Employees are the Best Ambassadors

Enjoy Awareness, Credibility and Endorsement

This week, we are revisiting our previous blog post about why employees can be the best brand ambassadors for healthcare organizations.

The healthcare industry is governed by rules under a whole host of government agencies, including the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), Food & Drug Administration (FDA) and Health & Human Services (HHS). You’re already challenged with getting content approved for your brand or company’s own channels. Knowing the implications of a Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) violation or FTC misstep, why would you consider asking your employees to advocate for your company?

The short answer? The right employees are the best brand ambassadors, providing the kind of awareness, credibility and endorsement for your company or brand that can’t be bought. Consider the following:

  • Increased reach: Employees can reach patients in their social graph who might not be considering your brand – and might never seek out your website or social channels. Employees’ social media posts reach 561 percent further and are re-shared 24 times more than the same posts shared by a company’s social and owned channels.
  • Authenticity and credibility: Today’s health consumers shop for healthcare services the way they shop for other expensive purchases. Regardless of how healthcare evolves under the new Presidential administration, consumers will continue to have a lot more choice in who provides their healthcare. They are researching healthcare the way they do other services – seeking information online and soliciting the opinions of others. Half of all consumer buying decisions are influenced by word of mouth and according to one study, 92 percent of people trust recommendations from people they know.
  • Engagement: Across all industries, consumers are increasingly less interested in what companies have to say, favoring instead the opinions of influencers and the people behind the brand. A study released last year by Altimeter Group found that 21 percent of consumers said they “liked” employee posts about companies — an engagement rate comparable to or better than other social advertising campaigns at a much lower cost.
  • Addressing risks upfront and providing clear guidance to employees considerably mitigates risk: The biggest question is how to manage risk. And it should be. Once management buys into an employee ambassador plan, your first step will be partnering with your legal and medical team to anticipate possible negative scenarios and developing guidance on how to handle each one. You will need to make sure, for example, that programs comply with FTC regulations by having employees include a hashtag in all posts to make it clear that they are employees. You also will want to develop clear direction on adhering to HIPAA guidelines.

Getting your employee ambassador program up and running will take some work. But once you create guidelines and identify and train employees, our hope is that you will find the benefits far outweigh the risks.

Cultivating Relationships with Healthcare Journalists

Tips for Building Rapport and Becoming a Go-To Source

Capturing the attention of a healthcare reporter is the age-old challenge for health communications professionals. But, you can improve your odds if you remember the “relations” part of public relations.

In a past webinar hosted by the New England Society of Healthcare Communications (NESHCo), of which SPRYTE is a member, Jessica Bartlett, the healthcare reporter for the Boston Business Journal, shared her advice for building mutually beneficial relationships with reporters.

Her tips went beyond the healthcare industry; touching on, for example, simple ways to stay in contact with reporters so they’ll be more likely to read your next pitch.

These days, that means following the reporter on social media, primarily Twitter in Bartlett’s case, getting a sense of what kind of stories they write, and where their passions lie, both professionally and outside of the newsroom. Open a friendly dialogue, like and retweet their tweets (tagging the reporter), and above all, reach out occasionally when you’re NOT pitching a story, to share something of interest, or to compliment a recent story.

That’s a great way to build your creds as a friendly source, but with a growing universe of journalists covering every industry, it’s not practical with everyone. At a minimum, you should look at social media profiles and read recent articles by reporters you want to pitch.

Bartlett is not unlike other healthcare business writers in the topics she likes to cover. These include:

  • Growths/mergers/acquisitions
  • Hiring/layoffs
  • Groundbreaking science with business implications
  • Financial changes
  • Lawsuits
  • Policy proposals with large-scale ramifications
  • Executive changes
  • Local takes on national hot healthcare topics
  • Analysis of healthcare trends with large impact

Before sending the pitch, ask yourself whether your story will interest a large number of people, is healthcare-related, and above all, why it is important now? Bartlett noted she’s far more likely to open and consider a pitch, among the hundreds she receives weekly, when there’s a timely element.

