It’s the proverbial PR nightmare for a physician or a practice, best exemplified by desperate physicians who become embroiled in some activity that has received negative media attention. Regardless of innocence or guilt, negative or hostile media coverage can destroy a professional reputation and a medical practice overnight.
Although no cookie-cutter methods can make such problems go away, there are a number of strategic actions that you can take to help remediate the situation.
You will obtain the best, most effective results when you immediately address negative media problems and deal with them firmly. You have to deal with the situation the same way that large corporations do. Take into consideration every way in which the media and consumers can obtain information about you.
I’ll give you an extreme example of how this sort of disaster can play out. Recently, two employees at a North Carolina-based Domino’s Pizza franchise used YouTube to broadcast a rather disgusting video that damaged the company’s brand. After the video first appeared, Domino’s quickly stepped up its social media presence in order to regain some positive momentum. Although the company immediately implemented a crisis management strategy, it failed to realize the power and speed of the Internet. Within a few days, half-a-million viewers had seen the video.
Tell the people who are immediately involved in your life—and that includes your staff, spouse, and PR team—the truth about what really happened. You should do this in the strictest of confidence and be prepared to tell them how you plan to deal with the situation.
Your team (or support group) needs to be 100% on your side. Allay any of their fears before anything else occurs to damage you and/or your practice. This approach will help you in both the short and the long term.
The people involved in your life should clearly agree not to express any personal or public opinion about your situation. In principle, they need not enter into any discussion with anyone other than you.
If a member of the media catches somebody off guard in a telephone conversation, you could be tremendously hurt. Make sure each person is equipped with your direct phone and cell numbers, as well as those of your attorney or PR person.
Be clear with your staff and family as to the ultimate outcome. It is not possible to turn back the hands of time like you can during surgery, and most problems do not necessarily disappear overnight or even completely.
The best result will be to redirect the media to a more favorable opinion of the “problem,” which is a favorable opinion of the problem that will become the official version of the situation. It will be the “party line,” so to speak.
THE OFFICIAL VERSION
You must develop a very clear and very simple version that explains the situation in a few short sentences. Once you have created your story, this must be the only version and must not change. Your team needs to know the official story.
Everybody associated with you must tell the official version without changes or embellishment. This is not their problem, it is yours. They are not to make it personal.
One response that will not do: hiding. Hiding is an action that implies guilt. Part of taking control of the situation is confronting the media head on. It is important that you stick to your story when talking with the media. In addition, always have your attorney and/or PR person present.
When you talk to the media it is important that you always start your conversation with a summary reminder of all of your achievements and successes before you discuss the problem’s official version of events.
The old advertising cliché of “sex sells soap” holds true. Be cautious with all media, especially if they try to take you off mission and away from your official version. Dirt is what they want. Do not let them have it.
How to Cope with Negative Media About You or Your Practice
- Fast Response
Immediately address and deal with the problem firmly. Implement a media-based strategy to counter negative media reports, and do it quickly.
- Be Honest
Be truthful to the people immediately involved in your life, including your staff, spouse, and PR team.
The people involved in your life should clearly agree not to express any personal or public opinion about your situation. Make sure each person is equipped with your direct number, as well as that of your attorney or PR person.
- The Official Version
Redirect the media to a more favorable opinion of the problem. That favorable opinion of the problem will become the official version of the situation, or the “party line,” so to speak.
- Stay Focused
Everybody associated with you must tell the official version without changes or embellishment.
- Don’t Hide
Part of taking control of the situation is confronting the media head on.
- Strategic Conversations
When you talk to the media, it is important that you always start your conversation with a summary reminder of all of your achievements and successes before you discuss your official version of events.
The media may try and anger you to get a response. Stay calm and courteous at all times.
- Digital Response
Develop a social networking campaign that includes a Web page or a Web site, a blog, and a Twitter page.
Try to remove all emotion from your conversation, as the media may attempt to anger you in order to create an interesting or controversial response. Remain calm and courteous at all times. Also, be cautious of people outside of your immediate group. They may be press or a jealous competitor trying to take advantage of your weakened situation.
This is a digital world, and negative media (any media) never disappears. However, you can make your version the first one found. We recommend that you immediately develop a social networking campaign that includes a Web page or a Web site, write a blog, and use online social networking tools such as Twitter. All of these avenues should present you as you would like to be seen. Remember, most people read only the first information presented to them, and they generally do not research past the first few entries.
In a crisis situation, the last thing you want to do is make the problem worse (eg, an unexpected staff member who might throw fuel on an already out-of-control fire). Be cautious in all of your dealings, and be prepared at all times.
STAYING OUT OF HOT WATER
The last place you want to run into negatve publicity is on the set of a television show, with the cameras on you. You can find yourself in hot water “behind the scenes” as well.
A rather handsome, suave, and debonair young surgeon had been enjoying the media attention he received since relocating to Beverly Hills, Calif. The situation was so pronounced that he believed he was not only the “star” of the show on which he appeared, but also its director.
Recently, a producer friend of mine told me that she would no longer work with this man. Apparently, the crew spent more time reshooting the surgeon at various angles so they could get his “good side” than they spent actually filming the patient and the procedure.
Although all of us want to look our best, especially because the camera is generally not kind, remember that the purpose of the shoot is to gain valuable media exposure for your practice regarding your surgical skills, which are shown through patient results. If you would prefer to spend more time telling notable movie producers that you are ready for your “close-up”—as actress Gloria Swanson did in the movie Sunset Boulevard—you might want to consider switching careers.
When you invite a television crew into your office to film a procedure, remember that they will walk away with more than a glimpse into your life. Ensure that they leave with a true picture of you, your core values, and your professional expertise. That includes not flirting with the reporter. No matter how innocent a joke may seem, in this day and age it can easily be interpreted as a form of sexual harassment that might not necessarily land you in hot water, but can seriously harm your reputation.
See also “The Seven Deadly Media Sins” by Angela O’Mara in the July 2007 issue of PSP.
Trust me. On this front, I have heard it all. For example, take the producer of a national morning television show who, after flying from New York, elected to permanently shelve a 4-hour facelift shoot and then added the surgeon’s name to an internal blacklist for others to see.
In another case, a female staff reporter for an internationally televised entertainment show almost filed a lawsuit against the show after filming a breast implant story, during which the surgeon repeatedly made silly jokes and off-color remarks. Remember that no matter how casual and friendly members of the media seem, they are doing a job. It is always better to keep things professional.
Angela O’Mara specializes in strategic marketing campaigns for small and large organizations and offers private media training and on-camera presence in her Newport Beach, Calif, office. She can be reached at www.theprofessionalimage.com.