Summer is in full swing. And as folks flee their offices for family vacations — or just any old reason to use some accumulated time off — some businesses may experience a bit of a summer slowdown.
News reporters, as you might imagine, experience the summer slowdown acutely. While you’re getting pummeled with out-of-office replies and voicemail recordings, they may be calling everyone on their contact list to try to find news that’s worth covering. This makes the summer months an ideal time to think proactively about media relations and how you can help your business, or your clients’ businesses, by helping a reporter.
Here are a few tips for boosting your media relations efforts during the summer months:
1. Meet a reporter for coffee. I’ve said it before: Relationships rule when it comes to working with reporters. Even if you don’t have news to share right now, many reporters will be open to meeting at convenient location for a quick cup of coffee and a chance to catch up about anything happening at your company or in your industry. These meetings can be educational for the reporter, and they build a foundation for working together in the future.
2. Make introductions. If you help a reporter connect to other people they may find interesting or helpful, you’ll simultaneously enhance your relationship with that writer. If you meet for coffee, ask them if there is anyone you can help connect them
to. Better yet, come to the meeting armed with a couple of names you think they should know. If the reporter makes a good connection, chances are he or she will call you again.
3. Do some brainstorming. Have you ever picked up the newspaper during the summer, flipped through it, and wondered why there wasn’t anything to read? You can help reporters find compelling stories by doing a little brainstorming of your own. Think of a good topic or two that you think might make for an interesting story and pass them along. The story ideas don’t have to — and in fact, should not — be all about your business. But perhaps there is an industry or community issue or trend that you think might make for an interesting feature story. Pass it along and win some points for chipping in.
4. Think about timing. If you actually have an honest-to-goodness piece of news to share during the summer months, consider how you might be able to use the summer slowdown to your advantage. Many companies want to avoid issuing news during the days or week surrounding holidays like the 4th of July or Labor Day, for fear that nobody will see it. That type of thinking makes holiday weeks particularly painful for reporters who are looking for news, and it may make them more likely to give second-rate news the star treatment (or at least give a little attention to a news item that, on a busier day, they might overlook completely). And remember, even if most of your audience is at the beach, they’re probably checking news on their phones, or browsing social media – where you should be posting links to all your positive news coverage!
Remember, the summer months can be a slow time in the news business. As a former reporter, my advice to you is, if you’re facing a summer slowdown of your own, take advantage of the opportunity to help a reporter and bolster your media relationships.
I was recently on a conference call with several members of a hospital executive team, and I found myself comparing municipal hospital board meetings to a Charles Dickens novel. Like public meetings of almost any stripe, hospital board meetings can be the best of times… unless, of course, they’re the worst of times.
When the local Girl Scouts laud your facility for helping a dozen fourth grade girls earn first aid badges, or the father of new triplets thanks your medical staff for saving his wife and helping him build a family, it’s all sunshine and unicorns in the board room.
But the combination of publicly elected / appointed lay people, anxious administrators and complicated issues can make hospital governance meetings very interesting forums. Layer on the additional dynamics of patient confidentiality, compliance concerns and other healthcare regulatory realities and you have all the makings for either 1) a really boring group nap or 2) a rootin’ tootin’ town hall where emotions and confusion (and sometimes, allegations) run high.
Sounds like pre-French Revolution Dickensian Europe, right?
Most administrators know in advance if their next board agenda will provide for a snoozer or a showdown, so it’s important to plan accordingly. We’ve previously discussed tips for managing contentious meetings. But some board meetings, particularly those in which a sensitive issue may be raised, require a different kind of strategy.
In many instances, touchy subjects leave the hospital and its board in the unenviable position of being gagged by HIPAA, credentialing law, peer review protections and a host of other relevant regulations – even if a member of the public takes the podium to make unflattering (or even patently untrue) comments about the hospital. Retreating into the dark and sometimes defeating closet marked “no comment” can lead audience members at the meeting – which often include reporters – to conclude that the hospital either has something to hide or doesn’t care about the issue.
If a hospital has a difficult item on the agenda, or knows that a negative issue may surface during the public discussion part of a meeting, it may want to consider preparing a fact sheet or policy overview to help guests and reporters better understand the context – if not the details – of a particular topic. For instance:
- Hospitals contemplating service line changes or workforce reductions could benefit from producing a single-page overview of statistics from peer facilities or national organizations. When reporters and community members read that 14 other hospitals in the state have undertaken layoffs in the last year, or nine other facilities have trimmed underutilized services, it helps provide context that all hospitals must focus on those services of greatest demand by their community.
