Travel ban illustrates demands of never-ending media cycle

Cleveland Clinic was one organization that had to spring into action after one of its doctors was denied entry to the U.S.

My first media inquiry came in late this past Saturday night, and they haven’t ended since. It started after news broke that an executive order was instated to prevent visa holders who are residents of seven countries from entering the U.S.

The effort, designed to keep Americans safe, caused a great deal of uncertainly and havoc in the healthcare industry. One of our physicians, flying back from Saudi Arabia after a vacation, was denied entry and sent back to her family because she is Sudanese. The 26-year-old and first-year intern in our residency program became the focus of national media attention instantaneously.

I share this because I’m increasingly amazed at the changing news cycle and impact of social media on issues that are near and dear to the public. There is an insatiable need for instant information, whether you have answers or not, or whether the information is true. This requires PR professionals to be on their A game, and without warning, be able to respond immediately to the media at all hours of the day and night, literally.

With all of the confusion, our first priority was the safety of our employees around the globe and our primary message from a communications perspective. Determining who was traveling without a U.S. passport is no small task. Our hospital employs nearly 50,000 people in several countries. We pride ourselves on the diversity of our workforce and the fact that we care for patients from more than 170 countries.

Over the course of five days, we responded to dozens of media inquiries, hundreds of concerned citizens, elected officials, key stakeholders, community activists, and more. The story is complex and easily misunderstood. The facts were evolving rapidly and changing by the moment. Our communications focus was to stay away from the flame, support our employees, and focus on our mission of providing outstanding clinical care to patients around the world.

Overall, our coverage was neutral, but also quite extensive in social media. Our statement was shared almost 700 times.

One of our leaders told me, "This, too, shall pass." But, when an organization is working hard to do the right thing, an unexpected national event quickly places the PR person among those on the front lines of protecting the organization and all it stands for. Stay the course, be as transparent as you can, and support and communicate often with your employees.

Eileen Sheil is executive director of corporate communications art Cleveland Clinic. She can be reached at sheile@ccf.org.  

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