Her point speaks to a reality of journalism: breaking news is always hot, while more “evergreen” stories — even those with merit — get relegated to the back burner. Although print deadlines and print publications are still foundational in our industry, daily e-mail blasts and the online publication need constant feeding, so timely content is always welcome – and prioritized.

Keep in mind a good journalist relationship should go both ways. The writer will know you’re “in the know” about your clients and can put her in touch with appropriate spokespeople quickly; and you’ll be more comfortable when responding to negative news or discussing controversial issues, like a strike or lawsuit.

Remember, too, that from the journalist’s point of view, being first is only second to being accurate. So, if you can respond quickly, preferably before anyone else, you’ll be much more likely to get your organization included. And the reporter will be more inclined to reach out to you the next time. That’s what media relations is all about.

The Power of Personnel Announcements

How to Tell Your Organization’s Story Through Personnel News

Smart business leaders know that any organization’s greatest asset is its people. Employees are the force that brings mission statements and balance sheets to life. When it comes to telling your story, promoting their successes can make for a most compelling lede.

The classic personnel announcement is one tried and true tactic. Announcing new hires, promotions and awards, and other achievements burnishes your organization’s brand and distinguishes it from your competitors.

Just as importantly, personnel announcements can enhance collegiality and corporate culture by sending a clear message that employees are valued and their accomplishments are worth celebrating. As such, they should be a key element of any internal communications strategy.

Getting Creative

That being said, it can be a bit challenging these days to leverage personnel announcements through earned media. Many media outlets – from local newspapers to national healthcare industry trade publications — that used to run “Personnel News” and business announcement columns now charge fees to run personnel announcements. The cost can make it prohibitive for non-profits and others with limited marketing budgets to share their news.

That’s when it pays to dig deeper to find interesting story angles that will turn a simple personnel announcement into a bigger story – something we did for client Home Care Associates’ (HCA) announcement of its new CEO, Tatia Cooper. In fact, we wrote a blog post previously about how we wove details of Ms. Cooper’s life and her family’s deep community involvement into our outreach for the announcement, which helped us tell a more meaningful story about HCA that local media outlets truly wanted to cover.

By finding those interesting angles – and leveraging them through an integrated earned, owned and social media campaign – healthcare communicators can make an otherwise straight-forward personnel announcement truly sing.

Putting the Pieces Together

SPRYTE recently was called upon to help a long-standing national client, Crossroads Hospice & Palliative Care, announce two senior leadership promotions. Crossroads is a leading provider of comprehensive hospice services to people with life-limiting illnesses and their caregivers. Headquartered in Tulsa, OK, Crossroads serves patients in their homes and long-term care facilities in 11 sites in seven states in the Midwest and Pennsylvania.

DeAnna Looper, one of Crossroads’ original employees at its founding in 1995, was named Chief Compliance Officer for Carrefour Associates, Crossroads’ management firm. In this newly created role, she oversees all clinical, legal and regulatory compliance operations across all 11 Crossroads sites.

Danny Cox, who joined Crossroads in 2011, advanced to Senior Vice President of Clinical Operations, the role previously held by DeAnna. Having successfully led the complex implementation of a new hospice-specific electronic medical record platform for all 11 Crossroads sites across two time zones, he is now responsible for the enterprise-wide integration of all clinical operations.

Both DeAnna and Danny are nurses by training and nurse educators with more than five decades’ combined experience in healthcare, education and administration. The basics make for an impressive personnel announcement, to be sure. Digging deeper revealed details that strengthen the internal message.

Crossroads is committed to continually innovating and shaping the way end-of-life care is viewed and administered. Having worked their way steadily through numerous positions over the years, building and growing the organization, both DeAnna and Danny are the embodiment of this mission. DeAnna, in particular, started as Crossroads’ first nurse and literally crafted the clinical model from the ground up alongside the founder and CEO.

Elevating these two longtime team members who were instrumental in making Crossroads the hospice leader it is today sent a powerful internal message that the company values the contributions of all employees, finds their achievements newsworthy, and lives its mission statement.

