PR in the NHS

At a time when the five Health Trusts in Northern Ireland need to make combined savings of up to £70 million in their health care budgets, it is understandable that people question where the NHS money is spent. A common debate is the NHS’ spending on Public Relations.

PR is usually one of the areas that is attacked when it comes to NHS expenditure. For example, Jonathan Isaby, CEO of the Taxpayers Alliance stated in 2014, “Taxpayers expect the health budget to be spent on real doctors, not spin doctors.”

CIPR were quick to defend the role of Healthcare Communicators believing their role involves “Life changing and lifesaving work.” The NHS needs to engage with the public and tackle healthcare issues. This cannot be done without professional PR support, PR is not just about ‘spin’.

From my placement year, working as a Communications Intern in the South Eastern Trust, I learnt the importance of PR in the NHS and witnessed first-hand the misconceptions associated with working in PR.

For example, when I was seen attending events taking photographs or filming, people often said, “Your job seems so fun and easy taking photos and using Facebook.”

However, people do not realise the amount of time and effort put behind photographs: arranging large and often reluctant groups of people for a group photograph, gathering accurate information to accompany the photo in a press release, editing on Photoshop when necessary. Also, the time taken to film and direct original footage along with editing and gaining approval from the organiser before anything is released. There is a lot more effort, time and skill needed behind the scenes!

Below is a summary of what a NHS Press Officer Role entails, proving PR is not just about ‘spin’:

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Without Public relations staff in the NHS the following questions may arise:

1. Who would update the public on important issues?

Who is going to inform the public about the pressures on the Emergency Department this winter? If people are not aware of their own minor injuries unit open times or the self-help resources to use at home, they are most likely to visit busy A&E Departments and increase the pressure on staff.

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2. Who is going to recognise and promote staff’s achievements?

The NHS employs approximately 64,000 staff in Northern Ireland. Press Officers in the NHS source and publish good news stories on the fantastic work staff do. Recognising staff achievements creates a high moral and sense of appreciation among staff, which leads to a more passionate workforce who want to strive to work to these standards.

The PR team in the NHS also share patient’s positive experiences that may have otherwise not been printed by journalists who usually favour bad news stories that get more hits. Highlighting a patient’s positive experience can boost the Trusts reputation.

3. Who would keep employees and the public up to date on events and important information?

PR professionals in the NHS inform the public and staff of innovations within the trust through various communication channels. Without a PR, who would inform the local population of key decisions within the Trusts, such as the recent cost saving proposals?

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PR is also used to promote important health awareness campaigns such as cancer and stop smoking campaigns, raising awareness of signs and symptoms and the help available in the local area which can be lifesaving.

4. Who would manage Reputation?

Public Relations is all about managing reputation– protecting, maintaining, building and managing reputation.

A strong reputation is important for the NHS, considering the amount of bad publicity it usually receives. If the NHS did not hire PR professionals who would handle the 24-hour demand for news and answer the medias queries promptly and correctly? Certainly not front line staff would not have the time or experience to do this. PR professionals in the NHS help shield staff and patient’s identity from the media and some cases stop unethical stories being printed- helping to avoid a crisis.

It is especially important that the NHS has a good reputation as this attracts the right staff and builds good moral amongst the people that work there.

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As Bill Gates famously said, “If I was down to my last dollar, I would spend it on public relations.” This emphasises that even if money is low, it is crucial to keep investing in PR to ensure a large organisation such as the NHS is run effectively.

There are endless reasons why PR is central to achieving effective healthcare. The NHS needs the resources, both internal and external, to enable this.

So, is PR in the NHS a waste of money? Definitely not.

Elizabeth Owens is a final year BSc Communication, Advertising and Marketing student at Ulster University. She can be contacted on Twitter @eowens12_ or LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/elizabethowens32/ 

Since my last political post faired out so well, I have decided to continue to include my own opinion on the going-on’s in Northern Ireland’s ever-changing political landscape.

If Facebook was invented during the Troubles, I can only imagine that the war would have been fought with a keyboard instead of with guns. As social media has grew in popularity, a steady decline of humility and feeling has occurred. This negative correlation showed itself to me firstly when Margaret Thatcher died, as thousands flooded my timeline to show their courtesy – yet simultaneous disrespect – to her death.

However, on 21/03/2017, I was genuinely shocked to come on to Facebook and Twitter, and see so many disgusting comments at the death of Martin McGuinness. A man without whom Northern Ireland would still be very much stuck in the 1980’s.

As Margaret Thatcher is the only person who comes to mind when trying to compare the two political giants’ deaths, I must remind you of the background of each character.

Baroness Thatcher came from a well-to-do family and grew up in a quiet market town in Lincolnshire. Martin McGuinness was raised in the Bogside of Derry City, which to those who haven’t studied an ounce of NI history (half of my Facebook timeline), was a highly deprived area where Catholics were discriminated against at the electoral polls and at the housing executive. He left school at the age of 15 and without the right education behind him to express his anger at the British Government through speech, he delved into the violence that was rife at that time throughout NI.

I found this tweet sums up a great deal of Martin McGuinness’ early years.

 

This is not a post to make excuses for McGuinness’ early years, when he was obviously under the influence of the romanticised Irish patriots of the 20th century, but instead a post to commemorate his final 20 years where he pushed for change for Northern Ireland.

