What’s Scarier than Being Unknown?

Your Facility Needs to Have a Voice!

Today is Halloween and a day for ghost stories and tales of things that go bump in the night. Scary stuff! But we are prepared to discuss something far darker and sinister. Politics? Well, scary for sure, but what we’re focused on today is anonymity. Eek!

It’s true. In healthcare there is nothing more haunting than being known for nothing or worse – not being known at all. That’s as woeful as a funeral dirge.

That brings us to external communication or, dare we say – marketing. For some, the word “marketing” elicits fear and/or visions of snake oil salesmen. We live in a world where it’s tough to escape. From the moment we wake until the moment we sleep we are bombarded with sponsored content. Truth is that some of us even see ads or hear that catchy jingle in our sleep, so that domain’s not even safe. In a perfect world we would not need marketing. In the days of old Transylvania, there may have been just one place to go for a transfusion (well, two if you “count” Dracula’s Castle). There was no need for marketing or differentiation. You had a “captive” patient base bereft of choices.

Today is altogether different. Choices abound. Hospitals, outpatient facilities, rehabilitation centers and urgent care centers can be found on almost every other block. There has never been a greater need to communicate through outlets such as earned media and your organization’s web site, blogs, podcasts, social media, etc.

Every Healthcare Organization is Unique

You may ask, “what do I say?” It’s a fair question. But it’s tough to imagine a facility without a story, one that only you can tell. It’s true that while there are similarities between facilities, there are also things that make you unique. Start there. There is an old marketing axiom that says “Promote the category you are No. 1 in. And if you don’t have one, create one.” You may have a piece of technology that no one else in the city/state/region/country has or you may have an affiliation that no one else can claim. Maybe it’s an independent survey that ranked you tops in patient satisfaction. In the advertising world that would be called your USP – or unique selling proposition. That thing only you can claim and the reason people will want your services.

Don’t Forget the Pictures!

Not to be lost in all of this is photography. While we can’t be sure the actual worth of a picture is 1,000 words, the appeal for visuals cannot be denied. But again, be unique. It’s blood-curdling to see a competitor using the same photo as you on a website, in an ad or social media posting. It’s enough to make you scream or want to die (or for you zombies, “die again”). It’s not cheap, but spend the money on a photo shoot. If planned and done right it will more than pay for itself.

Be True to Who You Are

Through all of this be sure to represent your brand. There’s that word again, about as well understood as the afterlife. It has taken on a life of its own and is often misconstrued. Branding is what people think or feel when they hear your name; it’s what your organization stands for and lives/breathes every day. It can be supported in your external communication efforts but never created there. Sound bites with the media, blog posts, podcasts, social media postings, news releases, etc. should all have messaging that is created with the brand in mind. A true test of this is how your message resonates with employees and stakeholders. If viewed positively by them, you have done your organization a service by supporting the brand.

Don’t be Just Another Clone

Again, dare to be different. Stand alone. Don’t try to be someone else. We have all seen movies about clones – they’re pretty creepy. Don’t be a clone. Be unique – set your organization apart.

How to Write an Obituary: Preparing a Lasting Tribute

A Good Obituary Remembers the Living as Well as Those Lost

At times in our professional careers – and in our personal lives – we may be called upon to craft an obituary for a professional acquaintance, colleague, friend or loved one.

As a communications consulting firm, we have worked with hospice clients in developing appropriate guidelines for such sensitive messages. In addition, we occasionally are asked to put together such tributes on behalf of a company executive, board member or respected volunteer who has passed.

It can be a daunting challenge – where to start?

Contemplating one simple question can serve as a practical starting point:  How would you like to be remembered?

At its most fundamental level, an obituary serves several functions. It’s a notification that someone has passed. It’s an account of the life they’ve lived, as well as the range of people whose lives they’ve touched – not only extended family but special friends, acquaintances and others. It also provides important news and directions for planned services or funeral arrangements. Sometimes it can contain special thanks to caregivers or friends who were there in a time of need. It might also be an opportunity to suggest where charitable donations can be given in a loved one’s memory.

Moving Beyond the Basic

Still, at its best, an obituary is a tribute to a life well-lived and a person well-loved.

Remember that you’re not just reporting information. You’re telling the story of someone’s life. Of course to do that, you’ll need to gather basic information.

