Whether you have been a practicing plastic surgeon for 2 decades or 2 months, you are no doubt faced with the challenge of differentiating yourself in an increasingly saturated medical discipline. There are many ways to go about this, and how you choose to do so will say a lot about you to prospective patients.

There is a hair-restoration surgeon in my town known for his catchy radio jingle and kitschy infomercials that show bald men who, after undergoing hair transplants, are suddenly frolicking with big-breasted babes. Call me cynical, but I don’t see those men landing one of those women no matter how much hair they have.

What I’m saying is that this form of marketing is not credible. It might be memorable—but how do you want to be remembered?

For my clients, the answer is easy. They want credible name recognition. They want to be known as leaders in their industry. And they want a steady stream of qualified patients calling them.

The only marketing tool that achieves all of these objectives is media publicity. Its credibility is unsurpassed, because when a reporter writes an article about you or showcases you on the local television news, the implication is that he or she is endorsing you as an expert in your field.

You don’t have to land a spot on Oprah for publicity to have a huge impact on your practice. Everyone loves the ego gratification that comes with big-name national publicity, but chances are that most of your patients are local, so a steady stream of local media coverage will do just the trick of accomplishing your public-relations goals.

How do you go about breaking into your local media? Here are six strategies that you can begin applying immediately:

Step 1. Identify your unique selling proposition (USP). Your USP is the element of your practice that differentiates you from your competitors. Are you the first in your area to offer a new no-downtime wrinkle-reducing treatment? Or have you developed a new surgical technique? By identifying your USP, you will also be identifying potential story angles.

Step 2. Know your journalists. There is nothing that reporters dislike more than being pitched on story angles inappropriate to their beats. Obviously, you’ll want to identify the medical or health reporters at your major newspapers, but even within this niche, different journalists can cover different angles, including medical business, the health care industry, and science.

Many local television news shows also have medical and health reporters, but some do not. Tune in to see which on-air personnel are covering health issues, and try to contact them directly. But don’t lock yourself into health reporters only. Some story angles are just as well suited for lifestyle, feature, or even business journalists. Think out of the box, and you will expand your opportunities.

Step 3. Establish a rapport with your targeted journalists. The best way to do this is to become a font of information. With continual budget cuts and scaling back at many local newspapers and television stations, reporters are being asked to do more with less. That means that people who can make their lives easier will get their attention.

Send them an e-mail with a brief bio and an introductory cover letter stating that you would be happy to serve as an expert source for any stories they are doing related to your practice area. This will get you in their files for future reference, even if there is not an immediate opportunity.

Step 4. Be newsworthy, not self-serving. The reason that most publicity efforts fall flat is that the individuals who are trying to generate the publicity are thinking of their own needs rather than those of their audiences. To be effective at garnering media coverage, you must first ask yourself if the story you are proposing is of interest to anyone but you. Remember: The media’s job is to provide news, not to give you free coverage. But if you can provide stories that are timely and interesting, they will have no problem giving you your time in the spotlight.

Step 5. Give the media a neat and tidy story package. An important element of enticing reporters to cover your story is to minimize their work by offering them everything they will need. Television reporters, for example, will need to film a live procedure for use as “B-roll” footage. They will also want to film a patient who has already had the procedure, so they can get a clear before-and-after comparison.

See also “Why Public Relations?” by Jason C. Ellman in the March 2007 issue of PSP.

For newspapers, high-quality before-and-after photos will work. Also, both print and television will want at least one patient who is willing to be interviewed. Make a point of telling the reporter that you can deliver all of these story elements, and you will be much closer to eliciting a positive response.

Step 6. Write “expert” articles. Some local publications have sections for bylined articles written by experts on various topics of interest. Check to see if your local papers accept bylined articles, then query the appropriate editor with topics that you could contribute. Bylined articles are great ways to build credibility, because by their very nature they position you as an expert authority. And, because you are the writer, you have primary control over the message. Be sure to write a compelling attribution paragraph for the end of the article, with a brief summary of your credentials, your Web site, and your contact information.

There is no marketing vehicle that comes close to publicity for providing a winning combination of increased name recognition, credibility, and instant expert status. Begin to implement these six tactics immediately, and you will see for yourself how powerful the results can be.

Diana Laverdure is vice president of Boca Raton, Fla-based Reeves Laverdure Public Relations Inc and president of the Web-based public-relations information company PRoActive Publicity Inc. She can be reached via her Web site, www.reevespr.com.