In 2019 Annual Conference

Reputation Management in the Digital Age

By Kendra Gemma (Instagram: @ChicTrick) Central West Coast Chapter

As Louisiana’s largest nonprofit, academic healthcare system, Ochsner Health System has 40 owned, managed and affiliated hospitals throughout the state. Add to this the philanthropic and sponsorship ties to the New Orleans NFL and NBA sports teams and their owners, and the system’s reputation management becomes highly complex.

A Crisis Arises

This is the environment faced by the marketing communications team in August 2017 when the New Orleans NFL team, the Saints, fired their physicians, who are employees of Ochsner. The marketing communications team – including our speakers Giselle Hecker, director of national/government public relations & crisis, and Katherine Staiano, manager of digital content – first learned of the firing via a tweet from an ESPN reporter, who cited an unnamed source claiming a misdiagnosis of a player’s injury as the reason.

Crisis management began immediately, starting with gathering information. The marketing communications team confirmed the validity of the statement and then questioned why they were not informed before the leak occurred.

Due to the complexity of the situation with multiple stakeholders involved, from the team owners/ Ochsner donors to the Saints staff, the first official statement from Ochsner was not released to the press until nearly 5 p.m. the day of the leak, which had happened at 9 a.m. While the Saints coach had given a press conference midday, he did not fully support the doctors or rectify the situation, and the players statements to the media further caused damage to the doctors’ reputations – and, by extension, the health system’s.

Ochsner’s initial statement tried to pacify the external stakeholders and, in turn, had little impact except to upset their own physicians’ group, who felt that the doctors were not supported strongly enough.

In the meantime, the MarComm team monitored social media, where many negative comments and posts from high-profile accounts dominated all channels.

Attempts to garner validation from a third party, such as other NFL doctors who know that the type of injury the player suffered often takes time to be revealed, failed.

A couple of days after the news broke, Ochsner released a more direct statement that clearly supported the fired orthopedists and spoke to their “clinical knowledge and expertise.” This statement was a “game changer” both internally and externally. News outlets picked up the release, and the physicians’ group were more satisfied.

Reputation Management Continues

Once the news media and fans had moved on from the story, the marketing communications team’s job shifted to long-term reputation management to reassure current and potential patients.

A campaign was devised and launched using pull marketing tactics, such as SEO, paid ads dedicated microsites for the two affected doctors as a way of shifting the search engine results from the negative news articles to owned, positive messaging about the doctors’ research, successes and background.

TV and radio commercials, to reinforce Ochsner’s sports medicine team’s qualifications and abilities to help patients of all athletic levels – from youth to professionals. The MarComm staff also created a video series around the physicians and trainers that could speak to topics that people are interested in and be shared via web, blog and social.

The online reputation – including ratings and reviews from consumers – was closely monitored through a third-party service, Ochsner continues to use the service today.


Lessons Were Learned

As a result of these efforts, the MarComm team has seen improvements in revenue dollars and overall sentiment.

Giselle and Katherine shared four key lessons learned from the crisis.

1.       Preparation

a.       Anticipate risks.

b.       Identify all impacted stakeholders. These may extend beyond the obvious parties.

c.       Set up a command center or chain of command.

2.       Response

a.       Speed is critical.

b.       Prioritize our own reputation, not those of external partners.

3.       Stabilization

a.       Expand monitoring in order to keep on top of potential and existing crises.

b.       Assess if additional measures are needed.

c.       Assure stakeholders and audience.

4.       Recovery

a.       Know that this is a long-term process.

b.       The process must be visible to all physicians.

c.       Consider structural changes.

d.       Edit the plan as needed.

The women shared that their crisis and their efforts to recover the reputation have had positive outcomes, including the opening of a new orthopedic hospital this fall. The two former Saints doctors are leading this project.

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