Last month Sian Floyd, PR Officer at Birmingham St Mary’s Hospice, won a Charity Comms Inspiring Communicators Award. Here she tells ehospice about the importance of being transparent when sharing stories to raise awareness of hospice care, and why she is a committed hospice champion for life.
What was it like to win the Inspiring Communicators award?
It was a huge surprise to win! It’s been one of the biggest highlights of my career so far and I feel genuinely humbled that my manager even considered putting me up for this accolade. It was an inspiring night and I enjoyed meeting employees from other charities and hearing about the fantastic work they are doing to help others.
Not only was it a proud moment for me and Birmingham St Mary’s Hospice, but I felt a lot of pride to be flying the flag for hospice care that night. Working in hospice comms can have its challenges – after all, getting people to talk openly about death, dying and bereavement is no easy task – so I felt honoured that the positive work we’re doing has been recognised by the Charity Comms team.
Why and how did you get into the field of hospice comms?
After finishing my degree in Public Relations, I worked at a number of PR agencies in Birmingham, helping to secure press coverage for B2C and B2B clients. It’s slightly clichéd but although I loved these roles, I always had a hankering to work within the charity sector as I wanted a job that could help others.
Like so many people, I didn’t know much about hospices when I applied for the role at Birmingham St Mary’s but I knew the hospice was a well-respected charity across the city. I was delighted when I got the role and two-and-a-half years later, I’m still delighted to be here. I take a lot of pride in telling people where I work and know that I will be a hospice champion for life.
What is a typical day at work like for you?
What I love most about working in comms is that no two days are ever the same. One day I could be visiting our local radio stations to promote our latest fundraising campaign and the next I could be sitting in an engaging information session to understand the importance of relationships, empathy and compassion when someone is diagnosed with a life-limiting illness. It’s such a varied role and I’m lucky that I get to work across all departments at the hospice.
My favourite part of this role though, is sharing the stories of the people we care for. Whether it’s patients, family members, carers, loved ones, volunteers or even staff, I am always honoured to be able to listen to people’s experiences and share them to a wider audience. I believe sharing stories is a powerful and engaging way to raise the profile of hospice care – helping people to understand what we do, how we can help them, and bust some of those common misconceptions about our sector.
What has been your biggest work achievement to date?
I’m really proud of the work our team has done during Hospice Care Week. Hospice Care Week is a great platform to raise awareness of hospice services, highlighting the benefit they provide to so many patients and their loved ones. This year, we created a video in-house which featured staff, volunteers, patients, family members and supporters to highlight ‘What it Takes’ to deliver care and ‘What it Gives’ to those who receive it.
Whilst the video received positive engagement on social media and with the local press, what I was most proud of was how it brought together staff and volunteers from across the organisation. It was great to see clinicians, fundraisers, retail staff, the support teams, and volunteers get involved and want to take part.
I know many hospices, including Birmingham St Mary’s, haven’t had a marketing and communications team for very long, so creating this video was a chance to showcase how our team can be a useful tool in raising awareness of hospice care. We premiered the video with a number of special screenings at the hospice and I was thrilled with how many staff came along to show their support.
What are the most important things to consider when telling stories to raise awareness of hospice care?
Be respectful, considerate and transparent to the people who are sharing their stories. We always put patients and their loved ones at the heart of our care and I think that ethos should be extended to our marketing and communications practices. Whilst it is important to be respectful though, we shouldn’t shy away from asking patients to star in our awareness or fundraising campaigns. As I’ve found out, some people feel really passionate about sharing their story as they want to educate people about hospice care and ‘give back’ to the charity.
When sharing stories, I make sure it’s a two-way process. I think it’s important that patients and family members feel involved in the whole process and have the opportunity to make any changes if they want to. It’s also vital to keep clinicians involved too. This will ensure that you’re kept up-to-date with any relevant news about the patient/family member, helping you to remain considerate in all your communications with them.
Being completely transparent is crucial too. In the summer, Birmingham St Mary’s did a city-wide fundraising and brand awareness campaign as part of our 40th anniversary celebrations. In our planning for this, we knew we wanted to have billboards across the city which would feature a patient picture and quote.
I was anxious about approaching patients with such a big ask but by being completely honest with our intentions from the start, I ended up meeting a patient who was only too delighted to support us. She loved being ‘the face’ of the hospice that summer and even now, she takes great pride in telling her friends and family about her billboards and how they helped raise funds for the hospice.
What challenges have you faced in your role?
Working in the hospice sector throws up lots of challenges. Getting the local press to talk about death, dying and bereavement isn’t easy, working with patients to develop case studies at such a sensitive time can be complex, and we’re still working hard to ensure that all of our marketing materials and comms are diverse, inclusive and represent the many cultures in Birmingham and Sandwell.
For me though, I still think one of the biggest challenges is busting those common myths. Most of the patients I talk to still express how they thought hospices “were just a place to die” or that it would be all “doom and gloom”. I also talk to patients and loved ones who were surprised to discover that the hospice could provide care in their own home. I know Birmingham St Mary’s isn’t alone in this challenge and it’s great to see that as a sector, we’re all working towards dispelling these harmful misconceptions.
Do you have any long term goals or ambitions?
Like I mentioned, I am a hospice champion for life now! I feel really passionate about the difference hospice care can make and as individuals live longer, I know more and more people will need the vital support from palliative and end of life services. So for me, my future ambitions are to keep spreading the word of hospice care through lots of different comms channels and try to get more people talking openly about death and dying.
For more information visit Birmingham St Mary’s Hospice