The Digital Strategist Becomes a Spokesperson: Three Lessons Learned

  • Inside photoshoot, behind the scenes.
    Inside photoshoot, behind the scenes.

Sometimes life and work come together in ways I could never predict. One of the biggest attractions about working here at Zone 5 has been our focus on the healthcare sector – not because I had a lot of professional experience in this area prior to coming here, but because I have a tremendous personal attachment to the industry.

I was diagnosed at a Planned Parenthood with breast cancer when I was only 27 years old, with no family history of the disease. To say that the whole experience was bizarre would be an understatement. But I made it through and eleven years later, I am still in remission. I have also been asked by the Planned Parenthood Federation of America to be a national patient spokesperson. I recently spent three days in NYC going through media training and participating in video and photo shoots.

I’m usually on the other side of that experience! In fact, I have a Zone 5 project going on with Planned Parenthood Mohawk Hudson right now. It’s been an honor to work with them as a communications professional, and it’s now an honor to illustrate their service offerings.

I had a lot of fun. I also learned some things. It’s been some time since I left the digital world to work on straight up media relations.

Lesson One: Trust between the subject and the communications professional is important.

“You are very comfortable in front of the camera, for a civilian,” my photographer told me. After laughing a moment at the idea I could easily slide into a world populated by models and entertainers, I concurred.

I wasn’t comfortable because I felt attractive that day. In fact, I hated the “natural make-up” look they gave me. Spending three days without eyeliner was some sort of record for me. I wasn’t energized because I felt glamorous either. We were shooting outside in NYC. They know what real models are like there – and I wasn’t fooling anyone, especially myself.

I was comfortable because I was 100 percent assured that the people behind the scenes – the folks that styled the shoot, did my hair, picked my clothes, and told me how to pose – all had the same goal. The goal was to make me look as attractive and approachable as possible.

No matter how silly I felt, I knew the communications professionals were looking out for me. No one was going to use that photo of me mid-sneeze, or spotlight the confused look on my face when I lost my train of thought on video.

All in all, when you trust in the communicators, and the communicators trust in you, the whole process goes a lot more smoothly.

Lesson Two: Don’t assume you’ll be asked again.

I fell into a pretty bad trap during the video interview portion. I’m familiar with my own story, as I’ve been sharing it for over ten years now in different forms. I’m intimate with the details, and knowledgeable of all the arcs, places of tension, and emotional pay-offs. When I tell my story, I do so with my kind of storytelling – a conversational back-and-forth and an unfolding of elements.

For some reason, I was assuming the producers would be as familiar with my story, and storytelling style, as I was. I kept baiting them and leaving open great opportunities for follow-ups, to which my replies would been stunning examples of my wit and storytelling skills, of course. I didn’t want to seem rehearsed.

But we just moved onto the next question.

After a few rounds of this, I realized what I was doing and was able to ask for a do-over, so I could share in a more complete kind of way.

Because this was a friendly environment, that was no problem. But in instances where one would speak to a journalist, or answer questions from a crowd, I learned to never assume there will be a follow-up question, or that you’ll be given a chance to clarify. Ain’t nobody got time for that, so leave the clever unveiling for a different time and err on the side of completeness the first time around.

Lesson Three: Passion still makes for the best stories.

Media training is all well and good. It helps save time and prevent PR accidents from happening. But sometimes there can be too much training and not enough time to practice all the techniques so they become seamless. The biggest challenge for me was putting aside my “professional communicator” brain in favor of the “grateful thanks” one.

Sometimes my insider knowledge was useful. I knew the pauses from the crew in shooting had nothing to do with me, and more to do with a muffled bang coming through the wall that may have been picked up by the microphone, or a stray shadow created by someone walking by. The starts and stops didn’t throw me off.

But I found myself overthinking it. Was that one of my messaging points? Was there a better way to answer that question? Did that example reinforce the brand?

My best answers came when I silenced the questions in my head and focused on how Planned Parenthood made me feel: grateful, happy, and alive. And as a professional communicator, I knew that’s what was needed – my passion, not my curated thoughts. For once, I just told my story, and left the editing to someone else.

Follow Zone 5’s New Spotlight Pages on LinkedIn

Are you ready for the next stage of professional digital networking? Zone 5 has launched four new spotlight pages on LinkedIn to highlight our sectors. So if you are interested in connecting with our sector practice leaders and keeping up with industry-specific communications & marketing trends, give these pages a follow.

Higher Education:
Zone 5 Higher Education Sector on LinkedIn

Zone 5 Healthcare Sector on LinkedIn

Zone 5 Technology/Energy Sector on LinkedIn

Zone 5Not For Profit Sector on LinkedIn

Social Media Policies: Things to Know in 2014

Most social media policies come from the legal department. I am not your legal department. I am just a web and social media analyst/advisor/implementer, which hopefully counts for something. 🙂

As we roll into 2014, it’s a good time to take a look at your old social media policy to see if it needs polishing up. Here are some things to know about.

