Scientific Journalism and its Role in Healthcare Marketing
Episode

Kristina Grifantini, Director of Scientific Communications and Marketing at Scripps Research

Scientific Journalism and its role in Healthcare Marketing

Writing about science is no simple feat. 

In this episode of Marketing Mondays, Kristina Grifantini, Director of Scientific Communications and Marketing at Scripps Research, shares her thoughts on science communications, journalism, and marketing. Kristina speaks about the valuable elements she has to take from science journalism, marketing, and PR to find an appropriate communication language when working for a research institution like Scripps. She shares her take on the importance of building a relationship with your target audience from the comms side and why hiring a professional writer from the beginning can help to achieve it. Social media is unavoidable today, so Kristina advises navigating these modern waters and explains the importance of strategizing in advance.

 

Tune in to learn what a good science writer can bring to your company’s communications!

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Scientific Journalism and its Role in Healthcare Marketing

About Kristina Grifantini:

Kristina Grifantini, MS, is an award-winning communicator with 17 years of experience in translating science, biomedicine, and technology into compelling stories for a variety of audiences. She uses strategic planning and best practices from the fields of internal and external communications, media relations, journalism, marketing, brand management, and digital storytelling to engage with the public, press, donors, and other stakeholders.

Aside from overseeing multimedia internal and external communications initiatives for scientific nonprofits and universities, she has written hundreds of science articles for magazines, newspapers, government agencies, blogs, and the press, several of which have garnered local and national awards. She has had bylines in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, LiveScience, MIT Technology Review, Sky & Telescope, IEEE Pulse Magazine, ABC News, Yahoo! News, CNN Money, and others. 

 

Marketing Mondays_Kristina Grifantini: Audio automatically transcribed by Sonix

Marketing Mondays_Kristina Grifantini: this mp3 audio file was automatically transcribed by Sonix with the best speech-to-text algorithms. This transcript may contain errors.

Andreea Borcea:
Welcome to the Marketing Mondays podcast, where we explore how we can make your offerings stand out in the health and wellness space. Through conversations with thought leaders and innovators in health and wellness marketing, we’ll discuss marketing best practices, case studies, and innovative ideas to help scale your business and grow revenues with impact. I’m excited to be your host. My name is Andreea Borcea. I’m a fractional CMO and owner of the Dia Creative Marketing Agency.

Andreea Borcea:
Hi, everyone, and welcome back to another episode of Marketing Mondays. I’m your host, Andreea Borcea, CMO of Dia Creative, a marketing agency that focuses on health and wellness marketing. I’m excited today to bring you Kristina Grifantini, who is Director of Scientific Communications and Marketing, and we are going to have a lot of fun talking specifically about communications and marketing. Kristina, thanks for being here.

Kristina Grifantini:
Thanks for having me, I’m excited.

Andreea Borcea:
So let’s start at the beginning. How did you find yourself in science, communications and marketing, specifically, health and wellness and science? Like it’s not necessarily everybody starts their marketing and communications career.

Kristina Grifantini:
Yeah, it’s actually a really interesting path, and I get asked that a lot because science communications is such a niche in a way, but also really important. So for me, I’ve always enjoyed writing and science, and for my career, I started down a path of science, working in a lab, realized that it wasn’t quite right for me. I was much more interested in learning about different kinds of experiments, talking about the science rather than doing it, it takes very long time, you have to have a lot of patience. So it wasn’t quite for me, I went back to school for science journalism, actually. I got a master’s at Boston University, and there I learned journalistic tactics to bring to science communications, so that was really valuable. And then from there, I went into journalism, specifically science journalism. I worked at Technology Review magazine for a while, and that was a great place to learn how to write journalistically about cutting-edge technologies, robotics, biomedicine. Most journalists will tell you that journalism is pretty grueling, the schedule is intense. It’s just a very specific career path, so after I did that a few years, I wanted to shift gears again and wanted to continue to communicate science. So I found a niche called Public Information Officer, which is, essentially you’re communicating science on behalf of an institute. So that’s where you start to get into the marketing, but also the tactics of science communication, and bringing journalism to that was also very beneficial. So now I’m in San Diego, I’ve worked at the Salk Institute, and I’m currently at Scripps Research doing that kind of science communication work that I enjoy.

