How a hospital’s PR team responded to a fundraiser frenzy

The annual Big Slick brings famous names home to raise money for Children’s Mercy Kansas City. How does the organization digitally manage the news and social media storm?

A gaggle of big Hollywood names is a resource that every hometown ought to have—especially if they’re raising money for a hospital treating children with cancer.

Every year, five celebrities who grew up in Kansas City return with their show-biz friends to raise money for a pediatrics hospital.

When this year’s event took place last weekend, Children’s Mercy Kansas City launched its annual PR push for its Big Slick fundraiser, seeking donations through the efforts of celebrities Rob Riggle, Jason Sudeikis, Paul Rudd, Eric Stonestreet and David Koechner.

The event—which raised a record $1.3 million for the hospital’s new cancer center—draws big-time news coverage and social media engagement, of course. When you have a two-person PR team, that leaves a lot of scrambling to get things up on your digital newsroom while fielding calls from reporters.

“The last few years it was essentially a couple of us on our phones, just trying to record everything while also working with the media,” says Jake Jacobson, senior manager for public relations at Children’s Mercy.

“We’d post everything to social [media], and then run back to our desk to post it on our old newsroom, which wasn’t exactly the best for loading stuff up or for people who want to check it out.”

Just another manic weekend

This year, with support from PR agency FleishmanHillard, Children’s Mercy managed the 48-hour frenzy through its new newsroom by PressPage, a technology provider for digital newsrooms. (PressPage is a Ragan partner.)

Named for a poker term, Big Slick is an independent fundraiser organized by the celebrities and their families, but as the beneficiary, the hospital supports it with PR.

The event began seven years ago as a card game in which people paid cash to play and hang out with the stars. Three years ago, it switched to bowling and bocce, which could be held in venues where child patients could mingle with the big names.

There are hospital visits, a press conference and a celebrity softball showdown before a Kansas City Royals game. This year’s softball game was complete with an on-field “brawl.” Newspapers and TV stations eat it up. All that means there is a lot for PR to manage.

When luminaries such as Will Ferrell, Johnny Knoxville and Selena Gomez show up, there’s a risk that excitable Twitter users will focus on things other than the children who will benefit. After all, it’s not every day that a former American Idol winner hits a homer in the Kansas City Royals Kauffman Stadium wearing a Chewbacca mask.

“With this event, a lot of people get swept up in all the celebrity sightings, and they forget it really is for our young cancer patients,” Jacobson says.

Children’s Mercy engages with these people, driving eyeballs to its newsroom hub to learn more, he says.

Monitoring social media

“We are monitoring what people say about Big Slick, and then we are responding to people to let them know that we’re here,” Jacobson says.

The celebrities stir the pot with their own social media posts.

The newsroom software, adopted in November, made it easy for Children’s Mercy to manage multiple photo galleries. It also boosted engagement. The newsroom used to get 50,000 hits a year; last weekend’s Big Slick posts alone had 60,000 hits in 10 days, with 90 percent of the traffic from unique visitors, Jacobson says. People spent nearly five minutes per visit consuming the content, and 94 percent of the clicks came from social media.

Simply by highlighting text, the newsroom encourages sharing by making it easy to post to Twitter and LinkedIn.

PressPage also boosted engagement from Facebook, Jacobson says. In the past when he has posted an offsite link, engagement dropped compared with simply posting a photo. That thwarts the goal of bringing potential donors to the site.

“It’s been the opposite since we’ve been sharing from the newsroom to social [media], where we’ve actually seen our organic reach blow up,” Jacobson says. “That’s been a lot of fun.”

Posts to Facebook from the software, however, seem to work because it looks more like a photo, Jacobson speculates. The Facebook posts also do not display lengthy URL codes. They do pull up the correct headlines and images, avoiding a frequent frustration on the site when the social media giant grabs an irrelevant image from the page.

During Big Slick, the hospital averaged 940 engagements per organic Facebook post and 213 per tweet. (The hospital used promoted posts as well, but Jacobson says the numbers “are crazy.”)

“Every part of it is getting smarter about what we do,” Jacobson says, “and we’re using the digital tools that are more and more beneficial to us than they ever could have been before.”


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Topics: PR

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