By talking with loved ones you should be able to get the basics: age, occupation, education, military service, where they were born, places they lived.

Try to get an appreciation of their lives by looking through different lenses. What were their interests? What sports or hobbies did they enjoy? What about community involvement or faith-based activity?  What charity events did they promote or support? What were their most important or impressive accomplishments?

Adding Some Color

Instead of a formal interview, you may find that family members or friends will respond better in more relaxed conversations. Give them time to think and reminisce in an informal, comfortable setting. Get them to tell interesting stories about their interactions with the loved one who has passed. The goal is to give readers insights into what made that person special. Maybe it’s a special trait of character like a short fuse or a sense of humor that brings a smile to a loved ones’ face. Maybe they’ll talk about the individual’s sense of modesty, community-mindedness, generosity, love of travel and so on.

With those memories as your palette, try to paint a word picture of who this person was and what they meant to the world, their friends and their loved ones. Don’t just say that so-and-so was a good person. Show the reader by describing their interactions and the energy they put into those aspects of their lives they held most important.

As you round out the obituary, you’ll need to determine which family members to include – those who preceded them in death, as well as surviving relatives and other loved ones. How far back does the family want to go? Be extra careful about accidentally omitting people: grandparents (both sides, living as well as deceased), step-families, aunts and uncles, significant others, and of course, children, grandchildren and more, if needed.

Remember that those who are giving you information for the obituary have lots of other things on their mind. Be extra careful not to hurt anyone’s feelings with an unintended omission. Finally, find out if there is a specific charity or other cause the family wants to single out for memorial donations.

Adapting to Fit the Need

Consider creating several different versions/lengths for the obituary – a short one for a paid ad, and a longer one that could be used as a handout at the eulogy or funeral service. Check with your local newspaper for appropriate publishing lengths. With genealogy so popular, you might consider an even longer one to offer some family history, or to post on a website.

Also, make sure to proofread the finished work. Better yet, have a family member or other knowledgeable person review the finished copy for accuracy and completeness.

Dealing with Unfortunate Realities

Finally, keep in mind that, unfortunately, there are unscrupulous people in this world who look to prey on the vulnerable. Be careful about including information that might be used for identity theft, or that might make someone vulnerable for exploitation. Depending where you live, you may want to avoid identifying the address of the surviving spouse, or even the time of the funeral, as would-be burglars sometimes scan obituaries so they can target what they think will be an unwatched house.

The bottom line: be compassionate, be complete, but also be careful.

Published October 24, 2017 by Spryte Communications in Public Affairs

Harness the Exclusive

A Scoop Can Yield Results

When planning an earned media campaign for your organization, keep in mind the power of the exclusive. It can be used to forge a relationship with a reporter, or strengthen an existing one. And in our experience it might increase the odds of your news or story getting published or aired if the media outlet knows it is the only or first one who has the information.

At SPRYTE, we’ve cultivated many terrific relationships with healthcare writers both locally and in key trade publications and blogs. So when we have a strong story pitch or a timely news announcement for a client, one of the first things we ask ourselves is “Is there a key reporter we can offer this to as an exclusive?”

Usually, the answer will be obvious: that journalist whose outlet is most local or most relevant to the client. Other times, we’ll offer it to a friendly writer who previously covered the client. They might be one and the same, or they might be different.

A Laughing Matter: Nitrous Oxide

A recent example came when our client, a regional health system, became the first in the area to offer nitrous-oxide, aka laughing gas, to mothers laboring in the delivery room. Ni-Ox is a game-changer, as patients can personally control the flow of gas during active labor, and is completely safe for mother and child. It also hasn’t become widespread yet, so we knew there’d be interest.

We pitched a story including an in-person interview with the hospital’s director of women’s health, to the Bucks County Courier Times, a nearby daily with a readership that contributes a significant number of the hospital’s expectant mothers. The resulting story got prominent play in the paper’s health section, with multiple photos, and noted our client’s focus on giving patients more choices in their care.

But we were far from done. We then pitched the story to the Philadelphia Business Journal, the area’s most important business publication. As they don’t compete directly with the daily newspaper, we felt comfortable again offering it “exclusively.” That story ran three weeks after the other one.

And we are currently working with one of the local network affiliates on a story, which when it comes to fruition will be a local TV exclusive.

