Mark Your Calendar!

Using Community Calendars to Promote Your Healthcare Event or Fundraiser

There’s a pivotal moment in the classic baseball movie “Field of Dreams” when Kevin Costner is standing in the midst of a cornfield and hears a voice say: “If you build it, he will come.”

With the support of his loving wife, played by Amy Madigan (and despite many questions about his sanity), he builds a baseball diamond on his cornfield and is soon visited by the incarnations of long-dead baseball greats reuniting to play ball.

As a healthcare communicator, you may need to have as much diligence and perseverance in promoting your healthcare screening, charitable fundraiser or community recognition event in order to achieve maximum interest and attendance.

As you are devising your earned media strategy, don’t overlook the value of good old-fashioned citizen journalism. Community calendar listings can be a  free and practical way to reach your targeted community supporters.

Do Your Homework

It sounds simple. Go online. Locate a website. Post your information. Those are the basics. Of course, there’s a bit more to it.

In other words, you’ll need to do some homework.

As with any marketing effort, you will first need to define your audience. Who are you targeting? Are you segmenting by geography? By demographics? By topic/interest? By income? Clearly establishing who you want to reach will help you decide on the best way to reach them.

Next you will want to determine the range of calendar listing opportunities that are available to you. Start with your local mainstream media. Local daily, weekly and independent community newspapers and broadcast television and radio stations often maintain community calendars on their websites that consumers can access and post to. (Note: We are seeing a growing trend in which websites require users to select a permanent User Name and Password in order to access calendar posting applications. Make sure to keep a running list of the sites, the User Name you select and your Password for future use. Or you can utilize a reliable Password app. You’ll save yourself a lot of time and trouble.)

If there isn’t a special community calendar, you might try sending in your information as a news tip. Often there is a special “newstips” email listed under the contact section. Or you can try to look up the local community news editor, if there is one.

Audience Interests

Who are you trying to reach with your message/event?  People interested in health or fitness tips or information? Senior citizens? Mothers or mothers-to-be? Parents with school age children? Family members of patients with cancer, cardio-pulmonary or other illnesses?

See if there are local support or special interest groups aligned with your topic or interest that might consider posting your information or making it available to their members.

One way to get a quick idea of what’s out there is to do a Google search: Type in “Community Calendar” and your relevant zip code.

The Message

The main thing, of course, is to make sure your target audience is getting accurate up-to-date information. For community calendar listings, it’s easy to put together a basic message containing the Who, What, Where and When that can be copied and pasted for the various sites.

Depending on the site, you may have to spend some time inputting specific information, particularly if your event or program runs over multiple dates. Make sure you have the proper times and locations, as well. (The simplest details can be the easiest to overlook.)

Also, make sure to provide a contact where interested persons may obtain additional information or clarification of details. Ideally you’ll have one person designated as your information contact, along with their name, email and/or phone number.

As a final touch, make sure to include your logo or some other visual that reflects your organization (or brand) or graphically supports the message and theme of your event.

Event planning is no field of dreams. Just because you’re willing to stage a special event doesn’t automatically mean people will come. You still need to make them aware of the event and why it’s important for them to attend.

In a lot of ways an effective community calendar program is like playing “small ball” baseball.  You’re not swinging for the fences. You’re bunting, running, singling and scoring by doing all the little things right. But that still takes preparation, alertness and the determination to get the job done.

Declare Independence from the Mainstream Media

Owned Media Lets Health Organizations Talk Directly to Consumers, Brand Loyalists

As we celebrate Independence Day, it’s worth looking at a great way for healthcare organizations to declare their independence from earned media: owned media and citizen journalism.

While that “third-party endorsement” can be valuable, so too can controlling your own messages, and speaking directly to those who are already interested or invested in your organization, such as current and former patients and community partners. Social media is the most visible and most recent tool to reach these audiences, but others have existed for some time and are just as useful for engaging and strenghtening the relationship with those who’ve benefitted from your services or have expressed interest in them.

Owned media simply refers to forms of mass communication you produce, or can control. Beyond Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and their ilk, owned media includes other forms of content marketing such as your very website, electronic newsletters, blogs, podcasts and online or print magazines.

Content is the Key

These tools, produced weekly, monthly or, more likely in the case of a magazine, quarterly or semi-annually, can help your practice or health system tell your best stories, share lifestyle tips and get out word of health screenings, blood drives, fundraisers and other events without going through media “gatekeepers.”

But just because you can control the content and the messages doesn’t mean you can put out just anything. Self-promotion, in small doses, is expected, but to get readers coming back and to create true fans, your owned media needs mostly to deliver content that is useful or educational, entertaining, compelling, or inspirational. Generally, the same techniques for gaining earned media apply to owned media: tell great stories, or provide something readers can’t get anywhere else. This applies to both print and online publications.

The stories you share, whether they are profiles of physicians and other staff, expert advice from your physicians, healthy recipes or the launch of new equipment or a new service (and how a patient has benefitted), can humanize your organization, send the message that it’s on the cutting-edge, or validate it as a source of valuable information, three key components of building loyalty.

Once you’ve established your format and have a consistent flow of content to feed it, you can repurpose those stories for other platforms, primarily your social media channels. Each post should link back to the mother publication or website to gain more eyeballs and more subscribers.

Citizen Journalism

Then there’s citizen journalism, a happy development that has only become more prevalent in recent years. Effectively complementing earned media, citizen journalism provides an opportunity to place your news, event, or other story online at third-party websites, with little or no filtering by editors.

These can include hyper-local websites like Patch.com, which has several thousand editions sprinkled in towns and DMAs across the country, and Tapinto.net, which is developing franchises at a rapid pace in the Northeast. Once you’ve registered, both sites allow you to submit content in the form of news releases, articles and event listings. Typically anything that’s not obviously objectionable and doesn’t violate site rules will see sunshine. Some online news sources will even let you post in multiple neighboring editions, or do it automatically for you.

Online calendars, either stand-alone like Eventful.com, or on traditional media websites (e.g. “6ABC Community Calendar”) are also a valuable way to promote the healthcare events, fundraisers and expos your organization might host or sponsor. Most, of course, give you the option to promote your event for a fee.

Personnel announcements, a frequent occurrence for health systems and practices, may also be submitted via online form to some publications like city business magazines, but more of them are now charging for placement, including your write-up and submitted photograph. However these can also be submitted as articles at the above mentioned hyperlocal sites.

The concept of media has expanded significantly over the past decade or so, and consumers have come to trust news they find online or in their mailbox from a growing variety of sources. By taking advantage of these new avenues, we can truly declare independence from media gatekeepers. Happy Independence Day!