Thought Leaders

  • Fast Five with Mike Morrison: A Media Deluge, New Ways of Working, and “Amazing Gestures of Support”

    Mike Morrison of Massachusetts General Hospital

    Mike Morrison, Director of Media Relations for Massachusetts General Hospital, looks back on 2020 and managing through a pandemic.

    When did you know that MGH was facing a public health crisis?

    As of late December 2019, leaders from our Center for Disaster Medicine had been closely monitoring news from abroad, as well as updates from domestic and international agencies.  The hospital officially launched its Incident Command System at the end of January and ramped up the frequency of its meetings as the pandemic progressed.

    How has this crisis changed the way you work?

    Within the management structure, the Office of News and Public Affairs plays a key role in communicating crucial information. The big challenge for our department has been moving from working very much “in person” to working remotely. We have a team of 13 – 14 people who are very much used to working closely and collaboratively, so working remotely created some challenges at first.

    Also, with the volume of media requests, we’ve had to make sure that the same experts are not being approached by different staff from the same media outlet through different folks on our team. To that end, our department designated a kind of “air traffic controller” who is copied on relevant media requests, so she can provide a bird’s-eye-view of the situation.

    Our day-to-day staffing plan includes two members of our team in the office on a rotating basis to cover the phones and escort media, as needed, on campus. And as another change, since most media don’t want to come on campus, we had to quickly shift to Zoom interviews, which have to be coordinated.

    Have you had any special challenges?

    Especially during the height of the surge, we’ve been deluged with incoming media requests. We’ve needed to balance these with proactive communications around critical public health messages. We had nearly 1100 media placements between early March until the end of May.

    Our entire team has been just incredible. During the height of the initial spring surge, our colleagues went above and beyond to keep up with the hospital’s incredible communications needs. Every media request represented a huge opportunity to get important information to the public.

    We’ve also wanted to share stories about the amazing gestures of support from the Boston community. We’ve had offers of free parking for our staff and some very smart people with 3-D printers offering to create PPE. Also, people would just come by the hospital with donations of food, hand lotion, PPE, and other items.  We’ve responded on social media and on our website, and we continue to work hard to acknowledge and help coordinate all that support and goodwill.

    Were there any resources that particularly helped?

    While we always have worked closely with other departments, the hospital community has really pulled together. Our colleagues in Marketing have played a key role in helping to generate social media content, as well as a consistent look and feel for Covid-19 communications. Communicators in other departments, such as the Mass General Research Institute, have also volunteered to take on various writing and other projects to help in the effort. It’s really been “all-hands-on-deck,” and we’re fortunate to work in a place with that kind of culture.

    Has your focus changed over the year?

    At this point, as we gear up for what may be a second surge, we’re really keeping with the practices we began in the spring—but are getting better at it. Now, though, people want to talk about the vaccine, and we’re getting experts and materials ready to provide information.

    Also, we are working hard to get images and video to show staff in action and help with communication—and we’ve already captured thousands of images. And for this phase, we’re focusing even more on those photos and videos, both for public communication and also as a chronicle for MGH history.

  • Fast Five with Leah Lesser: Driving Public Information, Communicating the Human Experience, and Staying Focused in a Critical Role

    In Events, Fast Five, Thought Leaders on

    Leah Lesser of Emerson Hospital

    Leah Lesser, Marketing Communications Manager at Emerson Hospital in Concord, describes the focus of community hospital public relations and communications during COVID-19. “It’s been an intense year.”

    When did COVID-19 come “front and center” at Emerson Hospital?

    In early January, we began hearing the terms Coronavirus and COVID-19. On January 27, we issued our first public message about the virus, which was an infographic about symptoms and prevention. We didn’t know then that the virus would become a harrowing public health emergency.

    Looking back, it amazes me how much we have learned and has reinforced how essential communication is in a pandemic. It has also underscored for me as a communicator the impact of sharing the human experience – not just metrics and data and symptoms and protocols – but what people are actually experiencing in real life.

    What else did you start doing?