- Perhaps a hospital is lambasted in a letter to the editor by a patient who stormed out of the ER drunk, combative and mad because he wasn’t seen by a physician within 30 minutes. Now he’s promised to attend a board meeting to explain his mistreatment. The hospital won’t be able to explain the circumstances of the patient’s behavior in the ER, nor will they be able to disclose that he presented with a sprained big toe. But they could prepare a brief explanation that patients at ANY hospital are able to leave the facility at ANY time – even against medical advice. And they could provide the context that all patients are given medical screenings upon presenting in the ER and then treated by physicians according to the urgent or emergent nature of their condition.
- Or maybe an unhappy patient has complained to a hospital CEO four times – always insisting the head of surgery be fired because of his bedside manner (which is usually pretty good). The CEO does her best to be responsive to the patient while explaining that the surgeon’s behavior hadn’t risen to grounds for firing. Undeterred, the patient appears at hospital board meeting and takes the trustees to task for being oblivious to her concerns. A brief and plain-language overview of the hospital’s complaint resolution process shows that ALL complaints are investigated within 48 hours and ALL patients who share complaints are updated daily on the progress of a resolution to their concern.
Planning ahead – and working around issues that can’t be addressed head on – can help “the worst of times” in hospital board meetings move along more smoothly.
At Lovell, we like to think of ourselves as healthcare experts. As we all know, the healthcare industry is ever-changing and it can be hard to keep up with the latest policy changes or implementations. This is why it’s vital to stay up-to-date on everything healthcare, and as a healthcare communicator, it’s even more important to be in the know. Immersing yourself in daily reading will ensure you stay current on the latest news and trends. Here are a few of our recommended readings:
- Local Daily Newspapers/Top Headlines. Reading your local paper, and specifically the healthcare section, is important to stay on top of local happenings in your area. Whether this is a digital copy, or actual paper, at least browse through the top daily headlines to get a sense of what’s going on and could be relevant to you and your clients.
- Client Newsletters and/or eBlasts. As the lead communicator for your clients, it is important to know what’s newsworthy to them. Ask to be included on all newsletter or daily/weekly eBlast distribution lists. This may include competitor information, or articles that they’ve found specific to their services. It may also help you generate new pitch ideas or learn something you didn’t know about their industry or business.
- Modern Healthcare. As one of the leading healthcare trade magazines, it is a great source for healthcare business and policy news and information. The Daily Dose and Alerts are helpful ways to stay current.
- Becker’s Hospital Review. Specifically geared towards high-level hospital leaders, Becker’s offers up-to-date business and legal news and analysis relating to hospitals and health systems, as well as best practices and legal guidance. They offer additional insight as to specific issues your clients are navigating every day.
- Other relevant industry trade magazines. There are numerous other healthcare trade publications, for example, HealthLeaders, Journal of Healthcare Management, Healthcare Executive, HFM, etc. Research publications specific to your clients and subscribe to these magazines and their digital feeds.
I would suggest incorporating 15-30 minutes a day to review some of these publications if you aren’t doing so already. Your clients will appreciate your knowledge and initiative to stay on top of the latest news and trends.
What are you reading? Do you have any other daily reading suggestions to add to our list?
You’ve saved, invested and finally purchased your dream home, which includes every high-end finish and furnishing you’ve imagined. Unfortunately, you can never seem to find time for its upkeep and maintenance. You ultimately delay necessary repairs or ignore them altogether. You’re just too busy!
This sounds absolutely crazy, right!? Coincidentally, this scenario reflects a reality for far too many PR and communications professionals when it comes to professional development. The asset that is your communications and public relations expertise can depreciate in value and fall into a state of complete and utter disrepair unless you make time to keep your skills honed.
As a lifelong learner, I’ve always managed to carve out time for professional development, despite what sometimes seems like insurmountable family and daily work demands. Admittedly, it’s partly due to my unquenchable thirst for all things breaking news, hot topics and new pop culture trends. (Look no further than my ever-growing stack of reading material and personal library of books for confirmation of my obsession!)
However, my propensity for continued growth is spurred more by passion for my work and a desire to improve the quality of the product and services I provide my clients every time. I am forever seeking ways to stay current in my profession, from networking and attending relevant Meetups (my most recent curiosity is learning about SEO) to memberships in professional associations and mentoring relationships. (Disclosure: I am both a mentor and mentee!) I’m not necessarily wanting to reinvent the wheel, but simply trying to build a better mousetrap.
Sure, staying up on the current industry bells and whistles can quickly get costly. However there’s a lot out there that’s completely free. Some of my go-to resources are PRSay, PR Daily, PRNewser, PRWeek, Poynter, ComPRehension, PR News and Daily Dog.
One of my very favorite Maya Angelou quotes is, “When you know better, you do better.” To “know better” requires dedication and commitment to perfecting your craft through pursuit of lifelong learning and development, thereby equipping you to ultimately “do better” for your clients!
