No News is Bad News

The WGGB story that I wrote about last week and some recent discussions with a few friends have gotten me thinking about the common media response that EMS services seem to have.  While there are some services out there that are leading the way and showing us what we need to do when it comes to public relations and the utilization of a public information officer, more times than not the attitude is taken that “no news it good news.”  That could not be farther from the truth.  No news means that you, as a community partner, are not doing your job.

Not a month goes by that there is not some news story that an EMS service could add their input to.  For example, did you know that February was Heart Awareness Month?  What a great opportunity for paramedics and their leaders to talk about what a person should do when they start having chest pain at home.

Another great two prong approach is to share the accomplishments and milestones of your service and your personnel with the community.  Do you have someone who has been working for the service for 25 years?  Write a press release about it, and invite the local paper to come interview them.  Have you gotten a new cutting edge piece of equipment or a new state of the art ambulance?  Invite a TV station over for a tour a demonstration.  Not only does the community get to see what you are up to, but you get to build a positive relationship with the press, and your people know that you are proud of them and want them to be in the spotlight.

With so many media opportunities out there, everyone has a chance to talk about whatever they want.  Look at what I am doing right now.  I am blogging, and people are reading it and while not every entry into the media world whether it is social or traditional requires a response, an EMS service needs to be ready to say something besides “no comment.”

If people do not know what happens when they call 9-1-1, that is the service’s fault, not the public.  They should not be punished for their “you call, we haul, that’s all” impression of prehospital care.  It is the responsibility of the service to make sure as many people as possible are informed.  You are never going to reach everyone that is impossible, but getting word and information out to as many people as conceivably possible is a very realistic and obtainable goal.

The best way to be prepared for negative press that a service might have to deal with is to be proactive with the media before that story even is potentially on the radar.  Being open with the press and more importantly with the community creates community support and increases the confidence that they have in you.  People see you as their ambulance service, not just an ambulance service.  They know a little bit about you when they see you driving down the street.  They will be more apt to say hi to your people when they see them out in the community, and they will be more apt to come to your defense when someone fires a shot across your bow.

The ambulance business is largely a reactive one.  We wait for the accident to happen, or the patient to start having chest pain, and we respond to it and that attitude leaks over to the leadership side of the house as well just due to the nature of many who get promoted from “within.”  With that background and predisposition, it is not always easy to overcome those tendencies.  Being proactive with the community and the media is an essential part of being a successful 9-1-1 provider.

We need to not be afraid from straying outside of our comfort zone, and learn that when we build the right relationship the media can be one of our greatest allies.  If we react to their inquiries with anxiety and only speak to them when they speak to us, then the tendency to view them as adversaries becomes more common.  Reaching out to them and sharing the positive stories is a great way to build community confidence in the paramedics and EMTs who are out there doing the job every day.

  • cheetahgirl

    Well, everyone is justly astute of our troops and features on their roles, and they are doing that new show on combat medics. i obviously am not watching it, you know why. its a different approach to EMS because its a military based program, however it is reality series, but in a sense, shows the down and dirty as much as possible that TV allows which is only the half of it….and promotes support for them which where credit is due. From promotional media i have seen, it aligns with what we also have seen and done for our own patients in the communities in our own hands on those bad calls, and also for our own flight services here, and can also be something to talk with when the buzz comes up, but done in an educated and appropriate manner, it can also be used to promote support for EMS systems and providers….think of the boots, but they’re 2 different colors. I also agree, the need for positive media and community awareness of disease processes, teaching, journal research, etc and putting faces to the names and extensive teaching and credentials of what it takes in the profession to erase the damn stigma of the “ambulance drivers”. Keep asking within why those two words haven’t gone away. Its time to give credit where credit is due much more often, and also raise positivity, trust, and confidence with the communities in a time where the health care system is in such a crisis, especially when EMS is usually the initial point of patient care. Activities such as the above, also give EMS providers, labelled with one of the “worst jobs to have in the United States”, positivity within regarding job satisfaction, and promotes more peer-to-peer bonds, and slows burnout, and studies show now peer-to-peer within job-specific career providers is the leading prevention of PTS and PTSD. Lots of food for thought.

  • Carl Viera

    Agencies and organizations who only provide EMS seem to do a very poor job at putting a “face” to their service. In your former city, I’m sure a good amount of the semi-informed public would be able to name or at least recognize the spokesman of the police department who makes regular press releases and media appearances. EMS agencies do not seem to fill this PIO role nearly as well despite the fact that doing so would provide a face for the service. Having a PIO who makes regular statements to the media gives the service an “in” with the local media in the case that a the service has a public relations message for the public. Of course it is important to have a decent PIO or the results could be the complete opposite. Lt. J. Paul Vance of the Connecticut State Police has been a common face in the Connecticut media for years and performed admirably on the national stage following the Newtown shooting. A PIO of that caliber would serve an EMS agency well.