    When we shared the infographic, we also put signage up throughout the hospital, asking people to self-identify if they were sick and had traveled from China or Europe. The first week of March, our Emergency Department treated the third patient in the state who was positive. Other patients followed quickly from there. Communication has been non-stop since.

    Who do you focus on and how have you been communicating?

    Our primary audiences for COVID-19 communications have been:

    • Community/Public
    • Staff
    • Media, including Boston and local media (25+ weekly newspapers)
    • Donors and friends of Emerson

    We use various digital, social, e-mail, podcasts, videos, and other communications channels to reach these core audiences. We work hard to create content that is compelling and valuable for our community. One example is an article written with an allergist: Covid or Allergies? How to Tell. This article went viral on social with nearly two million page views. Another article we produced this summer after some colleagues became dog owners is: Pandemic Puppies: Health Tips for Their Humans.

    In the spring, we worked to garner messages of support from celebrities, including Chris Evans and Steve Carell. These messages boosted staff morale and helped the public know how hard our staff worked to care for patients.

    Proactive media relations resulted in more than 100 feature stories in the first six months of the pandemic. In a typical six-month period, Emerson receives approximately 20 feature stories.

    Looking ahead, where are you focused?

    Right now, we are focused on communications about the vaccines. We are working on TV features about our Surgical Weight Loss program and other proactive media opportunities. Looking further ahead, we are preparing to launch new marketing campaigns to promote priority service lines while staying focused on communications about the pandemic.

    How has the year impacted you as a communicator?

    I have always been amazed by our front-line staff, including our nurses, doctors, respiratory therapists, social workers, and others who care for patients. This year I was awed by their heroism.

    Also, going through a pandemic as a health care communicator has made me appreciate the benefits of working with a nimble marketing team to understand the human experience and get information out quickly.  And due in large part to the pandemic, people all over the hospital and the community have recognized the value of communications. Our team is busier now than ever.

    It has been an intensely non-stop year, yet a year that makes me very proud of our hospital and grateful to be part of it. We are ready for 2021!

     

  • Fast Five with Ellen Berlin: Supporting Key Audiences, Staying Focused, and Communicating Beyond Covid-19

    Ellen Berlin of Dana-Farber Cancer Institute

    Ellen Berlin, Director of Media Relations for Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, discussed the challenges of communicating for a specialty hospital during 2020.

    How was Dana-Farber impacted by the pandemic?

    Most of our work at Dana-Farber involves providing treatment for cancer on an outpatient basis. Patients desperately want treatment, but particularly early in the pandemic, some were afraid to come in since they were already dealing with a compromised immune system. And early in 2020, there was a lot we didn’t know.

    Also, as of last March, many employees needed to work off site, which was a new way of working, and they needed information and support. And Dana-Farber also had to keep research work going despite the restrictions.

    How has this crisis changed the way you work in media relations?

    We have a small media relations department—eight people—and early on it was hard because we were managing with many unknowns, and we were scared. But we adapted and have stayed focused on two important areas: providing patient information and managing the reputation of the institute.

    Initially, it felt like crisis communication, and it went on for weeks. We responded to inquiries, such as: how were we continuing to treat patients and how were we keeping the hospital safe? And we communicated about changes in fundraising events from in-person to virtual.

    Have you had any special challenges?

    From a media-relations perspective, our biggest challenge has been getting attention on cancer treatment and research in the midst of the pandemic. We continue to push out a lot of information, but we know it needs to be particularly relevant to get media coverage. Fortunately, we have been very adept at pitching stories that reporters are interested in. We use a wide variety of media—social, mainstream, and trade publications—and we communicate through our website and blogs and videos.

    Also, a big challenge has been internal communication, and while we have a separate team working on that, the media staff contributes to it. For most employees, this has been their first experience working remotely.

    In addition, the timeframe to return to work has kept changing; first we were coming back in June, then September, and now in June of 2021. The media team has been fortunate because we were already working remotely one day a week, so it was not totally new for us.

    What kind of programs were put in place internally?