Here are some of my tips to get you on the path:
- Talk to both new and seasoned communications professionals about trends they see emerging.
- In the true spirit of a Tennessee native – we’re known as the “volunteer state” – I can’t help but recommend volunteering or consulting on a pro-bono basis for a favorite non-profit organization. Not only would leadership welcome your participation, which saves scarce financial resources, it offers the chance to meet individuals who share similar interests and are willing share nuggets of wisdom.
- Meet for coffee with others in the communications industry or attend a PRSA or IABC luncheon to share ideas, receive helpful hints and hear about industry trends.
Are you making time for professional development – whatever your industry? Please share your own tips for keeping your skills honed.
The AP Stylebook 2014 is here! I previously shared a rant about AP’s decision to allow the use of “over” rather than “more than” to indicate greater numerical value. So I’ll consider enough to have been said on that.
But, as always, there are other interesting changes that accompany this year’s release of the AP’s style guide.
One that may actually come as a relief to some is that state names will now be spelled out in the body of press releases and news stories. For editors who’ve found changing “TN” to “Tenn.” over and over again a tad tiresome, that solves that! Spelling it out for consistency and clarity is okay with me, but note one exception: state names should continue to be abbreviated in most datelines – and that’s with the “Tenn.” style abbreviation, by the way. “TN” is still a U.S. postal code appropriate for mailing addresses.
What’s an exception to even that rule? (Yes, this is a test.)
It’s the cities AP has designated that stand alone in datelines, such as Atlanta, Chicago, Denver, Miami, New York and Seattle, just to choose a few. Consult your AP Stylebook for the others – if you don’t know them. (For shame!)
Other changes for 2014 include:
- The “District” in “District of Columbia” can now be capitalized on second reference with AP’s blessing. Many communicators inside the beltway already conformed to this “new” guidance.
- AP is looking out for the delicate sensibilities of those more mature adults, urging the same caution be used about the word “elderly” as is used for racial and ethnic terms when referring to an individual – unless it’s clearly relevant to the story. AP advises using age when available and appropriate rather than characterizing an individual as elderly.
- A new religion chapter contains more than 200 terms.
- Hip new entries like selfie, bitcoin and LGBT bring AP firmly into 2014.
And in case you didn’t know, AP will soon have an app for that! According to the organization’s May 28 announcement, “AP Stylebook Mobile is a universal iOS app that contains all the content from the spiral-bound book, with the ability to search, add personalized listings or notes and mark your favorite listings for easy reference. The 2014 app is expected to be available soon.”
I don’t know about you, but I am always up for a good secret, especially one that will help my PR career!
I started my adventure to learn the secrets of becoming a PR pro a year ago, and I don’t think I could be in a better place today. I have just completed my third month with Lovell Communications, having learned more about the public relations and communications world in that short span than I ever would have thought possible.
“Team Lovell” is a remarkable group of people. Each individual exudes class, sophistication and skill. To say I am surrounded by “wordsmiths” is an understatement. I have asked a few of these inspiring people to tell me their secret to being a PR pro; now it’s time for me to spill the beans.
Paula Lovell, Founder and Chief Executive Officer
Assume nothing. Check under every rock and get the facts before you do anything. Then double check your work.
Rosemary Plorin, President
Ask “What’s in it for them?”Be empathetic. How a company’s stakeholders value a product/service/announcement is much more important than how the company values it. This is especially true in healthcare marketing. Do patients care how much a hospital spent on a new piece of equipment or how many accrediting organizations endorse it? Probably not. They do care about how it’s going to make them or a loved one feel or how it’s going to impact their hospital stay. For each distinct audience, a sharp PR executive has to ask themselves, “What’s in it for them?”
Dana Coleman, Vice President
Make it work. Things don’t always go as you – or the client – originally planned. So figure out what will work, revise your recommendations or game plan and continue towards the goal. You have to be able to think fast and consider alternate strategies sometimes. If plan A didn’t work, what will work? It’s your job to figure that out.
Robin Embry, Vice President
Be an expert juggler. Agency life requires you to manage many clients who have many different issues/projects. When I’m able to keep all the balls in the air, and when my clients receive the customer service they deserve, that’s a great day.
Amanda Anderson, Senior Account Supervisor
Get stuff done. While I hardly consider myself a PR pro, I would say my secret to being a successful PR professional is having a GSD attitude. GSD stands for “Get Stuff Done.” I approach every project or initiative with this kind of attitude, knowing I will do whatever I can to accomplish our mutual goals – whether that is local media coverage, brand redevelopment and recognition, successful event production or crisis communication strategy development.