Because you’re putting all your marbles in one sack with this approach, it requires some patience, and it’s important to allow some time at the start of a campaign for this window of exclusivity, before going out with your news more broadly. Here are some other things to keep in mind when going this route:

Keep the needs of the media in mind. This might mean deferring to their timeline once you’ve made the offer (this is where the patience comes in).

Exclusive doesn’t mean “only.” Most journalists understand that it simply means they’re getting first crack, but others might follow. And they’re almost always fine with that.

Expand your view of “exclusive.” As we did with the Nitrous-Oxide news, we offered it as a daily newspaper exclusive, a business press exclusive, and a television exclusive. You can also offer an idea as:

  • A trade media exclusive
  • A radio exclusive
  • An online/blog exclusive
  • A local exclusive
  • A national news exclusive

You can even offer these simultaneously, as long as none of the outlets directly competes with one of the others.

Use exclusives strategically. If you offer them to the same reporter over and over, they might lose their luster, and you’re missing an opportunity to build other relationships. Also, there might be times when an exclusive is not appropriate, like when your client has vital or timely information. Examples include tips for protecting yourself during an epidemic, or how the organization is responding to a data breach or cyber-attack.

Keep your word. Once you make an exclusive offer, you are obligated to stand by it and not approach a competing media outlet with the same idea. Violate this at the risk of harming the relationship.

Follow up, but be ready to move on. Contact the journalist once or twice after you offer the exclusive, to gauge interest. If they waffle, or don’t respond, send a final note saying something like “if it’s OK, I’d like to go ahead and offer this idea to another publication as I haven’t heard definitively from you.” Wait one more day, then do it.

The medical exclusive can be a valuable tool when embarking on a campaign. If you manage it properly, it can be a win-win for the reporter and your organization.

Telehealth: Potential & Promise

E-records and video chats are only the beginning

Given recent events, finding common ground in a discussion over healthcare policy might sound like a fool’s errand.

But there’s one area that is garnering strong support from all sides – telehealth.  And its popularity continues to grow. For example, Kaiser Permanente, which began using telehealth on a national basis in 2006, reports that 52 percent of its patients (approximately 59 million) received telehealth treatment in 2016.

Telehealth is fast becoming a priority throughout the industry. In its “2017 U.S. Telemedicine Industry Benchmark Survey,” released last month, REACH Health, an enterprise telemedicine software company, reported that 51 percent of executives and caregivers surveyed considered telehealth a high priority. Another 36 percent said it was a medium priority. Only 13 percent ranked telehealth as a low priority.

For healthcare communicators, it is important for us to have an understanding of key issues impacting our industry – and how they are likely to affect our own organizations, partners, clients, patients, and others that play a role in our business or service enterprises.

The Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) defines telehealth as “the use of electronic information and telecommunications technologies to support and promote clinical healthcare, patient and professional health-related education, public health and health administration.”

The Potential of Telehealth

Exponents in telehealth believe it will help point the way to achieving a number of long-sought goals, including:

  • Improving access to healthcare
  • Making healthcare delivery more efficient
  • Enhancing providers’ ability to coordinate care and securely share patient information
  • Reducing hospitalizations and in-person clinic visits by enabling patients to be monitored or receive care and counseling “distantly” without having to make a physical visit to a doctor’s office or hospital (something that is particularly important in under-served rural areas)
  • Reducing costs – because telehealth services can be delivered more efficiently

Telehealth and Telemedicine

While people may use the terms telehealth and telemedicine interchangeably, there are distinctions that can be made. Telehealth is a broad term that includes a wide range of remote healthcare services and technologies, including non-clinical services such as providing healthcare information, education and training for health professionals and health consumers. Telehealth also includes health systems management via internet and telecommunications applications.

By comparison, telemedicine is a more clinically focused subset of telehealth that primarily focuses on the use of electronic communications and software applications to provide clinical services to patients without an in-person visit.

Embracing the Future

Recently a number of healthcare providers have announced that they are actively adopting and investing in telehealth services.

Earlier this year, The Philadelphia Business Journal announced a new joint effort between Griswold Home Care, (Full disclosure: A SPRYTE client) a home care provider with over 200 office locations in 33 states, and telehealth services provider Teladoc. The aim: to give Griswold clients 24/7 access to talk to a doctor or get a diagnosis over the telephone. The Teladoc physicians can diagnose and recommend treatment for a range of medical conditions, including colds and flu, allergies, bronchitis, rashes, and respiratory or sinus ailments, as well as provide short-term prescription refills.

