Public Affairs and PR: Perfect Together

Government Relations and Public Relations a Team Effort

As our hometown Super Bowl Champion Philadelphia Eagles recently proved (yeah, we’re still celebrating!) to be successful, a football team needs a great offense. That means a dependable line as well as a talented backfield. And while it’s the backs that tend to get most of the glory, they can’t do it on their own.

The linemen are responsible for the nitty-gritty. They do their job in the trenches – mostly out of sight from the casual observer, blocking would-be tacklers, protecting the quarterback, opening lanes for the speedy running backs and talented receivers.

Running Backs and Linemen

A successful public affairs campaign often works much the same way. The Public Relations pros are like the running backs – running with the broader story, alerting the public to the importance of the public policy being promoted, showcasing activities and events in ways that seek to create wider public awareness and broader public support.

Their Government Relations teammates, meanwhile, do the nitty-gritty – working within the power structure, targeting the appropriate legislators, governors, staff members or other public officials to make sure the public policy initiative is moving in the right direction, fending off the opposition, opening lanes for negotiation and agreement.

When they work together in a well-coordinated team effort, magnificent things can happen.

Case in Point

As part of a recent webinar sponsored by the New England Society of Healthcare Communications (NESHCO), presenters from Care New England discussed their efforts to promote statewide legislation in Rhode Island mandating fertility preservation coverage for women undergoing cancer treatments (such as sterilizing surgery, chemotherapy or radiation) that could render them infertile.

Early on, Government Relations and Public Relations team members understood the need to work collaboratively. This was important, because, as noted, their focus can sometimes be at cross purposes.

The process began with internal meetings with clinicians, cancer specialists, lawyers, and Government Relations and Public Relations team members. The purpose: to ensure everyone on the planning team understood the issues involved so they could set a strategic direction for moving forward.

Working Inside / Outside

From there, Government Relations worked with their lobbyists and legislative staff to draft proposed legislation to provide protection to women undergoing cancer treatments. At the same time, the team worked on identifying and educating potential sponsors in both the House and Senate, and to garner support from the leadership of both chambers.

In the months ahead, the Government Relations team worked to identify and evaluate potential witnesses (doctors and patients) to appear at legislative committee hearings as well as be available for supporting media opportunities. The team also helped draft testimony and kept in close communication with legislators to alleviate any concerns that might arise as a result of the hearings and provide regular updates to key internal stakeholders.

Going Public

Meanwhile, PR worked to get the message out to the general public, in order to start building popular support for measures designed to protect the health and lives of women facing such daunting challenges. Various allies, including the American Society for Reproductive Medicine (ASRM), assisted and provided an official statement in support of the legislation that was included in a news release. That kind of support helped spread the love by encouraging others to raise their voices as well. News stories subsequently appeared in key publications including The Providence Business Journal, Providence Business News, HealthLeaders Media, US News and Beckers Hospital Review. In addition, clinicians from Women & Infants Hospital of Rhode Island provided a supporting op-ed that appeared in the New England Journal of Medicine.

Happy Ending

On July 5, 2017, Rhode Island became the first state in the nation to require insurance coverage of fertility preservation prior to radiation or chemotherapy treatment that could result in infertility.

At SPRYTE, members of our team have been involved in similar efforts over the years, including an effort in Pennsylvania to eliminate the use of certain chemicals in children’s products. The experience was very similar – working a two-pronged approach, one aimed at legislators and regulatory officials, the other focusing on building awareness in the media and among the public about the chemicals in question.

Our experience mirrored what took place in Rhode Island: working with legislative staff and sponsors, identifying and vetting expert witnesses, and updates about new scientific studies supporting the claims that children were at risk. Our story ended somewhat differently; after several legislative hearings, industry representatives agreed to stop using the chemicals in childrens’ products.

Nevertheless, the lessons remain the same. Government Relations and Public Relations professionals each bring different, but often complementary, skill sets to the table. To work together, they need to plan together, establish mutual goals, and map out a clear strategy that allows each team to do what they do best without getting in each other’s way.

From a public policy standpoint, the results can be game-changing.

Published February 20, 2018 by Spryte Communications in Uncategorized

The “Afterlife” of Earned Media Hits

Extend Reach by Marketing the Marketing

If there’s one thing SPRYTE is good at, it’s generating great earned media results for our clients. But what becomes of those terrific stories after they appear?

In days gone by, an article would run in a paper or magazine, (hopefully) be seen by thousands or maybe millions of readers, then get relegated to the recycling bin or bottom of the proverbial birdcage. The agency or client might add the clip to a digital archive, to trot out when someone asked for it down the road. More savvy organizations might get reprints made and add them to their marketing materials.

With the advent of the internet, however, those once-fleeting media “hits” have found an extended afterlife. Those wonderful stories live online, potentially in perpetuity, to be found by consumers, prospective employees and journalists researching your organization. (Unfortunately, so do negative ones, but that’s a topic for another discussion.)