Rollout and Response

True to Crossroads’ promise to put its people first, SPRYTE activated its campaign with a personal message from the CEO to all employees. Across the system, every employee at every level was “first to know” the exciting and important news.

The official announcement was sent to a targeted list of regional business, newspapers and other media outlets, and earned coverage in national hospice industry and nursing trade publications.

DeAnna and Danny were each profiled on Crossroads’ popular blog, where employees, patients and families, the referring physician community and industry colleagues frequently turn for the latest news. Here they learned that Danny first felt his calling to the hospice philosophy of care when his own father was dying and no hospice services were readily available. And when DeAnna isn’t busy sorting through the complexities of hospice regulatory compliance, the lifelong Beatles fan can be found singing loudly and off-key to her grandchildren McCartney, Jett and Jade.

Capping off the campaign, the blogs and other communications were amplified across all of Crossroads’ social media channels, where they engaged an even wider audience.

The Takeaway

For healthcare communicators, the moral of the story is to think creatively. Beneath the simple personnel announcement, there are often stories that bring the corporate mission statement to life. By sharing them, you’re not only burnishing your brand, you’re sending a strong message internally that employees are valued and celebrated.

Make Your Media Event about Meaningful Stories

Transcend the Photo Op with Human-Interest Angles

This week, we’re revisiting our blog post about the importance of including heartfelt, human-interest stories when holding media events.

Every organization has media events, and everyone thinks theirs is special, different, or worthy of news coverage. The truth is, journalists have seen many of these happenings before, covered them ad nauseam, and maybe even ignore them altogether.

One way to entice cameras, of course, is creating a really great visual, something that they just can’t live without. But sometimes there’s nothing you can add visually, and some photo ops just don’t get reporters excited because they’ve been there, done that. That’s when it’s helpful to turn to the human story inside of your media event to generate great health system PR.

That party for underprivileged children? Not a big deal to jaded editors, but imagine if one of those kids is reunited with a military parent on leave during the party? We’ve seen these stories time and again, but there’s always interest because of the emotions involved.

Take a deep look at not only WHAT is happening at your media event, but WHO it is happening too. In any group, there’s usually one or two participants for whom the event is most meaningful. If you can find those people, and learn their backstories, you can more easily sell your event, because now it’s not merely a “photo op” but a human interest story.

A Love Story…Broken

Take our health system client’s recent “virtual dementia tour,” for example. This is a recurring opportunity for caregivers and family members to literally walk in the shoes of dementia patients, such as Alzheimer’s sufferers, seeing what they see and experiencing what they feel through special goggles, gloves, headphones and shoe inserts. The virtual dementia tour is provided by a handful of companies around the country, which contract with hospitals, hospice companies, nursing homes and other organizations to deliver the experience to those with an interest.

In our research, we found that TV stations and some newspapers have covered virtual dementia tours when they’ve occurred in other markets, and one or two even covered a prior event in this health system’s service area of Philadelphia. On the one hand, that meant there’s proven interest in the topic among the media. On the other, it’s not particularly new. So how could we excite the media for this latest tour?

Upon learning that one woman signed up for the dementia tour because her husband, a patient at our client’s assisted living facility, had Alzheimer’s and wanted to see what he was going through, we were sold, and we thought we’d be able to entice the media with it too. We were told she’d be happy to talk with a reporter, and even accompany one through the dementia experience for the cameras (within the constricts of what the tour provider allows, for proprietary reasons).

This couple had been married for 65 years, and the husband has been suffering from dementia for the past nine. This was her chance to better understand what goes on inside his head, particularly since he is no longer able to speak. A local television health reporter was intrigued, and she determined early in the process that her story about the virtual dementia tour would be focused on this woman. The reporter even requested still photos of the couple in better times, which the wife was happy to bring along.

Coverage was not only assured, but it was now a highlight of that evening’s newscast. While most photo ops might, at best, merit a 45-second voiceover, now that this was about people, rather than a high-tech, visual event, the result was a nearly three-minute feature story.

Build People into your Media Event Planning

When planning outreach for your media event, build into your plans the people who will be attending. Attempt to learn the following:

  • What motivates them to be there?
  • Why is this important to them?
  • What is their “backstory” as it relates to this event?
  • What will happen to them after the event, or how will things be different?

