Cultivating Stakeholder Relationships Part 3: The Media

A positive relationship with the media can be an exceptionally valuable tool for your agency, your patients and your community

“Boston Paramedic Faces Drug Tampering Charges”
“Ambulances in Texas Town Outfitted with New Technology”
“Kansas City (MO) Fire Ambulance Response Times Under Fire After Man Dies of Heart Attack”
“Rural/Metro-San Diego Honored by California EMS Authority”

Conundrum—Merriam-Webster defines it as “an intricate or difficult problem.” Often, our relationship with the media typifies the concept of this term. A positive relationship with the media can be an exceptionally valuable tool for your agency, your patients and your community. Conversely, an adversarial relationship could have career-ending consequences. We all too often hear about the latter, and as such, there is often an innate fear of cultivating symbiotic relationships with this key stakeholder group. But this does not need to be the case.

Foundationally, the first thing we have to realize it that we must interface with the media. We cannot pretend they do not exist, or that if we mind our own business we’ll never have to deal with them. Further, to be the kind of responsible community partner we want to be, we often need to educate the community through the media on important issues and happenings.

Before we start any discussion of the media, let’s define the difficulties they face. There are two main goals of any media outlet—whether broadcast, print or web.

Inform and Educate
The first goal is to provide education the help their audience. This takes many forms and we see it every day. Reports on accidents, new government projects and programs, businesses opening or closing, classes being offered, programs to assist veterans, criminal arrests, you name it. At the most fundamental level, watching any newscast is an informational endeavor of what’s happening, what to watch out for or how to get help.

Generate Revenue
Like any business, media outlets need to keep the lights on, pay employees and pay rent. To do this, their primary source of revenue is advertising. Some call it “sponsorship,” but the bottom line is they need to generate revenue. Any responsible media outlet leader will tell you that the sales department does not dictate what gets covered in the news and in my experience that is true. However, they will also tell you they make assignments for covering news stories based on what their news director believes their audience wants to know—and are willing to watch or read. The more viewers that choose to watch programming, including news shows, the more advertising revenue that can be generated for that show.

With this basic understanding, let’s turn to how you can effectively build relationships with the media.

Real-Time Event Notifications
As “emergency” medical providers, we are a natural attraction for the media. We deal with human drama almost every day and generate many potential stories that assignment editors may believe are worthy of publication. That attraction is often our double-edged sword. How to inform the media of cool happenings, while balancing a patient’s right to privacy. There are several methods you can use for communicating with the media.

If you are a 9-1-1 provider, create a paging group that includes the assignment editors and key reporters in your market. When “newsworthy” events happen, page the basic information to that group in real time. We use that as an effective tool to inform the media of such things as major wrecks, shootings or other specific events the media may want to know. Often, they may send a crew to the scene, or cover it in some other way. It also builds your agency as a key source for news on major events.

Create a Twitter account you can use to send information to followers. We have used this process, in addition to the paging functions, for the past several months and have generated over 400 followers. In fact, this has become so successful that many times news outlets will re-tweet our information on things like major accidents, traffic issues and such. It always brings a smile when I read news feeds from our local media affiliate tweets that say things like, “MedStar reports rollover crash with traffic delays 35W SB at Meacham.” They have thousands of followers and these messages are great community-building opportunities.

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