Use the 24-hour news cycle to your EMS agency's advantage

MedStar shares 7 keys to creating a media partnership that educates the community, promotes the agency and meets the top goals of local media

Ever wonder how sometimes seemingly routine media messages seem to proliferate on broadcast and social media? Putting an EMS story into this 24-hour orbit is not rocket science. It just requires understanding the 24-hour news cycle.

The 24-hour news cycle is the unending stream of investigative reporting on all-news radio stations, television channels and websites. Stories have to be told, re-told and re-packaged to be told again because of the continuous need to keep the cycle fed. 

An important phenomena resulting from 24-hours news stations and online news is the speed at which news outlets want content to maintain a competitive advantage in the market. This means that the media outlets have three goals:

MedStar Field Supervisor Marshall Sharp interviewed about heat-related calls.
MedStar Field Supervisor Marshall Sharp interviewed about heat-related calls. (Photo courtesy of MedStar)
  1. Be the first to get information out to their audience
  2. Have a unique angle for telling the story
  3. Have a differentiating perspective to re-tell the story

Case study: Heat emergencies

Here’s a case study to demonstrate using the 24-hour news cycle to position your agency as a go-to source for the media to satisfy their appetite for early and unique content. This case also illustrates how content can continue to be used over time to fill the media's need for 24-hour news.

It’s HOT in Texas. 

This is not news, but the heat is a topic every year that we know will get media time as the first triple-digit temperatures are forecast. Assignment editors, producers and reporters will be clamoring to be the first to broadcast a heat-related story and tell their story with a unique angle to illustrate the hazards of the hot weather.

In anticipation of the rise in temperatures, we ran a report on the number of heat-related calls from our computer aided dispatch data from the previous summer. We filtered the data to answer these questions:

  • What date did we begin to see a spike in heat-related calls?
  • How many heat emergencies did we respond to last year?
  • What percent of patients were transported?
  • Were there any common themes?

We also wanted to provide our media partners advice on hot weather safety. In addition, we sought out the expertise of two medical professionals. Our release included quotes from a paramedic, one of the most trustworthy professionals and our medical director.

Even though we were prepared with great insight and important messaging, we also knew we needed a hook, which is that one thing which will generally get everyone’s attention, leading to actionable information the media can share with their viewers.

For our hook we chose the devastating occurrence of leaving kids in hot cars. The Kids and Cars website proved to be a valuable resource to gather statistics and authoritative information about how to prevent leaving kids in hot cars. We included this information, as well as the number of kids in hot cars we responded to last year, in our early information release.

A day before the first triple-digit weather was to arrive we emailed the previous year's data, quotes from a paramedic and medical director and preventing hot car deaths as a media release to all our media partners. We also posted the release on our website and tweeted a link to the release on our website.

Within minutes there was a plethora of activity. Retweets, emails and phone calls seeking for interviews and examples. We even received requests for ride alongs to chronicle actual heat related calls. We met the first goal for our media partners, be the first to get out information.

We then moved into achieving the second goal by providing daily updates on the number of heat-related calls we had responded to, how many of those patients were transported to the hospital and how many patients were not transported.

We put extra emphasis on kids in hot cars responses and outcomes. Continual reminders of the safety tips were also included.

A daily report of the number of heat-related calls, along with the tips of how to stay safe in the heat, became a regular part of virtually every evening news broadcast. The second goal, a unique angle, was achieved.

As the hot weather droned on for days achieving the third goal, having a differentiating perspective, required a lot of creativity. We pitched an idea to put a well-known evening news reporter into car in direct sunlight on a 100+ degree day, live, on the evening news, to see how the heat impacts him. Even better we offered to put him on a cardiac monitor, body temperature gauge, pulse oximetery and capnography with real-time monitoring by a MedStar crew standing next to the car.  

So that’s what we did. 

First, we had to select the right crew. A crew that was seasoned, well spoken, extroverted (to a point), had a camera friendly appearance (yes, it matters) and wanted to do it. 

Once the crew was selected, they reported to the studio 30 minutes before the planned broadcast start. They met the news reporter turned patient, the news broadcast anchors and the production crew that would be part of the live shot. This meeting was important to build some familiarity and trust between the participants.

The live broadcast started with the MedStar crew in studio, with their equipment, explaining live how heat effects the body, what they will be looking for when monitoring the patient and what parameters they will use to decide when it is no longer safe for the reporter to be in the car. They then moved outside, took baseline vital signs on the reporter before he entered the black car, in direct sunlight, attached to the paramedic's monitoring equipment.

And so it began, live, with over 250,000 viewers.

During the 30-minute news cast, they went live to the parking lot to interview reporter in the car and the MedStar crew standing by. Viewers also saw an on-screen, digital inset displaying the elapsed time, the temperature outside and the temperature inside the car. 

After 17 minutes, the MedStar crew determined it was no longer safe for the reporter in the car and in dramatic fashion they removed the reporter from the car. Once out the car they immediately began rapid cooling with ice packs, an important treatment demonstration, and started IVs to rehydrate him. 

The video, complete with slow-motion effects, were replayed on newscasts for the following 24 hours. The third goal, a differentiating perspective, was satisfied.

EMS and media partnership to educate and promote

Here are the keys to creating a media partnership that educates your community and promotes your agency and its personnel.

1. Be available. 

This means 24/7/365. When you demonstrate reliability, you will become the first call for any busy reporter or assignment editor when they are on a deadline (hint: they are always on deadline)

2. Be a story source. 

Carry a list of story ideas for the media that you can pull from when they call and say "we got nothing and we go on the air two hours – what do ya got for us?" Always have an updated list of ideas and you will be their hero.

3. Be opportunistic. 

It’s perfectly fine to tag onto events happening and pitch an EMS angle. We used the heat example here, but there are many examples:

Also, if something big is happening on a national level, what is the local angle? Local media outlets often want to take national stories, like the Pokémon Go craze, to the local level.

4. Be prepared. 

Most of the time, a PIO speaking on camera or being quoted in print is fine. Sometimes, it’s best to use EMTs or paramedics, dispatchers or other personnel. Ask them if they would like to be interviewed. It’s unusual for anyone to decline, because of the cool factor. Yes, they will be nervous, so take the time before the interview to prep them. Find out what questions the reporter will be asking and role play with the employee. Hone their answers to help them be comfortable.

5. Be supportive of your staff. 

If field personnel are going to be interviewed, in addition to preparing them, be there with them. In the unlikely event the interview is not going well, you can step in and either get it back on course or take over for them. Believe me, they appreciate the support.

6. Be proud.

Subscribe to a broadcast news clipping services. When stories air about your agency you can download the stories and share on your web page, Facebook page and with the personnel involved. The clips also become a great training tool as well as a library of your media involvement.

7. Be grateful.

Send your media partners with hand-written notes to thank them for including your agency and personnel in the story. Also text them right after the story airs to tell them they did a good job. If the story didn't turn out the way you hoped, stay connected, provide feedback and keep supplying story ideas.

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