Not everyone’s going to have a relevant story, let alone one that might be newsworthy, so you might have to speak with several people, or staff or organizers who know some of them personally. But you’ll find it’s usually worth the effort.

It’s academic to say that all news is about people, but if you have a human face and a great story to complement an otherwise ordinary activity, your event becomes much more than an event.

Saluting Our Veterans

Begin Planning Now to Honor Those Who Served

Each year, on or about the eleventh of November (Veterans Day), organizations of many different stripes sponsor special ceremonies to honor our nation’s veterans.

It’s a time for solemn remembrances, heartfelt dedications, colorful flag presentations, and other kinds of patriotic demonstrations of support for those who served.

For many healthcare organizations, particularly those who provide medical care and other support services to aging veterans, the Veterans Day observance can provide irresistible opportunities to win community recognition and earned media coverage for planned ceremonies to honor those who served in the military.

Early Planning

As with any military-related operation, careful planning and logistics are in order.

One of SPRYTE’s national clients, Crossroads Hospice & Palliative Care, has been sponsoring veterans’ recognition events for many years. While many of the regional sites host observances that take place throughout the year, often keyed around appropriate patriotic holidays, such as Memorial Day, Flag Day or Independence Day, the entire organization comes together for an extended Fall Campaign centered, appropriately enough, on Veterans Day, Nov. 11th.

The actual planning begins in early August, when regional Executive Directors assign key staff (often chaplains) to coordinate Veterans Recognition efforts for their respective sites.

Throughout the year, Crossroads’ professional staffers serve clients in a variety of places – in their homes, in hospitals, and in long-term care or nursing facilities. (Hospice is a service, not a place.)

The Logistics of Veterans Events

Crossroads’ chaplains coordinate with respective locations to work out the logistics for Veterans events that they may host. (Some Crossroads sites may sponsor more than 50 such events during a Veterans Recognition campaign period.)

The specifics of the events can vary depending on the size and circumstances of the individual service site.

  • How many veterans are present at the site?
  • What about elsewhere in the community? (Crossroads typically opens up their recognition events to any veterans who want to participate, not just their patients.)
  • How many friends and family members might be expected to attend?
  • Are there local veterans’ groups (VFW, American Legion) that might want to help or participate in some way?
  • What about local officials or celebrities who might be interested in attending or saying a few words of gratitude and encouragement?

Enticing the Media

Local media outlets will also have certain views that need to be addressed if they are to be enticed to come and cover the ceremonies.

The simple idea of paying homage to heroes who defended their country during time of war is a timeless story. But even that can be enhanced, depending on the event.

For example, how many of your local veterans served in World War II? According to the Department of Veterans Affairs, approximately 558,000 American veterans from the war were estimated to still be alive in September 2017. Their numbers continue to dwindle. So there is an urgency inherent in efforts to recognize their service and valor. As we’ve often said – it’s about the story.

But it’s also about the visuals. Especially for television news. What kind of visual excitement and color can you bring to the events?

High school bands and color guards are often available to lend some musical accompaniment for a rousing rendition of the national anthem or other patriotic songs. Local scout troops can be enlisted to perform flag folding rituals for special presentations to individual honorees. Local VFWs, American Legion posts or other veterans’ groups are often only too happy to provide a color guard or other ceremonial contingent for a flag dedication or salute, or to otherwise lend support to their brothers and sisters-in-arms.

Even the simple presentation of lapel pins and/or certificates of appreciation to honored veterans can provide a heart-warming visual presentation for both onlookers and TV cameras.

It’s also about the timing. When we do veterans events, part of our goal in luring media is to minimize competition. That’s why we advise clients who are planning Veterans Day-related observances to hold them a week to 10 days prior to the actual official date of Nov. 11th. It often pays to beat the rush.

Details, Details

But don’t overlook the little things. One must always be cognizant of individual privacy. Is the facility where the event is being held comfortable with having media and cameras present? Make sure to check and confirm consent.

