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Data collection begins today for the Physician Payment Sunshine Act (Sunshine Act). Part of Obamacare, the Sunshine Act requires that manufacturers of pharmaceuticals, medical supplies and biologicals report payments they make to physicians and teaching hospitals. This is designed to bring transparency to these financial transactions, most of which are for legitimate purposes.

Some of these payments have raised concerns that prescribing physicians may not be impartial in what they choose to prescribe for their patients. With the Sunshine Act, these payments will now be in the light of day and it is hoped that this will encourage appropriate payment practices and improve confidence in the impartiality of prescribing physicians.

What Are the Implications for Healthcare PR?

What are the implications for healthcare PR? Healthcare PR professionals who work for companies covered by the act or who have such companies as clients should make preparations to handle inquiries that might arise from the media, including bloggers. An audit should be done of payments reported under the act, and potentially controversial payments identified. A plan should be thought through and put in place to handle any media inquiries. This plan would identify spokespersons, have basic answers drafted, and include specific steps for handling inquiries. If needed, spokespersons should receive media training. Key messaging should be prepared that connects back to the company’s core values and product development strategy.

For more information on the Sunshine Act, go to The program is administered by The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid in the Department of Health and Human Services.


Snow Communications is pleased to have provided PR services to RJF, a Marsh & McLennan Agency LLC company in Minneapolis, for the past several years. RJF is a risk-prevention organization dedicated to helping businesses proactively reduce risk by anticipating the needs of its people and assets. Snow provides strategic communications planning, message development and media relations support to RJF professionals whose clients operate in a variety of industries across the Midwest.

One such professional is PK Kriha, Senior Vice President, Employee Benefits. “PK is an effective, resourceful advisor to her clients, and an inspiration to her colleagues,” said Joshua Schneck, CEO of Snow Communications. “Her passion for delivering employee benefits solutions to her clients is a tremendous asset to RJF.”

Ms. Kriha became a shareholder at RJF in 2009, after only six years with the company. She was praised by RJF’s CEO Bill Jeatran at the time of her promotion. “In her six years at RJF, PK has shown the character and leadership that we look for in our shareholders,” said Jeatran. “She truly represents our values and core beliefs, respects her team and co-workers as equals, and has shown consistent sales success.”

We are privileged to work with an industry leader like RJF’s PK Kriha. If your business needs help with managing risk, benefits or insurance needs, be sure to contact her.

With the launch of its new service called Vine, Twitter is hoping to do for video what it has already done for text –shrink it into bite-sized bits that are quickly and easily shared.

Available as a free app for iOS devices (with other platforms coming soon), users can splice together six seconds of looping video for quick viewing. The animation can be one continuous shot, or as many quick cuts as one can fit into six seconds. Vine videos can be embedded into Twitter streams, or shared on personal websites or other social media sites like Tumblr.

It’s easy to imagine what some creative public relations managers might do with this new tool. And many proactive brands are already testing the waters. GE, Ritz Crackers, Dove and Urban Outfitters are some of the major brands to have already posted their own Vine videos. Are any of them ground-breaking achievements likely to lead to a boost in sales? Probably not, but that sort of misses the point.

A Personal Touch

Savvy brand managers learned a long time ago that social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook are more about interactive dialogue rather than one-way promotions. Social media creates opportunities for more direct interaction, and Vine videos will allow for that interaction to be more personal than ever.

These brief micro-videos can be used to provide a quick, no-budget, no-frills look past the sparkling veneer of finished ads and into the human side of a company. For example, companies might post Vine videos featuring:

  • A quick product demo
  • Visual menus, or daily restaurant specials
  • The view from the trade show floor
  • The face of a customer service rep responding to a question or complaint
  • A special thank-you to certain customers, clients, or partners
  • Holiday greetings
  • A teaser trailer for a longer presentation on another channel, such as YouTube

Time will tell whether this new app will succeed. But it certainly creates some intriguing opportunities for marketers who are willing to give it a try.

Avoid the Branding Echo Chamber

by | December 17, 2012

Groupthink, as defined by Merriam-Webster, is “a pattern of thought characterized by self-deception, forced manufacture of consent, and conformity to group values and ethics.”

Such conformity to group opinion can be a real danger when company leaders, believing that they and those around them have an accurate sense of their brand’s reputation, fail to generate external feedback prior to making branding decisions. Brand evaluation and reorganization can be a very positive and healthy thing. Every business must evolve to survive. Messages need to be updated. Websites refreshed. Ads evaluated. But when tackling these challenges, it is important to remember that public perception is what really matters, and that perception can sometimes vary widely from what’s assumed by the top brass.

For example, members of your sales team might not feel comfortable  speaking up about their distaste for the current logo when sitting across from the company’s top executives, who likely approved that very design.

Your company’s clients, however, will probably have no qualms about being more direct.