There are limits to what you can limit

Your lawyers should know this by now, but a series of recent court cases have made it pretty clear that a company can’t broadly prohibit its employees from talking about it.

…it is illegal to adopt broad social media policies — like bans on “disrespectful” comments or posts that criticize the employer — if those policies discourage workers from exercising their right to communicate with one another with the aim of improving wages, benefits or working conditions.

There are always exceptions

But the agency has also found that it is permissible for employers to act against a lone worker ranting on the Internet….

[For example] The agency also affirmed the firing of a bartender in Illinois. Unhappy about not receiving a raise for five years, the bartender posted on Facebook, calling his customers “rednecks” and saying he hoped they choked on glass as they drove home drunk.

The more specific you are, the better

Not only is specificity better in the laws eyes, each industry has its own challenges, standards and recommendations for social media use in that industry. Healthcare will want to address HIPPA concerns, and Higher Education will want to approach their policies with academic open-oriented nature in mind.

To find some examples of policies in your industry, check in with this database, which has links to policies from many organizations from many industries. I’ll even give you a few shortcuts:

But start where you are

I like to recommend this free Policy Tool for Social Media as a place for people to start. All you do is answer a series of questions, and you get an instant policy draft. It may sound too good to be true, but know that the questions aren’t necessarily easy to answer. You’ll have to think about them. For example:

  • Must the user’s social media profiles be consistent with (your org’s) website or publications?
  • Should the employee include a disclaimer stating that they are not speaking on behalf of the company?
  • Are there certain well-known employees who must follow these rules even for personal social media?
  • May employee login ID’s or user names include the “org” name without approval?

If you can get answers to questions like these, and place them within the appropriate industry framework, your social media policy will be in good shape.

Planned Parenthood – STI Campaign

The Challenge

Planned Parenthood Mohawk Hudson (PPMH) is a network of nine health centers in upstate New York. In recent months, the network noticed a drop in sexually transmitted infection (STI) testing procedures, especially among males. PPMH wanted to bolster its presence in its community for sexual healthcare services, specifically STI testing and treatment.

The Solution

PPMH turned to their current agency of record, Zone 5, for help developing a bold
 and memorable campaign  that would help them own their cause and deliver a strong message. Our challenge was to develop this campaign within modest budget parameters. Knowing the media dollars would be insufficient to create an impact based on strong reach and frequency, we developed a creative-focused approach that would create positive controversy among the press, supported by a strong social media component. The PR and SM had additional support from a modest media buy in broadcast and transit.

The creative strategy worked to disarm patients’ nervousness about STI testing through humor. The direct-to-camera, rapid style of conversation shot in a clinical exam room took comments from a range of actors who each used humorous euphemisms and comments to make the topic of STI testing friendly and approachable. Versions of the creative were deemed too hot for the regional media and that “censorship” helped to fuel the social media and press buzz.

The Results

The online videos received instant acclaim from several prominent bloggers in the region, resulting in more than 4,000 unique hits in less than one week. More important, within a period of six weeks from the start of the campaign the client enjoyed significant increases in patient volume compared to adjacent months and the previous year.

May 2012 (compared to May 2011)

  • Overall visits system wide increased 3.44%
  • New patients system wide increased 17%
  • New patients (males) system wide increased 76%

HANYS – Research and Brand Refresh

The Challenge

HANYSThe Healthcare Association of New York State (HANYS) is a dynamic organization that provides a deep and wide range of services to its member hospitals, ranging from advocacy to business consulting to counsel for members’ boards of trustees. These services are delivered by a complex mix of departments and subsidiary companies. In recent years, the impact of HANYS among peer groups and member clients has reached beyond the borders of New York State.

Additionally, the corporate identity for HANYS did not represent
the spirit and energy of the organization as it wished to be perceived. The organization needed a new brand and logo architecture that could clarify the relationship between the organization and its various business groups. This identity needed to capture the essence of the organization’s spirit in a fresh, but not flashy or trendy, manner.

The Solution

Zone 5 began the process by convening focus groups with various
staff and clients to better understand the organization’s current and aspirational perceptions. We then turned outward to audit the brands of peer and competitor organizations for the purpose of differentiating HANYS where needed. Next, our team mapped out the organization for the purpose of defining the brand architecture. We then put pencil- to-paper and began the design aspects of the assignment. The resulting design built was a dynamic evolution of the HANYS identity, retaining some of the positive equity that the old identity had. (For instance, the green color palette was retained.) The new identity is intended to capture the statewide presence in an interesting and unique design, while symbolically breaking out of those boundaries.