Today it is more important than ever for EMS agencies to be great community partners in addition to being great care providers. Our communities have grown to rely on us for an ever-increasing list of responsibilities in addition to an expanding list of medical incidents that we respond to. Public relations and brand marketing have become areas of focus for EMS agency leadership, regardless of the business model the agency falls under. Doing a good job with public relations can pay off in ways you may not expect, just as handling this poorly can have dire consequences for your EMS agency.
Public relations is essentially how we communicate the message of who we are to anyone who may be interested. Good public relations start with opening up lines of communication between our agencies and our stakeholders. We know that people are friendlier toward, or more accepting of, those people, places, things or groups they are familiar with. As we build familiarity, we gain trust. With trust comes support and cooperation. It really is that simple!
All organizations communicate with their stakeholders in several ways. Every interaction is an opportunity to build our relationship with a stakeholder. We can learn what others expect of us by asking the question and trying new things. For example, by providing educational programs we get out in front of the public and have the opportunity to deliver the message of our organization. We also have the opportunity to receive feedback on the service we’re delivering. Good communication will allow us to learn what the public perceives as our strengths and weaknesses. Through these interactions we look to answer the question – “What do our stakeholders want or need from us?”
All EMS agencies require the support of the public they serve in order to be successful. Things like expansion of service, service area assignments and provider level authorization all require someone outside of the agency to agree with the pursuit. Good relationships with politicians, for example, are especially important for tax-supported services at budget time. Grant funds are sometimes available to a broader group of EMS agencies than just government supported organizations, but often still require political support to obtain.
EMS agencies require the public trust to be successful. Trust is earned. People naturally distrust what they are not familiar with. Most police and fire departments have taken a very proactive approach to public relations, in large part for this reason. You’ll regularly find a designated public information officer responsible for media and public relations in fire and police departments. Having one point of contact ensures a consistent message. Having a PIO ensures that communications are happening when they are appropriate. Police and fire agencies also regularly support public education programs. These programs add value to the community, solve a problem or address a concern, and give the departments facetime with constituents.
A great opportunity to reach out in to the community is through involvement with community events. This could be in a formal stand-by role or just as an event coordinator or sponsor. Highly visible community events provide an opportunity to sell the EMS agency’s brand as a positive community asset and a team player. In addition to community-wide events, another great way to add value for your community and get your message out is by offering training and education to the public. If you’re not already doing so, consider how your agency can either offer or at least support or sponsor public education and training opportunities. Here’s a brief list of low or no cost programs that an EMS agency could implement. None of these take a lot of time, money or people to accomplish:
- Teach public CPR classes.
- Schedule presentations on health and safety topics.
- Contact your high school about giving an EMS-focused career presentation.
- Help your high school with an impaired driving education program.
- Offer job shadow ride-along opportunities to stakeholders in your community.
- Provide ‘Stop the Bleed’ Training.
- Start a fall prevention program with your senior center or human services department.
- Participate on local committees for appropriate events or activities.
Your street providers are your agency’s most visible public face. Ensure that they are your best brand ambassadors. Empower them to engage in positive conversations and encourage them to “go the extra mile” for your customers and citizens. People remember what you did better than what you said. Give them a reason to remember you positively.
If your public relations approach could use some work, heading off in the right direction doesn’t need to be overwhelming. Start with just one thing. Identify one action, program or practice you can influence that will have a positive impact on your agency’s public message. From there, add to your reach and messaging as time, talent and resources allow. Don’t be afraid to try new things and spend your effort on those opportunities that are best for your agency.