EDITORIAL: Public Relations: A Shared Responsibility

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“Public relations?” “I don't know anything about public relations, but why do I need to?” “I don't have time to do PR because my practice is too busy. Besides that's why I pay my dues to the ACNM. Let the national office take care of it.” “I'm a CNM/CM* and what I do is so good that I don't need to publicize or promote myself. I'm busy enough with just word-of-mouth.” Such statements about public relations (PR) have been expressed by every certified nurse-midwife (CNM) and certified midwife (CM)* at one time or another. What, in fact, is public relations? Whose responsibility is it to promote, educate, and answer questions about midwifery* to consumers, professionals, legislators, and the health care market? Midwives* frequently ponder these questions and struggle with the answers. When it comes down to it, public relations is a shared responsibility between all midwives and the national headquarters staff of the American College of Nurse-Midwives (ACNM).

There are numerous definitions of PR used today. The Public Relations Society of America frequently defines PR as “the management function which provides the professional skills necessary to communicate truth effectively to concerned publics” (1). This generally occurs through two-way communication. According to Honacker (2), PR is the process of attempting to communicate to various groups via different methods (eg, the news media, personal presentations, publications, and audio-visuals). In other words, PR is simply the active communication between people and groups in order to effectively promote ideas.

Public relations involves many different levels of communication strategies and personal contacts as midwives establish practices, hospital privileges, patient relationships, legislative contacts, and become part of the provider lists for insurance companies and managed care organizations. Although midwifery-related PR is needed on a daily basis, it is generally seen as a task to be accomplished only when a specific need or issue arises.

Public relations is an ongoing process that is most effective when laid out in a master plan involving need identification, target group research, establishment of a workable time-line and strategy to effectively reach the desired group/public, ongoing evaluation of the outcomes, and modification of strategies, as appropriate, in order to begin the entire process over. This task does not need to be an onerous one but rather an opportunity for CNMs and CMs to prepare themselves for the questions that will inevitably be asked regarding midwifery care and practice. It is an ongoing, infinite process that changes with the ever-changing needs of a midwife's practice.

There are many different opportunities for midwives to be active in PR endeavors with patients and their families, personal family and friends, the locality, state, and region where they practice, and nationally. Although individual communities or groups offer unique challenges, the CNM/CM must utilize the same basic process with each. Every PR contact can become an effective means of educating others, promoting a particular practice and the midwifery profession in general, and laying the groundwork for future contacts (eg, legislative contacts) that could be helpful as the health care system continues to change. A midwife who has been visible to the public and has regular contact with and support of legislators has a much greater chance of being heard regarding specific issues than the midwife who has not engaged in any PR activities. Furthermore, PR exposure in a community can, over a long period of time, rally consumer support of a midwife's practice should a need ever arise.

In order to prepare for these opportunities, CNMs and CMs must educate themselves about midwifery and what is happening internationally, nationally, statewide, and locally. The Marketing and Public Relations Department of the ACNM has an abundance of written and audiovisual PR materials and professional expertise that are available to members; these include:

  • • Web page at http:www.midwife.org

  • • Consultation for practice marketing

  • • Review and distribution of press releases

  • • Development of publications about midwifery for CNMs/CMs, consumers, and other professional groups

  • • Development of marketing and PR publications

  • • ACNM exhibit for national and local use

  • • National media contacts

  • • Ad campaign development

The ACNM's national office and the PR Committee have played integral roles in helping members become more savvy regarding PR. These two groups work hand in hand to assist CNMs and CMs with PR and marketing strategies. Programs and personal contacts are available as needed. The Journal of Nurse-Midwifery offers views on issues about the health care system and the impact it has on midwifery and vice versa. Networking with other midwives can enhance PR efforts. Joining local ACNM chapters offers members an ongoing source of information and enables individuals to directly support the efforts the chapter is making on behalf of all midwives in the area. Even though the ACNM and PR Committee can assist with local efforts, each CNM/CM is best suited to address the local issues and to make the necessary contacts. Furthermore, with a corps of midwives doing PR across the United States, more people will be positively impacted by the available information. Still the question arises: How can every CNM and CM do PR in a professional and concise manner, yet make the largest impact possible? The Board of Directors (BOD) of the ACNM and the PR Committee have recognized the ongoing need to have midwives become proactive with PR and better able to field consumer, media, and professional questions. In response to a recent directive from the BOD, the PR Committee has formulated a plan to train PR liaisons in each state and/or chapter. Ultimately, these PR liaisons will form a core group of PR-savvy midwives, serving as local and statewide advisors to the chapters as well as PR contacts for the media, legislators, and the ACNM Marketing and PR Department. The initial plan for each prospective PR liaison candidate includes: training at a PR and marketing workshop offered at the ACNM's 1999 annual meeting, active membership in ACNM's national PR Committee, and ongoing education and training enhancement by experienced PR liaisons. These liaisons will offer suggestions for future PR programs and training. Each chapter/state should identify and financially support a midwife for this position. This should prove invaluable to each chapter and to the ACNM's national efforts.

Finally, although the national Marketing and PR Department plays a key role in midwifery-related PR, professional PR is the shared responsibility of all CNMs and CMs. It should be seen as a golden opportunity to further promote and enhance midwifery practices and to lay the groundwork for future needs regarding legislation, practice expansion, and insurance issues. Individually and together, midwives can directly impact healthcare issues and their outcomes through effective PR. Midwives who “don't have the time for PR” should realize that the entire midwifery profession will suffer if individual CNMs and CMs shirk their responsibility to become equal partners in PR now.

Footnotes

  • *

    CNMs/CMs as used herein refers to those midwifery practitioners who are certified by the American College of Nurse-Midwives (ACNM) or the ACNM Certification Council, Inc. Midwifery refers to the profession as practiced in accordance with the standards promulgated by the ACNM.

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