Also, as best you can, make sure to pre-plan some photo-op set-ups for the TV cameras as well as local print media photographers who may come to cover the events.

Some institutions may have rules for photographing residents or patients. Where possible, work with staff at the facility beforehand to arrange for specific willing individuals to be subjects for news photographs, and arrange for them to sign-off on photo releases.

If you’re planning on sending your own photos to the newspapers, make sure there aren’t too many people in the shot (five or fewer is best). Keep everyone close together and be careful that there’s nothing in the background to distract from the focal point of the picture. Also, make certain that everyone’s name and title are listed in the caption.

All in all, the Veterans Day season can offer a wealth of opportunities to pay well-deserved respect to men and women who have served their country. Doing so is not only the right thing, it’s also something likely to be remembered fondly within the surrounding community and among your patients and family members.

World of Opportunity for Healthcare PR

Podcasts: Find Them and Pitch Away

Public relations pros of a certain ilk celebrate any and all new opportunities for earned media.  Of course, conventional mass media is often the most highly-valued target for our efforts.  But, have you ever thought about pitching a podcast?

That’s what SPRYTE did recently on behalf of Relievus, a 17-location specialty pain medicine medical practice in Southern and Central New Jersey and suburban Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. SPRYTE’s engagement was focused on the practice’s reputation in the marketplace among consumers and future business partners and investors. 

So, Select Greater Philadelphia’s “Growing Greater” podcast was naturally a good fit. An organization housed within the Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce, Select is the region’s business attraction organization. Select’s mission is to “highlight greater Philadelphia’s unique business assets to national and global audiences with the ultimate goal of growing the economic vibrancy of our collective community through attracting new businesses and new jobs to an 11-county region.”

The “Growing Greater” podcast “uncovers personal and professional successes and challenges with academic, business, and civic leaders from organizations large and small across diverse industries.”  Deep in to its second season, “Growing Greater” already claims “thousands of listeners around the corner – and around the world.”

While the bulk of SPRYTE’s work on behalf of Relievus focused on innovative patient therapies and approaches to pain, storylines of interest to prospective patients, the “Growing Greater” podcast also offered an opportunity for Relievus Managing Partner Dr. Uplekh Purewal and Chief Operating Officer Ron Saltiel to share the practice’s business success story.

The 30-minute interview provided an opportunity to shine a spotlight on:

  • Relievus’ rapid geographic expansion to 17 locations.
  • The practice’s steady stream of top clinical talent, graduating from the region’s many medical and allied health schools.
  • The most innovative and contemporary approaches to managing patients’ pain.

Podcast Listenership is Climbing

Over the past several years, the public’s interest in podcasts has grown rapidly. Gene Ely, a contributor to Forbes who covers digital media, wrote in his article about podcasts last year: “There are now some 525,000 active shows and over 18.5 million episodes. Listenership is climbing; almost half of Americans 12 or older have listened to a podcast. So is advertising. Ad spending is forecast to grow from $326 million in 2018 to $534 million in 2020.”

Podcasts’ growing influence on consumers is undeniable – something that our team has kept an eye on regularly. In fact, SPRYTE has blogged about podcasts in healthcare twice before. In both cases, we focused on podcast production, because let’s face it – in today’s world, who doesn’t know an individual or organization who has a podcast?

Just like any other news platform, podcast producers are often hungry for solid material, especially within the confines of their niche topics. Yours just might be a great match, and an even better way to expand your earned media results!

Reflecting on Tennis Injuries, Urgent Care and Thought Leadership

How Brand Spokespeople can Inspire Confidence in Urgent Care Centers

My ladies’ doubles tennis team had its final match of the summer last week, and it turns out that my opponent was one of the same opponents I had three summers ago when I broke my wrist during my first match of the season.

Fortunately, we were able to play two sets this time. After the second set, she asked me if I once was injured at the beginning of a match a few years ago. I confirmed that was me who had an epic wipeout running for a ball that June in 2016.

I remembered I had blogged about the brand battle I had that day, driving around with one arm trying to figure out which urgent care center to go to.

