Keeping Up with COVID in Communications


By: Diana Hatton, Senior Strategist, Green Room Communications

As the week of March 17 unfolded, employees abandoned their office buildings, children rushed home from school and store shelves were stripped in reaction to the bleak news from overseas. As seasoned communicators, we have a healthy respect for the news “cycle” – the time that passes from when the media reports on an event to public reaction. In today’s world, the news cycle has shortened, from the 24-hour news cycle created in the cable era to the instantaneous news cycle, that is now defined by social media. While every company has its own news cycle, on March 17, the entire country was forced to communicate around a single event as we adapted to the impact of COVID-19, navigating immediate and drastic changes to protect the health of Americans.

The tone one takes at a time of crisis is critical, and with the now-instantaneous news cycle that tone needs to be agile. For corporate leaders, there is a time to listen and a time to get involved in conversations – and it is a fine art to know when to act.

Many of our health care clients have been turning to Green Room for advice on communicating about COVID-19 with employees, customers, consumers and other stakeholders, especially as we work our way through the phases of restrictions and evolution of our messages. Our recommendation is to first assess the current news environment. Any communications must be both valuable and timely to make it worth entering the conversations on COVID-19 and putting a company’s reputation at risk.

Here are some tips we share with our clients:

  • Make sure your message is agile, and be willing to pivot. Understand the value of the information you plan to relay to your various audiences and reassess your message if the news changes overnight. Consider these questions: Is the time right? Is the topic relevant? Do you have an important contribution to the latest conversation? How could the communication be perceived?
  • Be authentic and clear, even if it is “just an update.” Avoid adding confusion by using clear and concise messages and don’t be afraid to say you are still working toward the answers. Everyone is dealing with information overload, so keep communications tight, transparent and, most important, strategically timed.
  • Use the right channels. Consider who you want to reach and adjust your message accordingly. Short, informal videos from a home office are easy to produce and can make leaders seem more approachable and human. LinkedIn can be a great way to reach internal employees too, but it is also a public platform. In general, it’s safe to assume that your message may become public, even if originally communicated internally. Look at each and every message through the public lens.
  • Show compassion. Don’t forget to listen and show compassion. Even as restrictions start to lift in many areas, and we navigate getting back to the office, this remains a stressful time for everyone as we adjust to the “new norm” and your employees, partners and customers are exhausted.

If you are a part of a nonprofit organization and in need of guidance on how to communicate to your staff and others in your network, Green Room is available for pro bono, one-time calls to help.

By Deborah Fowler, Managing Partner, Green Room Communications

As a former TV journalist, open space is like going home. Newsrooms have embraced the open space model for decades, and as Green Room officially moves into our new office space, we join newsrooms, as well as trendsetters like Google and Facebook, with an open space floor plan.

In an open office, there are no walls, barriers or fully enclosed spaces separating team members. In the newsroom, I developed a new way of working. I tapped into new skillsets where I could actually listen as I was thinking about another thought, with one ear to the police scanner while simultaneously writing news copy for the 6 pm broadcast.

We work with many colleagues who loathe the open space model. Personally, I cherish it.

As communicators who are rooted in journalism, Karen and I designed an office environment that fosters informal and frequent communication. It’s what we do best, and our workplace should reflect and build on our strengths.

Open space layouts have been shown to improve communication and collaboration among co-workers. Taking down walls both physically and figuratively fosters spontaneous teamwork and problem solving. I’ve noticed, and research supports, often these types of informal interactions can be incredibly productive. People can generate and bounce ideas off one another without the constraint of a more structured and scheduled meeting.

In the newsroom environment, open office space cultivates camaraderie and teamwork among colleagues simply because constant exchange is welcome and encouraged. Everyone shares, contributes and gives input. People get first-hand and frequent exposure to different work styles and how colleagues approach tasks. Problem solving can be more efficient when it’s informal, and people just work better together when physical barriers are removed. There’s a greater sense of community and less hierarchy.

Yes, open offices can be noisy and sometimes disruptive for more focused tasks like writing, data analysis or conference calls. However, like a newsroom with edit bays and sound booths, we have places employees can go for private conversations.

Our new office design includes several “huddle rooms” where teams can meet privately, take calls or work undisturbed when more focused concentration is required. Flexible work spaces – where people have the option to work in various places around the office – provide options for a change of scenery or to get into a new mindset. And a nearby Starbucks on the building premises is an added perk.

It’s important that employees feel a connection to their space. Studies show open space offices are successful when people have a greater sense of what psychologists call place identity. When they feel their space is truly collaborative and a reflection of themselves, they take greater pride in their workplace. They’re also more engaged and positive about their work. We’re encouraging people to personalize their space with pictures, plants and other things that help them feel more connected to it.

The new space does come with some rules of common courtesy. We encourage colleagues to be mindful of those around them. If someone looks like they’re trying to focus, don’t holler across the room. If a team member is on a call, keep the volume down. And if you’re the one who needs to focus, don’t be afraid to let your neighbors know, or try headphones to drown out background noise.

It turns out communication really is the key to a productive and successful open office. No wonder it works for us!

