I had a nice opportunity to talk this week with Taslin Alfonzo, who does media relations for a Louisiana hospital that has treated workers involved in the BP oil spill cleanup. She mentioned a story in which her hospital had made national network news, and that her SMUG training had played a role, so I asked if she would be willing to share. Here’s her recap of the story (and I’ve embedded the NBC Nightly News piece at the bottom of this post as well):
West Jefferson Medical Center (15min South of New Orleans) has treated a total of 11 oil spill workers who say they have been affected by the fumes from burning off the oil and from being sprayed with dispersant.
None of the workers wanted to talk to the media, but one of them was willing to talk to me. So, I pulled out my iPhone and asked if I could record an interview with him. I asked the gentleman about his symptoms, how he was transported to West Jeff, and what he thought about our medical service. After the 30 to 40 second interview, I asked him if it was okay if I posted his video on our website. He agreed, signed a consent and asked that it only be displayed on our website. He did not want me to distribute it to the media.
So, I did just that. When I edited the video, I made sure to put our website (wjmc.org) under the man’s face in the video so media couldn’t claim it as their own or not courtesy WJMC. Then, I sent out a press release to all media outlets (local & national) telling them I had exclusive video of an oil spill worker treated at our hospital. Some of them used the video and never mentioned us (but we had the bug…ha!), others properly credited us and some news outlets refused to use it because of the bug.
Needless to say it got national attention. Our website and doctors appeared on NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams, ABC News Tonight, and various local stations.
The best part was I got the whole idea from Lee Aase, the social media guru!
I’m glad for whatever inspiration I contributed, but of course the credit goes to Taslin for seeing an opportunity to apply the MacGyver mindset in her situation, and then acting on it. Here is the first part of the NBC piece, in which her hospital was featured:
A few quick lessons/observations:
- You don’t need a big staff to effectively use social media tools. West Jefferson has three people, I believe, for media relations, marketing and community relations. In fact, the tools like the iPhone and Flip video camera are even more valuable for the smaller shops.
- If the story is big, and if TV networks don’t have a way to get footage, they will use yours. Ideally, I’m sure, NBC would have preferred to interview the patient directly. The patient didn’t want that. Taslin’s video was the only video available.
- Video quality is less important than content. It didn’t matter that the video was taken with an iPhone, and that it was available only on the Web site. What mattered was what the patient had to say.
- The traditional press release still has a role. Having the video on the wjmc.org site wasn’t going to lead to coverage if Taslin didn’t send out the news release. She perhaps could have just sent emails with the link as a pitch, and that might have worked. But the news release spread the word quickly to media outlets. Timeliness is key; getting the word to media quickly made it more likely that they would use Taslin’s video instead of working for a day or two to find a patient on their own.
It’s great to see this example of a SMUGgle thinking creatively and using the tools at her disposal to tell the story.
How about you? What’s your best example of using social media tools for mainstream media relations?