2008 PR News Platinum PR Issue Winner: Employee Relations

The winners and honorable mentions in this year's PR news Platinum PR awards issue exemplify the most innovative approaches to redefining traditional PR with anything-but- traditional strategies. From a marketing communications effort that united a country over the search for the stars of a 1950s TV commercial to an event that landed a flock of pink flamingos around the windy city, the following winner confirms that the PR profession has indeed stepped out from the shadows to take a front-and-center role in delivering business results to their own organizations, and to their clients. Below is the winner of the 2008 PR News Platinum PR award for employee relations.

South Texas Veterans Health Care System

South Texas VHCS "Go For The Blue"

Wholesale Streamlining

In 2006, South Texas Veterans Health Care System (STVHCS) was ranked 130 out of 139 among the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) measurement system, which is based on its overall performance. To improve this ranking for 2007, STVHCS launched a "Go for the Blue" campaign among employees, in which achieving "blue" on the performance measurement chart would mean that STVHC exceeded its performance measure targets, thus providing exceptional care to its veterans.

"The initial challenge was to determine how to communicate a complex clinical message to all levels of stakeholders including employees, veterans, volunteers, media, and elected officials," says Karen Fedele, director of public affairs for the VA. "We had to determine a message that would easily and quickly relate to the va goal of excellence. The VA logo and color is blue, therefore linking the VA blue to excellence and developing a color-coded dashboard provided quick recognition as to why each employee should reach excellence in quality of care and service to our nation's veterans."

Tackling Hurdles

In the wake of the "Go for the Blue" campaign, an extensive educational and awareness effort ensued. A critical tactic was creating a color-coded dashboard that shows all stakeholders how STVHCS is faring in the performance measures area at any given time. STVHC created six key drivers to guide the organization in terms of decision-making and setting priorities.

As part of the campaign, senior leadership hosted monthly all-employees meetings and feedback sessions as well as rounds at all facilities and outpatient clinics. Briefings were provided to stakeholders, which includes elected government officials and labor partners.

Employees also initiated a grassroots effort to promote the campaign by creating items such as "Go for the Blue" wristband, logos, theme song, a mascot and "blue" newsletters.

"We were fortunate to have employees at the grassroots level interested in contributing to 'blue' ideas," explains fedele. "We used their ideas and this made their buy-in critical in the early stages of the communication message."

Signs of Recovery

In 2007, STVHC increased its standing in the VA vital signs aggregate score from 130 to 80. The organization also improved overall quality of care by passing 70% of the external peer review program performance measures, of which 82% were at the blue exceptional level.

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