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Core Exchange: Media Relations in Healthcare

From crisis communications to storytelling

Listen to the important support role media relations plays in helping tell powerful patient stories.

Stephanie Burton, Core Creative, and Gerry Steele, Froedtert Health, discuss the role media relations plays in helping tell the “authentic, beautiful” patient stories found in healthcare.

  • Core Exchange | The Role of Media Relations

Episode 5: The role of media relations

You can listen to the podcast episode using the player embedded above, or you can read a full transcript below. Be sure to subscribe to Core Exchange on iTunes.

Episode transcript:

Stepanie Burton: At Core Creative we stay current by pursuing information directly from those driving change and innovation in their markets. It helps us learn how business is finding new solutions for healthcare consumers and it helps sharpen our perspective when we serve our clients. This is the Core Exchange with Gerry Steele, Media Relations Associate with Froedtert Health in Milwaukee, and I’m Stephanie Burton, Director of Healthcare Marketing for Core Creative.

Gerry, it is a pleasure to have you here in our Core Creative studios today. Gerry and I have a history. We worked together at Children’s Hospital in Wisconsin a number of years ago and now you are at Froedtert Health here in Milwaukee.

Gerry Steele: Yes I am and thanks for inviting me.

Stepanie Burton: It’s a pleasure. We’re so glad that you could come in. Now, your role at Froedtert is very similar to what you did at Children’s. You’re obviously working with adult population as opposed to a pediatric population. Tell us a little bit more about what you do.

Gerry Steele: I support some of our strategic service lines including neurosciences, cancer, primary care, women’s health and innovation across the health system so that touches a lot of our different programs and service lines.

Stepanie Burton: Fantastic. Then in a media relations capacity.

Gerry Steele: Correct. I work very closely with our media, excuse me, marketing associates to develop a media plan that really rolls up to a strategic marketing plan.

Stepanie Burton: Fantastic. Makes sense to me and something that is still useful in today’s market. I know there’s been conversation, I hear it every once in a while, the press release is dead or PR is dead and what I’m hearing from you and what I see in the market is it’s very much alive.

Gerry Steele: I think it’s very much alive. It’s definitely an important tool to have in marketing and healthcare. There is simply nothing like that third party authentication about what you do, especially in healthcare when we’re talking about patients, patient families. I think it’s a very powerful tool. Stand alone I don’t think it’s everything, but it is definitely something to have in your arsenal.

Stepanie Burton: How has media relations changed in the past decade or so? What are you doing now or not doing today that you did or didn’t do 10 years ago?

Gerry Steele: Well, I think all of us would probably agree that print media has changed drastically and there just isn’t the same amount of resources to pitch to for a long format or enterprise story the way there was seven to 10 years ago. What that means in terms of media relations is that we’re tasked with a more challenging smaller market to tell some of the tougher, more complex stories in healthcare. Of course, there are those that are really never going to be told well in a minute and 40 in TV. On the flip side of that, I think that national media outlets, especially online, are more accessible to all of us.

Stepanie Burton: Great. Tell us about the crisis communications component of your job. Where I know Froedtert is a level one trauma center, the only one in the area and that must impact your job greatly.

Gerry Steele: Crisis communications is one of the things that we are very much involved in on a day to day basis in some instances, whether it’s related to a situation that happens in our ER or if it’s something that happens on our campus. We are on the Milwaukee Regional Medical Campus, and Children’s Hospital Medical College of Wisconsin, Curative, and the Blood Center are all co-located with Froedtert Health out in Wauwatosa. We do a lot of work together on crisis communications.

Stepanie Burton: Great. Do you have an example that you can give us of a situation that you’ve handled and what happened, what your role was, what the media implications were?

Gerry Steele: Well, I think unfortunately what comes to mind is a situation where a police officer was shot and came to Froedtert and passed away after going to our trauma room. For that there were a couple of elements. First of all, the obvious was that the media came to the hospital. There was a tremendous amount of police present because that’s what they do when-

Stepanie Burton: Right.