Come visit us at 1719 Route 10 East, Suite 318, in Parsippany!

Breaking Through and BIO2017

By: Deborah Fowler, Managing Partner, Co-Founder, Green Room Communications and Founder and President, Soft Bones

I saved my brother’s life when he was 10 years old. I was 13. He was playing with a lighter and aerosol spray when fire erupted. He attempted to stamp out the flames and his pants caught on fire. We were home alone and I instinctively put out the fire with my bare hands. Instead of the unthinkable, we both suffered burns. His were more serious, with third degree burns on his legs that required skin grafts and a lengthy hospital stay. I had second and third degree burns on my palms. My dad the doctor was very proud, and thankful.

My career as a healer was short lived. I switched from pre-med to journalism in college and enjoyed a successful career in television news for more than 10 years, where my interest in healthcare sparked a lifelong passion.

In 2006, my son was diagnosed with hypophosphatasia (HPP), a rare bone disease I knew nothing about. I immediately shifted into reporter mode and grabbed hold of all the information I could get my hands on. But it wasn’t enough.

In 2009, I founded Soft Bones, Inc., a foundation that promotes research of HPP through awareness and fundraising. Earlier, in 2008, I co-founded Green Room Communications, a healthcare public relations agency that breaks the traditional PR agency mold. We create nimble, tailored teams that maximize results while saving clients time and money.

As I head to the BIO meeting next week – the largest, most influential biotech convention in the world, I will wear three hats: patient advocate, reporter and PR expert. What they have in common is also BIO’s theme this year – breaking through.

I am all about breaking through — either by making noise on behalf of a previously silent patient/caregiver community, or discovering and sharing stories from my healthcare clients – about the latest research, new treatments and, most importantly, hope for so many diseases.

For me, BIO is the perfect blend of information gathering, sharing and partnering in an industry I love. Here’s to a stimulating and breakthrough BIO2017!


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The Brutal Truths of Fake News

By Lindsay Gordon, Communications Manager, Green Room Communications

Last week, I had the honor of heading to the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) Health Academy in Orlando, Florida to learn best practices in the ever-changing world of communications, and network with some of the best and brightest in the PR health care industry.

While the agenda was full of relevant and educational information, it seemed PRSA saved the best for last with a jaw-dropping presentation on fake news and how to spot it. While all of us in communications know the dangers of fake news, Al Tompkins, The Poynter Institute’s senior faculty for broadcast and online, demonstrated just how bad this crisis is and taught everyone the dangers of how easy it is to create your own news.

As health care PR professionals, it is our job to help journalists understand our client’s story and messages which can be complicated at times. It is also now our job to help protect our clients from the easy bait of misleading studies and fake news stories.

Here are three clues to follow to help determine if the news you are reading is fake:


Al opened up with an ESPN article about Tom Brady in hot water once again with the NFL. He asked us to look at the article and website to see if it was a credible, real story. The site looked JUST like, and almost everyone in the room (all communicators) agreed, it was real. We were all wrong, it was fake news. The first thing you should look at when determining if news is real or fake, is the name of the author, and ask yourself, who are they? Does their profile picture pop up anywhere else? With an easy reverse image search on Reveye (a Google chrome add on. If you don’t have it, you should!) we learned the journalist was an “Oddel”. What’s an “Oddel”, you ask? Well,  a FAKE model, of course. The name of the journalist on this fake ESPN website is, “average white male in suit with pink tie,” You can find him on Shutterstock and you can own his image for 99 cents. You are equipped with the internet, so use it to your advantage. Just like any PR professional or journalist, check the facts. Use your resources like LinkedIn or a basic Google search to find more information about the specific writer.


Just when you think you can trust certain news websites online, think again. With today’s fake news running rampant, there are also those who are borderline hackers and can easily change content on certain websites within any story. In a matter of seconds, Al Tompkins was able to hack a site and generate 8 acceptance letters from all the Ivy League schools. It was as easy as a right click on the specific website, change the title within the HTML code and there you have it! The scariest part? The public, news outlets, journalists and PR professionals have no way to determine if it is real or fake. The best way to figure out this puzzle is to use your common sense and again, look at the site and the author. Ask yourself, “What is misleading here?”


Why are people seemingly wasting time creating this news?  There could be a multitude of reasons:

  1. Money: front groups creating fake news to drive growth to specific industries or companies
  2. Politics: trying to sway the reader or viewer in one specific way, or to raise doubt
  3. Troublemakers
  4. Deflection: to hide the true reality and raise doubt or to divert public attention away from an event or situation
    • For example: While Pope Francis made his first visit to the U.S. the media was a buzz covering his whereabouts. But what trended right behind the Pope coverage? Pizza Rat, a viral video of a rat carrying a pizza down New York City Subway steps. This video is an example of fake news, where Zardulu, a creator and mastermind behind many viral videos, staged the video of the rat and the pizza and released at a moment when she had a captive online audience. The video caught the attention of people who were seeking out the Pope and quickly escalated into the #2 spot online. Yes, there are people, like Zardulu, who have made a career creating fake news, and are proud of it.