Earlier this month, NJBIZ reported that Vanguard Medical Group had partnered with virtual care company Zipnosis to create a new online diagnosis and treatment service that a Vanguard spokesman described as “the wave of the future.” The new program comes on the heels of recently enacted New Jersey legislation (S291) that authorizes healthcare providers to engage in telemedicine and telehealth as a type of treatment covered by insurance.

Increased Government Support

It might sound surprising given the recent volatile debate over national healthcare reform, but support for telehealth is something on which members of both parties have expressed enthusiastic support. At the end of September, Senate Republicans and Democrats unanimously passed legislation called the Creating High-Quality Results and Outcomes Necessary to Improve Chronic Care (CHRONIC) Act of 2017.

The purpose of the CHRONIC Act is to enable Medicare-accountable care organizations to expand the utilization of telehealth services, incorporate wider telehealth benefits in Medicare Advantage plans and expand the use of virtual care for stroke and dialysis patients.

Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) the prime sponsor of the bill, said the legislation would “improve disease management, lower Medicare costs and streamline care coordination services.”

Meanwhile, his counterpart, Sen. Ron Wyden, (D-Oregon), lauded the bill for placing a stronger focus on primary care by providing “more care at home and less in institutions. It will expand the use of lifesaving technology,” he said.

A Promising Future

In recent years there has been a continuing evolution of the healthcare provider model into one that is more individual patient-focused and results-oriented. Telehealth is helping to support this evolution by providing a practical means for physicians to treat and counsel patients at a distance, efficiently, economically, and in a collaborative way with fellow medical professionals.

Telehealth has been, and will continue to serve a key role in fulfilling the promise of these initiatives, particularly as healthcare providers’ interest in deinstitutionalized care models such as community-based urgent care facilities, virtual medical centers, mobile health programs and remote clinical services continues to grow.

As healthcare communicators, we’re accustomed to serving many masters – from hospital administrators to clinicians to volunteers to patients to government regulators, and more. As telehealth continues to roll forward, it will be more important and more challenging than ever to work with these often widespread and disparate groups to ensure that your messaging is clear and consistent across all communications channels, and that interested parties have access to timely and accurate information.

Facebook Live

The Tactic of the Hour

SPRYTE Communications was lucky to attend PRNews’  “Big 4 Social Media Conference” in San Francisco in August. Of course, Facebook is one of the big four.  Facebook Live was the topic of one of the sessions and discussed in at least three others.

We realized on the plane back to Philly that there was a lot of conflicting guidance, especially related to three points:

  1. Advance Notice: One of the presenters said, if you’re going to go to the trouble of producing a Facebook Live session, you should start talking about it far in advance so as many viewers as possible plan to tune in. Another quipped, don’t talk about it in advance, let people find and delight in it in the moment. Still another recommended hyping early the day of and up until the video rolls. 
  1. Production Quality: Is it a fleeting moment in time where poor production quality is proof of your authenticity or, because you’re a fierce guardian of your brand with evolved standards, should the production quality reflect your brand’s high quality? 
  1. The Why: Does the organization truly have a strategy for Facebook Live and why they allot the resources to produce them? Or, do they just have resources they’re throwing around because they can afford to be experimental? At the Conference, we spent 15 minutes watching a video of two Buzzfeed staffers putting rubber bands around a watermelon until it burst all over the company kitchen. This was an example of Buzzfeed connecting with its audience and showing rather than telling its brand promise to entertain millennials.

As part of its work on behalf of the City of Philadelphia, SPRYTE collaborated recently with the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) on a media information event for the purpose of a major news announcement. While SPRYTE encouraged broadcast and print media to cover the event, AACR’s digital communications staff was on the scene with lights, camera and sound producing a Facebook Live session complete with interviews. And in case you missed it, you can find it archived on AACR’s Facebook page. The ability to archive videos on your Facebook page is another reason to consider Facebook Live.

As SPRYTE works with its healthcare clients to plan their 2018 communications programs, Facebook Live is a tactic we will likely recommend, if it’s a good way to bring one of our business strategies to life and we can measure the outcomes.