So, what options are available for gathering meaningful data on corporate brand? Here are a few that can be much more valuable than an internal discussion in the conference room:

  • One-on-one meetings with customers
  • Focus groups
  • Ad Readership Studies (if appropriate)
  • Online survey tools like those offered by Constant Contact or SurveyMonkey.

In other words, don’t just make sure you are asking the right questions; make sure you are you asking the right people. Internal discussions are necessary, but the most coveted opinions should be reserved for customers and potential customers.

Simply put, a strategic communications plan is a description of a company’s marketing and communications goals and activities. And it should be treated as an essential document for any company, especially a start-up. While every plan should include a few key sections (outlined below), there is no single, one-size-fits-all approach that works for every business. A communications plan for a restaurant will be much different than one for a hospital, for example. But here is a snapshot of the crucial elements that every plan should include.

An Overview

This opening section describes the nature of the business and how it plans to grow through strategic communications and marketing.

Background Research

Arguably, the single most important feature of any communications plan is the background research and analysis. After all, how can you be expected to tell your company’s story if you don’t know much about the industry in which you operate? Generally this background research will identify the current market size, segmentation, target customers, growth opportunities, risks and competitors. In addition a SWOT analysis for the company itself would be helpful here.

Establish Your Mission, and Your Messages

Now is the time to define your brand, your products, your company and your value proposition to the market.

State Your Goals

Goals should be simply what you want your communications to achieve. These are specific, measurable outcomes: a percentage of market share, annual sales, growth into certain markets, etc.

Define Your Strategy

Strategies are the initiatives that will allow you to realize your goals. These should answer the question of “how” the company plans to communicate to its customers. For example, a restaurant might devise a strategy for becoming a go-to family gathering place on Monday nights, in the hopes of meeting its overall revenue goals. Or, a backup software company might create a strategy for focusing on a certain customer niche, like publishing companies or law firms, in order to support its own expectations.

Define Your Tactics

These are the tools of the trade. Identify the channels of your communications strategy here, such as social media, blogging, digital advertising, direct response marketing, or media relations. Be as specific as possible. It’s not enough to simply list a bunch of marketing channels – describe how they will be used. Consider the strategies you’ve identified above. Do your tactics support them?

Build a Schedule and a Budget

Now that you have a set of tasks to complete, put them on a schedule. Identify who “owns” each task, and list anticipated completion dates. Keep your team accountable and abreast of approaching deadlines. Also, is your marketing and communications budget in line with the strategies you plan to implement? Talk with vendors, publishers, printers and anyone else that can give you the necessary cost information to make sure what you’re planning falls within your budget.

Keep it Alive

You’ll put a lot of work into this plan. The last thing you want is to see it relegated to a dusty corner in someone’s office. Marketing and communications strategies evolve. You might have to prioritize certain goals over others. Test and measure what’s working and update your plan accordingly.

Snow Communications recently posted a new case study that showcases our government relations capabilities. Click here to read about our work with Wolters Kluwer Health – Clinical Solutions.

The press release, that tried and true tactic used by companies and PR practitioners for eons, has gone through quite an evolution over the past decade or so. Before the age of the Internet, the press release was generally only seen by, you know, the press. Companies and their PR agencies would distribute the announcement and hope that it was compelling enough to warrant a story.

Today, the release plays a more dynamic role. Social media and company websites allow for direct communication and interaction with customers. Releases are generally drafted with multiple audiences in mind – including journalists, customers and industry analysts.

But there is one additional “audience” that should not be forgotten – search engine spiders, or web crawlers. These automated bots constantly scour the Web for content, and their findings are used to determine which websites are shown when an individual conducts a search using various keywords. If you anticipate that your press release will be posted anywhere online – your website, through a newswire, or any media outlet with an online presence, then it’s important to consider the language used from a search engine’s perspective.

For example, if your business provides computer data cloud storage solutions, and you’re announcing upgraded security protections for customers, give the release a heavy dose of the technical upgrades you’re offering and how your customers will benefit. Generic, over-used language – groundbreaking, world-class, revolutionary – not only gets on readers’ nerves, it also does nothing for search engine optimization. The classic Gobbledygook Manifesto [PDF] shows just how frequently these terms are used – and the more often a term is used, the more competition there is for the attention of the search engine crawlers. Detailed, descriptive keywords are more effective in generating meaningful website traffic.

Press releases are a mainstay for public relations campaigns. By keeping search engine crawlers in mind when crafting the language within them, releases can continue to provide benefits for a long time.

Minneapolis, October 2, 2012 – Snow Communications, a Minneapolis-based public relations and marketing agency, today announced that it has once again partnered with Free Bikes 4 Kidz, whose mission is to provide free bicycles to those most in need in the Twin Cities. Snow Communications will provide communications, media relations and social media support to help build on the momentum that’s already emergent for the non-profit organization.

