BY: RHODA WEISS
Ms. Weiss is a Santa Monica, CA–based health
care consultant and speaker.
After the tragedies of September 11, the Public
Relations Society of America (PRSA) asked its 20,000 members
how public relations professionals could best help the country.
Thousands responded, and their top recommendation was to help
the Red Cross help Americans.
"Because the Red Cross is always at the center
of disaster-relief efforts and public relations professionals
often play essential roles in communications during a crisis,
we realized that we could have a significant impact by working
together," said Kathleen Lewton, past president of PRSA and
a well-known expert in health care communications.
As a result, in October 2001, PRSA and the American
Red Cross announced a joint partnership: "The Power of Two."
This program recruits and trains public relations and public
affairs professionals to support Red Cross communications and
public information initiatives during local and national disasters.
"The immense need for trained public relations
support was apparent even before the events of September 11,"
said Darren Irby, disaster communication officer, American Red
Cross, who noted that PRSA chapters and members, as well as
health care communicators, have long worked informally with
local Red Cross chapters.
"However, the scope of the current crises has
taxed our staff and volunteers; going forward we will need the
support of public relations professionals year round," he added.
The partnership has a unique "power of two" approach
to involve communications professionals on the local and national
- 2-Hour Volunteers assist with writing public service
announcements or training videos
- 2-Day Volunteers serve as media spokespersons during
local or national disasters
- 2-Week Volunteers travel to a disaster site to provide
public relations support for a large-scale disaster relief
- 2 Times A Year Volunteers provide expertise as a
member of the Red Cross Public Relations Planning Committees
The first group of volunteers has already undergone
a special three-hour training session last October during the
PRSA International Conference in Atlanta. This "fast-track"
training replaced a longer process that was usually conducted
at the local level and gave the Red Cross immediate and much-needed
influx of public relations support. Since then, more than 200
public relations professionals — in addition to large teams from
local PRSA chapters — have signed up to receive on-the-job crisis
communications training and experience. "By becoming a registered
member of a national disaster database of communications professionals
ready to serve, public relations practitioners can translate
their compassion and skills into immediate action for the American
Red Cross disaster relief efforts," stated Joann Killeen, 2002
Expanding on the partnership, students who are
members of the PRSA collegiate chapters (Public Relations Student
Society of America, or PRSSA) are joining their professional
colleagues and educators in signing up for "Spend the Summer
With the Red Cross" to help manage disaster relief efforts.
Additionally, the Red Cross and PRSA have established
honorary summer disaster communications internship positions
at Red Cross chapters across the country. The goal of these
internships is to provide extensive on-the-job public relations
training, with an emphasis in disaster communications.
The beauty of the "Power of Two" program is that
it can extend beyond the Red Cross and be adopted by Catholic
hospitals across the country to assist them not only in times
of crises, but as a way to access voluntary communications assistance
throughout the year.
To learn more about the Red Cross/PRSA
partnership go online . For further information, contact Rhoda
Weiss at 310-393-5183.
Copyright © 2002 by the Catholic Health Association of the United States
For reprint permission, contact Betty Crosby or call (314) 253-3477.