Unusual Public Relations Assignments

Public Relations can provide some unusual, surprising and challenging opportunities. Can you imagine being assigned to a PR campaign for a “good death”? How would you do it without engaging in tasteless, gallows humor?

As part of the public relations firm of Barksdale Ballard, I worked with Bill Moyers, Public Affairs Television and PBS on “On Our Own Terms: Moyers on Dying,” a four-part documentary about individuals with terminal illness who choose to take charge of their care (usually at home) instead of spend their last days in uncomfortable and expensive hospitals hooked up to machines, often causing severe financial worry for their families.

The television series sought to engage readers through a website, email newsletter and online discussion boards, which I moderated. I was a lead editor for the Community Leaders Guide to Improve End-of-Life Care, chief writer for the outreach newsletter, and part of the community action team.

While the documentary can no longer be found on the PBS site, excerpts can be found on Youtube.com. We also sought to create a grassroots movement by encouraging communities to hold in-person discussion sessions on these issues. The community leaders guide for “On Our Own Terms” is still available here: On_Our_Own_Terms_1

I wrote, edited and managed a website, and quarterly print newsletter for the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, “Last Acts: Improving Care at the End of LIfe.” An archive of some of the content can be found here.

You might think such an assignment would be depressing, but it was actually quite touching and meaningful when families wrote to say our campaign materials helped transform their relative’s last weeks or months into a sweet and even precious time, “a good death.”

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In photo, from left to right, the outreach team for “On Our Own Terms” included Mike Ballard; Shawn Taylor Zelman; Catherine Smith; Nancy Reller; Kevin Harris and Jim Buie.

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