Steve Moran sat down for a conversation about growing your online presence with Dan Smilloff, Communications Manager for Primrose Retirement Communities.

By Michelle Seitzer

With the San Antonio River running in the background, Steve Moran sat down for a conversation about growing your online presence (and revenue!) with Dan Smilloff, Communications Manager for Primrose Retirement Communities. (Steve was the keynote speaker for PRC’s annual sales meeting.)

Fascinated by the numbers Smilloff had shared with him regarding their earned media, Steve asked Dan to talk about their success in that space—particularly in dollars and cents. “At last year’s sales conference, as of June 1st, we had $30K in earned media,” says Smilloff. “This year, as of June 1, we have over $300K in earned media.”

And these jaw-dropping numbers are especially impressive when you consider that Primrose Retirement Communities (PRC) is a fairly small company, with just 33 communities situated in relatively small markets.

But the power of telling your community’s story? Priceless.

Earned Media Versus Paid Media

Dan calculates his earned media numbers by looking at the space an article takes up in a publication, then assigning it the equivalent of what an ad of that size and in that space would cost. And the main difference between earned and paid media? Cost.

“Paid media is essentially paying for an “advertorial” in a newspaper, or buying an ad during the 6pm news,” says Smilloff. “Earned media is when we take a story we feel is newsworthy and pitch it to a media reporter in hopes they’ll run it. In other words, we’re getting our name in newspapers—advertising for Primrose—for free.”

Capturing Stories to Create Value

So how do you get this kind of incredible earned media value for your senior living communities? It starts with capturing the stories that are happening in your communities, and doing a little “gardening” to grow them.

“We found there are a lot of amazing things happening in our communities, and lots of incredible people with stories to tell,” says Smilloff. Then, the discussion moved to leveraging those stories as a way to educate the community about who Primrose is, and what they do.

And the best way Primrose has leveraged these stories is by reaching out to communities individually and providing them with the “seed” for a story, giving them ideas each month that could potentially lead to media coverage—for example, interviews with residents who are veterans for a Veterans Day piece, or something about a signature dining program for National Nutrition Month. Sometimes, quirky stories not tied to a holiday or theme get attention, like a resident in a Primrose community who builds amazing structures out of popsicle sticks.

“From there, we encourage executive directors to consult with their management team—basically, taking those seeds and coming up with the soil to germinate a story,” says Smilloff. They discuss it as a group, asking themselves who they know in their communities who could speak to the idea they’re considering. Once they’ve settled on an idea and identified sources, they submit the information to Dan, who pitches it to local media markets. “And then, if we’re fortunate, those stories turn into media coverage,” he says.

Getting Started: A Successful Pitch Is a Short Pitch

The first thing Dan recommends is connecting with a local PR/media consultant. “Look in your local community first to get advice from a professional with experience in that area,” says Smilloff.

Then, look at what other (larger) senior living communities are doing for content, and to get style ideas. “There’s ideas everywhere,” Dan says.

When you’re ready to reach out, remember this: PR people are busy. Get to know their schedules. Email is their preferred method of receiving information, and keep pitches short—two sentences with a compelling subject line—otherwise, it’s going to the deleted folder, says Smilloff.

While Steve notes there is a cost in terms of the time and energy it takes to locate potential media markets and partners, generate ideas, and pitch the stories, he and Dan agree this approach is still incredibly cost-effective in terms of building your community relationship. Says Smilloff, “Establishing that sense of our place in our communities is just enhanced when we can get these positive stories out there.”