The progress he made throughout his political career is unparalleled – being the chief negotiator for Sinn Fein and Irish republicans through the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, and staying with the power sharing Executive throughout its 19 year period. He too had to make compromises when dealing with the opposition who he fought with violence so vehemently just years previously. His warm and witty personality caught the attention of US President Bill Clinton, who spoke at his funeral.

The most poignant part of Clinton’s speech was when he mentioned Nelson Mandela. The South-African freedom fighter has come to epitomise peace and revolution – despite being involved in similar militant tactics as a young man. Clinton said that in a conversation with Mandela, Mandela told his people “if I can get over ‘it’ you can too, we have got to build a future”, which is exactly the attitude Martin McGuinness had when realising that until republicans and loyalist sides learned to move forward together, they wouldn’t move at all.

 

Queen Elizabeth II shakes hands with Northern Ireland Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinnesswatched by First minister Peter Robinson (centre) at the Lyric Theatre in Belfast. Photograph: PA
McGuinness shaking Queen Elizabeth II’s hand. “If I can get over it, you can too. We have got to build a future.” – Nelson Mandela

 

If the Queen can shake Martin McGuinness’ hand although he was head of the IRA when her cousin Mountbatten was murdered by them – then surely everyone can pay respect to him (or perhaps not react at all), because after all he is a human being.

It is easy to judge someone when you only see them in black and white. But when I think of Martin McGuinness, his past reflects a rainbow of triumphs and turbulence.

Martin McGuinness “expanded the definition of ‘us’, and shrunk the definition of ‘them”

– Bill Clinton.

Image result for martin mcguinness funeral

 

Shannon Quinn is a 2nd year CAM student at Ulster University. She can be contacted on LinkedIn at https://uk.linkedin.com/in/shannon-quinn-556236132 and on Twitter @ShannonQuinnPR.

 

Political PR in the world of fake news and social media

Political PR in the world of fake news and social media

In recent days, US President-elect Donald Trump has had to battle unverified allegations which have derived from a leaked dossier created by a Washington-based opposition research firm, branding them “fake news”. Yet despite the document’s claims being wholly unverified, the story remained at the top of Facebook’s algorithm, and has led to a growing amount of media coverage clouding the public sphere.

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Fake news is a collection of fabricated stories and strategic narratives which are increasingly influencing public and political discourse. With 62% of US citizens saying they get their news from Facebook, fake news poses a threat to politicians trying to influence public opinion. For example, during the 2016 US election, fake news overtook mainstream news in terms of social media engagement.

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(Source: Buzzfeed (2016) Total Facebook engagements for to 20 election stories. Available from: https://www.buzzfeed.com/craigsilverman/viral-fake-election-news-outperformed-real-news-on-facebook?utm_term=.bxxLnNkmKn#.salzVDKP9V )

So what does this mean for modern political PR practice?

With fake news taking centre stage, it shows how social media has facilitated “Chinese whispers” of sorts, allowing people to share stories like “Pope Francis Endorses Donald Trump for President”, and showing just how little “fact checking” comes in to play. Despite the impact of fake news on public action still being undetermined, it has the potential to fuel some dangerous rumours, and lead to a misinformed public and an upheaval of the current media system. If people lose their trust in all news stories and outlets as a result of constantly being bombarded with fake news, this will render earned and paid media placements pointless and valueless, as they will no longer resonate with a growingly suspicious public.

As the ever-expanding and ever-complex media system creates an obscuring trellis around key issues and demands, more and more of the public are relying on social media for news stories, and are not differentiating real news from fake news. It is therefore increasingly necessary for politicians, public figures, and organisations alike to utilise public relations in order to disseminate and distinguish the “real story”, and to protect their image.

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When politicians and other public figures are being derailed constantly the rise of fake news, and an invasive and powerful media agenda trying to verify the stories, PR and spin tactics may become a necessary evil. In a media environment of accelerated information flow, political figures have less control than with older media forms. This intensification of media attention puts pressure on politicians to communicate a variety of messages quickly, and thus an increased reliance on spin is a reaction to the need to maximise electoral support, engage a wide range of publics, and connect them through an alternative media filter, allowing politicians and public figures to communicate particular messages and to break through the media monolith.

 

References:

http://www.journalism.org/2016/05/26/news-use-across-social-media-platforms-2016/

Khaldarova, I. and Pantti, M. (2016) Fake News: The narrative battle over the Ukrainian conflict. Journalism Practice, 10 (7), 891-901.

McNair, B. (2004) PR must die: spin, anti-spin and political public relations in the UK, 1997-2004. Journalism Studies, 5 (3), 325-338.

http://www.mediabullseye.com/2016/12/fake-news-poses-a-real-problem-for-pr/

Moloney, K. and Colmer, R. (2001) Does Political PR Enhance or Trivialise Democracy? The UK General Election 2001 as Contest between Presentation and Substance. Journal of Marketing Management, 17 (9-10), 957-968.

Moloney, K. (2006) Rethinking Public Relations. Second Edition. London: Routledge.

https://www.buzzfeed.com/craigsilverman/viral-fake-election-news-outperformed-real-news-on-facebook?utm_term=.bxxLnNkmKn#.salzVDKP9V

 

Charlotte Goss is a 4th year CAM student at Ulster University. She can be contacted at https://uk.linkedin.com/in/charlotte-goss-b4389895, and on Twitter @CharlotteGoss94