Good Deeds Create Positive Images

Positive Stories Enhance Brand Reputations

An oft-quoted Buddhist koan states: If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?

The same holds true for companies (as well as individuals) who perform acts of goodwill in their communities or provide other support for worthy endeavors as they seek to manage their brand reputations. Unless you can make people aware of the good deed you’re doing, how can you expect to get credit for it in the public eye?

As a general rule, people like to read or hear about people or organizations who are active in community outreach – or even a good deed that has an original aspect to it.  Even so, there must be some kind of compelling message in order to make your story connect with your intended audience.

Developing the Story

Any number of factors might be taken into consideration when trying to develop your story.

Who is your audience? What’s the purpose of the story – what are you trying to accomplish? What makes this story different from other, similar stories? Is there some greater meaning or issue to which you can tie your story? How will this impact your brand reputation? If your story involves some special event that you want media to cover, do the timing and location make it easy for media to attend? Another factor – one that rarely can be controlled – is what other news stories are taking place that same day.

By way of example – one of our clients, a leading national hospice and palliative care provider, sponsors an organization-wide “Gift of a Day” program that tries to bring to life each patient’s personal vision of what their own perfect day might be.

Each year, the company undertakes dozens, if not hundreds, of such Gift of a Days at its multiple locations across the country. Not all the gifts are media-worthy – in fact, many of the patients/recipients and their families prefer to keep the affair private. Many of the gifts are simple – a meal at a restaurant with family or friends, a rare trip to the beauty salon, a visit with a favored pet. Others are a little more involved – concert tickets for a favorite performer, a chance to ride in a vintage car or truck, a visit with a noted celebrity.

Telling the Story

Recently, social workers at one of the company’s 11 locations arranged for their patient to be taken for a last airplane ride over his beloved Kansas fields in a vintage World War II biplane. What made the gift especially poignant was the fact that the patient had served his country as a Navy pilot during World War II, and later during the Korean and Vietnam war eras. He was also a local man, born and bred in the community that he still called home. Thus, the event was both a “gift” to the patient, and a community outreach effort to engage citizens in honoring a patriotic local veteran who had given many years of service to his country.

The media advisory highlighted his patriotic service and also offered some stunning photos of the same biplane during previous flights. The flight itself was scheduled for early Saturday afternoon on Labor Day Weekend. This would give local TV news crews enough time to do filming, interviews and get back to the station to edit and prep for the late afternoon or evening news.

The patient’s daughter helped with the logistics, and also provided a touching on-camera interview describing what the gift meant to her father. It also helped that the patient himself was lucid, communicative, and even displayed a whimsical sense of humor as the cameras rolled during the time he was being strapped in for his upcoming flight.

Spreading the Word

Several local TV stations indicated interest in covering the story. But because it was a weekend, fewer camera crews were available than normal. One was all that was needed, though. The local Kansas City Fox affiliate, @fox4kc, came out to film the event, and interview the patient and his daughter, as well as a spokesperson for our hospice client. That night, the story aired on the 10:00 news featuring the interviews as well as footage of the vintage biplane performing in flight.

It was a colorful, heart-warming story – one that paid tribute to a local hero while giving credit to our client for arranging the happy event. In a matter of hours the story was picked up by the Fox national news desk and distributed to affiliates across the nation, including several of our client’s other service regions – thus reinforcing the company brand far beyond the one local market. In addition, several website storytellers adapted the story for their own affiliated networks, including CNN and Accu-Weather news amalgamators. All told, the story resulted in more than 43 million reader and viewer impressions ranging from Hawaii to the East Coast and even beyond.

It was a great experience – for everyone involved. What began as a good deed in a local market became a great national news story that warmed hearts and enhanced our client’s brand reputation throughout the country.

Timing is Key for Student Volunteers

Earned Media Can Build Enthusiasm

Many healthcare organizations rely on volunteers. Often they are a bulwark in the ongoing challenge to provide care and comfort to patients in need. Finding and recruiting great volunteers requires a well-planned effort that should include earned media outreach.

In the U.S., the importance of volunteering and the underlying commitment to service and community remains strong. Services provided by volunteers are of considerable importance not only to individual patients but to the health care system in general. In the world of hospice, for example, Medicare rules require providers to have at least five percent of their services delivered by volunteers. That’s why it’s vital to have a steady supply – earned media can help draw new volunteer applicants.

Timing is Critical

If you are looking for student volunteers who can offer a long-term commitment (e.g., several days a week for several months) then the summer months – after spring term final exams are finished – are ideal. But don’t wait until then to begin your outreach program. Students who are serious about landing a preferred summer position likely will begin investigating their options right after winter break. (And frankly, students who display such a conscientious commitment will likely make the best volunteers.)

When we undertake earned media campaigns specifically to attract student volunteers on behalf of our healthcare clients, we typically begin in February. That gives us time to cover our bases – including PSAs for local radio and TV, if appropriate; outreach via the community or local news sections of local papers; hyper-local news sites such as Patch, or Topics. Social media also plays a key role – Facebook and Twitter feeds are ideal avenues for reaching interested followers who can alert would-be volunteers or make recommendations. In addition, specialized websites such as VolunteerMatch.com can be a catalyst for attracting new volunteers to your organization.

