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.

Timeless Stories Break Through Any Clutter

A Veteran’s Last Flight Brightens a Labor Day News Cycle

For many professional communicators, using some kind of angle to tie your message to an upcoming holiday probably comes almost as easily as falling off a bar stool.

Sometimes, however, the story is so timeless that it will transcend the routine patter that often guides holiday-related earned media pitches.

A Case in Point

One of our national clients, Crossroads Hospice & Palliative Care, has created a wonderful patient-focused  program called “Gift of a Day.” The premise is fairly simple. A local social worker or volunteer coordinator asks a hospice patient what their idea of a perfect day would look like. Then they try to make it happen.

Late last summer, over Labor Day weekend, Crossroads staff working out of the eastern Kansas regional office (based in Lenexa), arranged for a very special Gift of a Day for a patient, a military veteran who had served his country through three wars.

The gift involved a 91-year-old local Crossroads patient from Ottawa, KS, who had served as a pilot in the U.S. Navy during World War II (where he also served on the USS Beatty), then another 23 years in the U.S. Air Force Reserves amidst the Korean and Vietnam wars.

Honoring a Beloved Veteran

His love of airplanes and flying had never ebbed. His last request – to take to the air one more time and have the chance to fly over Kansas’ colorful scenery and gaze down upon his beloved home state – would be a dream come true.

The staff at Crossroads was determined to make it happen. To help make it a reality, they reached out to the Commemorative Air Force, Heart of America Wing, which is based at the nearby New Center Airport of Olathe, KS (the old Olathe Naval Air Station).

It was a touching moment when the hospice patient was introduced to his special chariot for the day – an authentic vintage biplane, a PT-13 Kaydet, an iconic American training aircraft from World War II. In fact, it brought tears to his eyes.

But how would it play for the media? Remember, it was Labor Day weekend. Most stations were down to skeleton crews. And the overriding theme for the weekend would naturally be demonstrations, parades and other tributes to the American labor movement.

Family, Friends and Media

Not to worry. Even in suburban Kansas City, in the midst of rural fields about an hour away from local TV stations, the story of a final tribute to a proud veteran who had served his country through three wars was too alluring to resist.

The hospice patient’s daughter and family friends surrounded him as he was strapped into his seat. A local Fox4KC news crew captured the fun as the patient bantered with the pilot and talked about his memories serving in the Navy and Air Force before taking off into the blue Kansas skies.

The story and the visuals proved irresistible. Not only did the story make the local Kansas City evening news cast, it soon went national, and was picked up by Fox News national programming as well as CNN, Accu-Weather and a host of other news sites across the nation.

All told, this little “feel good” story out of suburban Kansas City was picked up by more than 70 media outlets across the U.S.and earned more than 63.8 million individual impressions.

The Moral

Just because you’re timing happens to be attuned to a specific holiday, doesn’t mean you should bend over backwards to try to make some obscure connection. People enjoy stories that take them back to happier times.

Stories that honor veterans and patriotic service are almost always sure-fire ways for winning hearts, minds, and earned media.

Find out more about SPRYTE’s Media Relations services.

Patriotic Symbolism Helps Promote a Timely Cause

What do July 4th and the Opioid Crisis Have in Common?

Tie-ins to patriotic holidays are a time-tested avenue for promoting a product or business.

How many times have we seen Presidents’ Day promotions for Lincoln lounge suites or Washington white sales? (Far too often, I think you’ll agree.)

Getting Serious

But from a public affairs standpoint, despite the all-too-common campy come-ons, there is still value in the patriotic connection strategy – if it is done in a way that respects and pays homage to the historical precedent.

Anyone who has read a newspaper or watched the TV news is aware that opioid abuse has reached epic proportions across the United States. Our client, Relievus, a physician practice specializing in pain management, wanted to enhance its brand reputation in a way that reflected a commitment to the communities it serves.

SPRYTE recommended a letter to the editor campaign encompassing community newspapers throughout Relievus’ service region – including 15 locations across South Jersey, as well as Philadelphia’s Mainline, Northeast Philadelphia and the surrounding suburbs. To emphasize the local connection and maximize impact, the doctors’ offices in each respective community were correlated to individual local papers.

