Pulse Anniversary Reminds Us of Crisis Preparedness

Orlando Health Did Very Well

Next Monday is June 12th, the one year anniversary of the horrific tragedy at the Pulse Night Club in Orlando, Florida, where 49 innocent individuals lost their lives and many, many more were injured.

SPRYTE Communications was fortunate to recently be in Orlando at the Public Relations Society of America’s Health Academy annual conference and to attend the pre-conference session on America’s worst terrorist attack, delivered by Orlando Health’s Director of Public Affairs/Media Relations Kena Lewis, APR, and Heather Fagan, Deputy Chief of Staff for the City of Orlando.

Orlando Regional Medical Center (ORMC), one of Orlando Health’s eight hospitals, is just three blocks and less than half a mile from Pulse.  It is Central Florida’s only Level One Trauma Center.

The first shots were fired at 2 am, the first patient arrived at ORMC at 2:14 am and the first media update was at 5 am.

But it wasn’t the first time ORMC or the city had planned for a major emergency with massive casualties.

According to Fagan, the City of Orlando routinely conducts “table top” regional training exercises.  They knew exactly who would take the lead and how to collaborate within minutes of the first shots.  “It was easy to jump in,” as a result she said.

Still there were lessons Fagan and her team at the city learned including:

  •  For consistency and to avoid duplication, assign a single individual to news monitoring.
  •  Record interviews for fact checking and never forget the cameras are always on. Document everything.
  •  Establish relationships with important collaborators outside your organization before you need them.
  •  Know the IT players in your organization before you need to work with them unexpectedly in an emergency.
  •  Put resources in place for multi-cultural and multi-language responses.
  •  Ask yourself, do I have to make this decision today? If not, move on to more urgent matters.

According to Lewis, emergency training is part of ORMC’s culture.  Multi-layered teams simulate trauma alerts at least three times a month.  “Preparedness and drills save lives,” she said.  But you can never plan for the shock and the emotions that result from massive numbers of casualties.

That’s why Lewis’ team has a “Compassion Statement Puzzle.”  This is a guide that makes it easier to draft an appropriate statement for any given incident in the heat of an emergency.  Statements are already started. The practitioner chooses from already drafted phrases in columns such as Introductory Statement, Sentiment and Action Statement.  There are also adjectives and reminders about audiences.  What a great tool.

Lewis was highly complimentary of her team and detailed what worked particularly well during the crisis:

  •  A single email address, mediarelations@orlandohealth.com for inquiries
  •  Having an onsite broadcast studio
  •  Excellent working relationships with the medical center security force
  •  Using ORMC doctors as spokespeople
  •  Engaging freelance videographers and photographers in a flash

Both the City of Orlando and ORMC decided to put the needs and interests of the local media first, acknowledging that local media were relaying critical information to the local community and they were more important than the hundreds of well-resourced national and international media converging on the scene.

Lewis and Fagan’s presentation was followed by a hands-on crisis communications training exercise in a JIC (Joint Information Center) led by one of Broward County, Florida’s Public Information Officers.  It was excellent in spite of the 97 degree heat and 100 percent humidity.

On Monday, Central Florida will observe Orlando United Day.  The SPRYTE Team will be remembering the 49 people who lost their lives on June 12, 2016, and the love and compassion displayed by the diverse, inclusive citizens of Orlando.  Deep down we know this could happen anywhere and that no amount of training and anticipation is enough.   #orlandounited

Taking the Media Out of a Media Event

Can it Still be a Success without Cameras?

There are publicity stunts, and photo opportunities.  Events designed for maximum media coverage and events with a greater purpose, which the media might cover.  Sometimes photographers and reporters will come out, but even if they don’t, is there enough meat to your happening to call it successful?  Put another way, if a tree falls in a forest and a journalist doesn’t cover it, did it still fall?

The answer, in every case, should be Yes!

Sometimes, organizations stage events to mark significant milestones, to thank employees, or to engage the community.  Healthcare organizations especially are steeped in the culture of giving back, educating their target customers, raising awareness, or raising funds for a new piece of equipment or new clinical service.  These events may not always pay dividends with a picture in the paper or a story on the evening news, but if there’s an organic reason for hosting it in the first place, it can soften the blow of having no media attend.

Not a Zero-Sum Game

SPRYTE client Griswold Home Care, marking its 35th anniversary, chose to kick off a series of events throughout the year with a luncheon for employees and its network of caregivers, partners and vendors. Lunch was followed with a group walk in a nearby park, with matching anniversary T-shirts and a raffle to benefit its nonprofit foundation, named for the company’s founder, Jean Griswold.