Right now, as fake news threatens the trustworthiness of news outlets, some are going the extra mile to just report the facts plain and simple. For example, ABC News just released a timeline of all of President Trump’s tweets since he was inaugurated to help avoid any questions of what is real and what is fake. Ironically, the second most tweeted phrase by President Trump was “fake news”. We all have a responsibility to ensure our client’s messages and values are effectively delivered through credible media outlets.  Al Tompkins summed up this importance at the end of his speech by saying:

“Don’t underestimate your influence. Don’t underestimate your role to get good information out to the public. What you are doing requires you to be very, very good, even in the worst of times.”

**note: Green Room did not include links to the fake news stories discussed as we do not want to give fake news any additional click-throughs.

By Kim Angelastro, Senior Media Strategist, Green Room Communications

As a former TV journalist, my News Director would always challenge us to “localize” a story. It could be a national story that seemingly had no impact on our viewers, but it was our job to make it relevant. Today, localizing a story has risen to a new level, with niche media outlets creating new angles in order to cut through the noise and capture new audiences.  

Case in point: This is an actual headline from the President’s Inauguration:

“Did Trump, Known ‘Dark Knight Rises’ Fanboy, Channel Bane in His Inauguration Speech?”

The headline appeared on, an online media outlet geared at reaching Millennials, which reaches more than 75m viewers a month, didn’t stop there. It posted this story next:  “The Fetish Community Is Ready to Whip President Trump: We had six voices from the leather and fetish community pose before our nation’s greatest monuments and tell us their hopes and fears for Trump’s America.”

While these angles might seem drastic and sensationalized, media outlets face fierce competition and look to cover news in a way that resonates and is tailored to catch the attention of their diverse audiences. As PR pros, our responsibility is to provide clients with the best communication strategies to break through clutter to deliver their messages. Part of that strategy is understanding this media environment and the various angles generated from the trickle-down effect of big news on ALL media outlets.  When impactful news breaks or is planned, it isn’t just the traditional “news” outlets like the national daily newspapers or affiliate broadcast news channels that bring us headlines anymore, it is ALL types of media outlets, from fashion to sports and everything in between.

With social media channels, online outlets, print, radio, podcasts, TV and Facebook Live, today news is surround sound and a big story can consume all of these outlets. For our clients, this means an announcement can easily get lost if the timing is wrong or the angle isn’t relevant. There is no better example of this than the recent inauguration of President Trump. 

On Inauguration Day, everyone covered the facts, but the coverage took dozens of other angles as well.

Women’s Lifestyle Outlets: (16-million viewers per month) “Why the Women’s March is Just a Warm Up” and “Woman Live-Tweets Her #AllLadyPlane To The Women’s March & It Is Everything.”, ran a first-person essay from a pregnant woman titled, “I Hope I Give Birth at the Women’s March.”

Men’s Lifestyle Outlets: Men’s outlets – including sports media – got involved in covering President Trump in unique ways for their audience as well. (19 million readers/month) ran several stories about the Tom Brady-President Trump relationship, even taking bets on “Who Will Last Longer?” referring to Tom Brady retiring or President Trump finishing his term., famous for its often racy content, published a story about how certain “Trump Models” will continue to “make America Sexy again.”

Fashion Outlets: As expected, Melania and Ivanka Trump’s clothing choices were part of the conversation on fashion websites, and even President Trump received some fashion coverage. Women’s Wear Daily interviewed well-known designers posing the question, “Will You Dress Melania Trump?” Fashion is always going to be part of the media conversation, in particular given the First Lady and Ivanka Trump’s strong industry backgrounds.

The bottom line: ALL media outlets cover what people are talking about, and they do it in ways that can be unpredictable, unusual and attention-grabbing for their own particular audience. For public relations professionals, what can we learn from Inauguration Day coverage?

  • Plan ahead! If you know a big event is happening and your client has absolutely nothing to do with the big news, steer clear. Timing is everything. Waiting a week to garner better results is better than no results.
  • Offer relevant material – If there is a connection, consider providing an angle, an expert, a visual, or statistics to the big news that is not overly promotional and you can work into organic content?
  • Early bird gets the worm – Get out there early with your tie-in; media is inundated with pitches related to “big news” stories, as evidenced by the examples above. These stories are planned and curated well in advance to ensure they are visual, thorough and factual. Your story may get lost in the shuffle if you don’t have it ready at the get-go.
  • Use Good Judgement – When big news is breaking, don’t be “tone deaf” to the situation. Stop efforts when needed. It is mutually beneficial to media relationships and to the announcement, which can get lost with big breaking news. If you decide to move forward regardless, keep in mind that you jeopardize trust with media who assume you aren’t paying attention or care about them.
  • Glean Key Learnings – When you can’t beat the news, learn from it and analyze it all. Who were the stand-out spokespeople during the announcement, how did they conduct themselves? What was the issue, how was it resolved, what trends did you see on social media? Learning from our industry’s successes and failures can help us be more effective and strategic the next time we evaluate an opportunity around a big news story.