The theme was Independence Day and was timed to land right as the Fourth of July holiday took place. The analogy of patients struggling to overcome opioid addiction as a modern day fight against oppression and the need to band together for a common good proved to be a popular message, as the letter to the editor was picked up by newspapers throughout Relievus’ New Jersey and Pennsylvania footprint:

Toward a New Independence Day

Dear Editor,

On July 4th, millions of Americans will come together to celebrate the signing of the Declaration of Independence, an historic testimonial against oppression that still inspires people around the world.

Today, millions of Americans are confronting another kind of oppression – opioid addiction. At Relievus, we see the effects of this horrible epidemic every day. It has destroyed families, ruined lives and even led to an historic decrease in lifespan among sectors of the U.S. population.

According to recent reports,  in 2016, 11.5 million people misused prescription opioids, while over 42,000 died from an opioid overdose. Roughly 40% of those deaths involved a prescription opioid. But the impact isn’t limited to opioid abusers. Another report puts the economic impact of each opioid overdose death at approximately $800,000.

It’s important to understand that people who abuse opioids are not weak or inferior. They simply are people trying to deal with their pain. Eventually this pain becomes difficult to manage until it begins affecting their quality of life.

Weaning patients off opioids is an important step. But managing pain takes an intense, multi-faceted approach. Most need social support, behavioral therapy and/or individual counseling. They cannot do it alone. It will take a united and coordinated front.

On this Fourth of July, let us reignite the spirit of American courage and community. Let us work to create a new dawn of independence from the oppression caused by the abuse of opioids and other drugs.

Young J. Lee, MD
Relievus

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Moral of the Story

Even in our current, often-divisive times, a message of community and concern for the greater good can still resonate widely. Perhaps today, more than ever, it’s important to look back to those positive themes that helped establish and develop our nation and use them as a guide as we create our future. As hallowed forefather Benjamin Franklin observed just before signing the Declaration of Independence: “We must, indeed, all hang together, or most assuredly we shall all hang separately.”

Find out more about SPRYTE’s Public Affairs and Media Relations services.

Leverage Patient Case Studies to Launch New Services

Patience Pays When Rolling Out That Shiny New Thing

Earlier this year, we shared a blog on how making your healthcare event about people can draw in the media. But the same goes for the launch of a new technology or service: framing your offering in human terms, and attaching a great patient case study, can turn a dry pitch into a must-do story, or elevate a three-inch business brief into a front-page feature story.

But be advised: it might take patience and discipline from all involved. Your CEO, lead surgeon, or department head might be anxious to let the public know about an expensive new piece of equipment. The marketing department or office manager might feel pressure to let people know about that new service or surgical technique so it can start returning the time and financial investment required to bring it on line. It’s up to the communications professional to rein in those impulses and help develop a plan that makes sense from both a business and media relations point of view. The payoff for waiting can be big.

Patient Case Study Sells “Air Expansion”

In October, 2017, a breast reconstruction surgeon for our client Holy Redeemer Health System began pioneering a new, noninvasive way of expanding the breast cavity for post-mastectomy implants. The technology, involving bursts of CO2 delivered via remote control at home, through clothes, instead of weekly saline injections in the doctor’s office, was both game-changing and visually friendly, as the manufacturer had provided samples to help explain the procedure to candidates. Dr. William Scarlett, also the health system’s interim chief of surgery, was currently the only physician in the region using the system, called AirXpander.

The urge to shout about this was strong; no one knew for sure how long Dr. Scarlett would have exclusivity with AirXpander. But we knew the first thing just about any reporter would ask would be “Can I talk to a patient?” The problem was, patients were initially few and far between. Additionally, as the process takes an average of seven weeks to complete before permanent implants could be installed, there’d be no success stories to talk about until late fall, at the earliest.

So we waited. By early 2018 he had several successful “air expansions” under his belt, and more importantly, was still the only surgeon in the Philadelphia area using it, according to the manufacturer. It was time to strike, and fortuitously, Dr. Scarlett had the perfect patient case study.

