When I was a Public Information Officer for a private ambulance provider, I used to speak to new employee orientation classes. Of the 30 minutes I was allotted, the first 25 minutes were spent explaining my role, process and policies related to why employees can’t talk to media, etc.
But for me, the last five minutes were the most important. It’s when I asked the group what public relations and community involvement programs they liked that a previous employer did or what ideas they might have that their new employer should consider.
Most suggestions were ideas we were already doing or had considered, but decided not to pursue for cost or other reasons. Once in a while, an idea can become a real gem — if you’re willing to hear the suggestion and open to considering ways to implement it.
My favorite example is one I originally rejected. Toby was new to our marketing team and one of his personal passion projects was about the Safe Baby Haven law. Safe Baby Haven laws exist in many states across the country. A new mother can drop off her newborn child (72-hours or younger) to any hospital or fire station and absolve herself of any future responsibility for the child, no questions asked. The idea is to make sure that the newborn isn’t abandoned in a dumpster.
Toby was part of a volunteer group in the state that was promoting the law and trying to educate the public. He suggested that we place large Safe Baby Haven logos on the sides of all our ambulances and make the ambulances drop-off locations.
I’ve always been wary of putting too many logos and decals on an ambulance — we aren’t stock cars and the more logos added the fewer people see — but that’s a column for another day. Initially, I thanked Toby for the idea but mentally rejected it.
To Toby’s credit, he kept asking so I took another look at the law in Arizona. It stated that in addition to hospitals and fire stations being official drop-off locations, the law said that the baby could be handed to any uniformed Paramedic or EMT and the crew must accept the infant, no questions asked.
I was still against the idea of putting “drop off location” logos on the ambulances, but since the law already said we played a role, why not make sure everyone knew it? Working with Toby, we partnered with the Safe Baby Coalition, who had already secured a proclamation from the Governor declaring Safe Baby Haven Day.
We held a press conference at one of our facilities with numerous ambulances behind us as the backdrop to announce that the public should view all of our ambulances as Safe Baby Haven “locations” when the newborn is handed to an uniformed Paramedic or EMT.
You caught that last part, right? It was already the law! We weren’t really announcing anything new!
And, now, for your moment of serendipity: During the press conference, where there was a full set of television cameras, reporters’ cell phones began ringing. It turned out that a baby was found in a dumpster — at the same time of our press event.
All of a sudden, our low level “C” story became the day’s lead story. Every mention of the baby in the dumpster included how preventable it could have been had the child been handed to an ambulance crew. We had 43 news mentions within 24 hours.
Example of TV Coverage:
Within a few days, fire chief’s in other major cities announced that they were making their ambulances drop-off locations too.
These turn of events, which stemmed from an idea that was initially rejected, happened because of a quick question thrown out at the end of an employee orientation speech.