Telling the Story

What it takes to respond to unprecedented media coverage and public interest
News trucks on Clifton Road

News trucks line Clifton Road in front of Emory University hospital. Photo by Jack Kearse.

WHILE THE MEDICAL TEAM at Emory University Hospital devoted complete and constant attention to caring for the first two American Ebola patients, other Emory staff also worked around the clock to respond to the intense interest of the media and the community. 

“To have the eyes of the world on us was the biggest event our office has handled in the twenty-four years I have been here,” says Nancy Seideman, associate vice president of communications and executive director of media relations at Emory. “Our initial priority messages focused on safety, reassurance, education, and the fact that Emory has the expertise to treat deadly infectious diseases.”

The concentration of media focus reached new levels for communications staff, whose guiding principle was protecting patient privacy while educating the public.

“We had to provide consistent messaging to an unprecedented volume of media inquiries. Our team worked day and night to respond,” says Vincent Dollard, associate vice president for health sciences communications. “We also had the complicated task of working with external groups, such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, SIM, and Samaritan’s Purse to control the messages that were released. At the core of all of this was the fact that every day we worked for the best interests of our patients.”

Between July 31 and September 22, 42,410 stories went out on broadcast media and 18,369 print media stories were written mentioning Emory and Ebola. 

The story also exploded on social media. Through Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram, Twitter, and other outlets, Emory alumni, friends, and others rallied around the health care team and Emory. The story is the most-viewed ever for Emory online news; visits to news.emory.edu in the week after the story broke increased 247 percent over the same period in 2013.

“This focus gave us the opportunity to communicate something about Emory’s identity and values,” Seideman says. “Caring for the patients was the right thing to do, but it also is part of Emory’s mission to advance knowledge, research, and learning for the benefit of society.”

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