Andreea Borcea:
That’s a great path. What, how would you better define the difference between journalistic communication and marketing communication, especially since probably most people that are listening are doing more like marketing sales or very technical communication, but not really journalistic?

Kristina Grifantini:
Mm-hmm, that’s a good question, and also, I think PR is also a piece of that as well, because a lot of journalists move into PR jobs quite often, but it’s hard to move the opposite way. So I would say in terms of journalism, the emphasis is on getting at the truth, telling the story, being objective, right? You’re not trying to convince anyone of anything, right? You’re just presenting the story, the narrative, and coming up with the facts as best you can, getting a balanced viewpoint. PR is not the opposite, but obviously, you’re trying to get the word out about your brand, share the benefits, manage any kind of crisis communications. But I would say bringing journalistic elements into marketing and PR is very useful, and one example of that is just writing very clearly and concisely, getting to the point, especially I find this in press releases very useful, rather than having sort of fluffy language, which you can see sometimes in some communications, I found it very effective to take a journalistic approach, you know, get to the point, get to the implications, be very upfront about any limitations, but also clear about the benefit of the research or the discovery. So it’s sort of a balancing act, I would say, between maybe pure PR and pure journalism. It’s kind of this in-between where you want to promote your institution, share all the great things about it, but in a very clear and effective way.

Andreea Borcea:
That’s really interesting. I’ve kind of been seeing marketing, communication, kind of skewing that way. Like I feel like 15, 20 years ago it was very fluffy. It’s a lot of like amazing and revolutionary, innovative. How many things are there being innovative? So are you seeing that as your career is progressing with the more recent writing you’ve been doing, is it still kind of sticking into kind of what you said journalism is? It’s just like keeping it very just succinct, true, or is there still a bit of polish that you find that you need to do to effectively communicate out?

Kristina Grifantini:
I think it’s both. I think people really, both the general public, media appreciate kind of that clear forward writing, but at the same time, sometimes some of that, what we call fluffier language is actually helpful for understanding why a technical discovery might be really important ten years later, how it would affect your life as the everyday consumer. And I try to instruct that, I oversee writers, and I’ve coached quite a few writers and I’ve seen kind of the range, but really hitting that sweet spot of being conversational, not too technical, but also pretty clear and engaging is what we aim for.

Andreea Borcea:
Nice, with science in particular, well, actually, probably with health too, how do you determine the audience you want to speak to and how to speak to them? Because I can imagine, like if you’re speaking to someone with 20 years research experience, it can be a lot more jargon, heavy probably, and very data-driven if you’re speaking to the average consumer, but someone that needs to understand the science in a more, I don’t know, human way, like how do you determine what to write to which audience when you’re developing this out?

Kristina Grifantini:
Right, so one thing I really enjoy about my job is that it’s very public facing. So typically our audience is almost always general public, but also media, also potential collaborators, donors. So there’s a wide range that we typically target, and I think of all those audiences, everyone appreciates a quick, clean read, a reminder of what jargons may be, so we always keep in mind when we develop our content that the reader may not know all of the technical scientific jargon. So we want to always strip that out as much as possible, and that’s where editing comes in to make sure any technical term is well defined, even if we know our audience is somewhat sophisticated and probably knows basic scientific terms, you know, it’s nice to have that reminder in there, I think people appreciate it. Especially the journalist who’s reading it quickly, who may not exactly remember what does RNA do, we try to find everything.

Andreea Borcea:
I get that, yeah, especially because probably, journalists, since you are on that side, get hit with a lot of PR requests, right? So I guess, do you have any advice for any companies that are trying to get in front of a journalist? Like how should they be writing? How should they be reaching out so that they can actually get some traction?