Miriam, a 69-year-old former Philly resident now living in Florida, had resisted implants until learning of Holy Redeemer’s offering through a friend. She had beaten breast cancer and had just completed the reconstruction surgery, and was making occasional trips back north for follow-up appointments and to visit family and friends. She was also the adoptive mother of three Asian daughters, now adults, and was using her journey as a teachable moment for them. Along those lines, she very much wanted to let other women know about the technology, which she felt significantly eased the reconstruction process. No one could’ve asked for a better patient to offer the media.

The local ABC station, to whom we’d offered the story exclusively, loved Miriam and promptly scheduled interviews to coincide with her next appointment in May at the doctor’s Bensalem office. In June, eight months after we first had a demo of AirXpander, the station ran a three-minute feature story. We are currently pitching AirXpander elsewhere.

Tell a Great Story, Even if You Have to Wait to Tell It

While not every patient case study will be as perfect as Miriam, it’s worth biding your time until you can find one or more who have been treated successfully and can proselytize about your new equipment or service. It’s always more effective to tell stories about people, rather than about machines, and if you can get patients to tell their own stories, better yet.

Waiting doesn’t have to be passive; you can use the time to gather more information, hone your pitch, or tease reporters with information, and the prospect of connecting them to a “great patient whose life has changed.” Offer an exclusive to one particular outlet in exchange for their forbearance.

You might not always be first out of the gate, but if you can present an exceptional case study, you’re more likely to inspire media to cover your shiny new thing.

Happy 36th (Wait, What?) Anniversary!

An Unexpected Pitch Can Pay Off

Conventional wisdom in public relations goes you should only bother promoting a company anniversary if the year ends in zero or five; nothing in between matters to anybody but employees (and even when it ends in zero or five it’s not necessarily newsworthy to outsiders).

So how did SPRYTE score a front-page-teased feature story in a local daily newspaper about their home care client’s 36th anniversary? Easy, we pitched it!

Earn Media by Doing the Unexpected

It’s a case study of how going against the grain can sometimes help with your reputation marketing campaign, and even generate earned media results. In this case, we benefited from the fact no one was expecting a story about an off-year celebration.

Griswold Home Care had neither a special logo nor a year-long marketing campaign to mark its 36th year, especially after celebrating its 35th in 2017. What it did have, however, was a big party for staff, caregivers and partners. Local politicians turned out too and delivered remarks. So why was this party special?

After more than three and a half decades, Griswold Home Care still embraces the vision and values of its founder and matriarch, Jean Griswold. The business wasn’t begun as a moneymaking enterprise; it was sparked by one woman who wanted to ensure no senior was left vulnerable in their home as they aged, even if they lived alone. This mission, company leadership believe, is worth celebrating annually.

That’s the story we strived to tell to the local media. This wasn’t so much an anniversary but an annual thank you to the caregivers and employees who fulfill Jean Griswold’s ideal every day. It was about boosting morale, not celebrating a number, and there’d be more such celebrations in the future, each year on April 26th, zeroes and fives be damned.

This unapologetic approach drew attention in a raised eyebrow kind of way, leading one reporter to seek an interview with Griswold’s CEO. The journalist was already familiar with the locally based home care franchise company, having written about it the prior year…on the occasion of its 35th anniversary.

Don’t Overlook Great Photos, People Stories

To add more human interest to the pitch, we highlighted one particular caregiver who’d been with the company since its first year, and who was saluted during the event.

It also didn’t hurt that we offered good photos of company leadership and caregivers with the county commissioner and Pennsylvania state legislators. As is often the case, good quality visuals can help sell the story.

The resulting article, titled “Griswold Home Care plans ‘morale booster’” topped the newspaper’s business section five days after the anniversary. The lead of the story noted that Griswold simply didn’t want to wait four more years for another occasion to honor its compassionate employees. The story also included a paragraph about the longtime caregiver, Allegra Chaney.

