The Power of Pooches

Don’t Overlook Animals, Kids in Drawing Media

Never work with animals or children, goes the old show business saw.

The point is, you will be upstaged, even ignored, in favor of your cute or furry costars. But what might be anathema to a vaudeville performer, movie star or TV host can be a camera magnet for your organization’s community event. And in an arena where story and brand matter more than the individual, most healthcare communicators will happily cede the spotlight to the kids and/or creatures.

If You Want Press, Ignore Old Adages

Indeed, it pays to pull out all the stops if you’ve got something going on that involves animals or kids. A physical fitness program for youngsters, with gold, silver and bronze medals, can be a winner to a local TV station. And you’ll never bark up the wrong tree alerting media to a therapy dog recruitment or training session at your hospital, rehab center, or ambulatory care facility.

And if there’s anything more appealing than children and animals, it is their interaction with patients or seniors in the assisted living environment. Consider the potential of having kindergarteners making holiday crafts for veterans with elderly residents of your facility. Or inviting grandchildren and their pets to come for a special visit, complete with animal treats.

The Dog Days of Summer

The latter was an event held at the Lafayette active retirement community of Holy Redeemer Health System, one of SPRYTE’s clients. During its Dog Days of Summer Pup Parade, family members trotted their best friends in front of the center’s gathered residents, as an emcee introduced each animal and read its “biography” (“Rex loves sleeping at the foot of the bed, and will let you pet him under his chin all day…”). The well-attended event included doggy bags as gifts for the participating pups, canine-themed (but human-edible) snacks, and lots of kisses, licks and hugs. Along with highlighting the important role animals can play in the lives of seniors, some of whom have to give up beloved pets when they move into a facility, this was a ready-made, tug-at-the-heartstrings human interest story.

Is it any wonder events like this draw cameras? In this case, two local TV stations and a news radio station covered the parade.

Sell the Story, not the Fur

Be sure to let the event drive the cameras, not the other way around. Resist the urge to manipulate circumstances to put children or animals in a room. Instead, look for organic opportunities, and those that make sense from a seasonal or patient-focused standpoint. A mentoring program that allows children and seniors to interact monthly or quarterly during the school year is far more compelling than a one-and-done meet-and-greet.

Events created from whole cloth with no logical reason for being will be sniffed out by the media like a bloodhound on the trail of small prey. The Summer Pup Parade, which it is hoped will become an annual event, works because of the joy it brings the residents.

So take a look at what’s coming down the pike within your organization, and if kids or animals are involved, or make sense, go after media coverage with the tenacity of a junkyard dog. But remember: unless your spokesperson has the wit of a late night talk show host, don’t let him or her anywhere near a furry creature.

When Things Go Wrong in your Media Event

Planning can make all the difference – most of the time

There are many considerations when arranging a media event for your hospital or health system. It’s really not unlike a wedding reception. You spend a great amount of time on planning and want everything to be just right. The naïve believe that anything can be accomplished with proper planning. Realists, meanwhile, roll their eyes and know that it’s impossible to anticipate every little detail. This is where goals meet reality – where the rubber meets the road so to speak.

Anyone who has ever engaged a planner and thrown a big party such as a wedding reception can probably attest that months of planning cannot guarantee everything goes just right. Same holds true for media events. This is not to say that planning is futile. It just means that you have to be prepared for some unplanned circumstance. And if something bad happens, don’t fight it. Consider the instructions for being caught in a rip tide: swim parallel to the beach until you are out of it.

If something goes wrong, rise above it!

Recently, a series of media events in and around Philadelphia was effectively shut down by protestors. The noise-makers were afforded the freedom to protest, even though it negated best-laid plans and ensured the events would make the news for all the wrong reasons. In cases like this, the instinct may be to try and remedy the situation, but be careful not to make matters worse. For example, stepping in to try and stop protesters would make for great TV news video but could be dangerous and quite possibly damaging to your organization’s reputation.

Fortunately, strong planning can eliminate many problems. Basic considerations when planning a media event include venue, time, audience, guests, refreshments, security, media coverage, competing events, spokespeople, audio/video, promotion (before/during/after), and measurement. It may be a great time of year to hold an outdoor event. Go for it! Just be sure to have a backup plan. We recently had to move a sponsorship announcement indoors due to rain (the forecast 24 hours prior looked perfect).

Soon after identifying the need for a media event, conduct a kick off meeting where you can list all of the considerations. From that list, assign responsibilities.

Do not go it alone!

Try to set the date at least a week in advance in order to properly plan and execute. Try to conduct brief daily meetings so the team can report on preparations and identify problem areas. We understand the world doesn’t always afford a week. While it’s possible to condense the preparation window, know that some things may be off the table (bye bye ice sculptures and VIP guests!).

Huddle up, discuss, rinse/repeat

Finally, when your (hopefully successful) event is over, call the team back together for a lessons-learned meeting, or what the government calls a “hot wash.” This is often overlooked but EXTREMELY IMPORTANT. This meeting will allow you to measure success and identify missed opportunities. One example from personal experience: everything goes perfectly until the Q&A session at the end. Crickets. The lesson learned: have a few canned questions ready to go in the audience for such an occasion.

Be sure to formalize all of the lessons in writing it and refer to them the next time you plan an media event. This protocol can also be used for other occasions such as town halls or other high-profile events.

With a little lead time and lots of thought, you will be able to conduct a successful event while keeping stress levels down.