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.

Timeless Stories Break Through Any Clutter

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

In honor of Labor Day, we’re resharing our blog post about how telling heartfelt stories – like Crossroads Hospice’s special “Gift of a Day” event for a beloved veteran – is one of the best ways an organization can connect with the media.

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.

The Power of Pooches

Don’t Overlook Animals, Kids in Drawing Media

This week, we’re revisiting our blog post about how stories involving animals and children are effective magnets for great media coverage.

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.

Workplace Violence in Healthcare is a Real Threat

New Technologies Increase Security

SPRYTE Communications is an active member of the Chamber of Commerce Southern New Jersey’s Health Issues Committee. At our quarterly meeting on September 10, Symtech Solutions Marketing and Business Development Director Brittany Countis provided an overview of workplace violence towards healthcare providers, a growing concern. Countis shared her presentation with SPRYTE. We are running it as SPRYTE Insights’ guest blog this week.

Managing workplace violence in healthcare is a challenge, but life safety systems such as wearable panic buttons can help speed up response time to an emergency. When implemented in a solid violence prevention program, panic buttons can increase the safety of staff and patients, while mitigating risk for the enterprise.

Panic Buttons Are Vital in Violence Prevention Programs which is why they are being mandated in various cities, states and industries due to increase in violence. In hospitality, the city of Miami Beach and state of NJ have mandated the use of panic buttons in hotels over 100 rooms. In the education sector NJ is requiring panic buttons in schools K-12 and PA has provided state grants towards the purchase of panic buttons. The demand for panic button technology in healthcare is on the rise as violence against healthcare workers is being exposed.

Requiring Panic Buttons in Hospitality and Education

The House Education and Labor Committee recently passed the Workplace Violence and Prevention for Health Care and Social Service Workers Act (H.R. 1309) which seeks an enforceable federal standard to disrupt the growing level of violence against nurses, physicians, social workers, emergency responders and other caregivers. This bill would offer protections to public-sector workers in the states not under OSHA oversight while calling on employers to identify risks; specify solutions; and require training, reporting and incident investigations. The legislation also would require an interim final OSHA standard one year after enactment and the completion of a final standard within 42 months.

Healthcare professions are at an increased risk for workplace violence. From 2002 to 2013, incidents of serious workplace violence requiring days off from work is four times more common in healthcare than in the private industry. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2016, health care and social service workers suffered 69% of all workplace violence injuries and were nearly five times more likely to experience violence on the job than the average US worker.

Healthcare workers are more likely to get injured at work than police officers and prison guards; nurses suffer in particular. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics tracks incidence rates of nonfatal occupational injuries and illnesses involving days away from work, including “intentional injury by other person.” Of the 18,400 injuries reported in the private industry in 2017, 71% were reported in the healthcare and social assistance sector. And this only includes incidents that involved

Symtech Solutions Wearable Panic Button

A solid prevention program offers an effective approach to reduce or eliminate the risk of violence in the workplace. Emergency Call Systems such as Symtech Solutions’ wearable panic button are a vital tool as they can save time in locating a victim during an emergency or attack which can decrease the amount of damage done. Here is how it works:

  1. When an emergency occurs, every minute counts so it’s important to know the exact location of the victim so security can respond directly to the incident. With Symtech’s wearable panic button, security can identify the victim with 100% location accuracy.
  2. Auto-tracking of Symtech’s panic buttons, after the call for help is initiated. This allows security to track them throughout the facility and even into the parking garages.
  3. With Symtech’s wearable panic button, security will know who placed the call, so there is no need to take a roll call.
  4. Symtech’s wearable panic buttons have two-way feedback which indicates to the victim that the call for help was received and help is on the way.
  5. The use of Symtech’s wearable panic buttons reduces the disruption of patients and visitors in the event of an emergency by isolating the incident and responding to the location directly.
  6. Symtech’s wearable panic buttons are a discrete and silent way to call for help without escalating the situation as they can be worn inside clothing and do not annunciate upon activation.
  7. Having a means to call for help provides piece of mind to caregivers who risk themselves for the safety of others everyday.
  8. Panic buttons can prevent bad PR by minimizing the catastrophic damage of an attack and costly legal disputes.

Workplace Violence Costs Healthcare Providers

Workplace violence is taxing on the worker, but also on the organization. A 2017 report prepared for the American Hospital Association estimated that workplace violence cost U.S. hospital and health systems approximately $2.7 billion in 2016, including $280 million related to preparedness and prevention, $852 million in unreimbursed medical care for victims, $1.1 billion in security and training costs, and an additional $429 million in medical care, staffing, indemnity, and other costs related to violence against hospital employees. Further, health workers who were victims of violence experienced an average of 112.8 hours per year of sick, disability, and leave time (excluding long- and short-term disability), which was 60.4 hours more per year than counterparts who had not experienced workplace violence, therefore mitigating the risk for the enterprise. – Brittany Countis

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!