Clear Messages Help in Reputation Marketing

Anniversary stories in general are valuable as they convey that the organization is enduring. This article in particular added the messages that Griswold has long-term, caring employees and is a good place to work – traits that are appealing to prospective patients, clients and staff, and which healthcare organizations should always try to include in their reputation marketing campaigns.

This event and the result illustrate that when it comes to media relations, the number of years in business is less significant than the people you employ, and how your organization stands out from others. Don’t overlook opportunities to mine what you’re doing that’s different or contrarian for press attention.

Find out more about SPRYTE’s Public Affairs and Reputation Management services.

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.

Make Your Event Photo Count

Landing Earned Media’s a Snap with Great Images

The media won’t always be able to cover your organization’s event or happening. Sometimes they might lack the staff, have competing priorities that day, or in the case of some hyper-local newspapers, simply don’t generate their own content, relying instead on submitted material like yours.

Whatever the reason, your photo and messages can still find placement if you can provide a great photo after the fact. Unfortunately, many clients and organizations don’t plan for this, and as a result, the photography comes up well short of what newspapers are looking for.

 

Best Practice Makes Perfect

The are plenty of resources and tips for great photography just a click or two away, so we’re not going to get into the basics of great image-making here, but there are some things your front-line event people, social media staff, public relations personnel and franchise offices or ambulatory care centers should keep in mind to elevate their results, and increase the chances of landing a photo in the local paper.

High-Resolution Rules. Print publications need images to be 200 x 200 ppi at the bare minimum in order to reproduce sharply, but higher is preferable. High-resolution is a minimum of 600 x 600 dpi. Make sure whoever is shooting photos has their camera set to the highest resolution setting. This can’t be overstated.

Make Sure Your Camera’s Up to It. It used to be a hard-and-fast rule to avoid taking photos for press purposes with a cell phone, because the quality was usually poor. That’s changed with newer, more photo-friendly phones, so if you’ve got the goods, flaunt them. Of course, a digital SLR remains a great choice. Either one, in reasonably skilled hands, will get what you need. And be sure to send or upload the image at the highest resolution.

Go for an Interesting Element or Angle. Try to capture people doing something active or expressing emotion whenever possible. But even cliché photos such as check or award presentations can be made more compelling with a great background, an end-user beneficiary, or when shot from an unusual angle, or with a wide-angle lens. Look for color, such as flowers or shrubs or artwork, to add life to your photos too.

Focus on the Subject. Frame your photos to get in tight on the subject – whether it’s a physician or inanimate object such as a new medical imaging machine. The fewer walls, ceiling tiles or electrical outlets in the photo, the better.

Identify. A great photo is virtually useless to a newspaper if you don’t have the names and affiliations of every person prominently featured. This isn’t necessary for everyone in a candid group shot, but those whose faces are easily identifiable should be identified. And get their home towns too, particularly if you’ll be submitting the photo to hyper-local publications.

Remember HIPAA. You’ll need to get a signed photo release from each person in the picture, possibly even staff, and be cautious to not include any sensitive medical information in the image or caption if a patient doesn’t provide consent. A patient undergoing a specific procedure, for example, or being treated by a particular doctor or even in a specific room could provide health information they’d prefer to keep private.

Strike Fast. Newspapers want news, so send your photos as soon as possible. This might mean while the event is unfolding, but certainly the same day or within 24 hours. Weekly papers generally have more flexibility, but check their deadlines so you can get them photos for the next edition when possible.

Avoid Large Attachments. You’ve got a great picture, in high-resolution, but many journalists are wary of opening attachments, or have servers that will slow them down or reject them entirely. Unless you’ve made prior arrangements to send a large file, upload your images to Dropbox or a similar site, or a proprietary file-sharing platform if you have one (SPRYTE’s is called Docco), and provide a link to download instead. As a bonus, you’ll often be able to see whether said file has been downloaded, and possibly by whom.

Not every photo you send to newspapers will be used in print or online, but you can stack the deck in your favor by giving editors what they need, in the form they want, in a timely manner.