Targeting Volunteers

Particularly in healthcare settings, organizations require that volunteers be at least 16 years old; pass a criminal background check and drug screening; and be able to show proof of immunizations, PPD shots, flu shots, and undergo orientation and training.

Student volunteers of high school or college age can be a tremendous source of energetic and enthusiastic helpers.  But how do you reach them?

  • Understand what’s most important to them. Typically, student volunteers will have a high level of curiosity about healthcare professions, an interest in learning how to be of service to a healthcare provider or a community organization, or perhaps they are looking to satisfy community service requirements required by some schools. Understanding their motivation will help you craft a more effective outreach message.

 

  • Tell Them What’s Expected. In crafting your outreach message, it’s important to be upfront about what is expected in terms of time commitment and what kinds of duties they will be fulfilling. Our hospice client asks students to be willing to donate as little as 45 minutes per week. But what they will get in return is generally much more valuable (a theme emphasized in the earned media effort) – the ability to fulfill community service hour requirements, hone their social abilities, boost self-confidence and develop new skills. Often, volunteers are simply asked to be present with patients – sharing favorite activities like reading, card games, playing music, or arts and crafts. Volunteers can also handle vital but often overlooked duties such as running errands and providing respite for family members.

 

  • Make It Easy. In today’s web-based world, you should make as much information as possible about the volunteer experience – including an online application – available in an easy-to-find location on your organization’s website. Be sure to include the links in your news releases and PSAs. This will also help drive traffic to your website as well as provide the media with a reason to provide link-backs to your site. Also make sure to provide the name and contact information of an individual who can respond promptly to questions and provide additional details that a would-be volunteer may have.

Volunteering can be a rewarding experience – for both the volunteers and the organizations that sponsor them. Attracting the best volunteers is similar to attracting great customers. To be successful, you first need to understand their needs, and develop a creative and comprehensive outreach program that fully exploits earned media to attract them to what hopefully be a mutually rewarding relationship.

Published September 19, 2017 by Spryte Communications in Public Affairs

When Things Go Wrong in your Media Event

Planning can make all the difference – most of the time

There are many considerations when arranging a media event for your hospital or health system. It’s really not unlike a wedding reception. You spend a great amount of time on planning and want everything to be just right. The naïve believe that anything can be accomplished with proper planning. Realists, meanwhile, roll their eyes and know that it’s impossible to anticipate every little detail. This is where goals meet reality – where the rubber meets the road so to speak.

Anyone who has ever engaged a planner and thrown a big party such as a wedding reception can probably attest that months of planning cannot guarantee everything goes just right. Same holds true for media events. This is not to say that planning is futile. It just means that you have to be prepared for some unplanned circumstance. And if something bad happens, don’t fight it. Consider the instructions for being caught in a rip tide: swim parallel to the beach until you are out of it.

If something goes wrong, rise above it!

Recently, a series of media events in and around Philadelphia was effectively shut down by protestors. The noise-makers were afforded the freedom to protest, even though it negated best-laid plans and ensured the events would make the news for all the wrong reasons. In cases like this, the instinct may be to try and remedy the situation, but be careful not to make matters worse. For example, stepping in to try and stop protesters would make for great TV news video but could be dangerous and quite possibly damaging to your organization’s reputation.

Fortunately, strong planning can eliminate many problems. Basic considerations when planning a media event include venue, time, audience, guests, refreshments, security, media coverage, competing events, spokespeople, audio/video, promotion (before/during/after), and measurement. It may be a great time of year to hold an outdoor event. Go for it! Just be sure to have a backup plan. We recently had to move a sponsorship announcement indoors due to rain (the forecast 24 hours prior looked perfect).

Soon after identifying the need for a media event, conduct a kick off meeting where you can list all of the considerations. From that list, assign responsibilities.

Do not go it alone!

Try to set the date at least a week in advance in order to properly plan and execute. Try to conduct brief daily meetings so the team can report on preparations and identify problem areas. We understand the world doesn’t always afford a week. While it’s possible to condense the preparation window, know that some things may be off the table (bye bye ice sculptures and VIP guests!).

Huddle up, discuss, rinse/repeat

Finally, when your (hopefully successful) event is over, call the team back together for a lessons-learned meeting, or what the government calls a “hot wash.” This is often overlooked but EXTREMELY IMPORTANT. This meeting will allow you to measure success and identify missed opportunities. One example from personal experience: everything goes perfectly until the Q&A session at the end. Crickets. The lesson learned: have a few canned questions ready to go in the audience for such an occasion.

Be sure to formalize all of the lessons in writing it and refer to them the next time you plan an media event. This protocol can also be used for other occasions such as town halls or other high-profile events.

With a little lead time and lots of thought, you will be able to conduct a successful event while keeping stress levels down.