As those stories accumulate, your SEO results will likely increase too. If you’ve read our prior blog on getting backlinks, you’ll have had success in getting journalists to include links to your organization in the online version of stories. According to Google, a whopping 99.2% of sites that show up in the top 50 search results have at least one external link. The more earned media hits you receive, the more valuable links back to your site from legitimate news sources…and the more your credibility will rise in the eyes of Google and other search engines.

SPRYTE, like most agencies, has always merchandised our media results for clients, but our clients have become more and more interested in merchandising them to their own audiences, whether those are patients and prospective patients, employees/doctors, prospective partners and affiliates, franchises or the general public.

And we’re very happy to help, by providing new introductory copy, writing social media posts, or securing digital reprints.

 

Beyond the Birdcage

Here are some ways we recommend taking that glowing media story “beyond the birdcage”:

  • Post the article on your organization’s website, either on your dedicated “In the News Page” if you have one, or your home page if the story merits marquee treatment. You can include a thumbnail, a link to the original source, or a readable image.
  • E-mail a PDF of the article with a cover note to your marketing list, or consider snail-mailing hard copies with a cover letter or handwritten Post-It note (“I just wanted to make sure you saw this great article…”) to particularly hot prospects.
  • Include the article link or the entire article in your organization’s internal newsletter.
  • Share the article link on all your social media channels, and encourage your employees or employee-ambassadors to share or post it on their personal feeds as well.
  • If you’re a franchisor, like a home care company, provide your franchise owners with a ready-to-use blog or paragraph and link that they can use on their microsites, if available.
  • Prepare copy for each of the main social media channels, making posting a turn-key process for franchise owners or affiliates. (Remember, you now have 280 characters to boast on Twitter!)
  • Make hard copies of the article for hand out at trade shows or expos, or to include in leave-behinds. Enlarge and mount the article on foam board for display at your booth or table.
  • Broadcast stories can be edited together and added to the website, played on a loop in waiting rooms, or shown during expos.

One SPRYTE client was so thrilled with the breadth and quality of coverage we generated that they revamped their lobby wall to create a “Wall of Fame” featuring our greatest hits!

 

Run with it, but Play by the Rules

A word of caution: check with the article rights holder before mass distributing any story. Linking to the original source is acceptable in most cases, and the Fair Use Doctrine may apply in many others, but as some stories reside behind paywalls, written permission and/or a fee may be required. Many publications also provide official reprints, including the masthead, at a cost.

Even if you’re not redoing the décor to highlight media hits, positive articles about your organization should become another arrow in your marketing quiver. Fortunately, there are many avenues to prolong the afterlife of great publicity!

When Media Worlds Collide

Specialization is Great, But Integration is Better

By Lonny Strum, Strum Consulting Group

I grew up in the industry in the late 70s and 80s at BBDO/New York. Just post-Mad Men era, though not too far removed. For its many flaws, BBDO/New York was a truly great agency. BBDO and its clients knew what it was—a TV shop for big brands which were looking to build their image through TV advertising. Not print, not radio—TV. In that era, BBDO was second to none.

My career moved to Philadelphia in the 90s where I ran two large local agencies—Earle Palmer Brown and later the Star Group—though much of what I learned about the power of TV advertising remained in my soul. Nonethetheless, I gained a deeper appreciation for “other marketing disciplines”—PR, Yellow Pages Advertising, Direct Response and later some early Web Development. BBDO had none of these other disciplines. It didn’t have to. There were other shops in the BBDO network and later the Omnicom Diversified Agency Services (DAS) network that did that “other stuff.” And in the 70s and 80s, the other stuff was myopically viewed as secondary.

Changes happened along the way, some subtle others not so. Even before that information superhighway thing took off (and I thought it was a fad—oops), the growth of “below the line” functions—promotion, DR, PR – grew faster than general advertising. Then media shops were spun off into separate companies, leaving the big ad shops as largely strategic/creative firms. Then all hell broke loose as digital shops grew and continue to grow. While traditional ad spending still is the dominant form of spending, I foresee the day in the not too distant future when general advertising is “below the line.” Truth of the matter is the line has now been blurred, and today there is no line at all.

Today the three media worlds—paid, owned and earned– are experiencing a convergence.  To be clear the three media worlds are:

Paid media is media you buy—TV ads, radio, outdoor, print, display advertising, paid search, TV spots, outdoor advertising, etc.

Owned media is as it says-you own it. Your web site, blog, YouTube Channel, social media pages, etc. The company controls the horizontal. The company controls the vertical. (see The Outer Limits)

Earned media is typically what people thought of as PR but which now has a broader application. From traditional  articles/mentions and word-of-mouth to new social media chatter, likes, reviews, links,  etc. — basically what people are genuinely saying about you digitally or not, that you didn’t pay for or control.