Letter Rip: Send That Letter to the Editor

Research, Customization will Increase Your Odds of Success

The letter to the editor, alongside its big brother, the op-ed, is a tried-and-true earned media tactic. And for good reason: letters are reader-contributed, run the gamut of topics that are news-based and “evergreen,” and are generally short, which means they get read. On top of all that, newspapers publish several every day, and as a result have a solid appetite for good ones.

Frequently appearing in hyper-local markets, letters can be a significant consumer marketing tool. They are effective for a variety of reasons:

  • Educating the public (or correcting the record) about a specific health concern, issue or controversy
  • Creating/enhancing name/brand recognition within the target area
  • Establishing the client’s reputation as an authority on the specific topic or issue
  • Reinforcing the client or organization as a caring and concerned member of its local community(s)

Establish Goals, and Don’t Self-Promote

SPRYTE has had great success with well thought-out, well-researched letter to the editor campaigns on behalf of various clients, frequently publishing the same letter in a number of newspapers across the country, under different bylines, where clients have local offices or franchises, for example.

But the letter to the editor isn’t low-hanging fruit. Success hinges on several factors, not the least of which is the skill of the writer. While the urge is to get your organization’s or client’s name out prominently and positively, editors will see right through letters that are too self-promotional. Writers need to constantly ask the question, “What will the paper’s readers get out of this?” More precisely, what public good can we provide, or what useful or compelling information can we share? What important topic or viewpoint can we open readers’ eyes to?

As with just about all earned media tactics, it’s useful to lay out your goals first, then let them inform the content of your letter. If your goal is to inform readers, make sure to include facts and/or statistics. If you want to thank or bring attention to a group, highlight the problem the group or individuals have helped to solve, and what they’ve accomplished. And if your goal is to weigh in on a subject that’s being widely covered and thus gain thought-leadership credibility, be sure to base your argument on established facts and logic.

Best Practices for Your Letter to the Editor

Here are some more tips from SPRYTE’s playbook for leveraging letter to the editor campaigns:

Avoid high-traffic times of year. Saluting mothers on Mother’s Day, or veterans on Veteran’s Day or Memorial Day will put your letter into intense competition for space. Same with the winter holidays (resist that New Year’s resolutions self-help letter). Instead, if you’d like to peg your letter to a significant or recurring event, set your sights on less prominent days, such as an obscure anniversary, a lesser-known holiday, or an organization milestone that no one else can claim. In recent years, SPRYTE has jumped on Peace Officers Memorial Day, “Juneteenth,” POW-MIA Recognition Day, and National Caregivers Day, generating dozens of published letters.

Move fast. If you want to respond to a published article, or give your take on a topic in the news, waiting even a few days can make your letter to the editor stale. Monitor media coverage that’s relevant to your organization’s expertise, and get the wheels spinning for a letter the day the story runs. Submit it the next day or within 48 hours. And don’t forget to reference the specific article in your letter.

Follow the rules. Many papers have specific guidelines for letter writers, so read them and follow them. Words might be limited to 200 or even 150, so make every word count. (In general, shorter letters or more likely to be used in any case.) Some publications require you to e-mail your letter to a specific department or editor, and others have online submission forms. Submit in the prescribed format to give your letter to the editor the best chance of being used. And some papers specifically state they don’t run general “thank you” letters, or letters that don’t respond to a specific article that was published, so make note of those restrictions too.

Customize your letter. If you’ve gone to the trouble to write a letter to the editor, take the time to adapt it for every newspaper/market you’re submitting it to. Include the local office location and healthcare professional’s name, for example, rather than the CEO of the national organization. Name the city and reference the local issue if applicable. This will greatly increase the chance of your letter getting used.

Be available. Just about every paper has a letter verification process to ensure validity, and that might include a phone call or e-mail to or from the letter writer confirming contact information, city of residence and organization. Make sure the person who signs the letter to the editor is aware they might be contacted, or might proactively have to call a number to verify.