Kristina Grifantini:
That’s a good question and always a challenge. You know, as you say, journalists are inundated with press releases constantly. I think cold calling is probably a thing of the past, I don’t know anybody who appreciates a cold call unless you’ve built that relationship. You know, I would say do your research as much as possible. If the journalist has done a recent article that’s relevant, definitely call that out in your pitch, try to customize it. You know, typically we will do maybe one follow-up, but again, it’s a balance of not wanting to pester to the point of annoyance, but also knowing your email might have fallen through the cracks. You know, I would be careful about over-pestering on social media, that sort of thing. And in the end, you know, they may love your pitch, but they have editors, they have other stories they’re balancing. So sometimes it’s not about you and the pitch, right? It’s about their workload. But I think anybody would say the relationships are really key, so wherever you can, networking events, reaching out, telling them you appreciate an article they read, you know, all those relationship-building tactics are very helpful and it helps you as well be more effective with your job because you’ll know what reporter might be interested in your story.

Andreea Borcea:
I like that, I also like that you called out that don’t feel bad if you don’t get picked because there’s other things. Sometimes it has nothing to do with you, right? But relationship building, I feel like a lot of marketing, communications in health, wellness, and science is also about building that relationship with the audience. So how do you write so that people can feel like you care about them in the writing, that they’re reading that, that you do have a connection with them, that you’re not just profit, profit, profit, profit?

Kristina Grifantini:
Right, and I think honestly, again, it’s a little easier coming from the institutional representation as opposed to a company that’s slightly different, but I think there are similar tactics. One, I think is the quality of the writing, again, the quality of the press release, by taking time to make sure it’s well edited, it’s well defined, that is already conveying to any reader that you appreciate their time, you’re giving them a quality product to read. I think stating things in a straightforward way, so what are the implications of this discovery or product, but also what are the caveats? What is, maybe it’s a time limitation, maybe there’s more experiments that need to be done. I think presenting that helps build trust, and just being straightforward.

Andreea Borcea:
Yeah, that comes back to the not too much fluff. I think everyone’s gotten skeptical of fluff. When do you think that a company should reach out to a more professional writer or connect and start bringing in someone to handle communications as they evolve their health and wellness brand if they’re if they’re a little younger?

Kristina Grifantini:
I actually think it’s never too early. I mean, presumably, the website would need to go up. You’d want to start your social marketing well before you have any product, and a good writer can help with all of that, especially if they know how to address kind of that external audience. You know, some writers have more of a technical expertise which can be very useful for certain kinds of technical writing, but it’s, I think, important to also know that writing to the public is its own skill. And, you know, technical writers can develop that skill fairly easily, but it does take a little bit of work to understand how do you do a typical press release? What are common social marketing tactics? Kind of that whole realm.

Andreea Borcea:
Yeah, I always wonder if it’s, I feel like you want to start with kind of like that core writer, somebody that can really tell your story well and understand your brand and connect with your audience, and then you can figure out the nuances of the technical versus the social, because those are very different.

Kristina Grifantini:
Right, exactly.

Andreea Borcea:
Is there any journalist or publication or writing that you’ve seen that’s just really caught your eyes like, wow, this is really capturing how one should communicate science effectively?

Kristina Grifantini:
You know, there are so many great science journalists. It is sort of a shrinking field, sadly, just as specialties in journalism have been kind of evaporating over the last few years as journalism struggles a little bit in some sense, and science journalism is definitely one that goes first. Specialties in science are usually cut out before other beat reporters, but for a great example of more feature writing, Ed Young at The Atlantic is really, really excellent. He just brings together all these different perspectives, he brings a voice that is very powerful, he is just kind of the perfect example of, I think, ideal science writing.

Andreea Borcea:
Nice, I love that. So as, on the work you’re doing now and where you kind of see the future of communication and marketing going in science, health, and wellness, do you see us skewing in a certain direction? Do you see anything that companies, hospitals, etc. should be paying attention to as they communicate into the future?