“We are thrilled to once again be able to lend our support on a pro bono basis to such a worthy cause,” said CEO and founder Joshua Schneck. “Everyone should know the joy that comes with owning and riding their own bike. Free Bike 4 Kidz has a fantastic mission and we are glad to help.”

To achieve its goals, Free Bikes 4 Kidz invites communities to donate quality used bikes that are then cleaned, refurbished, and distributed through multiple kid-friendly organizations to children and adults in need. The organization expects to receive and distribute several thousand bikes to Minnesota families in need this holiday season. In 2011, over 5,000 bikes were donated – a marked increase from the 1,500 bikes in 2010, 750 in 2009 and 300 in 2008. Last year, Free Bikes 4 Kidz became the largest single distributor of free bikes in the United States. This is the second annual partnership between Snow Communications and Free Bikes 4 Kidz.

About Snow Communications
Founded in 1985, Snow Communications provides public relations and marketing services for clients in a variety of industries including healthcare, technology, law, food and others. Snow Communications is a privately held company headquartered in Minneapolis. For more information, please call 612-337-0747 or visit

About Free Bikes 4 Kidz
Free Bikes 4 Kidz is a not-for-profit organization geared toward helping all kids ride into a happier, healthier childhood by providing bikes to those most in need. More information can be found at

No matter how much the business world changes with the advancement of technology, one aspect remains unchanged – the informational interview. I empathize with recent college graduates who not only face student loan debt, but also have to break into the job market at a time when the national unemployment rate continues to stay above eight percent. More young adults are jockeying for the same positions in an effort to simply “break in” to their field of interest.

This past summer we had a handful of college students stop by the office for informational interviews. We always delight in the proactive efforts of young adults that are still in school but who are also looking ahead to make sure that they are taking the right classes and courses that will set them up for future success. With that in mind, here are some tips for making the most of any  informational interview.

1. Do a little homework. (Not a lot, just a little.) Since this is not a formal interview for an actual hirable position, the conversation can be more general but be sure to read up about the industry and the company you are visiting. Demonstrate that you’ve put in some effort before walking in the door, and you will not only leave a lasting impression, but it shows you are serious and making a concerted effort to educate yourself outside of the classroom.

2. Guide the discussion. Don’t be afraid to ask a “dumb” question – this is the time to do it. It’s wise to prepare and bring a list of questions regarding the industry and company with whom you are speaking. You set up the appointment so it’s essentially your responsibility to drive the conversation. Ask questions that will actually help you in terms of charting a course for your own future success. You may even find out that what you thought you wanted as a career isn’t exactly what you had in mind.

3. If you were me…. This is always a great way to harvest information and gain advice about how to set up a path towards finding a job after school. Whomever you are speaking to, young or not-so-young, has made a lot of choices to get to where they are today. They’ve also made some mistakes. You can always glean useful tips from taking a quick walk in someone else’s shoes.

4. Manners matter. This may seem obvious, but it’s worth sharing. Be on time (be five minutes early). Turn off your cell phone before you walk in the door. When in doubt, dress up. And always send a hand-written, personal thank-you note afterward.

See you in the trenches!

Preparing the Source

by | June 1, 2012

This is Part 5 in a five-part series titled The Art of the Pitch.

Part 1, Four Factors That Make for an Ideal Pitch, can be found here.

Part 2, Doing Your Pitch Homework, can be found here.

Part 3, Crafting the Pitch, can be found here.

Part 4, Sending the Pitch, can be found here.

The most important piece for any media relations campaign is the source itself. After all, what good is a carefully crafted pitch if the interviewee is underprepared? It’s often the job of the PR agency to make sure that the source being interviewed knows what to say, how to say it, and how to handle any curveballs during the interview.  Below are a few tricks that help to ensure your source is prepped and ready to go.

Opportunity Briefs

Opportunity briefs are summaries of the upcoming media opportunity that describe the focus of the interview, the media outlet, the journalist’s background and previous works, and logistical details such as time, location and estimated duration of the interview. Opportunity briefs serve to help give the source a better understanding of the Who, What, When, Where and Why.

Advance Questions

Some journalists are willing to provide questions in advance to make sure the source is ready to give the most detailed, organized answer possible. Questions won’t be available in advance every time, but it’s usually worth checking just in case. Knowing what will be asked is obviously a tremendous help.

Media Training

We could spend a lot of time covering what goes into media training and why it can be so important, but that’s for another blog entry. However it’s worth discussing that media training can be an essential exercise for interview sources, especially if they are inexperienced in dealing with the media. Just like any other skill, practice makes perfect. Media training sessions may cover different things depending on the type of interview – is the source going to be on camera, or speaking by phone? Will there be a press conference? Sometimes media training might be geared toward a specific interview on the horizon, while other training might focus on general preparedness. Either way, it can be an invaluable tool for helping a source feel comfortable and ready to handle the upcoming situation.

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