Campaign extra: Hospital opening draws in the crowds

Hospitals can be frightening places for children. Stark, and imposing, many were designed when medicine rather than environment took precedence.

The new Evelina Children's Hospital in Lambeth, south London has sought to change all that. Rather than being sent to floors labelled 'radiography' or 'X-ray', patients head to 'the beach' level, or wait in rooms with names such as 'seahorse', while light switches and reception desks are at child-level. In fact virtually everything about the hospital, from its colour, and design and curved corridors (because children are apparently scared of straight ones) has had some form of child-input from a designated Children's Board.

Guy's and St Thomas's NHS Foundation Trust was pinning its reputation on this new building, a £60m development which was the first children's hospital to open in London for more than 100 years. And because the Trust wanted a major launch, with a strong fundraising angle and celebrity support, the pressure was on – not least because right up until its opening, on 31 October 2005, no journalists could be properly shown around.

'Evelina is such an inspirational building that its design had to be the
focus of the launch,' says Antony Tiernan, deputy director of comms for the Trust. Ordinarily this would involve pre-launch tours and briefings to journalists. However, as Tiernan recalls, 'while building work was finished six months earlier, the time up to the opening was spent moving equipment in. The building was the star, so I didn't want it being seen dusty and unsafe.'

The only option was a tightly scheduled photo-call on Sunday 30 October. 'Everyone had to come. We had lots to say, but just one shot at saying it.'

Tiernan designed a media pack to suit a wide range of journalistic needs. Exterior photos were included, as well as a DVD for broadcasters and press releases with extensive staff quotes. A weblink was regularly updated with pictures and the BBC and other stations were booked for recording slots on the Sunday.

Times exclusive
Despite Tiernan's reticence over previews, he did strike an exclusive with The Times' Saturday magazine to cover the event (see box). The piece ran on Saturday 29, the day before the photo-call. Tiernan judged this wouldn't cause other media to pull the plug.

The only other journalists allowed into the hospital before patients were those from the architectural press. One of Tiernan's other jobs was to promote the work of Hopkins, the design company making its hospital-building debut with the Evelina.

'I was less worried about architecture journalists seeing it like a bombsite,' says Tiernan. 'They're used to it. Also, many of these writers contribute to the broadsheets. They would help flag the story to the nationals.'

In the week of the opening, pictures could at last be taken of the 'hospital at work'. These were sent to all of the main national and regional media, with a reminder of the photo-call on the Sunday which doubled for broadcasters to film reports ready for Monday.

The photo-call featured a three-storey-high banner of one of the children on the Children's Board. It was unveiled by 40 other children who had been involved in the design of the building. Dr Francis Finder, clinical director of children's services, was provided with media training to conduct interviews. She was joined by a Hopkins spokesman, while older children from the 'Pride of Guys' club told reporters why they thought this hospital was special.

Coverage fears
Tiernan was pleased with the event's success, but admits that at one point he thought it might go wrong. 'It sounds callous, but at the time George Best was ill and the first rumours that he might not live appeared on our opening weekend,' he says. 'We feared a
total shutdown of coverage.'

In the end, coverage was extensive (see box). 'If I'm honest, in the absence of any major news knocking us off the agenda, I would have expected most of this,' admits Tiernan. 'What was most pleasing was the blanket coverage the BBC gave us on the Monday.

They saw it as a strong story for the start of the week and if you had watched BBC1 all day, you'd have seen us four times on Breakfast, then straight after that for an hour's live broadcast on City Hospital, then on the One O'Clock News, Newsround, the Six O'Clock News and on the local news after 10pm.'

Other scoops included coverage for a Hallowe'en party for staff, patients and parents on the Monday opening. Although this was officially closed to the press, an appearance by X-Factor contestant (and eventual winner) Shayne Ward meant cameras from ITV2 were allowed in. The photo-op was published by the Daily Star.

Since the launch Tiernan's continued efforts have ensured longevity in the campaign. In December GMTV broadcast live from the hospital, as did presenters from BBC's CBeebies. The Sun newspaper also hired in a Santa to give children presents. After hearing about the campaign, the BBC World Service added a third episode to its two-programme architecture series – Listening to Masterpieces – which aired in January.

