The care sector, it feels, is afflicted by some permanent form of distress. A relentless funding crisis, the perennial challenge of recruiting and retaining staff.
This year, of course, we have what might be the worst of them all – COVID-19. And the cherry on the cake is the national media, forever keen to jump on death statistics with stark, attention-grabbing headlines.
But, while accepting that national media coverage of social care may be largely out of reach for most care operators, it is the contrary at a regional level. While COVID-19 causes havoc and misery, the regional media has never been so recipient and open to receiving positive news stories from care providers.
Sharing your work
Let me emphasise this – your regional media loves to hear about how your care business is providing good, innovative care within the confines of COVID-19 – and it’s an opportunity you must take advantage of to help promote your quality care provision to the public.
While it’s not always obvious, every good care provider right now is a treasure trove of potential positive and indeed heart-warming ‘stories’ of care.
Positive CQC reports are still being published, landmark birthdays for residents are still being celebrated and examples abound of quality dementia care and personalisation, innovative activities or staff going above and beyond during this pandemic.
These staff, presently being celebrated as national heroes, are also headline-makers. Longevity of service, being shortlisted for – or winning – awards, and out of work achievements can all make news during this COVID-19 period, and will convey to the public the calibre of your team.
Why choose local?
The purpose of securing media coverage for any home is often to raise its visibility and profile and to help generate enquiries, particularly from self-funders.
In so doing – and while national media focuses on the negative; deaths, under-protected staff, lack of care staff, funding crises – care providers can harness the power of the regional media to transform the public’s image of care homes.
Let’s look at the raw numbers. I recommend that every care provider in the UK should be aiming to secure up to 10 pieces of positive media exposure for their home every 12 months.
Looking at care homes, let’s say a quarter (4,250) of the UK’s 17,000 homes secured the (in my opinion, quite achievable) 10 pieces of positive local media exposure per year. That equates to 42,500 positive care home stories in the media per year.
When you consider that regional media is often cited as being some of the most trusted of all media, that’s a potentially colossal public impact.
For operators managing the UK’s care homes and homecare services, the local media should be a priority because this is the media most able to reach prospective clients, families and stakeholders.
Plus, most residents or clients are likely to be from within a limited radius of the home or service.
Despite their general demise in print, one local newspaper can still have a huge reach, being read by tens of thousands of people. Moreover, their associated websites, Facebook pages and Twitter feeds mean opportunities for people to find and read your story increase threefold.
Local BBC radio stations and TV news programmes – again with viewing and listening figures of tens of thousands – can also be ideal media vehicles for raising awareness of your service and the good news within it.
As with local newspapers, during this COVID-19 pandemic, local BBC and ITV television has been more open than ever to showcasing good news stories about care homes and domiciliary care, and communicating to the public about how well it’s being done.
How to pitch
When thinking how best to pitch your story to regional media, both during this difficult time and beyond, a key element is often to focus on the ‘human-interest’ side of a story.
For example, if you ushered in online video technology for residents to communicate with their families, the story’s ‘angle’ may not necessarily lie in the video method itself but how one or a few particular residents are using it and benefiting from it.
When you marked the VE day celebrations during lockdown, the angle is focused on how it was an extra special day for one or two residents.
Such an approach will provide you with content to write up a 300-word news release and media pitch headline to email to local journalists. And, by the way, try to find a named journalist to pitch your release to rather than sending it to a generic ‘news@xxx’ email address.
BBC local newsrooms have a shared diary across radio and TV, but it doesn’t hurt to email more than one journalist. Again, the specific reporter for your region, the health correspondent or news editor, will be the one to target.
It’s best to send your story via email with your headline in the subject line. Consider reading the headline to a colleague before you hit ‘send’ – they should want to know more once they hear it.
At the start of your email, include a short personal note to the journalist and don’t be afraid to follow up a couple of days later. Emails can get missed or forgotten, so a reminder can make the difference between your story getting published and not.
Eye-catching photos can make or break a story. Plus, if your images are strong, they may result in a full double-page media spread for your home, and a more impactful online piece.
If you’re going to commission a photographer, it’s prudent to choose those with proven experience of ‘editorial’ photography who are more capable of ‘telling a story’ via photos than, for example, studio or wedding photographers.
Making social media work
Every individual care service should have a Facebook page both to keep families in touch and to communicate with the wider community. At the moment in particular, Facebook can be a key channel for promoting your infection prevention and control initiatives and all the ways in which you are keeping the people you care for safe.
Posts should ideally encourage reaction and interaction to make them more visible in people’s news feeds. One way of doing this is by including a ‘sharing’ mechanism, which can significantly boost the number of people who see your content.
Promising to make a £1 donation for every share during a week-long themed campaign can have far-reaching results that put your service in front of people who wouldn’t otherwise see it, especially if you donate to a local charity that complements your business, for example a carer support charity or a day centre.
Elevating your profile and turning around opinion is like turning a container ship. It takes effort and time.
But when it comes to regional media, operators can be at the helm, having considerably more control of messages and shifting opinion. And as care operators battle to win back public confidence after the initial shock of COVID-19 and the stream of often negative national media headlines, they can harness the power of a sympathetic regional media as never before.
What methods do you use to reach regional media? How does your service work with local press? Share your insights in the comments section below.