WHPRMS November Blog: Five Public Relations Best Practices for Your Hospital’s Advocates

As a healthcare marketer, it your responsibility to describe your organization’s value to the community, convey its Mission and role in the regional economy, and to help your supporters do the same.

By providing the right tools and some guidance, you can leverage the interest of local grass-roots advocates, build upon goodwill in the market and consequently, extend the reach and effectiveness of your marketing messages. Well-organized public relations tools made available to your advocates is a strategic investment into your long-term success. Advocates can be satisfied consumers, employees, board members and any other individual able and willing to speak favorably on your behalf.

The PR plan must drive the discussion and perceptions in a proactive manner. These five best practices can help your healthcare organization’s supporters effectively communicate their messages.

#1 Use Strategy to Drive Success:  Proactively executing an overarching, consistent and rigorous communications strategy will help you to attain long-term objectives and create a distinctive, enduring reputation for your organization.

Start small by addressing each of the foundational elements that describe the mission, vision, programs and economic values of the organization. Take them one at a time, focusing on quality over quantity. Soon, you will have a solid arsenal of PR tools to tap into when you have exciting news, or an opportunity to promote economic value, quality, compassion and your mission.

#2 Differentiate with a Compelling, Message-Driven Story: Every organization must define its unique story and value to the community. This story should be built on a foundation of sharply defined messages that clearly position and differentiate your healthcare organization from other similar endeavors in the area. A core message platform is the cornerstone of any communications strategy.

Fact sheets, created according to key communications messages can and should form the basis of regularly timed strategic messaging. Multiple fact sheets that help frame the underlying issues or describe important programs can be made available to your reliable spokespersons and supporters. These bullet points help communicate pertinent details a reporter can weave into a story or a spokesperson can include in a speech or letter to the editor.

Once the core message platform is finalized, your promotional team can create tailored versions for specific target audiences. The “who, what, when, where, how” become supporting proof points that help define the “why.”

Message discipline is key: ensure the messages are pulled consistently through all communications vehicles, from website copy to interviews to speeches. Give meaningful examples and use anecdotes. Communicate with emotion. Describe “Win-Win” solutions and situations.

#3 Identify and Message-Train Spokespersons: To actively and consistently engage with media as well as major donors and influencers, identify spokespeople with expertise and comfort with a variety of topics. Professional presentation and media training workshops for all spokespeople is recommended. This will sharpen the messages, make messengers more comfortable, and ensure the organization is speaking in one voice. Always have an approved and trained spokesperson available.

 #4 Plan and Map Out Communications Activity: Execution – which might include conducting regular, calendared media outreach is vital. Strategic communication campaigns help organizations prioritize and generate awareness – even when there might not be “hard news” to report. Make your news about your audience and how they benefit. Promotions must have a great “hook” and provide great quotes and captivating visuals.

#5 Use Social Media to Engage and Inspire: Social media allows organizations to reach people with their own content on a broad scale and in increasingly cost-effective and creative ways. Interaction should be message-driven, useful to your audience, and part of an overall mix of communications vehicles.

Negative newspaper publicity should be responded to with letters to the editor (short, to the point and about 200 – 400 words) by these third-party supporters. Negative stories live forever on the Internet. Responses should be posted on your website and in social media and as these similarly counter negative publicity over an extended timeframe. Blogs are highly valued by search engines and will help counter negative comments in an original story.

Healthcare marketers are encouraged to not overlook the value of grass-roots advocates. Channeling their enthusiasm beyond testimonials for great patient care and into ongoing favorable publicity across all aspects of the Mission and Vision is easy and essential. Take advantage of this heartfelt and meaningful extension of your marketing budget by organizing efforts around their immediate communication needs and their desire to advocate on behalf of your hospital.

James Shulkin of Windflower Consulting has been a member of WHPRMS since 1999.