Guidelines & Tools For
Effective Public Relations
Events & Marketing
The Association of Washington
Public Hospital Districts has set
out to create a tool that will be
useful in the ongoing efforts of
public hospital districts to inform
the public about the valuable
role they play in assuring the
health of their communities.
Our intention is to provide a
Handbook with step-by-step
advice and worksheets for
coordinating and conducting
public relations, media relations,
events, community outreach and
crisis communication campaigns
As new information becomes
available, we will update this
Handbook to ensure hospital
administrators and public
relations staff members have
accurate, up-to-date information
for handling public relations.
Keeping Quality Care Local
-- Jeff Mero, Executive Director
Public Relations Handbook for Public District Hospitals
This Public Relations Handbook is intended to help employees in public hospital districts prepare
and perform effective public relations, media relations, crisis communications, and community
outreach programs. The handbook provides guidelines and tips for how to draft a public relations
plan, respond effectively to media inquiries, garner positive publicity, create a newsletter, plan
special events, enhance or build a Web site, and much more.
Many people who perform public relations roles in hospitals have little or no formal training in the
field. To make this handbook as useful as possible, topics are discussed “from the ground up.” It
provides step-by-step approaches that can be followed successfully by the beginner. Even
seasoned professionals will find the handbook’s tips and reminders a useful reference.
The Association of Washington Public Hospital Districts hopes this handbook will be a useful tool
throughout your ongoing public relations efforts. The Association encourages you to add
materials to the Handbook that are particularly helpful to you. In addition, the Association will
send periodic updates when appropriate.
The complete text of this handbook is available on the AWPHD web site at www.awphd.org under
the Publications & Resources section.
Harris & Smith Public Affairs prepared this handbook for the Association of Washington Public
Hospital Districts and its members. Address questions or comments to Alisha Holdener at
(206) 343-0250 or email@example.com.
Keeping Quality Care Local
Table of Contents
• Your Public Relations Plan
• Measures of Success
• How to Get the Best Results
• Understanding Reporters’ Objectives
• What Makes a Good News Story
• Who’s Who in the Media: Titles & Responsibilities
• What’s Different About Working with TV or Radio
• Media Opportunities
• Publicity Tools
• Writing for Publication
• Making Contact
• What to Ask When a Reporter Calls
• Press Conferences
• Why Create & Maintain a Media List
• Clippings & Reprints
• Getting Started
• Go Time
• Talking Point Tips
• Special Events
• Organizing a Speakers Bureau
• Speech Writing
• Branded Merchandise: Tools or Trash?
• Direct Mail
• Effective Ways to Use Volunteer Help
• Web Sites
• PR Planning
• Sample Pitch Scripts
• Questions to Ask When a Reporter Calls
• Media & Reporter Contact Information
• Crisis Communications Response
• Identifying Spokespeople
• Crisis Scenarios for Practice Sessions
• Crisis Assessment
• Crisis Communications Call Tracking
• Newsletter Survey
• Special Events Checklist
• Event Cost Analysis
• Identifying Speakers
• Special Web Site Features
Keeping Quality Care Local
Public relations is the function of communicating effectively with key hospital district audiences,
including media, local residents, employees, physicians, board members, community leaders,
government officials, and others interested in the hospital. A public relations program consists of
strategies and tactics that help communicate key messages; respond to positive or negative
events affecting the hospital; garner publicity for new programs, services or staff; and create
goodwill and recognition for the hospital within the community.
Well-executed public relations will:
• Increase visibility for the hospital, employees, programs and services
• Position the hospital as a health care leader and authority within the community or region
• Expand awareness of the hospital’s entire range of programs and services
• Enhance the hospital’s image
• Aid in recruitment and retention of employees
• Support efforts to raise funds for new programs and services or assist with the passage
of levies and bonds
• Act as a foundation when negative news about the hospital occurs
• Boost employee morale
Throughout the planning and execution of a public relations program, remember that consistency
and repetition are critical to your overall success. Don’t make the mistake of thinking your public
relations efforts are completed when you get that front-page article or you finish the newest
brochure. Successful public relations is ongoing.
