Ambulance providers should “tie one on” for media coverage in regards to drunk driving

Paramedics and EMTs have a unique perspective and credibility to educate the public on the importance of preventing drunk driving related crashes.

We see first-hand the 1000 people killed each year between Thanksgiving and New Year’s. We care for thousands more that are injured, and we witness the impact it has on family members.

So, if given the opportunity, would you use news coverage to help reduce drunk driving crashes while creating a free opportunity to promote your agency as a community partner? (Guess what I’m about to write next…) Well, you can!

Several years ago, Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) created a program called “Tie One On for Safety.” The program encourages the public to tie red ribbons on vehicle antennas as a reminder to others to designate a sober driver.

A great opportunity for ambulance providers is to place ribbons on your entire fleet.

Setting up a media event to announce your effort is actually easier than you’d expect. Start by contacting your state or local MADD chapter and offer to co-host an announcement. A few days before the event, invite media and tell them what they can expect if they attend the event.

Tell reporters if they attend that they can record/photograph:

  • Paramedics and EMTs placing red ribbons on the antennas of your vehicle fleet.
  • Interview medics and EMTs that have responded to DUI crashes who will share their perspective and talk about how frustrating it is to respond to such calls knowing that they are 100 percent preventable.
  • Interview representatives from MADD who can talk about drunk driving statistics and how this time of year is especially dangerous.
  • Interview a victim advocate (family member of someone injured/ killed by a drunk driver) who can share their personal story.

A formal press conference with a podium is not necessary, as media will appreciate being able to conduct the three unique perspective interviews one-on-one, plus the ability to record/photograph the ribbons being placed on units. If you don’t have a local MADD chapter or they are unavailable to participate, you can still host the event on your own.

You might also want to involve other public safety or community partners who can also place ribbons on their vehicles. Plus, every community has local advocates against drinking and driving.

Make sure you have someone attend who can speak from the victim perspective as well as your crew members. The more interview angle options you promote to the media, the more likely they will choose one to cover.

Additional considerations:

  • Hold the event in the days following Thanksgiving to increase media coverage rather than waiting until mid-December, which often becomes cluttered with Christmas-related stories. A secondary option would be the week between Christmas and New Year’s as this is often a very quiet media week with reporters looking for stories to cover.
  • This is a no-cash media event, as MADD is likely to supply the ribbons at no cost. If you do need to buy your own red ribbons, the cost is still minimal.
  • Employees often request ribbons for personal vehicles in addition to the ambulances so you will want to have some available after the media launch.
  • Even if you don’t host an event or if the media don’t attend, take pictures of crew members placing ribbons on their own ambulances and send the pictures with a caption to local papers and media outlets. You’ll be surprised how many outlets (online or in print) post your picture and caption.
  • You should internally publicize a date that ribbons should be removed (i.e. January 5), as the ribbons become tattered and unreadable over time.

Finally, please let me know if you host such an event or get any coverage. I’d love to share it through my network to show others how a simple idea can have such a positive impact.

QTS of Arizona Driver Luis Gomez places a red ribbon on his van to remind the public not to drink and drive this holiday season

Note:  This post also appears in my “PR Medic” column on the website

Don’t be afraid of a Sugar High when Planning Public Relations Efforts for Halloween

Kids love Halloween because they get to dress up and collect candy.  Adults love it because they get to act like kids.  Don’t be scared to seize this once a year opportunity for your company to be creative and develop some great visuals for the media.

Identifying a media friendly visual opportunity for Halloween is probably easier than you’d expect.

Step one is to pick a visual that immediately identifies your company and your core business.  A great example would be a physical ambulance for an EMS/ambulance company or a Fire Department.

Step two is to tie that visual into Halloween.  No, showing kids and the media blood and guts inside the ambulance is not what I’d suggest.  Instead, how about making a costume for the actual ambulance?  Envision a bed sheet or two covering the front of the ambulance from the top lights down with cut-out eyes as if it’s a ghost or jack-o-lantern?  You could show it off to media at a press conference where you can educate the public about Halloween safety and why it’s important that kids wear reflective clothing that is fire resistant.

Another inexpensive idea would be to buy some bags of candy, and position the ambulance in a residential neighborhood the night of Halloween as kids are walking to houses.  The ambulance crew can hand out candy as the kids walk by and offer tours of the inside of ambulance.   Media can be advised in advance of where the ambulance crews will be handing out candy.  It’s possible that some media may even come out to the neighborhood as part of their Halloween coverage.

Be sure to take pictures on your own to post to social media sites and to send to community newspapers with a recommended caption.  Email pictures to us here at 10 to 1 Public Relations as well– we’d love to see them!

