Ahjo Communications - Crisis Communications Campaign

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Company: Ahjo Communications, Helsinki, Finland
Company Description: Ahjo Communications is a PR agency with creative fire. Our roots go back more than four decades. Our work is about unique ideas and bold executions. We help our customers become thought leaders in their fields. Ahjo has been the Finnish affiliate of Weber Shandwick since 1992.
Nomination Category: Corporate Communications, Investor Relations, & Public Relations Categories
Nomination Sub Category: Communications or PR Campaign of the Year - Crisis Communications

Nomination Title: Heart Hospital: Crisis into an opportunity – a chance to create public discussion

Tell the story about this nominated campaign since 1 January 2016 (up to 650 words). Focus on specific accomplishments, and relate these accomplishments to past performance or industry norms. TEXT REDACTED FOR PUBLICATION

Ahjo Communications for Heart Hospital: Crisis into an opportunity – a chance to create public discussion

Phase 1: Genesis

A policy on patient’s right to choose one’s preferred public healthcare unit was implemented in Finland in 2014 as a part of a greater public healthcare reform.

TAYS Heart Hospital is a specialized unit for cardiac diseases, providing services for public and private sector patients, which operates in conjunction with TAYS, Tampere University Hospital. Ever since the reform Heart Hospital has been the forerunner in marketing and communications in the public sector, informing patients of their rights to choose one’s place of treatment. Heart Hospital has been adding their conspicuousness and familiarity with the public by spreading awareness and patient stories on heart diseases through campaigns, social media, events and media coverage.

Phase 2: Development

Helsingin Sanomat, the biggest Finnish daily newspaper contacted Heart Hospital with an criticising article. The article made claims on patients’ inequality and unreasonably high expenses for society. Heart Hospital was also accused of conducting needless examinations and of unnecessary marketing.
Next Finland’s biggest medical paper, Lääkärilehti contacted Heart Hospital with more criticism. They informed Heart Hospital of the accusations made by HYKS, Helsinki University Hospital, which suspected Heart Hospital’s invoicing policy and treatment criteria.

The accusations came from HYKS, Helsinki University Hospital, the biggest public hospital in Finland. HYKS was reluctant to adapt the new regulations of free choice for patients. TAYS and Heart Hospital, had been doing ground breaking PR and marketing, which was unfamiliar to public healthcare and therefore made other healthcare facilities uneasy.

PHASE 3: Execution

Heart Hospital started crisis communication quickly and with nothing to hide. Firstly, we created a plan for the communications including: who needs to know and what, the challenges and the correct facts. Possible scenarios and how to prepare for them as well as readymade answers for all accusations were also thought of.

We gathered all the facts on treatment policies, public survey on prices, made by Heart Hospital, and billing records. Heart Hospital shared as much as law enabled with HYKS and also openly discussed the case with Ethical Care Committee that had nothing against Heart Hospital’s operations and communication related to patient’s freedom of choice.

We also openly gave media background info that helped them to evaluate the situation. We had honest discussions with them. We didn’t apology, we didn’t stay silent.

A counterpart was written very quickly along with a blog post to Heart Hospital’s blog on the subject.

The starting point for all crisis communications was Heart Hospital’s own staff, which was kept informed.

We saw the crisis as an opportunity to spread awareness on the patient’s freedom of choice and the patient oriented point of view it represents instead of money and infrastructure. The crisis was an opportunity to highlight and create public discussion on good healthcare from patient’s perspective.

PHASE 4: Results

Heart Hospital’s own staff was well informed; as a result the hospital had 400 people spreading their side of the story.

Lääkärilehti made a correcting article. Heart Hospital got their own and the patient’s point of view through to the article in Helsingin Sanomat. Instead of the original criticizing story the article ended up being preferential to Heart Hospital. All the free appointments at Heart Hospital were booked on the day Helsingin Sanomat published the article. Even extra employees were asked to come to work for the sudden, grown public interest. Patients booking times for doctors gave only positive feedback on the publicity.

The crisis ended up being an opportunity to discuss how painful the healthcare reform and even the freedom of choice in public healthcare has been in Finland. It also paved way for new communications procedures for the public sector.

In bullet-list form, briefly summarize up to ten (10) of the chief features and results of this nominated PR program since the beginning of 2016 (up to 150 words).

Summary:

• Heart Hospital managed to turn a potentially severe crisis into an opportunity to open public discussion on a matter important to them by quick and open crisis communication.
• The starting point for all crisis communications was Heart Hospital’s own staff and as a result the hospital had 400 people spreading their side of the story.
• Lääkärilehti, which published the accusations made against Heart Hospital by Helsinki University Hospital, ended up publishing a correcting article where Heart Hospital’s main messages came through.
• Heart Hospital got their point of view through to the article in Helsingin Sanomat, Finland’s biggest daily newspaper. Instead of the original criticizing story the article ended up being preferential to Heart Hospital and increased number of patients that day.
• As a result Heart Hospital’s main messages and responses overcame the accusations in the articles.
• Potentially damaging articles ended up being important media coverage with wide reach.