Local elected officials were invited to attend, and the media were alerted. Materials noting the anniversary, including a press release and letter to the editor, were made available to its 200-plus franchise operators to use in their local territories.

Even though no cameras showed for the walk, by all accounts the event was a rousing success.  Caregivers felt appreciated, employees had a morale boost (and a break from their routine), and money was raised for the Griswold Foundation.  Some lucky employees went back to the office with prizes, including a FitBit and gift cards.

The company’s executives were thrilled to receive a proclamation saluting the anniversary, read in person by the county commissioner, and a handsome certificate noting the occasion from a U.S. senator.  Both will be framed and hung in the office lobby.  A local community paper committed to run some photos, and franchise-generated stories appeared in Florida and Delaware.

Could this event have been more successful had a TV station shown up? Not if you ask the employees. Would its presence have been a bonus? Sure, but that wasn’t essential to what was conceived as a company celebration for employees and other internal audiences.

Assess Your Goals

Communications professionals need to ask several questions when planning an event:

  • What is the main purpose of this event, and who will it benefit?
  • What will a successful event look like? (e.g. large number of people, money raised, social media engagement, media turnout)
  • Is the event worth having and can it stand on its own even if no media show up?
  • Can the content of the event be repurposed for internal or external use, like photos for an annual report, company newsletter, e-blast or social media?

If you have a clear idea of what kind of event your healthcare organization wants to do and what the higher purpose is, and you execute it the best you can, it will be a success, whether media show up or not.

Building Relationships with Healthcare Journalists

The More You Know, the More They Want You on Speed Dial

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 recent 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 go 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 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 notes 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.

3T’s of Media Relations

Timing, Topic and Targeting

For those who have experienced a loss, the holidays can be a time of intense sadness. While others are celebrating, bereaved people can feel overwhelmed by memories of loved ones, avoiding festive gatherings or isolating themselves from friends and family.

SPRYTE Communications’ client, a multi-regional hospice and homecare organization, saw the winter Holiday Season as an ideal time to implement a media relations campaign targeted to individuals dealing with what is too often dismissed as “the holiday blues.” The campaign goals were to educate the bereaved about what they were experiencing and to provide professional coping tips while establishing the hospice as a trusted provider.

The campaign exemplifies what SPRYTE believes are the fundamentals of effective media relations programs – working within select timeframes, clearly communicating the significance of your topic, and adapting the message for your specific audiences. To help clients (and staff) remember these fundamentals, we created alliterative shorthand – what we call the Three T’s of Media Relations: Timing, Topic and Targeting.

Timing: When you’re creating a media relations campaign around a specific holiday, there is a critical window of opportunity to launch it. Planning ahead is essential – even six months or more. We began developing our message and selecting our media targets in mid-August. This gave us time to work with our client’s spokespeople and fine-tune the pitch to the respective outlets.

Topic: How to frame the topic is a second key media relations element. The narrative must be attention-grabbing and relevant to the season, the media being pitched and ultimately the end-user. SPRYTE worked closely with the hospice’s bereavement counselors in five service regions covering Philadelphia’s northern suburbs and seven counties in southern New Jersey to create a 10-point list of ways to help people cope with bereavement during the holidays. This list was included in a Letter to the Editor that was customized and bylined by each bereavement counselor. It included their hospice affiliations and a toll-free number readers could call for more information about bereavement counseling and support groups.

Targeting: The third key element of a media relations campaign is targeting. We carefully researched primary media outlets, as well as relevant online influencers in each of the local markets. In cases where service regions abutted, extreme care was taken to ensure that each bereavement counselor’s message was distributed only within his or her respective region.

Our media relations efforts generated more than 525,000 impressions during the limited window from Thanksgiving through New Year’s Day. The results included published Letters to the Editor, as well as articles resulting from interviews arranged with local editors and reporters. The published pieces included placements in eight key local newspapers and an independent story by a local reporter that was posted on three neighboring Patch.com sites in the Ocean County, NJ, area and was also published online by the national trade publication Hospice Times.

The media relations campaign achieved its desired business goals of educating the general public about holiday bereavement during the holidays, establishing local hospice counselors as authoritative sources on the subject, and showcasing the hospice as a trusted provider and a caring and concerned member of its many local communities.