Erin George, Senior Account Supervisor
Be able to think like a reporter. When it comes to media relations work, I draw on my reporter background to anticipate what kinds of stories or angles will interest a reporter, the types of questions they might ask and what pitfalls to avoid — like taking too long to respond to a request or over-pitching. Thinking like a reporter comes in handy in other ways, like when interviewing clients to gather information for website or brochure copy, or making sure you get all the facts before responding to a crisis.
Katelyn Fish, Account Executive
Build and maintain relationships. Build good relationships with reporters and maintain those relationships over time, even if you don’t work with them frequently. This pays off in the future.
Ask me again in a few months. Every adventure requires a first step and I am taking mine with a book full of juicy secrets.
What’s your secret?
The world lost one of its greatest communicators on May 28, 2014. World-renowned American author, poet and civil rights activist Dr. Maya Angelou passed away at the age of 86.
Dr. Angelou was known for her inspiring words that shed light onto the beauty and injustices of the world. Here are a few of my favorite quotes from such a brave, thoughtful and inspirational human being.
1) “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
2) “My mission in life is not merely to survive, but to thrive; and to do so with some passion, some compassion, some humor, and some style.”
3) “You can’t use up creativity. The more you use, the more you have.”
4) “There is no agony like bearing an untold story inside of you.”
5) “Nothing will work unless you do.”
6) “I’ve learned that you shouldn’t go through life with a catcher’s mitt on both hands; you need to be able to throw something back.”
7) “You may not control all the events that happen to you, but you can decide not to be reduced by them.”
8) “If you don’t like something, change it. If you can’t change it, change your attitude.”
My favorite quote is # 1. Do you have favorite Maya Angelou quote? If so, share it with us in the comment box below.
A couple of months ago, an advertisement for the da Vinci Surgical System sparked quite a bit of controversy — and an interesting, ongoing conversation about the ethics and value of hospital advertising.
To refresh your memory: The ad, which appeared as a full page in the New York Times Magazine, featured a large photograph of a physician team from the University of Illinois Hospital & Health Sciences System. Below the photograph sat the headline: “We believe in da Vinci Surgery because our patients benefit.” The kicker was that, in small print at the bottom of the ad, was a disclosure that explained some surgeons who appeared the ad had received compensation from da Vinci. And it was later revealed that da Vinci paid for the ad and not everyone in the photo was even a clinician.
After the ad appeared, Paul Levy, the former CEO of Boston’s Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and publisher of the popular “Not Running a Hospital” blog wrote a scathing post titled, “Time to fire somebody,” that questioned the ethics of a public, nonprofit hospital promoting a commercial product — particularly given the controversy surrounding the effectiveness of the surgical system. The post led to similar stories, including this piece by NPR that quotes Levy.
More recently, Hospitals & Health Networks contributor David Ollier Weber penned a column that, through the lens of the da Vinci ad controversy, asks whether hospitals advertising to the general public is in good taste, or even truly effective.
Worth a read, the article discusses the history of hospital advertising – formerly frowned upon by the American Hospital Association — and gives a snapshot of some of the current sentiment toward the practice, including questions about whether it’s “in good taste.”
Here’s the quote that closes the article, from a Minneapolis-based health care marketing consultant, taking aim specifically at mass advertising:
“In fact, the business case for hospital advertising — especially mass advertising — is extraordinarily poor. It’s notoriously difficult to measure the impact of the ubiquitous ‘brand campaigns’ that are all about awareness and perception-building and have no freaking call to action. But the effectiveness of mass advertising from a cost-benefit perspective pales in comparison to more targeted efforts, such as search advertising, direct mail, community seminars and more. Yes, some of that is advertising, but it’s the mass advertising that’s getting us in trouble.”
What do you think? Is “mass advertising” effective for hospitals? Are there ethical or “taste” pitfalls that must be avoided? Let us know what you think.
Google announced to the Securities and Exchange Commission it has no plans to release its 2013 revenues from mobile advertising since the definition of mobile is changing and it simply doesn’t make sense to break it out separately. Google informed the SEC in a December letter, which was disclosed publicly this week.
So, what does Google envision falling into the mobile bucket moving forward? According to the letter filing, the company said, “Our expectation is that users will be using our services and viewing our ads on an increasingly wide diversity of devices in the future.” To Google, anything that isn’t a desk top is considered mobile and they are already discussing future advertisements on refrigerators, watches, thermostats and car dashboards. (I know we are quickly moving towards a Jetson’s type lifestyle, but I’m not ready for my appliances to try to sell me something.)
I consider all of these products “smart devices” not “mobile,” but I guess Google can be convincing. Bottom line is Google sees a future full of all different kinds of new categories.
From a public perspective, I guess the SEC letter provided insight into what may lie ahead…a world of ad consumption overload.