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The power of publicity

November 7, 2008
by Janis Ehlers, MBA, CAASH
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Local news can be your facility’s greatest voice—if you can attract the coverage

The value of positive media coverage is—to paraphrase the credit card commercial— “priceless,” and is often overlooked by senior communities. The printed word has a 70% greater retention rate than traditional advertising. Third party endorsements are more credible, and the value of what someone reads is long-lasting. Gaining positive press attention isn’t by happenstance. By utilizing some basic techniques, your community may reap rewards.

Determining relevance

There is hard and soft news. Hard news stories are immediate, relevant, and could range from events to conflicts. Generally, these are covered by reporters who want to write their own story. Soft news entertains and informs but is less immediate.

The cardinal sin in trying to gain press attention is to not read the local newspaper.

Both hard and soft news need the five W’s: who, what, when, where, why, as well as how. An example of a hard news story would be an announcement of the community’s new expansion and would include the specifications and details of the expansion such as cost, scope, architect, and number of units.

Soft news could be a feature on the community’s chef and cooking techniques he applies to appeal to residents. Because reporters may want stories that would be applicable to those not necessarily living in a senior community, tailoring the article to include cooking tips for adult children who prepare meals for elderly parents may be more relevant.

Piquing a writer’s interest

The cardinal sin in trying to gain press attention is to not read the local newspaper. You may not have a nose for news, but by reading the paper and watching the news, you will learn which writers cover specific subjects. These are the people to approach with your story. Asking yourself the simple question, “Would I be interested in reading about this tomorrow?” will help in determining both the angle and interest. In determining potential opportunities for press coverage, consider events that would provide heartfelt photos such as intergenerational activities engaging seniors with children versus auditorium seating of seniors listening to a lecture.

Remember to look beyond the reporter who covers senior-related stories. Workplace issues, business and personnel announcements, community awards, and family concerns are other opportunities to garner publicity for your community.

Tips of the trade

When seeking publicity, remember these tips:

  • Create a fact sheet about the community which is also referred to as the press kit
  • Keep a record of a reporter’s name and the date they conducted the interview
  • Your community is private. Don’t allow roaming, unaccompanied photographers
  • Encourage a reporter to conduct an in-person versus telephone interview with residents
  • If the media covered an event last year, don’t expect repeat coverage unless there’s a new angle
  • Thank the reporter (after the interview) and after the story appears. “Thank you” goes a long way
  • Savor the moment of seeing your community’s name in the newspaper without expecting similar coverage every month

Vital to publicity

The activity director of a community may hold a key in successful publicity opportunities; however, it may be a challenge to differentiate between creative story angles and those activities that strictly appeal to residents. Here again, the questions to ask should be, “Is this activity different than those at other senior communities?”; “Are the instructors of interest and unique to the community?”; “Is the activity unexpected?”; and “Are there community opportunities for the general public to attend?”

Among examples, an assisted living community decided to have a fashion show. The creative activity director helped residents create their own fashions. T-shirts and hats were decorated and residents took the runway to strut their stuff to live music and an applauding audience. The event offered great post-event media coverage. The fashion show was a departure from typical activities and showed seniors positively engaged. Also, intergenerational events involving local school children are usually safe bets. A reporter will not be interested in just their appearance; the children need to interact with the seniors. Opportunities for the residents and community to help others may offer publicity angles. Fundraisers with check presentations, hosting charities at the community, and other acts of kindness for others will put the community in the news. It’s a win-win. Employees and residents enjoy doing for others, too.

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