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.

The Power of Pooches

Don’t Overlook Animals, Kids in Drawing Media

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

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

If You Want Press, Ignore Old Adages

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

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

The Dog Days of Summer

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

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

Sell the Story, not the Fur

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

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

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

When Things Go Wrong in your Media Event

Planning can make all the difference – most of the time

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

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

If something goes wrong, rise above it!

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

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

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

Do not go it alone!

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

Huddle up, discuss, rinse/repeat

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

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

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