This convergence is kind of like a Vulcan mind meld and you need to have the wisdom and knowledge of Spock to orchestrate it properly.  Here’s the real challenge:

In this complex marketing world, marketing discipline specialization is so important. It is a full time job mastering the detail and gaining a deep and full understanding of a marketing discipline/media type particularly when layered with the digital implications that never even existed in yesteryear. Despite the need for specialization, there has never been a time where integration of those disciplines is more important. Said simply,

Specialization without orchestration yields no integration

(overuse of the “ations” I know, but you get the point)

My point is this: Never has there been more marketing specialization in distinct areas—traditional advertising, PR, media planning/buying, social media, search, SEO, digital advertising. Each element overlaps the other. In yesteryear specialized disciplines were handled by separate “departments” of ad agencies. Today they are handled by separate agencies.

So where is the integration happening? Mainly at companies by smart digitally focused, analytic-centric, renaissance marketing people. This integrator needs to be incredibly smart, versatile and visionary.

For those who are entering the marketing field, you should aspire to ultimately be that person. The person with the vision of how the pieces really work together. My advice is always try to learn about disciplines outside of your specialty, figure out how they work together, and then go to the head of the convergence class.

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.

Harness the Exclusive

A Scoop Can Yield Results

When planning an earned media campaign for your organization, keep in mind the power of the exclusive. It can be used to forge a relationship with a reporter, or strengthen an existing one. And in our experience it might increase the odds of your news or story getting published or aired if the media outlet knows it is the only or first one who has the information.

At SPRYTE, we’ve cultivated many terrific relationships with healthcare writers both locally and in key trade publications and blogs. So when we have a strong story pitch or a timely news announcement for a client, one of the first things we ask ourselves is “Is there a key reporter we can offer this to as an exclusive?”

Usually, the answer will be obvious: that journalist whose outlet is most local or most relevant to the client. Other times, we’ll offer it to a friendly writer who previously covered the client. They might be one and the same, or they might be different.

A Laughing Matter: Nitrous Oxide

A recent example came when our client, a regional health system, became the first in the area to offer nitrous-oxide, aka laughing gas, to mothers laboring in the delivery room. Ni-Ox is a game-changer, as patients can personally control the flow of gas during active labor, and is completely safe for mother and child. It also hasn’t become widespread yet, so we knew there’d be interest.

We pitched a story including an in-person interview with the hospital’s director of women’s health, to the Bucks County Courier Times, a nearby daily with a readership that contributes a significant number of the hospital’s expectant mothers. The resulting story got prominent play in the paper’s health section, with multiple photos, and noted our client’s focus on giving patients more choices in their care.

But we were far from done. We then pitched the story to the Philadelphia Business Journal, the area’s most important business publication. As they don’t compete directly with the daily newspaper, we felt comfortable again offering it “exclusively.” That story ran three weeks after the other one.

And we are currently working with one of the local network affiliates on a story, which when it comes to fruition will be a local TV exclusive.

Because you’re putting all your marbles in one sack with this approach, it requires some patience, and it’s important to allow some time at the start of a campaign for this window of exclusivity, before going out with your news more broadly. Here are some other things to keep in mind when going this route:

Keep the needs of the media in mind. This might mean deferring to their timeline once you’ve made the offer (this is where the patience comes in).

Exclusive doesn’t mean “only.” Most journalists understand that it simply means they’re getting first crack, but others might follow. And they’re almost always fine with that.

Expand your view of “exclusive.” As we did with the Nitrous-Oxide news, we offered it as a daily newspaper exclusive, a business press exclusive, and a television exclusive. You can also offer an idea as:

  • A trade media exclusive
  • A radio exclusive
  • An online/blog exclusive
  • A local exclusive
  • A national news exclusive

You can even offer these simultaneously, as long as none of the outlets directly competes with one of the others.

Use exclusives strategically. If you offer them to the same reporter over and over, they might lose their luster, and you’re missing an opportunity to build other relationships. Also, there might be times when an exclusive is not appropriate, like when your client has vital or timely information. Examples include tips for protecting yourself during an epidemic, or how the organization is responding to a data breach or cyber-attack.

Keep your word. Once you make an exclusive offer, you are obligated to stand by it and not approach a competing media outlet with the same idea. Violate this at the risk of harming the relationship.

Follow up, but be ready to move on. Contact the journalist once or twice after you offer the exclusive, to gauge interest. If they waffle, or don’t respond, send a final note saying something like “if it’s OK, I’d like to go ahead and offer this idea to another publication as I haven’t heard definitively from you.” Wait one more day, then do it.

The medical exclusive can be a valuable tool when embarking on a campaign. If you manage it properly, it can be a win-win for the reporter and your organization.