As well as publicising the hospital, a second thrust of the campaign was the promotion of the Guy's and St Thomas's Fund. It donated £10m to the building of the Evelina and helps fund other new hospitals and the Evelina Children's Hospital Appeal. Tiernan says there was a flood of donations following the press coverage of the launch, most of which included details of the appeal. Donations included one single gift of £10,000.

A further indication of the reach of the campaign has been the hundreds of requests from around the world from architects, hospital planners and doctors keen to visit the hospital.

'This has been as massive endorsement of what we've been trying to achieve,' says Tiernan. Not all requests can be fulfilled, but the News of the World has provided funding for thousands of extra copies of a 'behind the scenes at Evelina' DVD. More than 5,000 copies have already been distributed.

And the work doesn't finish there. Tiernan is now working with two other media companies that are planning documentaries about the hospital. 'This really is an inspirational building,' he concludes. 'Everyone comments on it. It makes my job a lot easier.'


Coverage gained

Press
* Nationals including: News of the World, Daily Star, The Sunday Times, Sunday Express, Metro,
Evening Standard
* Regionals including: South London Press, Southwark News
* Specialists including: Nursing Times

Print
*Trade titles including: New Steel Construction, Architecture Review, World Architecture News, Ulster Architect, Children Now

Radio
* BBC London Radio 94.9 (various slots)
* BBC Radio 4 – Today 
* BBC World Service
* BBC Radio 7 – Big Toe Radio Show   
* Commercial radio including: Heart FM, Capital Radio

TV 
* BBC Breakfast, One O'Clock News, Six O'Clock News, News 24, City Hospital, Newsround
*  ITV including: ITV London News, ITV2 X-Factor 24/7

Why we wrote about it...
The Times secures exclusive access
Lucy Alexander, currently a commissioning editor/writer on The Times T2 section, was a features writer on the Saturday Times magazine in November 2004 when its editor Gill Morgan suggested she contact with Antony Tiernan to find out what was happening at the hospital.

'Gill already had an existing relationship with Antony from other stories and, because she drove past the hospital each day on the way to work, she though there was a story here. Her own child had also recently been admitted to Guy's, so Gill was doubly curious about what the hospital was doing. As I called, Tiernan said he was looking for an exclusive media partner, and we struck the deal then and there.

'I visited in January, when it was empty, and got some friends' children to pretend they were patients for our photographer.

Because I did all the interviews so early (and didn't write it up till October), the PR team were extremely helpful in giving me updates. The piece was due to run in September, but Tiernan specifically asked if we could move it back to have it coincide with the opening weekend, which was fine. It wasn't a typical feature for us but it meets our 'general interest' remit.'

SECOND OPINION

Claire Burroughs is head of comms at St Mary's NHS Trust
(St Mary's Hospital, Paddington)

Health is consistently rated as voters' number one issue of concern, so achieving media interest for a hospital event is never difficult. Add children into the mix, and it becomes even easier.

But what is challenging for NHS communications specialists is generating positive media coverage that supports an organisation's aims and objectives rather than the doom and gloom of 'NHS in cash crisis'. So it was important the in-house team of the Guy's and St Thomas's Foundation defined clear objectives for the campaign.

The team identified the audiences they wanted to reach (staff, the patients and their families), and made a point of thanking the cash donors who made possible such a fantastic new public resource. Prioritising the smooth-running of the hospital ahead of media work also showed sensitive management.

The campaign achieved a wide spread of coverage on a modest budget by recognising the needs of the different media. The tabloids loved the X-Factor party for the children, for example.

My only criticism would be that the campaign's objectives could have been even more ambitious, especially with such a good product to 'sell'. With an NHS desperate to recruit young people into the workforce, I would have explored work with local schools. And with more choice being offered to families needing hospitals, publicity of the services and 'uniqueness' of London's first new children's
hospital in 100 years would have been another effective angle.

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