When the TV reporter set up for an onsite interview with a resident who was training for a marathon, her goal wasn’t to showcase the senior living community’s beautiful grounds and fitness center or talk about how the staff members partner with residents to achieve whole-person wellness. She was there to hear a story about a woman who, despite physical and medical challenges, was pushing herself beyond her limits to participate in a half-marathon and raise money for a personal cause.

The resident’s story had nothing to do with the community, except for the fact that she lived there. She took Tai chi classes and worked with the fitness coordinator on training and proper nutrition. Although her resident walking group provided friendship and support, the entire community, including staff members, were her biggest cheerleaders.

When the story aired, viewers saw a strong, inspiring woman’s story and, one hopes, were enticed to donate to her cause. Viewers also saw a community of people who loved her and supported her with programs, services, friendship and spiritual guidance. Perhaps, even, they saw themselves living in such a community one day.

The story was better than any advertisement, and cost less money, too.

Senior living residents, their families and team members are a treasure trove of authentic stories that showcase what it’s like to live and work in a community. Those able to tap into this resource not only breathe life into the communications program – media relations, specifically – they can create a team of brand ambassadors, foster goodwill within the community and leverage stories on social media to amplify coverage.

Finding and selecting authentic stories

We’ve all heard the phrase: Everyone has a story. That’s true. But not all stories are meant to be shared. When selecting stories to share, first ask yourself, “Why?”

Every compelling story you tell needs to support your organization’s messaging, serve a greater purpose or meet a specific objective. Do you want to increase attendance at marketing events? Establish your leaders as experts in dementia care? Showcase the resident-driven programming or the large number of military veterans living in your community? Serve as a resource for families navigating retirement? Introduce a new program or service?

Next, ask yourself, “Who cares?”

Reporters and influencers aren’t interested in corporate storytelling. They want to hear authentic stories their viewers, readers or listeners can relate to and want to share on social media — stories that use real people and real experiences to showcase products, services, programs and even a culture.

Residents are your best PR

Take Don, an antique car enthusiast who had moved to our client’s community. He thought the community was a perfect spot to host a car show and pitched the idea to the sales director, who made it happen.

It turns out, Don was a great story, and he had some terrific photos and memorabilia to help tell it and highlight the car show. We landed Don’s story in the major daily newspaper, which included it in its daily e-blast to subscribers. The marketing team leveraged the coverage on social media.

The marketing/PR team’s efforts, which included a direct mail piece, resulted in more than 60 outside guests, a significant number for this small, suburban community. Don felt at home and, likely, a sense of purpose for helping to create a successful event.

Creating a team of storytellers

Strong public relations teams don’t exist in a bubble, and they aren’t made up entirely of PR pros. Life enrichment directors, activities coordinators, sales directors, chaplains, housekeepers, and even residents and family members, can be your most valued PR partners.

Each has a unique pulse on the community; they know the residents, their stories and the stories behind the stories. Get to know them, teach them about PR and what to look for in a story. Be accessible to them so they feel comfortable sharing ideas.

Authentic stories = trust and credibility

Winnie, 94, had been living independently at a continuing care retirement community, but health issues had required a hospital stay. She and her physical therapist, who worked at our client’s skilled nursing center, created a goal for Winnie’s 95th birthday: Get well enough to ride on the back of her grandson’s Harley-Davidson motorcycle and return to her home in residential living.

The pair accomplished the goal, and not long after Winnie’s 95th birthday, her story appeared in suburban Chicago’s largest daily newspaper along with a photo of Winnie on the back of her grandson’s Harley. She was wearing a leather jacket, a purple scarf and a big smile.

Nowhere in the article did it talk about the compassionate, quality, individualized care provided by the staff. It didn’t have to. Winnie, her daughter and her physical therapist communicated that beautifully through their quotes in the article.

When stories like Winnie’s run in print, on television or in social media channels, the community experiences a boost of trusted third-party credibility. Team members are inspired, and they begin to ask themselves, “What stories do I have?” Marketing and social media teams leverage the coverage to amplify their own efforts.

Everyone loves a good story, but people also love to be part of a good story. Create a solid PR team and identify your organization’s storytellers. Be strategic, creative and sustained in your media outreach. Package your stories using quality visuals that add to the story and work well for television, print or online mediums. Leverage your coverage via social media. Finally, thank the people who are willing to share their stories. Your work would be impossible without them.

Wendy D’Alessandro is president of South Florida-based Lynn Public Relations. The company recently received the Public Relations Society of America’s (PRSA) 2018 Bronze Anvil Award of Commendation for its submission,“The Power of Storytelling in Senior Living.”