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The good, the bad, and the ugly: growing your facility's relationship with the media in the healthiest manner possible.

Every nursing home wants to project a positive image and engage the media enough to report on its accomplishments. But what happens if your facility has a tainted past? Perhaps, there's that one survey that left a black mark on your facility's reputation and, not surprisingly, is the only news the media has ever reported on your organization.

It's true that negative publicity can tarnish a nursing home's reputation with the community, but this shouldn't stop a facility from trying to regain the community's trust and building a relationship with the local media.

When building a relationship with the media, be as transparent as possible. Never deny that your facility had a problem in the past or is working through an ongoing problem, recommends Eric Schubert, director of communications at Ecumen, Minnesota's largest provider of seniors housing and services, located in Shoreview.

If something goes wrong in your facility and the media reports on it, the best way to rebuild your reputation is to stay in touch. Let the local media outlets know you're fixing the problem, and inform them about how you're doing so, Schubert says. This creates a bigger imperative to be able to share further news and create a media relations program at your facility, if you didn't already have one.

"A good story is synonymous with a true story," says John A. Howes, associate director at Chicago-based Navigant Consulting. If your nursing home has faced adversity, you've hopefully taken the appropriate steps to rectify what happened--and if there's independent verification that the improvements took place, that qualifies as a pretty good story in and of itself, he says.

Building your media relationship

"Working with the media is an ongoing process. Reporters have to be approached and a relationship has to be cultivated," says Howes.

Both Howes and Schubert recommend that nursing homes do the following when attempting to build a relationship:

* Develop a list of the news outlets in the area, including print publications, local radio, and local television

* Follow the local media to see what types of stories they cover--especially ones involving the healthcare sector

* Determine which reporter has a nursing home or elderly beat--it's fine to call the media outlet and ask

* Introduce yourself and your facility to the reporter and comment on an article he or she wrote that you enjoyed

* Set up a time to meet the reporter in person, preferably at your facility

Sending a news organization a blind press release may work on occasion, but to get the result you want, there needs to be an ongoing relationship between your facility and the media, says Howes.

Media relations for a nursing facility isn't a full-time job, it's just an occasional part of your duties. You have to read, listen to, and react to news on an ongoing basis, he says. Just because you find something interesting doesn't mean the public will. Understand what the mainstream is and learn to be a part of it.

When developing a marketing strategy, most facilities think of advertising and special events, but it's important that the media also be an aspect of that strategy, says Schubert. The public reads newspapers and watches television to get its news. People know the news isn't paid for, and there is higher credibility given to it.

Tell a good story

When crafting a press release, be clear, be concise, and always put the most important information at the top. Get to the point of your story right away by making it clear in the first paragraph of your press release using 25 words or less, advises Howes.

There are six questions every press release needs to answer within the first paragraph, and Schubert and Howes agree that every news organization looks for and requires them. They are the who, what, where, when, why, and how of the story.

These are the questions every reporter learns to ask on day one of journalism school, and any organization looking for media coverage should answer them, says Schubert. Chances are that if your opening paragraph isn't good and you can't tell what the story is about after reading it, the media won't find it interesting and won't read any further. If this is the case, your press release will head to the recycle bin, and you'll be left wondering why a reporter hasn't bothered to call.

What happens if the media decides to write about your facility? Alexis Starkey, public relations manager for the American Health Care Association (AHCA) in Washington, DC, recommends that a facility and its spokesperson be prepared for the interview by scheduling an actual time when the call or visit will take place.

As listed on AHCA's Web site,, Starkey offers the following advice when preparing for an interview:

* Keep your answers brief

* Do not use professional jargon

* Speak in a positive tone

* Never speak off the record

* Never use the expression "no comment," because it connotes guilt

* Dress conservatively

* Focus on the key messages you want to deliver

* Strive to maintain control of the interview.


RELATED ARTICLE: National Nursing Home Week: treasure our elders.

For many facilities, National Nursing Home Week is a time to celebrate residents, their family members, and staff, and this year won't be any different. Starting on May 13 and continuing through May 19, the American Health Care Association (AHCA), the American Association of Homes and Services for the Aging (AAHSA), and nursing homes across the country will take part in the annual celebration.

With daily activities and community events, this year's theme, "Treasure Our Elders," will bring both young and old together.

The theme "emphasizes that our elders truly are our greatest treasure," says Debbie Afasano, RN, director of clinical services for the Florida Health Care Association (FHCA). Nursing homes can use the celebrations to acknowledge the many contributions the elderly have made to this country. "Age should not be a barrier for people to understand that the elderly can still grow and achieve and accomplish and share," she adds.

In 2006, when FHCA was discussing image in long-term care and how to put a positive light on what nursing homes do, Connie O'Donnell of All Saints Catholic Nursing Home in Jacksonville, FL said, "We should be treasuring our elders."

The theme has grown ever since, and what started as an idea within Florida nursing homes has grown into a nationwide celebration.

"AHCA was approached by its Florida affiliate to see if we wanted to use the theme, and we thought it was a beautiful idea," says Alexis Starkey, public relations manager at AHCA located in Washington, DC.

For facilities interested in celebrating National Nursing Home Week, Afasano and Starkey provide the following ideas for a successful week:

* Create a treasure hunt questionnaire: Develop questions for a treasure hunt that connects the staff, family, and the community to the nursing home's residents. For example, have hunters find a resident who served in World War II.

* Host a welcome home party for veterans: If a staff member or resident has a loved one returning from Iraq, host a party and be sure to invite any veterans in your facility.

* Develop intergenerational activities: Invite local schools to visit and promote programs such as adopt-a-grandparent Or develop a residents-as-mentors program and have residents help a child learn to read.

* Invite the community in: Host discussions between the community and the facility to teach the community what you do and how community members can become involved.

* Host focus groups: Meet with residents and lead discussions about quality of life to learn what you can do to make their lives better.

* Throw a dinner party: Plan a meal and involve the residents in the process.

* Invite residents to a movie night: Show a movie with a theme of treasuring those you love.

* Create a book club: Read books about what people treasure--such as another person or animal--and then hold a group discussion.

* Construct gift boxes: Have residents write a thoughtful note about someone and place it in a gift box he or she decorated.

* Share resident talents: Residents with special talents can perform for others in the facility.

* Make a quilt: Each resident decorates a square piece of fabric to use in making a quilt to display in the facility.

* Use floor themes: Each floor takes on a different theme, such as an island or underwater theme. Hold a contest to have residents vote for their favorite one. Write a pledge revolving around the theme to share with the residents.

Get the media involved in your facility's fete by writing press releases. Or, ask your mayor or a local councilman to take part in the activities--if he or she does, you just might draw the media to come too, says Starkey.--Adrienne Trivers

RELATED ARTICLE: Cut to the chase.

Remember that the first paragraph of your press release or query to the media needs to contain all six of the important questions--who, what, where, when, why, and how--because this is the first thing a member of the media will see when he or she views your press release.

A sample initial paragraph for a skilled nursing facility (in this case Summer House Residences) might read as follows:

Summer House Residences will kick off National Nursing Home Week on May 13 with a treasure hunt and barbeque. Local media are invited to participate as we honor our residents and celebrate this year's National Nursing Home Week theme, "Treasure Our Eiders."

Also make sure your release includes full contact information: your facility's address and phone number, as well as the e-mail of the person in your facility with whom members of the press should speak.--Adrienne Trivets
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Author:Trivers, Adrienne
Publication:Contemporary Long Term Care
Date:Mar 1, 2007
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