Public relations is a general term that may include many other “relations” with different audiences,
strategies and tactics. For example, Employee relations is a function of public relations that
includes responding to employee concerns and informing and motivating staff. Some tactics used
for employee relations may include new employee education, employee award programs and
recognitions, new-hire press releases and newsletters to name a few.
Another “relations” – Community relations – is the function of actively planning and participating
with and within a community for the benefit of the community and the hospital. Tactics within this
category include community events, volunteer activities and co-sponsorship opportunities with
other community organizations. Community relations may also include fundraising and
Government relations is a function of relating to government officials and agencies about issues
that impact the hospital and its audiences. Hill climb events in Olympia, letter writing campaigns,
and op-ed placements in the newspaper are often part of government relations.
Finally, Media relations, often considered synonymous with public relations, is the function of
working with the media to communicate news. Media relations can be active – seeking positive
publicity for a newsworthy topic at the hospital – or reactive – responding to a news inquiry about
a positive or negative story of interest to the media and its readers or viewers.
The strategies and tactics involved with marketing and advertising may also complement your
overall public relations efforts. Advertising for hospitals can be effective for new services and
products. It may also be part of an overall branding strategy that includes public relations and
marketing. Ads may identify key visual attributes about the hospital and make a connection with
the community. Marketing materials are particularly effective in education and awareness efforts.
Brochures may be used to inform patients about particular services or programs.
It’s important to remember that public relations, marketing and advertising are not the same. Key
to any public relations program is the relationship between the public and your institution. While
tactics you deploy may cost money, true public relations results are earned, not bought.
Marketing and advertising is closer to the Burger King philosophy – Have It Your Way. You pay to
deliver your message exactly as you want it. You create the text, select the images, determine
the location, date and time – you control the message and its delivery.
You’ll have less control of the message with public relations, but the outcomes can be more
credible and effective. People know when they’re viewing an advertisement or marketing material.
That affects the credibility of the message. However, a news article is filtered by the media, and
thereby gains more credibility. The credibility is further increased when a third-party source
praises and endorses your hospital through the news story. For example, a quote from a recent
patient praising your surgery services will be far more credible than saying the same thing without
attribution in your hospital brochure. You are effectively getting a third-party endorsement from
every article generated from your public relations efforts.
Your Public Relations Plan
Every hospital should have a current public relations plan that outlines goals and desired
outcomes for a period of three to five years. Once a general PR plan is in place, periodic planning
and updating is critical. The plan and its updates will not only help guide employees responsible
for public relations work, but will result in an effective tool to communicate with the board and
other staff. While public relations tactics may be performed by a small group of people, hospital
leadership and employees need to understand the value and importance of public relations and
their role in making a program successful. Following are the key elements of an effective PR plan:
Public relations goals help direct the strategies and tactics you will use in your future public
relations endeavors. The goals you identify should clearly support your hospital mission
statement. While a mission statement may include what the hospital wants to accomplish, a
public relations goal should be focused on what you want the public to think and know about your
hospital. What words do you hope people will use to describe your hospital? Quality health care.
Community leader. Dependable service. Friendly staff. Safe environment. You may want to be all
of these things and more, but for the purpose of your public relations plan focus on one or two
key goals that can be achieved through improved communication with key audiences.
• General Washington Hospital is a community leader committed to providing high quality
health care for the people of Carter, Key and Kangley counties.
• Highland Valley Medical Center provides superior primary care services in a comfortable,
safe environment for people in the Highland Valley region.
• Ivy River Hospital, with its friendly, helpful physicians and nurses, is the most dependable
health care service provider in the state.
Objectives help determine specific outcomes from your public relations efforts. Objectives should
be clear and concise, and include timing.
• Increase awareness of the technology and medical advances used at the hospital within
Evergreen County over the next six months.
• Build the reputation of the hospital in the next three to four years as a cornerstone of the
community that provides health care services, jobs and community leadership.
• Encourage renewed interest in specialty hospital services such as childbirth classes over
the next two years.
Detail the groups of people that are important to inform or influence, and why.
• Patients: They purchase health care services and generate revenue for the hospital.