Well, it’s been two years since that blog was posted. As I was re-reading it, I kept thinking about how much SPRYTE could contribute to a multi-location urgent care brand.

That’s because we’re hyperlocal healthcare PR experts. We’ve had a blast and done a great job building the reputation of Holy Redeemer Health System’s single Pediatric UrgiCare Center. And, we deploy a favorite consumer public relations strategy that other urgent care brands should consider: the Brand Spokesperson.

One example of this is our work to leverage Dr. Avi Gurwitz – a pediatrician at Holy Redeemer and medical director of its Pediatric UrgiCare Center – as an expert resource for local print and broadcast journalists. His extensive pediatric experience has made him a great go-to expert for a variety of health-related stories, including a Q&A segment on KYW-AM about spring sports and concussion prevention.

Additionally, Dr. Gurwitz has provided tips for families traveling during vacation season in an article by The Philadelphia Inquirer, and discussed cases he has seen in the UrgiCare Center to warn against trending risks like Lyme disease and the dangers of heavy backpacks.

So, what type of impression is made on Holy Redeemer’s potential pediatric patients when they see and hear knowledgeable, articulate and warm Dr. Gurwitz interviewed by broadcast and print healthcare journalists? We think it’s a very positive one that can make kids and their parents feel confident about the pediatric care they’ll receive from Dr. Gurwitz and his team.

While many people aren’t naturally-gifted spokespeople like Dr. Gurwitz, urgent care organizations should utilize this consumer marketing tactic as part of their integrated marketing strategies whenever possible. Large, brightly-lit signs and billboards don’t always build this type of confidence in your patient care team.

The Recipe for Successful Media Coverage

Use These Three Key Ingredients to Make Your Story Newsworthy

While social media has become an increasingly popular way for people to get their news, traditional media is still considered the most trustworthy avenue for news coverage in the U.S. According to the 2019 Edelman Trust Barometer, an annual trust and credibility survey conducted by Edelman Intelligence, 65 percent of Americans trust traditional media as a go-to source for information, while only 34 percent have that trust in social media – highlighting earned media’s staying power.

Listing the Ingredients

Whether it’s a story in a local, trade or national publication, positive news coverage can help an organization enhance its reputation and build an authentic connection with its target audiences – something we at SPRYTE Communications have an endless appetite for.

Similar to cooking, there isn’t one set method for earned media that guarantees coverage. However, we’ve found that most successful campaigns include a “recipe” for newsworthy stories that uses three key ingredients: a human-interest angle, connection to the community and compelling visuals.

Following the Recipe

One recent article we placed in a local newspaper, Lumina News , on behalf of client Griswold Home Care is an excellent example of how this “recipe” can help generate successful media coverage.

In the beginning of May, the home care franchise’s Wilmington, NC office awarded a grant to local nonprofit Wilmington Area Rebuilding Ministry (WARM) through the Jean Griswold Foundation’s new “Griswold Gives” program. We included each ingredient in our feature news release about the grant to grab the reporter’s attention:

  • A human-interest angle – In the release, we detailed how WARM has helped low-income homeowners– many of whom are elderly and disabled – complete urgent home repairs and safety upgrades they couldn’t afford on their own. Stories about a person or organization working to solve issues that affect people’s everyday lives evoke an emotional response and keep people invested in reading more coverage – the ultimate goal for most publications.
  • A connection to the local community – In addition to how WARM helps residents in-need, we also discussed how the Foundation’s grant will help WARM provide its home repair services to the many families whose houses were destroyed by Hurricane Florence. By detailing how Griswold helped the nonprofit make an impact in the community, we made Griswold’s story more relevant for local readers and more enticing for local newspapers to cover.
  • Compelling visuals – Along with the release, we sent a photo of some key members of both organizations at the grant presentation event. Including photos or video of people in any written content helps increase the level of reader engagement and build a sense of familiarity among the organizations’ target audiences.

 Both earned media and cooking are more of an art than a science – there are many different strategies and tactics you can use to get a successful end result. However, this tried and true recipe for positive news coverage is an effective tool that can make almost any story a newsworthy one.