    Internally we support colleagues who produce bi-weekly Zoom forums for thousands of staff members. They use them to answer employee questions and share information about patient care, administrative issues, and well-being tools. Also, we’ve contributed content for the intranet. Now, focus has turned to the vaccines and the process for how they will be rolled out for staff and then patients.  It’s very complex.

    We also now have a manager’s forum and an “all-staff” email three times a week. The email covers developments related to Covid-19, summary information from the bi-weekly forum, and other items.

    What are your thoughts as you look back on the year?

    When I look back, I think OMG; it’s a miracle that despite what we have lived through, we’ve all been able to continue to do our jobs and contribute to this important work of cancer care. It’s such a testament to the resilience and adaptability of the people here.

    Our colleagues at Boston Children’s Hospital and Brigham and Women’s where patients receive inpatient care also were there with support, and we are so grateful to them. We have all stayed focused and have pulled together—but It’s been quite a year!

  • Transform Yourself with Transferable Skills by Student Correspondent Annika Sison

    In Thought Leaders on

    Sapped. Stagnated. Stuck. 

    These feelings can strike anyone from unpaid intern to executive board member, but they don’t have to be obstacles. Such feelings can give rise to opportunities for gaining transferable skills, AKA skills that are fundamental for thriving across different career paths and industries. By incorporating them into your professional and everyday life, you can develop additional skill sets to help you continue to grow. In this article, I offer you three places to look to learn: your higher-ups, your peers, and yourself.

     First, look to your bosses and supervisors to gain inspiration. What are they working on, and where can you lend a hand? Learning from those who may have more experience and more responsibilities can help you grow while developing stronger professional relationships. This approach requires you to be proactive; for example, don’t be afraid to ask what you can do to help, or when you have downtime, think about and research solutions to problems affecting you and your team. Take this a step further by learning the art of managing up. Be adaptable to the needs of your supervisor and try to anticipate what they might ask for. Work to understand their communication style, especially when it differs from yours.

     Second, try incorporating advice from your coworkers. They aren’t competition or people you sit next to at the office every day – they are valuable resources. Networking with people who are in different departments or teams can be helpful for learning more about your company and maybe even discovering new interests! Moreover, work becomes more interesting and more fun when you have colleagues to collaborate with.

     Despite your colleagues being great wellsprings of knowledge, you have the most power to teach yourself transferable skills. Take some time to research what transferable skills you want to build – there’s no shortage of them. Seize the opportunity to transform your state of mind at work by mastering skills that you will be able to transfer and take with you wherever you may go.

    Student Correspondent Bio: Annika Sison is a senior at Boston College, double majoring in Sociology and Communication. Upon graduation in 2020, she is looking to start a marketing career in the start-up space. Her professional interests include behavioral science, brand management, and graphic design. She is always looking to build upon her skill set and take on new challenges. Here is a link to her previous article: https://prsaboston.org/how-to-attract-the-best-young-professionals-by-annika-sison/.

  • Making a Statement (…or Not?) – A Q&A with Local PR Legend Nancy Sterling

    In Crisis, Thought Leaders on

    There are times when acknowledging the elephant in the room is the hardest part, perhaps even more difficult than actually doing something about the creature. That is why the field of public relations is so important; someone has to deliver the tough-to-swallow pill.

    Well, how exactly do we treat such delicate situations with the deft combination of tact and integrity? PRSA, Boston member Nancy Sterling APR, Fellow PRSA and Diane Davis Beacon Award Winner, has a lot to say on the subject. With years of experience working in the field of crisis communication, she carries with her a wealth of knowledge that only a seasoned veteran could have. I was fortunate enough to be able to interview her for this article to get some insight.

    Q: Are there any general rules-of-thumb when it comes to crisis communication?

    A: Every situation is different, but there are some basic mandates for crisis communication. You normally advise clients to say something even if it’s something not very detailed, but you never want to say “no comment.”

    Q: When is the best time to say something?