Need additional ideas for your company?  Just let us know!  Together, we’ll come up with some scary great visuals that media and the public will love!

Networking Tips for the Rubber Chicken Circuit

I admit it.  I enjoy walking up to strangers at networking events, happy hours and the chicken dinner circuit.  While I’ve never been considered the coolest guy in the room, I do feel confident that I hold my own even if I don’t hold court.

My technique is pretty simple, and I encourage less comfortable networkers to give these tips a try.

1)      Arrive early and avoid the people with whom you will be sitting. When I worked on the corporate side, I would always become disappointed when my co-workers would arrive late or huddle together and only talk to each other during the mingle time prior to sitting at the table.   Take advantage of the time before you’re forced to sit and speak to people you already see at work every day!  The time before dinner is where you can meet new people, and make sure that decision makers know that you’re in attendance (see tip #7).  Waiting until after the dinner won’t work, because people bolt for the door after the presentations are complete.

2)      Network like you’re Snorkeling.  This tip comes from Dave Sherman (@davespeaks1 and  I recently heard him explain how networking is like snorkeling.  New snorkelers or tourists on a dive often swim out as a group looking for fish—only to instead scare the fish away!  Instead, he goes off on his own and finds a piece of coral.  He holds still and before long, the fish come to him.  Dave suggests when networking, you do the same thing.  Plant yourself at a waist-high bar table in the traffic flow of the room and let people walk around and up to you.  Ultimately, you’ll see everyone in the room walk by and you can stop and talk to the people you’re looking for.

3)      Target the people standing by themselves at a table, along the wall or off to the side.   While Dave’s tip #2 is excellent for events where you already know a lot of people in the room, when you don’t know a lot of people I have an alternative suggestion.  Seek out the people who look lost or alone.  You’ll often find them along the walls or off to the side watching people walk by or at a table staring off in to space not talking to anyone else nearby.  These are often the easiest people to meet because in many cases they’re hoping someone will walk up them and start a conversation because they are unwilling or afraid to walk up to strangers themselves.

4)      KISS: Keep it simple, stupid!  You’re not in high school trying to get a date, just keep it simple when it comes to an opening introduction.  Hi, my name is… works fine.  Have a simple back-up question ready, like “have you attended this event before” or “are you excited that football season starts this week” to try and get the conversation started if needed.  Don’t talk about your work.

5)      Focus on making a connection, not selling a product.  No one is going to buy what you’re selling at a networking event.  Your goal is to make a connection so that if you follow-up after an event the person will remember you and the conversation.  Let them talk as much as possible.  The more you learn about them, the more likely you’ll make a connection.

6)      Offer and accept business cards selectively.  There are no prizes for handing out or collecting the most cards.  You’re looking for the cards of people you made a connection with, or those that you think may be potential business contacts.  After you take a card, write down some reminders of your conversation on the back. Examples are if they indicated a favorite sports team, or grew up in an out-of-state city near you.  When you follow up by email, or you see them at a future event, you can use that information to further build upon your connection.

7)      Shake hands with the important people.   You don’t need to have a conversation, or even say your name.  But it’s important that you walk up to elected officials and key decision makers and shake their hand.  Just walk up as they are talking to someone else, put out your hand and say that it’s nice seeing them at the event and walk away.  They’ll assume you’ve already met in the past.  Over multiple events, they’ll come to recognize your face.  The pay-off comes when you eventually need to go to them to discuss something important.  They’ll remember you from attendance at community or charity events—if not completely how or why—helping them view you as more than a stranger just asking them for something.

Last things to remember:  No one ever refuses to talk to a stranger at one of these events.  Nor do they walk away when approached by someone they don’t know.  When the conversation dies out, or the person isn’t the right fit for you to chat with, simply tell them it was nice to meet them and walk away and walk up to someone new.     And finally, smile when walking up to people!  You’ll be surprised how many people smile back before the first words come out of your mouth.

The secret to winning awards: Apply.

Josh Weiss at the Copper Anvil Awards presented by the Public Relations Society of America’s Phoenix Chapter on 8/23/12 where he co-accepted two awards with Liz Merritt from his work last year at Rural/Metro Corporation.
Josh Weiss at the Copper Anvil Awards presented by the Public Relations Society of America’s Phoenix Chapter on 8/23/12 where he co-accepted two awards with Liz Merritt from his work last year at Rural/Metro Corporation.

Josh Weiss at the Copper Anvil Awards presented by the Public Relations Society of America’s Phoenix Chapter on 8/23/12 where he co-accepted two awards with Liz Merritt from his work last year at Rural/Metro Corporation.

It amazes me that more PR pros and company spokespeople don’t take advantage of an easy way to generate free, positive news coverage that improves a company’s brand and community image. 

