January 6, 2021
Fast Five with Mike Morrison: A Media Deluge, New Ways of Working, and “Amazing Gestures of Support”
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.
January 6, 2021
Fast Five with Leah Lesser: Driving Public Information, Communicating the Human Experience, and Staying Focused in a Critical Role
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:
- 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!
September 8, 2018In Media Relations on
The local channels in Boston put together a total of 62.5 hours of news every weekday. Each station is averaging 35 stories per hour. That means on any given day you have 2,187 opportunities to get your client coverage that can be seen in millions of households in the Boston area. So why aren’t you? Chances are that you are making some of these big mistakes.
1. You are wasting my time
This is the cardinal sin of pitching television news. As a producer, I receive around 400 emails every day. Reporters are in the same boat and the assignment desk gets even more. 90 percent of them get deleted without ever being opened. Headlines like “Great event this weekend”, or worse “Interview Opportunity” get deleted immediately. When crafting your pitch, you need to think like a journalist. You have six seconds to win my attention and make me stick around for another paragraph. Within the first line I should know why my audience will care about this story. Once you have established that, you can fill in the where and when of the story.
2. You aren’t pitching the right person (at the right time)
You need to know what your story is worth. Generally, there are two types of stories that you will pitch.
VO (Voice-overs): These are the vast majority of stories your client will want you to pitch. They are quick, 20 second scripts that make up the bulk of a newscast. Charity functions, races, product launches, the latest and greatest study from your health care team are all likely voice-overs. Don’t bother a reporter with a VO, they will ignore it. Email a producer and pass along the information to the assignment desk. Be very brief. No one is going to read your release if it’s longer than a page (or even half a page). Also, timing is important. Packages are assigned at the start of the shift.
The producer generally spends the next two to three hours finding stories to fill the rest of the newscast. If you want to save the day, email (OR CALL) the desk and the producers with your pitch while the producers are stacking the show. For the 4/5/6pm that generally happens before noon. If you have an event happening at night, email before 4. If you want to crack the elusive morning show, stay up late and call at midnight. They don’t want to be awake at that hour any more than you do but a morning show needs fresh content more than any other time slot. NEVER call between 5-7 AM, 4-7 PM, or 9-11 PM. They are busy and will likely hang up on you if you ask “will you be covering our event today?”
Packages: If it isn’t a VO, it is a package. Reporters, producers and the assignment desk all pitch stories for packages in the assignment meeting. Get to know people’s names and emails. Keep a list and update it at least every six months. If you think you have a great emotional story then reach out directly to a reporter. Email or call their cell. Promise exclusivity (everyone wants to be only on) and do it at the right time. Most journalist spend the 30 minutes before the assignment meeting searching every source they have for a decent story. You can be a hero by sending the perfect story just in time. The morning meeting (for the noon/4/5/6 PM shows) is usually at 9 AM. The afternoon meeting for the late shows is between 2-3 PM depending on the stations. Don’t be afraid to ask the desk when those meetings take place. On that note, the assignment desk is one of the hardest working group of people. Be nice to them because they are usually the key to getting a reporter or photog at your event.
3. You are accepting defeat
How many times have you had stations confirm they were coming to an event only to back out at the last second? News happens and generally you are pretty low on our priority list, but that doesn’t mean we don’t want to cover the story. We just simply don’t have the bodies. So, take some initiative. If no one shows up to your event, take some pictures, write up a brief synapsis and email it to the station (you should also have a one-page synapsis printed out and ready for every photog and reporter that shows up). If you can get me a picture or video, I am far more likely to run your story even if it is just a quick mention.
4. You aren’t thinking like a journalist
The bulk of pitches I receive describe the event/study/product, but they never really focus on why I should care. News judgement is driven by the question “Why should the audience care about this?” Answer that question immediately in your pitch. A charity walk is not the Xth annual “run to remember this person” or “cure this disease”. It is a gathering of survivors ready to share their story and motivate others to take action. When developing your pitch think about what the audience will care about. What will make someone sit on their couch for another five minutes without going to bed or heading to work? Once you have come up with the pitch, think about what elements you can offer the reporter or producers that will play well on TV. That could be emotional audio or great video. If your client has created some incredible life changing medicine but you can’t provide a compelling patient, your great package just became a 20 second VO.
I recently received a pitch from a PR firm. They wanted to bring someone on for an interview. The pitch was that the person would discuss all the ways that Boston is falling short when it comes to attracting major events. They weren’t thinking like a journalist. I am not going to bring someone on to tell the people of Boston all the ways that their city is failing and doesn’t measure up to other places. Frankly, your client is going to look like an arrogant jerk. This type of story may play on the radio or newspaper, but it isn’t going to work on TV (Print/Radio/TV pitches should be different). You are far too limited by time and format to make that story work in your client’s best interest.
5. You aren’t thinking about what you want from the coverage
Before you ever come up with a pitch you should have a clear understanding of what your clients wants out of the coverage. Are you looking to build awareness for your client, or call people to action? Who is the target audience? The coverage you receive often depends on the pitch you put together. Sending an email about an event the day it occurs might get you a VO recapping the event but won’t help you boost actual attendance. If you pitch one thing, but have expectations of completely different coverage, I am going to ignore you next time.
So, to wrap it all up. Keep it short. Pitch the right people, in the right way, at the right time. When you do pitch a TV station, know why you are doing it and what you can offer the station. These are straightforward ways to get your clients the coverage that they probably deserve.
Joe Chambers is an Emmy-nominated journalist with more than 10 years of experience working in television newsrooms across the country. He currently lives and works in Boston
August 26, 2018
When Dick Pirozzolo, APR, recently worked with Bob Salsberg, AP Boston correspondent, to arrange interviews with Governor Dukakis, and other policy thinkers on Artificial Intelligence (AI) in government, the story resonated with newspapers around the country, including The Boston Globe, The New York Times, The Washington Post and Chicago Tribune.
Pirozzolo credits long-term relationships with journalists and having a timely issue for the media interest, something PRSA advocates when it comes to generating earned media.
The Pirozzolo Company client involved was Boston Global Forum, cofounded by Gov. Michael Dukakis and Vietnam media mogul Tuan Nguyen as a think tank focused on peaceful solutions to international conflicts such as: China’s contentious presence in the South China Sea, North Korea’s nuclear talks, and state-sponsored cyberthreats. Boston Global Forum publishes several newsletters and is always on the lookout for relevant articles and news with a foreign relations angle. Much of the content focuses on Asia.
Here four of the newspapers that covered the emerging role of Artificial Intelligence in government.
For more on how to successfully pitch The Boston Globe from the PRSA Boston meeting with the editors visit: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/globe-goes-all-digital-news-pr-still-relationship-dick-pirozzolo-apr/