What EMS agencies can learn from Cleveland sports teams

I’ll root for Cleveland sports teams until the day I die, but EMS agencies don’t always inspire the same public loyalty

While I’m proud to call Arizona my home since 2000, I grew up in Cleveland  — a city that constantly seems to be the punchline of every national joke. 

I still remember watching “Major League” in theaters 25 years ago, and cheering as pictures of city landmarks and decaying buildings flashed on the screen. The movie mocking continues to this day, like with Kevin Costner’s recent film “Draft Day” about a failing Browns football team.

Clevelanders are especially hard on themselves when it comes to sports. I still haven’t forgiven Jose Mesa for costing Cleveland the World Series in 1997, and I have trouble saying LeBum’s name.  

My wife, 9-year-old daughter and 6-year-old son may think it’s time to get over it, but I love defending my home town.

I love playing basketball with my kindergartener. If he decides to pretend he’s LeBum James and the Heat, I’ll start playing tighter defense and won’t let him get a shot off towards the hoop — and he knows it.

Create your own story

But here’s the rub. As Cleveland fans, we need to accept at least a portion of the responsibility for this perception. If we didn’t repeatedly self-describe our sports failures as “The Shot,” “The Fumble,” and “The Drive” then outsiders wouldn’t either. 

Yes, we’d still have lost, but it likely wouldn’t define Cleveland as it does today.

I’ll root for Cleveland sports teams until the day I die. But EMS agencies don’t inspire the same public loyalty.

As leaders, we need to recognize how a seemingly benign negative perception can take root — growing both in-house and in the eyes of the community when repeated.

So instead, alter it. Create the narrative that you want people to define your agency by.

For instance, if an ambulance company is perceived over a period of time as having rude or poorly trained EMTs or paramedics, it’s extremely hard to change that perception even after you fix the problem. The trick is to address it quickly, before it defines you. 

Share some human interest stories that show how caring your co-workers are, and how they go above and beyond for the community and their patients. Create buzz around an upcoming training session or highlight employees who receive certifications that give your agency an advantage over your competition. 

As the public relation officer or spokesperson for your agency, it’s your job to not only talk, but listen to what’s being said about the company. Get a pulse on what people think by reading the comments on news websites, on social media, and in blog posts. And tune in to what you might overhear at events or parties.

By quickly promoting the positive reality, you don’t give the negative perception a chance to take hold.

Unfortunately, it’s too late for Cleveland professional sports. 

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