    A: In a 24-hour news cycle, you don’t really have a lot of time. Often, you need to give a holding statement, such as “we don’t have a lot of information” or alternatively, “we don’t know all the details right now.” You need to be as ready as possible to respond when the media contacts you.

    Q: Is there ever a time you shouldn’t say something?

    A: Those times are the anomaly, not the norm. Examples would be if you know that an organization or individual is going to be indicted, or if you are concerned about the ramifications of any comment.

    Q: Who should relay these messages?

    A: Generally, you use someone who is an expert in the field to communicate crises. Top leadership is only used in really significant situations.

    Q: Where do you release these messages?

    A: We usually do a written statement and send it to media outlets that have already contacted us about the story.

    Q: What was the most challenging situation you had to speak on?

    A: When Nancy Kerrigan’s brother killed her father, I represented Nancy and her family.

    Q: Is there ever a time in crisis communications that you make “positive” statements?

    A: Yes! You might have good news as part of a crisis; for example, there might have been a building explosion but no deaths, only minor injuries.

    Q: What is the best part of working in crisis communications?

    A: I love my job. Work is different every day, and you’re always learning new things.

    By now it should be obvious that the world of PR is complex and nuanced. Every situation requires a unique approach. Learning to navigate them is a skill that we could spend our whole lives learning and striving to perfect.

    To end, I’d like to throw my own hat in the ring and dare say that it’s always better to say it than to be sorry, and my interview with Ms. Sterling reinforced that. I believe in that age-old adage of honesty being the best policy, no matter how difficult it is, so that in a world permeated by mirages of reality, we can find our own glimmer of trut

     

    Written by Janet Annika Sison, Faculty Forum Student Correspondent – Boston College.

  • April 4th Preview: Launching the Cannabis Industry with Francy Wade, Chatter Boss Communications

    Francy Wade owns Chatter Boss Communications, a boutique communications consultancy with clients in both the private, public and non-profit sectors. Some of her recent work been has been on behalf of new cannabis companies, including one of the state’s licensed dispensary pioneers, Cultivate. Her career is a convergence of public relations, research, politics and news experience. She recently sat down with Loring Barnes to chat about the unique experiences of launching Massachusetts into the new world of legalized marijuana.

    Has serving clients in the marijuana sector in any way inhibited your PR consulting practice?

    When I started Chatter Boss a little over a year ago, I had no idea how large the market was for what I was selling: High-touch, high-energy, low-process PR. I love to tell great stories to the right journalists and audiences and not get bogged down in process. I am so blessed that I’ve had an over abundance of clients retain me over over the past 15 months. Usually, my clients and prospects love to see the crazy mix of subject areas I work in. From higher education and education equity to healthcare, fashion technology and marijuana, it has been a wild ride.

    I did, however, lose one piece of new business because of my work in the marijuana space. It was a controversial development project and the company CEO was staunchly against legal cannabis. I am absolutely respectful of people’s opinions and understood his perspective. But, before I walked away, I did want to make sure this individual knew I am the ultimate professional and one client’s point of view never impacts another’s.

    Marijuana isn’t legal nationwide, which has resulted in a prohibition or high restriction of social media usage by dispensaries and cultivation facilities. It’s almost a throwback to our pre-social communications era. How have you helped your cannabis clients to maintain a brand voice as more of these licensed companies have had to launch while being handcuffed in their use of social media?

    I like to use social media as a storyline with media pitching for my marijuana clients. In the days after legalization  in Massachusetts, all of my clients’ social accounts were shut down. On the surface, it might seem debilitating, but not for me. Facebook, which owns Instagram, never gave an exact reason for the move and I thought that was a GREAT storyline for TV and digital media. Interestingly enough, just last week, Facebook announced it was easing its ban on marijuana content, which provided a great pitch point for some stories you’ll see appear very soon. I’m such a tease!

    You’re a parent and travel in other business and community circles. And you aren’t a pot user. Do you find that when people know that as a PR professional, you are a communications counselor to cannabis companies like Cultivate and Sira, that conversations abruptly shift from scouts and soccer to the curiosities of marijuana, and how do you navigate this?

