#COT2017 S35: RCOT insights. Media Relations for Occupational Therapists

20170619_163148In my former life I worked in Arts Press, so it was natural for me to want to attend this session and start to think about how I could use my skills from my first career to better support my new adventure as an Occupational Therapist.

The session began with an introduction from RCOT’s Head of Media Relations, Andrew Sharratt. He talked about what the RCOT have been doing over the past year since last year’s conference message to “be loud and proud”, and the current drive to increase the number of people telling the story of the profession.

Getting involved in coverage of everything from Brexit to winter pressures, the RCOT media team have certainly been busy. There was mention of an upcoming campaign, ‘Living, Not Existing’, which will talk about Social Care and Occupational Therapy and come complete with a toolkit to help Occupational Therapists tell their story to the press. This follows the ongoing work the Improving Lives, Saving Money campaign has been doing since it was launched in 2015. Andrew’s introduction ended with an important point; media relations is not just PR and spin doctoring, it’s a way to help commissioners and service leaders understand what Occupational Therapists are about and promote the important work we do every day.

Next to speak was Madeleine Pinkham, Media Relations Officer for NHS Improvement. Madeleine started by asking how many people knew their Communications Team – a question that made me consider my own lack of engagement at the Trust I work for – and outlined the role of a press officer. Their role includes managing the public’s expectations, sharing the work that we do with patients and the wider community, and a whole host of things such as events, web presence and more. What I took most from Madeleine’s section was the need for Occupational Therapists employed in health and social care to engage with their communications team. If we want to get the word out there about Occupational Therapy we need to tell them because, in Madeleine’s words, “without the work you do, an NHS press officer has nothing to talk about”. She urged us all to invite our communications teams to come and see what we do in frontline services, even suggesting we “spam them” at every given opportunity.

Madeleine also made reference to the new series of BBC2’s Hospital, due to start on Tuesday 20th June 2017. She acknowledged that they had “missed a trick” with the first series, which did not capture enough of the work done by therapies staff. Apparently this has been addressed in series two so I look forward to seeing the results, especially as figures quoted state that the first series had 2.5 million viewers per episode so the potential for more people across the UK to see what Occupational Therapy has to offer is huge.

Finally came David Brindle, Public Services Editor for The Guardian who started by saying that blogging and vlogging were the new face of journalism and that it was online that most young people are now consuming their media. The overarching message here was that although online media is a growing area, print media does still seem to have a more esteemed position in the mass mindset so should not be neglected. He called for frontline staff to consider interaction with the media because it is “the voice of the professional and voice of the service user that bring a piece to life”. Communications teams can help manage these interactions, and advise on the most appropriate media outlets to take a story to.

Given that it was acknowledged that online media is on the rise, and traditional media in steep decline it did feel strange to not have anyone there to discuss engagement with the ‘new media’ world. However, in questions Andrew did say they had decided this was a subject in its own right, so I hope to see this addressed at future conferences.

This session followed on beautifully from the central message of the Casson Memorial Lecture, to ‘Publish! Publish! Publish!’, and reaffirmed my belief that this should not just mean publishing research. As Occupational Therapists we need to consider how we engage the public and people in positions of power to ensure they understand what we do and how it can help drive ongoing improvement in health and social care. A fitting to end to an inspiring day!

By Ayla Greenwood, @AylaOT

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