Client: Mind Springs Health
Mind Springs Health (MSH) is a nonprofit Community Mental Health Center and the leading behavioral health provider on Colorado’s Western Slope. It also operates West Springs Hospital in Grand Junction, the only psychiatric hospital between Denver and Salt Lake City.
Mind Springs Health serves a 10-county area covering 23,000 square-miles. Each of the counties has a diverse range of needs and stakeholders, so communication that works well in one country may not work so well in the neighboring one. Relationship building is key, and a series of long neglected or poorly managed communication pitfalls had resulted in rumors and a lack of understanding about the organization’s role in the community.
Changes to the way that Colorado funds and delivers crisis response mental health services on the Western Slope resulted in rumors, confusion, and a loss of trust between MSH and some of its stakeholders. Partly due to poor communication, misleading media reports and a reliance on editorial approval from funding partners, MSH struggled to respond and had difficulty telling its story. Internally, decisions about how or when to communicate often took too long. A great deal of energy was spent in crisis mode worrying about what people were saying, feeling picked on, and wondering how it was that MSH was so misunderstood.
Mind Springs Health engaged Pushkin PR to help it manage the immediate crisis and help the organization repair its reputation among key stakeholders. We explained to the client that restoring trust once it has been lost takes time, consistency, commitment and endurance. It starts by clearly understanding the story you want to tell and how best to communicate with the audiences you want to hear that story.
With a limited research budget, Pushkin PR began by gaining an understanding of how stakeholders felt about MSH in order to identify barriers, opportunities and threats.
- To begin, we conducted a series of 15 in-depth stakeholder interviews.
- We also conducted a communications review, including an analysis of the organization’s website, social media content, marketing campaigns, annual reports, press releases and prior media coverage.
- Finally, we led the organization’s leadership team through a brand messaging session to identify the key brand attributes we could use to help the organization communicate with key stakeholders.
Our research helped us develop a SWOT analysis, key messages, and the strategies and tactics we would use to guide our communications plan.
We realized we had a dual mission. Goal #1 was to manage the immediate crisis involving misunderstandings surrounding the state contract for the West Slope crisis center and dispel false rumors that MSH was closing. Goal #2 was to develop a communications campaign to help MSH repair its damaged reputation. Our measurable objectives were:
- In the first month, develop a messaging platform and provide training to executive team and board members
- Within the first two months, secure positive media placements in five of the ten counties to immediately address rumors that Mind Springs Health was closing or abandoning the community
- Develop and execute a 6-12 month communications plan to repair Mind Springs Health’s reputation by securing positive media placements in six of the ten counties
Simultaneously with our research phase, we drafted a crisis communications plan including forming an incident command team, step-by-step protocols, and messaging for various scenarios. Next, we developed the following tactics to address rumors that MSH was closing or abandoning the community.
- A messaging platform with specific key messages for each target audience
- An FAQ we posted on the MSH website and sent by email to target audiences
- An “Our Commitment to the Community” op-ed for the MSH website and targeted media
- Internal staff meetings led by the CEO to reassure employees and mental health providers
- Targeted media interviews to address community concerns
- Social media content repurposed from the FAQ
We drafted a strategic communications plan to repair the organization’s reputation and restore trust between Mind Springs Health and its stakeholders. This phase included the following strategies:
- Messaging training for executive team and board members
- An aggressive media relations campaign including press releases, targeted pitches, op-eds, deskside meetings
- County-specific public relations plans designed to target the unique concerns in each county
- Reactivate social media channels aimed at mental health professionals community members in the 10-county service area and provided social media training for executive leadership team
- Community forums and open house events
- Internal communications including email updates and frequent staff meetings
We earned more than 200 media placements in August-December including print and broadcast media in Grand Junction, Glenwood Springs, Aspen, Summit County, Vail, Steamboat Springs, Rifle and Rangely. This represented a 48 percent increase in media exposure compared to before we started. Broadcast media reach totaled 136.20k and print/digital reach totaled 102.83 million. We wrote and distributed eight press releases and three op-eds. The initial crisis communications effort to dispel rumors was successful.
By the end of the year the feeling that it was “open season on Mind Springs” was minimized, allowing MSH to communicate less defensively and more transparently. The reputation management campaign helped community partners, staff, board members and donors to feel better about where the organization was headed.