    I do a lot of work in my children’s schools and I am even a catechist for the kindergarten students at my church. So when it comes up that I also happen to work in the marijuana space, people’s jaws hit the floor. I’ve been a goody-goody my whole life, so having a shock factor in my mid-thirties is kind of fun!

    I started out my career as a journalist, so I pride myself on always seeing things from all sides. Before talking about any of my clients, I tend to allow people to tell me how they feel about the industry instead of voicing any opinions. It makes people feel at ease with the subject. If people do have a differing opinion, I tend to share some stories that opened my eyes to the benefits of cannabis as a medicine for veterans. Then let the conversation transfer to the trouble with the illicit market and how many jobs and how much revenue we will get from the legal industry.

    What do you read to keep on top of cannabis business trends, innovators and subject experts? How would you advise someone to steer clear of disinformation?

    I have to say, my clients are the best source of information for me. They have a way of explaining nuanced regulations and trends better than anyone. I feel lucky to work with such smart innovators like Sam Barber of Cultivate and Mike Dundas of Sira. I tend to use them to help journalists understand the stories they are writing, even if they aren’t going to be quoted. The way I see it, we are all building this industry together. Storytelling and the reporting being done will help us document this for the history books in the future, so it is critical we get this right.

    I really like the reporting the Boston Globe has done and the way they have dedicated reporters to this beat exclusively. I had a meeting with some of their staff, including Linda Henry, last year and encouraged them to create and entire Cannabis section of the paper. Similar to the Travel or Arts. It is complex, not only as a political and social issue, but the industry involves banking, scientific and marketing aspects too. It needs to be treated as the unique behemoth subject that it is.

    You’ve had your consultancy, Chatter Boss Communications, for just over a year, after working in respected PR agencies, political campaigns and television news. Did opportunity create the impetus to strike out on your own, or did you decide to take the plunge and hope that the clients would follow? How has life as a solo practitioner surprised or rewarded you, and how would you counsel others who are considering to follow suit to think through this decision?

    I have three children, a 13-year-old stepdaughter, a 5-year-old son and 4-year-old son. When I started taking care of my daughter when she was a toddler, I realized how fast time flies. After having my oldest son, I made a very easy decision to not go back to an agency. Instead, I networked my way into having a few clients and projects that kept me in the game. After my second son, I was approached to more formally work with a political polling firm and got involved with the campaign to regulate, tax and legalize marijuana. When the campaign came to a close, I had a series of fun lunch meetings with former colleagues and friends who kept asking me if they could get me to tell their stories and I gave birth to my fourth child which is Chatter Boss.

    I was meant to be an entrepreneur. It’s in my DNA. My dad owns his own business and he, like me, does some of his best work from places other than a desk and office. My mom, a teacher, stayed home with me until I was in high school, before going back to work and getting her masters. I am trying to take a page from both of my amazing parents and be the best mother and businesswoman I can be. None of this would be possible without my husband’s support. He is, by far, the most talented storyteller I’ve ever met. We don’t have a nanny or full-time help. We work as a team to make sure we are at the top of our parenting and professional games at all times.

    I don’t think agency life is for everyone and I certainly don’t think the solo practitioner road is one that most people find attractive. It is uncertain, exhausting but ultimately exhilarating. I’ve been called naturally caffeinated, which is the highest compliment, and what I think has been the secret to my success in this most recent chapter of my communications career.

    Meet Francy Wade on Thursday, April 4th (@chatterbosscomm) and hear about the landmines and victories on the cannabis industry’s journey in Massachusetts.  She joins an A-lister panel of marijuana business experts and policy influencers. The lively discussion will be lead by Jess Bartlett (@BOSBIZJess), veteran cannabis and craft beer beat journalist for the Boston Business Journal. Click on this LINK to get your ticket.  Special rates for students, young professionals and members. 

    **With special thanks to our generous hosts, Zazil Media Group (@zazilmediagroup). A donation from the event will be made to the Massachusetts Patient Advocacy Alliance.