• Physicians: They use hospital facilities and generate revenue for the hospital. They
control where patients go for care: your hospital or outside of the community.
• Media: They write both positive and negative stories about the hospital, its staff and
services. They have considerable influence and access to all of the hospital’s target
How you distribute materials is often
Other audiences to consider may include employees,
as important as what you send. It is a
board members, community leaders, local government
good idea to know which methods
your target audiences, especially
officials, state legislators, vendors and suppliers.
Mail – Good to use when timing is less
sensitive (one to three days). Good for
It’s easy for busy hospital professionals to think about
newsletter mailings, new neighbor
welcome packets, media kits, and
tactics first, but it is critical to have a solid strategy in
other materials that are difficult to fax
place. Only pursue the tactics that will help achieve your
or e-mail. Mail can also be certified to
verify receipt or insured to avoid loss.
goals. Even if a tactic is inexpensive, if it doesn’t meet your
goals, why invest the time and effort? Here are some “best
Fax – Good for timely communication
(faster than mail). Good for press
uses” for specific tactics.
releases, event reminders, and some
forms of newsletters (such as weekly
news notices). Less effective for
• Brochure/Collateral – To inform patients and
documents with images or graphics.
community members about programs and services
E-mail – Good for timely and direct
provided at the hospital. Promotional use only.
communication with an individual.
May be provided to media for background, but not
Good for press releases, media
reminders, media personnel
to be used instead of effective media tools, such
questions, and pitch letters. Access to
as press releases or fact sheets.
e-mail and electronic document size
can be limitations.
• Direct mail – To help create awareness for
Face-to-face meetings – Best way to
programs or services with target audiences.
make a personal connection. Allows
Message is controlled.
for detailed explanation of a point-of-
view or complicated subject. Best way
Letters – Good for personal or business
to demonstrate excitement, concern,
tolerance, empathy, etc.
communication. Adjustable length (1-2 pages).
Phone conference call – Allows for
Postcards – Good for event invitations or
personal contact when face-to-face is
not possible. Good for back-and-forth
welcome cards. Inexpensive postage.
communication. Inexpensive method
for communicating with large groups
Direct mail packages – Good for inclusion in
in different locations (cities/states).
new neighbor welcome packages or community
Web site – Web pages allow
coupon envelopes. Consider including
interested parties to pull information
brochures or inserts. Costs are typically part of
thereby facilitating distribution.
Directing people to a web site may be
an advertising or sponsorship package.
done through mailings, publicity or
Production of materials likely not included.
Specialty mailings – Good for awareness efforts, such as a child safety campaign
sponsored by the hospital. Mailing may include a magnet with safety tips and local
emergency contact information.
• Newsletter – To regularly update a variety of target audiences about the happenings at
the hospital. Good way to establish and maintain community support for the hospital and
• Public service announcement (PSA) – To create awareness of a problem or issue
through radio or television. More competition for PSA placement than in the past. No
control over placement or timing.
• Press release – To distribute straightforward news to the media. Essential to
communication with the media.
• Press kit – To provide extensive information about a topic. May precede an event or new
• Press conference – To disseminate time sensitive and critical news to multiple media
contacts at once. Should be rarely used.
• Special event – To make a personal connection with target audiences in a positive
environment. Good way to recognize people for good work or launch new programs or
• Speaking engagement – To reach a target audience, establish the speaker as an expert
and build credibility for the speaker and the hospital.
• Video – To communicate messages with emotion through visuals. Good for town
meetings, new employee education, fundraising projects, special events, etc.
• Web site – To provide 24-hour access to information about the hospital. May include
health information or links to health information depending on site design. Good for
general information about the hospital, its services and staff.
Public relations budgets may come to you in a variety of ways. It may be pre-determined and
passed down from the overall hospital budget. It may include general guidelines but is open to the
tactics decided upon. It may be non-existent, in which case the tactics will need to rely on
investments in staff time, instead of materials. All of these factors will determine where budgeting
fits into the overall public relations planning. Regardless of where budgeting fits into the plan,
consider the following:
• Nothing is free. Whether you’re using staff resources or spending money for press
release stationery, everything costs money. Consider all of the direct and indirect costs.
