perspective.   I asked a series of questions about his background and it turned out that his early artistic ambitions had been put on hold for a stint in the U.S. Air Force.  Perhaps that experience provided the training ground for his unique approach to landscape painting?  What an interesting twist to “his story” that provided a “diagnosis” of sorts.

While I’m listening and focused on a client’s stories, I always take the time to capture quotes.  They inject color and emotion into press releases or marketing materials!  I recently worked with a young political candidate who projected such enthusiasm and passion through his quotes and interviews, while demonstrating a firm grasp of issues at hand, that he attracted attention and was elected to office.  He communicated his story and connected to his constituency well!

Everyone has a story to tell, medically or otherwise.  Are you taking the time to listen?  And are you retelling the story and sharing it?

House: often closes the door on communication

P.S. Many thanks to Lisa Sanders for the great book inscription!

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