Kristina Grifantini:
You know, I think the first thing that comes to mind is social marketing and this whole idea of misinformation-disinformation, a lot of companies are trying to figure out how to deal with that. In my work, we do work around infectious disease, we do cancer research, we do vaccine research, so we try to become a voice of authority, we try to present correct information all the time, but things will be taken and be skewed, and being able to quickly address anything like that, any kind of misinformation attempts from others on your work, I think is really important. And so having kind of crisis communication plans in place for when a viral tweet starts becoming a headache for the company. And I think a lot of places are thinking about that, but there’s almost never too much prep you can do, there’s, it’s just, always seems a risk, and with the shifting social media landscape, it’s important to be on top of that. For example, how do you deal with an account that’s impersonating your brand, especially if there aren’t easy checkmarks in place to report it? And those are kind of new and emerging questions as well that I think companies need to be thinking about.

Andreea Borcea:
I 100% agree. Social, I think has always been a bit of a scary place for health, wellness, science, and I think they avoided it at first, but then it’s unavoidable. But for platforms like Twitter where you’re limited to the number of characters, how do you ensure that something isn’t taken out of context, or how like, what’s the process to actually develop out what would be a tweet with an organization that you’re in because obviously legal or regulatory get involved, like who, how does this whole thing work to actually produce 140 characters or less piece of content?

Kristina Grifantini:
Right, and I’m sure different companies have different processes. For a research institution, we typically don’t have the regulatory legal concerns to the same level as a company putting out a new product, and our tweets can be fairly straightforward, like, here’s our new discovery based on the press release headline or first paragraph that has already been vetted and checked, that’s pretty straightforward. When it comes to more, when it comes to a gray area or where there’s any kind of concern that something might be misinterpreted, then I definitely recommend checking with the legal group, checking with any faculty or scientist or stakeholder who might be involved, and just make sure there are no concerns that you yourself might not have thought of.

Andreea Borcea:
Yeah, definitely. Do you feel like there’s either an obligation or pressure to be on every single social media platform, especially as new ones emerge all the time? Is that like something that anyone in the health and wellness space should really feel like, oh, this is just a must?

Kristina Grifantini:
Yeah, that’s a tough question because it sort of depends on your goals and who you’re trying to reach, right? Because all the audiences are a little different. And it’s interesting to parse those specific audiences for your brands. So one thing companies and groups can do is, is try the different networks and see where you’re getting good reach, see what’s resonating. There’s also advertising in those social networks that can be powerful. So I guess my suggestion would be to try the social network, see what makes sense, see what the ROI is. You know, TikTok is one example, right? I think a lot of groups have thought, oh, should we try TikTok? Is it worth it? And that’s one where you sort of need a unique tactic or perspective, or somebody who likes to be on camera, almost like who likes to act in their spare time, those tend to do really well. So that’s not for everyone. Somewhere like LinkedIn, I think that one’s pretty obvious, there’s, it’s the premier professional space. Twitter, you know, the challenge with not having a presence on Twitter is then you risk having these impersonators, right? So now it’s almost become a pressure to try to be on there. So it’s a tough question when it comes to Twitter, but I would say for the other ones, definitely experiment, try it, if it doesn’t work out, you know, not a big deal.

Andreea Borcea:
But at least now you’ve got a presence there so people know that you exist, even if you’re just posting once, just to say I’m here.

Kristina Grifantini:
You can say that in your profile, right? Like more active on Instagram or whatever.

Andreea Borcea:
Yeah, yeah, no, that sounds like really good advice, especially, I mean, tell me if you feel this, but I feel like more and more consumers and professionals actually are finding and looking for information on various social networks, sometimes even prioritizing over news networks, depending on where their news source is, given that it does feel like you have to have a strong communication strategy across all of these channels. So do you have any advice for anyone that’s trying to build out a communication strategy on both professional communication, like actual articles all the way through social?

Kristina Grifantini:
That’s a very broad question. Do you mean like, which social networks might fit with their strategic plan or?