Awards serve as credible, third-party validation to target audiences.  Awards also provide an opportunity for your company leaders to accept recognition for excellence in front of peers and competitors and can serve as a point of pride for employees. 

During the past 15 years, nearly half the awards I’ve applied for on behalf of clients or companies have won, been named a finalist, or received an honorable mention.  I’m not trying to brag, I’m trying to make a point.  Few companies apply for awards.  Even fewer understand what to include in a nomination. 

Here are some suggestions for new nominators: 

1)      Take advantage of annually presented awards.  Someone has to win, even if the entries aren’t that strong.  You’re not competing against past winners who truly may be worthy of receiving the award again, you’re competing only against the other nominees that same year.  Often only a handful of nominations are submitted, giving you great odds to win or at least be named a finalist.

2)      Read the eligibility requirements.  Don’t waste your time submitting if you’re just going to be automatically disqualified.  Selection committees can look the other way for a lot of items, but selection committees can’t award you the prize for prettiest cat when your nominee is a dog.

3)      Give them what they want.  Most nomination and eligibility forms state exactly what the selection committee will be looking for in the winner.  Make a list of each item that the selection committee is reviewing, and write your nomination to directly answer those questions.  Make it easy for the selection committee.  In boldface type, highlight the keywords that answer each of those items, ensuring that the selection committee can find and properly score your answer for maximum points.  A great way to test your nomination is to have someone else read your submission and check off each of the items the selection committee is seeking. 

4)      How would the awarding organization benefit by your win?  Remember, many awards are presented during a ceremony that also serves as a fundraising event.  If you win, will the presenter sell more tickets—either from your organization or organizations/individuals that support the nominee? 

5)   Have you been approached by the awarding organization about becoming more involved in other aspects of the organization?  Most selection committee members are made up of board members.  If the awarding organization is trying to get your company more involved, what better way than to present an award to you in order to try to entice your organization to do more?

6)      Does your location give you a leg up? If the organization presenting the awards covers a wide geographic area, the organization may need to spread out the location of the winners.  For example, I’ve been told in the past that while the organization wanted to present us with the award, they had too many local area award winners in other categories and had to find an organization to win in another area instead.  If you are located outside a major metro area, your location might be viewed as a positive when applying for statewide or regional awards. 

7)      If at first you don’t succeed, apply again.  Just because you don’t win the first time doesn’t mean you shouldn’t re-apply the following year.  I’ve experienced cases where the awarding organization was so desperate for a quality candidate that I’ve been called after a deadline has passed and asked to resubmit a nomination from a previous year.  Needless to say we won the award that year. 

8)      Ask why you didn’t win.  If you don’t win, don’t be afraid to ask the awarding organization how you can improve upon your nomination next year.  They may tell you what was missing from your nomination, or why they chose another winner.  You’d be amazed at how honest and helpful the response likely will be and how it will improve your chances for success in the future. 

9)      Take advantage of the PR opportunity!  Several organizations choose to announce award finalists weeks before the awards ceremony, only to name the winner the night of the event.  Put out a press release days prior to the ceremony stating that you are a finalist.  If you win, you can always send another release afterward.  You can also add it to your company website and company collateral.  It really doesn’t matter if you win the big prize, you still gain independent third-party credibility simply by being a finalist or honorable mention.

10)   Must be present to win.  Make sure a leader from your organization attends the awards ceremony and is prepared to speak when accepting the award—and make sure they are willing to stay until the end because group pictures of winners are often taken after the event.  Don’t throw away a great opportunity as the organization presenting the awards is likely to share the picture and promote the winners separate from your PR efforts.   

Good luck with your submissions.  See you on the rubber chicken awards circuit!    

Head first into the shallow end

Recently, my kids were playing in the pool, taking turns jumping in pretending they were Olympic divers. Some jumps were cannonballs others were pencil jumps or spins. What I enjoyed most were the pre-jump antics.

Like synchronized Olympic divers talking to each other as they prepared to jump, my daughter mimicked them with full seriousness displayed on her face- afraid to look at me cause my grin would make her laugh too. First she’d talk her hands into the first ready position, before talking them in to a new ready position. This occurred several times before she finally told herself it was okay to jump on the count of three.

I can’t help but draw a parallel to my decision to launch 10 to 1 Public Relations. No matter how much you prepare in advance, at some point you just need to jump. Otherwise, there’s no chance that you’ll come up 10’s.

I invite you to check out my new company’s website and to follow my blog. I plan to share public relations tips and other thoughts that I hope you find interest. Most of all, I’m excited to learn your comments and feedback.

So with that, come on in! Once you finally make the jump, the water feels great!