The Power of PR

Investing in public relations can give you an edge in today’s competitive medical aesthetics market—and the investment does not have to be financial.

As recently as a decade ago, most physicians who had achieved a certain level of peer and patient recognition were loath to advertise their practices. But the rise of HMOs combined with rapid advances in noninvasive cosmetic treatments brought about a shift in healthcare. Both core and non-core specialists began adding lucrative elective procedures that were once the sole domain of a select group of plastic surgeons and dermatologists. This increased competition raised the stakes in elective medicine and soon even the most conservative plastic surgeons and dermatologists knew they had to change with the times or risk an empty waiting room. Advertising was the first phase in the evolution of practice promotion, followed by intense media coverage that opened a new door for cosmetic practice marketing—the public relations campaign.
Public relations—or PR—differs from advertising in that it uses editorial coverage in newspapers, magazines, radio, television and the Internet to highlight a physician and his practice. A PR campaign can focus on new trends, techniques, controversies, safety issues or any host of topics deemed press worthy by publicists and media representatives. Essentially, a plastic surgery PR campaign works by taking information the consumer needs and wants and presenting it in the form of a news story related to dermatology or plastic surgery. This media exposure serves to reinforce that a physician is the expert in his subspecialty. In addition, it lends a cachet to the practice or product that cannot be achieved even by an aggressive ad campaign.

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D-I-Y Public Relations

Two men talking

The media wants to write about what’s new and what’s different, and it wants to cover topics that have inherent value for its readers or viewers. The key to a successful PR campaign is pitching topics on which you are an expert that meet this criteria. Professional PR agents do this for a living. If you’d like to wade into the waters of PR but aren’t ready—or able—to invest in a professional campaign, there are some D-I-Y strategies you can employ on your own or in conjunction with a local freelance PR professional.
• Subscribe to vocus.com. This media research module enables you to find almost any media contact in the United States.
• Email the local media with your CV and a link to your website explaining that you would be a good source for interviews. Cite any new or innovative techniques you are implementing in your practice.
• If you perform pro bono or volunteer work, let the media know. These stories are good human interest pieces.
• If you would like media training to prepare for press coverage, call the Public Relations Society of America (www.prsa.org) and ask for names of local experts. Even a few hours of training can go a long way toward presenting a more polished image.
• Offer commentary to the media. Stories that tie-in to holidays, seasons or trends are more likely to gain attention than those of a general nature.
• Always have a press kit ready for the media. This should include your CV, headshot, press clippings, photos of your practice, and a selection of before-and-after photos.
• When speaking with the media, do not have your own agenda. They operate on tight deadlines and are seeking good sound bites in response to their specific questions. Try not to be professorial with answers; instead tailor your comments to the consumer.
• Keep a good archive of before-and-after photos. Many media stories depend on the physician’s ability to provide this material.
• Use Twitter (www.twitter.com), and make sure your tweets are informative
and creative.
• Develop a Facebook page (www.Facebook.com) and make it interactive.
• Create a blog on your website.
• Keep all press clippings and add them to a “see us in the media” section on your website. Frame these clippings and hang them in your waiting room. This has a positive impact on prospective patients.

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Choosing a PR Firm

If you are ready to maximize your coverage by working with a professional public relations firm, you can lower the risk on your investment by taking some time to find the right firm for your practice. The Public Relations Society of America can provide listings of public relations firms that are registered with the organization. You can also search the Internet for healthcare-related PR firms. You do want to work with someone who has expertise in the medical/healthcare field. It is a different niche than fashion, entertainment, restaurant or corporate public relations. Just as one would not visit a chiropractor for laser resurfacing, it is unwise to engage a firm that has not worked with doctors or other aspects of the healthcare industry. If a physician has to explain to his publicist what a blepharoplasty is, or what the differences between ultrasonic liposuction and the tumescent technique are, this takes valuable time away from the campaign. In addition, professional publicists bring their contacts as well as their expertise to the table, and the media contacts used to represent a physician are not the same contacts used to promote a restaurant. Although this may come as a surprise, the public relations firm need not be located in the same city as its clients.
When dermatologists or plastic surgeons are interviewing prospective public relations firms, they should ask to see press releases written for other medical clients, examples of media placements and the names of colleagues to call as references. It is important for doctors to gauge a publicist’s understanding of medical terminology as well as the physician’s respective subspecialty. As with advertising, there are no guarantees that media exposure will translate into additional patients. A public relations firm should be able to give a prospective medical client some idea of what he can expect in terms of which media outlets are to be pursued, continuity of exposure, number of weekly hours devoted to the client as well as various strategies for a campaign. There should also be an inherent agreement that a physician can decline any media opportunity he is uncomfortable about pursuing.
Physicians must be mindful of the fact that PR is a cumulative process. One television appearance or magazine article cannot judge its merits. Lastly, PR is not a magical process. Those who make this foray must be willing to be proactive participants and respond to media queries in a timely manner, with before-and-after pictures and statistical evidence if necessary. Public relations, when implemented ethically and effectively, can help a practice gain an edge in competitive markets, often making the difference between remaining a ‘best-kept secret’ or having a fully booked schedule.

Katherine M. Rothman is the president and CEO of KMR Communications, a leading Manhattan-based public relations firm that serves a broad range of health, beauty and fitness clients She is a graduate of American University in Washington, D.C., and New York University, where she studied communications. Contact her at 212.213.6444, www.kmrpr.com.