Andreea Borcea:
When any sort of health and wellness organization is trying to plan out their communication, what do you think are the absolute must haves? So they absolutely must have a social strategy. They absolutely must have a press strategy. They must have a website strategy, blog, like what absolutely must be checked off? Regardless if they’re a small hospital in Idaho, if they’re a startup out of Silicon Valley or if they’re a massive research institution.

Kristina Grifantini:
Yeah, that’s a great question. So as you mentioned, social strategy is key, website strategy, these are kind of the basic building blocks, right? Press strategy, crisis communication strategy, a lot of places don’t really have that and you don’t want to be building that out after something’s happened. And it can be pretty basic, addressing what happens if there’s a disaster at your location, if there’s some kind of legal issue, you know, just have those basics, a checklist of what you would do in those cases, because often it’s important to act fairly quickly, so a crisis communication plan. I would say one thing I’ve also noticed is important to have that is often an afterthought is your spokesperson. So who, which scientist, which doctor likes to be in front of media and is good at being in front of media, and how can you also help support them and train them? So that is super helpful and generally, and at least more than one, in case that first person is not available, that will be really essential when you’re reaching out to press, especially if they have a quick deadline, so I would probably fold that into the press strategy. And multimedia is also one that ties to social, right? How are you going to acquire assets tied to video, to imagery? Those are essential for pretty much all types of communication. You know, are you going to do a podcast? What other strengths can you bring to the communication space and what makes sense for your brand?

Andreea Borcea:
Awesome, awesome. Any last parting thoughts for anyone that needs to concern themselves with their communication? Finding a good writer or finding a good partner in their communication?

Kristina Grifantini:
So in terms of finding good writers, I highly recommend the National Association of Science Writers, there’s a lot of freelancers on there, there’s a great job board, that is my go-to spot for finding science writers. There are also a lot of local chapters and science writing groups, and there you can find journalists turned science writers, you can find a broad range of skills, and as we talked about before, it’s never too early to bring on a science writer or someone to think about how to message or content, how to best represent your brands. Those are conversations that often happen kind of too late, so I would recommend as early as possible is a good approach.

Andreea Borcea:
Wonderful advice. Well, thank you so much for being on the podcast. It’s been a lovely conversation. Once again, for everyone listening, this is Kristina Griffantini, who’s Director of Scientific Communications and Marketing. If you want to learn more about her, you can reach out on LinkedIn. Are there any other websites you’d advise that they view?

Kristina Grifantini:
Sure, I have a website. It’s KristinaG.com, so you don’t have to type out my whole last name. Also on Twitter and the socials.

Andreea Borcea:
Wonderful, and once again, I’ve been your host, Andreea Borcea, CMO of Dia Creative. Thanks, everyone for listening.

Andreea Borcea:
Thanks again for listening to Marketing Mondays. If you have any marketing questions at all, feel free to reach out to me directly at DiaCreative.com. That’s D I A Creative.com.

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Things You’ll Learn:

  • Journalism emphasizes getting at the truth, telling the story, and being objective with the facts and a balanced viewpoint.
  • PR cares about making a brand known, sharing its benefits, and managing any crisis in communications.
  • To effectively communicate scientific information it is ideal to be clear, concise, and engaging without using too much technical jargon.
  • Journalists are constantly flooded with press releases, so when they don’t get back at writers, it doesn’t necessarily reflect on the quality of their work.
  • A lot of marketing communications in health, wellness, and science are about building a relationship with the target audience.
  • Delivering quality content is key to gaining people’s trust.
  • It’s never too early to hire a professional writer, as having your social marketing well before you have any product can prove to be very helpful.
  • Have crisis communication plans and a spokesperson prepared in advance.
  • When figuring out which social networks to be present in, try each and see which fits best.
  • The National Association of Science Writers is a great place to find good writers.

Resources:

  • Connect and follow Kristina Grifantini on LinkedIn
  • Follow Scripps Research on LinkedIn.
  • Visit Kristina’s Website!
  • Discover the Scripps Research Website!
  • Visit the Dia Creative Website for solutions to any of your marketing needs.