When working in the public relations industry, we are sometimes faced with the reality of having a client that people think is boring. In managing public relations on behalf of a retirement community for two years, that was a misconception I worked to overcome among both members of the press, as well as the general public, every day.
Prior to working in the senior living industry, I was an account executive at a PR agency and pitched the media things like sexy press previews, new restaurant menu tastings, seasonal jewelry releases and grand opening parties, among other things the press generally found appealing. It was easy because it was exciting.
Looking for more of a challenge, I began work on public relations strategies in an industry that most people believe is not so sexy to talk about, let alone see in front page news. After all, who wants to read about old people?
Who wants to face the reality of aging?
I could pitch a story about the Zipcars just installed on campus (offering older adults a service typically only utilized by a millennial generation); a story about how RPP employees exercise more to earn (actual hours of) paid time off through the company’s Fitbit wellness program (a unique wellness initiative not offered by most companies in or out of our competitive set); or National Active Aging Week (an event celebrating the idea of all individuals – regardless of age – fully engaging in life: a celebration relevant to everyone who is breathing).
Even though all of these story ideas were compelling, relevant, timely and different from anything our competitors were doing at the time of being pitched, none of them gained above-the-fold attention from media.
It’s a challenge to overcome popular ideologies that equate getting older with getting worse; that’s a stereotype marketers within the senior living industry will always have to overcome before their messaging, their pitch, is received objectively.
Will the public or the press ever see news from a retirement community and get as excited about it as when they hear about another local casting call for House of Cards? Probably not.
How do you make older adults as relevant to the media as Under Armour’s recently launched sports bra collection or the National Aquarium’s newest baby puffin?
Unfortunately, not all pitches are created equal and it can be hard for a company like a retirement community to get their message heard.
Just because Roland Park Place is not a flashy brand or a publicly-traded company, doesn’t mean the organization isn’t doing extremely important things for the community and the city which deserve attention.
Even a boutique senior living community can have real news to share about real people, and compelling stories readers want to see on the front page, even if they are about older adults, retirement and aging. Because news flash: it’s happening to all of us.
Not everyone is Under Armour.
But being perceived as boring doesn’t mean a business can’t be smart in using innovative marketing and PR strategies to get the quality attention they deserve.
The baby seals of the world will always attract media attention easily.
The true art of public relations is being different, getting attention, mining for the good stories when there seemingly aren’t any, and telling those stories creatively for an organization that doesn’t naturally stand out from a highly-competitive crowd.
Retirement might seem like a pretty narrow topic to write about or pitch the media on, but when you look past common misconceptions and stereotypes, there are more than just stories of Medicare and 401Ks.
While the obvious thing to pitch when representing a retirement community might be Social Security or health care, and most people won’t expect stories beyond those about wheelchairs or prescriptions, I helped them open the door of story possibilities to allow for pitches on almost anything they like.
Stories about the retirement community’s green roof installation, multi-generational art project, cooking demonstration at the farmer’s market, 30th Anniversary and an urban retirement living trend, among several others, all gained great traction in the press because we thought outside the box and did something different than what the community had done for the past 30 years: we focused on the amazing people of the community and their stories.
Aging is about all of us, after all, and how to keep people (including me and you) productive and active for as long as possible.
We pitched stories that showed people the great possibilities of aging.
Not every pitch is going to be glamorous, and not every business will sound exciting.
I do a lot of networking and have heard far more “ohs” than “ooooohs” when I tell someone I worked at Roland Park Place.
Good PR can be hard to come by when the nature of your business is not necessarily something that people like to talk about: getting older. But it’s not impossible.
Focus on what makes you different or unique and don’t be afraid to stand out from your competitors.
We could have easily given up on our PR efforts at Roland Park Place and let the stereotypes – or the community’s reputation – run rampant. But instead, we focused on the stories that made their intellectual, caring, compelling community what it is: newsworthy.