Manage expectations. Even if you get a canned e-mail that says your letter to the editor is being considered for publication, you’re only at second base. Your letter might be pushed out due to lack of space, competing, more timely topics, or a more insightful (or entertaining) letter on the same subject. Then again, if your letter is more of an evergreen, it could run days or even weeks letter when you’re not expecting it.

Letters to the editor can be a powerful tool in the healthcare communicator’s arsenal. They can build your reputation, influence public opinion, spur changes in behavior, and, as part of a bigger campaign, possibly even influence public policy. So letter rip!

 

Twitter Tactics to Reach Reporters

Building Relationships Still Key to Success

It’s often said that it takes work to make a marriage work. Melding two lives, lifestyles and families is a constant challenge. Business relationships are more transactional, working best when each party has an understanding of the others’ specific needs and they can strive together toward a common goal.

Media relationships are somewhere in between – often having the transactional nature of the business relationship, but based on a somewhat more intimate level of understanding between the parties involved. It’s through that more intimate level of understanding that you can build a closer connection – in general, and especially in social media.

From a media relations standpoint, SPRYTE has found that Twitter offers an excellent avenue and opportunities for achieving a closer connection with print media targets via social media.

 

Understand the Reporter’s Needs and Interests

Being able to build such connections, of course, is part of the PR playbook.

To do that, you need to understand a reporter’s needs and interests. What motivates him/her? The best way to start? Simple. Follow them. Spend several days (or weeks) getting to know what topics and stories interest them. What are they writing about?  What else are they reading – and sharing via their Twitter feeds? What do their comments tell you about how they think? Maybe you’ll be able to identify some personal characteristics or interests that will come in handy later.

Make sure to share articles they write (especially if they involve you or your client), and to accompany the share with a favorable comment of your own (if warranted, naturally). Don’t forget to include to mention “@YourBusinessHandle” in the messaging.

More and more media outlets are using social media analytics to gauge the popularity and impact of their news talent, so there can be some real value from their standpoint. Be active, but don’t be obsequious.

Direct messaging, of course, can be a great advantage if you and your target reporter follow each other. And once you’ve established the rapport, you can follow-up with email, if it’s more convenient.

 

Seeing it in Action

Often, a simple “heads up” about an upcoming event can be enough to spur interest. Not long ago, one of our hospice clients was planning a special Gift of A Day (perfect day realized) for a patient – our client had rented out an old-time movie theater for a special screening of “Singin’ In The Rain” for her and her family. There was also a limo, a red carpet, a professional singer and greeters in yellow raincoats to help lend excitement.

Our target journalist was a community reporter for a Northeast Ohio daily newspaper. Based on her Twitter feed, it was evident she favored “human interest” type stories such as this. A Twitter message intrigued her enough to follow-up:

The Tweet led to a series of back and forth emails through which we set her up with interviews with family members and client staff, as well as the owners of the theater hosting the event.

The result was a huge feature story in the Akron Beacon-Journal on the front page of the community section, complete with color photos of the patient, family, limo, red carpet and raingear-garbed attendants.

Could we have done it without Twitter? Probably. But Twitter gave us the ability to quickly review our target, ascertain her interests, and deliver a short, enticing message designed just for her.

Twitter can be a time-saver as well as a strategic tool. But like any tool, you need to spend some time and experiment with it in order to become an expert craftsman.

Is Your Website ADA Compliant?

Online Information Barriers Risk Litigation  

The 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities in every area of public life, including employment, education, transportation, telecommunications and all public and private places that are open to the general public.

As professional communicators, we work closely with our clients to help them craft messages to reach their target audiences. With the continuing evolution of web-based communications, the need to adapt the message for each target audience is a growing challenge.  For healthcare communicators, making sure important information can be accessed and understood by as many people as possible is critical.

Many of us are familiar with some of the most common changes fostered by the ADA – door ramps, public restroom accommodations, and special wheelchair lifts on public buses, to name a few. But the ADA has also played a key role in the evolution of online commerce, by trying to ensure that the disabled have equal access to goods, services and digital content on websites operated by businesses and other organizations.