Gerry Steele: -one of their own-

Stepanie Burton: Right.

Gerry Steele: is hurt badly. It was kind of twofold. One was to run interference with media and the other is the police department, whether it’s Milwaukee Police Department, Wauwatosa Police Department, have a public information officer and that is the person who is my liaison to the police department.

Stepanie Burton: Right.

Gerry Steele: My role is to make sure they know I’m there and work with them in that situation to put together a press conference, find a location, just all of the logistics from podiums, to security, maps, and then letting the media know.

Stepanie Burton: Great. Great. You had mentioned the Medical College of Wisconsin we know that they are a partner with Froedtert Health. You co-brand with them and most of your physicians are on staff with the Medical College of Wisconsin. Can you talk about that relationship and the implications that it has for your job?

Gerry Steele: It can be a complex relationship because you have two organizations that have like interests as well as we have different things going on as well. I think the biggest benefit to the organizations is having that academic medical connection. We have physicians who are doing cutting edge research as well as clinical time, translational research. This is an incredible benefit to the community and to individuals who choose Froedtert for their care. I mean, that is the biggest difference is any other healthcare system does not have that academic research component-

Stepanie Burton: Right.

Gerry Steele: -that is so robust.

Stepanie Burton: I would think that each brand strengthens each other. Froedtert strengthens the medical college. The medical college strengthens Froedtert based on …

Gerry Steele: Absolutely.

Stepanie Burton: Great.

Gerry Steele: Absolutely.

Stepanie Burton: Great. Excellent. You have pitched and placed hundreds of stories, I’m sure, maybe thousands of stories in your career and I imagine there are a few that stand out. Can you tell us a story about one or two of your favorites and why that made such an impact on you?

Gerry Steele: I would say that a couple that come to mind, first of all, I worked on a story with Time magazine about four years ago on our Neonatal Intensive Care Unit and what has changed in Neonatal Intensive Care in the last 20 years. It was a story that really incorporated all aspects of the team, not only our physicians, but also our nurses, and our therapists, and our techs, and the research that we’re doing. It was a tremendous opportunity and I would be lying if I didn’t say it was print, so we had a lot of room to tell a really great story. Ultimately, I think that the writer felt that it was strong enough that it became the cover story for that particular issue, so that one.

Stepanie Burton: That’s amazing. That’s amazing. How about we know the patient stories often impact us. They keep us going. Any patients in particular that you’ve worked with whose story has really touched you and has actually made it to be told in the media?

Gerry Steele: Let me just say that it’s a privilege to work with families at such a vulnerable time. I take that very, very seriously to honor their experience. In some cases I have found that part of their healing and their journey is telling their story. In other cases it’s not, but they’re thrust into the limelight and so I do everything I can to kind of help them navigate a completely different world that they’ve never had to deal with before. A lot of people think that just because a reporter calls you, you got to answer-

Stepanie Burton: Right.

Gerry Steele: -or you have to say something. It’s my work to minimize the media mess for them while they’re trying to heal. Recently I met an incredible man who, through no fault of his own, just got an incredibly bad blood infection that required he have all of his limbs amputated.

Stepanie Burton: Wow.

Gerry Steele: He was just so very positive the entire time and so grateful, and his physicians all have said along the way that that is what’s going to help him as he-

Stepanie Burton: Right.

Gerry Steele: -journeys forward. I just, there’s so many patients who I feel privileged to have just passed their way.

Stepanie Burton: That’s fantastic. Why is it important for health systems to continue telling these patient stories and stories about our physicians, and nurses, and the people who care for them?

Gerry Steele: I don’t think you can underestimate that patient perspective. While marketing has many, many benefits there simply is nothing as authentic and beautiful as a patient or a patient’s family talking about the incredible care that they received. That is where the rubber meets the road.

Stepanie Burton: Fantastic. Gerry Steele, Media Relations Associate with Froedtert Health. Thank you for joining us on the Core Exchange podcast.

Gerry Steele: You’re very welcome.


Stephanie Burton, APR is the Director of Healthcare Marketing at Core Health.


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