Preparation Makes Perfect

Take These Steps to Assess a Healthcare Organization’s Readiness for
Marketing Initiatives

Recently, the SPRYTE team participated in the New England Society for Healthcare Communications’ (NESHCo) monthly webinar, “Do You Deserve to be Marketed?,” which focused on the importance of assessing an organization’s readiness for marketing initiatives.

During the webinar, Helayne Lightstone – senior director of marketing and branding for Hartford HealthCare in Connecticut – outlined the following steps healthcare communicators must take before executing a campaign to ensure its success.

Step 1: Assessment

The first step in a “marketing readiness plan” is assessing the key aspects of your campaign. To build the foundation for a successful campaign, answer the following questions:

  • What are your benchmark metrics?
  • Are you looking to bring in more patients and/or build awareness about your organization?
  • What are the differentiators of the product/service/initiative you’re promoting?
  • Is your organization ready to handle the impact of a successful campaign? Do you have a plan for accommodating more patients or a crossover referral strategy?
  • Have you conducted market research for this campaign?
  • What is the competition in your market? Have your competitors implemented similar campaigns?

Step 2: Analysis

After answering all of the questions to identify those key aspects in Step 1, you then must take a deeper dive to analyze two important points of the campaign:

  • Value: Is there a high demand for the service/product/initiative you’re promoting, or is the market oversaturated? How differentiated is your offering, and is it a money maker?
  • Readiness: Are the physicians and staff members involved equipped with the right messaging and training for this campaign? Do you have set patient referral and response tracking plans?

    Are all of the physical and digital collateral, including the website, logos, signage, etc. up-to-date and aligned with the campaign’s messaging?

Step 3: Advance and Apply

Once you’ve developed a clear understanding of your goals, readiness and timing, you can now work together with your team to flesh out the campaign. Be sure to establish a set approval pathway that involves all necessary team members, which may include marketing, creative, clinical, legal, financial and executive personnel. Be sure to engage all members of the team to make sure the process runs as smoothly as possible.

Is Your Organization Ready?

Even the most engaging campaign won’t make an impact if it reaches the wrong audience at the wrong time. By taking these steps, you’ll lay the groundwork to ensure your campaign resonates with the right patients.

Note: Hartford HealthCare Medical Group is one of the largest practices in Connecticut with over 50 locations and over 450 physicians and advanced practitioners.

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!

Earned Media Fueled SPRYTE’s Launch

But we’ll Endure with Digital

Think about it: when a public relations agency has its own news, there’s inherent pressure to obtain earned media coverage.

Why? So, we can enjoy the credibility that comes with a third party agreeing that our corporate action is newsworthy, and so we can be our own example of the power of publicity.

That was the case a year ago, when after two years of planning and investment, Simon PR, a general PR firm of more than a quarter century, became SPRYTE Communications, a healthcare marketing specialist.

Tomorrow is SPRYTE’s one-year anniversary. In addition to our firm’s new web site, search engine optimization (SEO) investment, social media channels and automated marketing strategy, generating earned media was central to our launch.

And the resulting earned media campaign gave the news of our new brand credibility while creating buzz and spreading the word.

With an exclusive, the Philadelphia Business Journal broke our news on January 23rd. Because of the preparation we did for the interview, the feature length online story included our key launch messages. But it didn’t stop there. We were delighted that reporter Ken Hilario continued to reference SPRYTE’s launch in stories about other agencies throughout the year.

Our agency news was also placed in a variety of print and online media outlets including special interest and grassroots targets like the newsletters of the many associations we belong to and the hometown newspaper of the CEO. We attempted to leave no stone unturned even though, as with any earned media campaign, there were disappointments. Please check out the results from the SPRYTE Communications launch earned media campaign. How do you think we did?

The New Communications Marketplace

We’re the first to admit that we come from a conventional public relations tradition where the primary deliverable is earned media. We thrived in this world for nearly three decades and will continue to up our proficiency as we grow with our clients. But it was clear years before our launch of SPRYTE that we’d better embrace digital marketing, and pronto!

Actually, one of the drivers behind the rebranding was our opportunity to start with a fresh canvas and to offer services that we weren’t known for but were increasingly proficient in, including social media management and digital content marketing.

Most of all, we weren’t known for healthcare public relations even though more than 35 percent of our business has always been in healthcare and we’ve worked on many award winning campaigns with highly notable healthcare brands.

Our team also has experience working in-house in health systems, at big agencies on large healthcare accounts and in big pharma corporate communications bureaus. It makes sense! We are headquartered in Philadelphia, a healthcare capital, with a satellite office in New Jersey, along the life sciences corridor.

While we’ve continued to knock our clients’ socks off with enviable earned media results as SPRYTE, we’ve also:

  • Grown with healthcare automated marketing. We edit several e-newsletters for highly-regarded physician practices. We invested in learning about federal anti-spam laws and patient privacy. This work plays to our strengths as writers and project managers.

 

  • Also playing to our strengths as writers and project managers is our growing proficiency in managing and populating healthcare providers’ social media channels. We also invested in a social media management dashboard to better serve our business in this lane.

 

  • Writing blogs targeted to the healthcare practitioner as part of healthcare providers’ content marketing strategies is a skill we’ve been perfecting as SPRYTE with very seasoned pros on our team who also have life experience and sensitivity to the topics at hand.

As we reflect on a year as the new us, there’s a lot to celebrate at SPRYTE. There’s also a lot to be humble about as the marketplace increases in fragmentation and competition. We’ve been blessed with excellent opportunities in healthcare and we don’t take them for granted for a minute. With as much business experience as we have, we know we must continue to impress while showing passion for the healthcare industries we serve and embracing all the new tools we must deploy to achieve our clients’ business goals.

Here’s to another successful year as SPRYTE Communications!