Even a press release, one of the least expensive tactics, has a price tag: the time spent
writing and editing the release, the paper it is printed on and the postage its mailed with
at a minimum.
• Don’t underestimate time investments. Every public relations activity has time
investments and opportunity costs. And don’t just consider the time investments for the
PR staff. Administrative oversight and involvement, interview source preparation and
even volunteer efforts all play into the opportunity costs of public relations. When
planning and prioritizing projects, consider all necessary staff time and what else they
would be doing with their time if not promoting the hospital.
• Shop around. When producing brochures or printed materials, be sure to get more than
one estimate. Printing shops with more capacity at certain times may discount their rates.
• Evaluate options. Another way to save money when producing materials is to consider
design options. For example, two-color brochures are far less expensive than their four-
color counterparts. Specialty work, such as die-cuts for holding business cards or layered
stair-steps for handouts, are nice features, but may carry a hefty price tag. Designers and
printers can be allies in determining options. Just be sure to have your budget in mind.
• Be prepared for the unexpected opportunities. Reserve 10 to 15 percent of the overall
public relations budget for unexpected activities. There may be some great opportunities
to do events, community outreach activities or other projects that you didn’t anticipate.
• Be mindful of outsourcing. Outsourcing, whether it is design, public relations, event
planning, advertising or any number of other things, can have its advantages and
disadvantages. Outside organizations are usually experts in their field. You should get
quality work, while giving you more time for other projects. However, you’ll still need to
participate and “agent-sit” to make sure the work is progressing to your satisfaction. Of
course, there is always the money aspect, which is sometimes hard to come by in today’s
hospital budgets. Shop around for quality and costs, get references from previous clients,
review work samples and know the costs up front – including hourly rates, mark-up
percentages and miscellaneous charges. Set a clear budget and insist on adhering to it.
See the worksheet section for more help with PR Planning.
Measures of Success
The effectiveness of a public relations program can be difficult to measure, but is paramount in
proving the value of public relations to the hospital and its programs. When using any number of
public relations tracking methods, there are three things to keep in mind:
1) Public relations results are subjective. A single mention of the hospital in a lengthy front-
page article in a major daily newspaper may be perceived more favorably and provide
more exposure than an 800-word article about a new program at the hospital in a small
weekly paper – or vice versa depending on the community, the paper’s reputation, its
relevance to target audiences, etc.
2) Outputs and outcomes are two different types of public relations results. Outputs are
usually short-term results, such as favorable press coverage or exposure of a particular
message to a target audience. How did the hospital benefit from the front -page article?
Outcomes are longer-lasting affects on target audiences. Who read it? How did they
react? Outcomes determine whether the target audiences actually received, understood,
retained and reacted to the messages directed at them. Both are important
measurements, but outcomes are a stronger determination of effectiveness.
3) Be wary of comparing public relations effectiveness to advertising effectiveness. The two
forms of communication are not the same. Advertising messages can be controlled.
Public relations messages usually cannot be controlled. This doesn’t mean ignore
results tracking suggestions, like ad equivalency ratings. Simply keep this in perspective.
Indicators of Successful Public Relations
• Returned messages – The true test of public relations effectiveness is receiving your own
messages back from target audiences. You know you’re on track when comment cards,
newspaper quotes and market research results resonate your message.
• Clippings – Clippings help you track news coverage and attention. From there you’ll need
to consider if it’s positive or not. To keep track of media coverage have volunteers search
local papers and encourage staff to watch the news and listen to the radio. Inform staff
and volunteers to notify the PR contact of any mentions or articles about the hospital. If a
reporter contacts you for information, make sure you ask when the article is likely to run
and follow up. If you have money to spend, consider employing a clipping service. They
use “professional readers” to look for key words about the hospital, services or even
competitive organizations. Clipping services usually charge a monthly and a per clip fee.
• Research – It’s a good idea to conduct surveys and/or focus groups before beginning a
public relations campaign if possible. Conduct the same survey following a period of time
after the campaign (6-9 months). Be sure to include both quantitative and qualitative
questions about attitudes, beliefs and opinions about the hospital, its services and staff.