 

Technology Brings Change

As part of a recent webinar sponsored by the New England Society for Healthcare Communicators (@NESHCo), presenters from @SilverTech, a digital marketing firm, noted that the federal government often serves as a catalyst for changes that are adopted throughout industries.

Several prominent legal cases have helped further the cause of greater website accessibility for the disabled.

National Federation of the Blind v. Target Corp. was a class action suit brought against the retailer because blind consumers could not navigate the Target website and make purchases as readily as a non-disabled consumer could. The result: The court found the ADA’s prohibition against discrimination in the “enjoyment of goods, services, facilities or privileges” applied to public accommodations in cyberspace as well as a physical retail store.

In National Association of the Deaf v. Netflix, Netflix was found to have violated ADA protections because it failed to provide closed captioning for its “Watch Instantly” digital content. The case confirmed that businesses that sell services exclusively through the internet were also subject to ADA provisions that protect disabled citizens against discrimination.

In 2014, an agreement negotiated between the Justice Department and Peapod, an internet grocer, further solidified the scope of the ADA’s reach, by emphasizing the importance of ensuring websites are equally accessible via mobile devices.

 

The Future: Greater Accessibility

These recent cases may be the beginning of many more website accessibility cases. That means pressure on organizations to ensure that digital content on their websites and affiliated technology are independently accessible, regardless of whether the user is working from a laptop, smartphone or other mobile device.

Healthcare organizations and financial institutions – because they tend to be highly transactional – may be particularly vulnerable to potential ADA accessibility litigation. For example, for consumers who use a hospital website to find a physician, look up services, identify locations – any such type of direct engagement – the information should be as accessible as if the consumer were entering the facility itself.

 

Enhancing Accessibility Enhances SEO

Making sure one’s website is accessible to people with disabilities not only protects against ADA-related litigation, it also enhances the search optimization of your site.

The basic idea of the internet has always been to provide information in as accessible a fashion as possible. By limiting accessibility, you run the risk of cutting off customers and potential markets. Thus, it’s important for organizations to follow best practices to ensure their websites’ accessibility is constantly maintained.

The Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) of the World Wide Web Consortium (WC3), the primary international standards organization for the internet, has published a series of web accessibility principles to help organizations keep their websites current.

 

P.O.U.R.

The thrust of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0 (WCAG) can be remembered by using the acronym P.O.U.R.

P is for Perceivable. All digital content and user interface components should be presented to users in different ways to account for different means of perception.  For example, digital content should provide text alternatives to non-text content. Multimedia should have captions or other alternatives to explain the action that is taking place. Assistive technologies should be integrated where possible, so that meaning isn’t lost. Also, enabling users to see and hear – rather than just read – content is a plus. Consider offering transcripts of podcasts. If your website includes video, provide visual access to audio information through in-sync captioning. Also, don’t rely on color as a navigational tool or as the only way of distinguishing items.

O is for Operable. Websites should be designed so interface components and navigation is easily operable (e.g., via keyboard or mouse), and tagged to work with voice control systems. The interface should assist users in navigating and finding digital content, and also give users enough time to read and use it. Including a skip navigation feature can make it easier for automatic screenreaders to make sense of on-screen content.

U is for Understandable. Information about the user interface and its operation should be clear and understandable. For example, error messages should provide a clear explanation of the problem (Not just say “Error” or “Invalid field”). Digital content should also appear and operate in predictable ways. (In other words, try to make it as easy as possible for the user to find what s/he’s looking for.)

R is for Robust. Content should be robust enough that it can be interpreted by a wide range of user applications, including assistive technologies. Compatibility with current and future user tools should be an ongoing goal.

 

Conclusion

The internet’s continuing evolution as a primary source of commerce, entertainment, information and services has changed the way business, government and society operate. Those with disabilities may find that some websites don’t provide the level of access they need to partake of information, products or services that are presented on their websites.

Organizations, particularly those in healthcare, need to maximize their efforts to ensure that anyone, regardless of a disability, can easily navigate their websites and access the digital content they need. Doing so will help forestall ADA-related litigation. But it will also enhance the basic navigability and SEO compatibility of the website.