Each year the plastic surgery industry becomes more crowded, forcing many to adopt the roles of both surgeon and businessperson. In today’s marketplace, gaining the competitive edge requires not only a skillful scalpel, but a razor-sharp marketing program that will grow your practice and establish you as the premier specialist in your field.

In today’s mass media, there are two key ways to tout your practice: advertising and public relations (PR). Each of these “mouthpieces” has some significant advantage over the other, and while our firm’s primary focus is in PR, there are many reasons why we encourage our clients to include advertising in their marketing mix.

Advertising, for example, allows for 100% control of content, design, and overall messaging, ensuring there is little to no confusion when they are interpreted by the consumer. Also, advertising is uniquely able to zero in on your target demographic and gain impressions from hard-to-reach potential customers.

We speak of marketing in terms of a mix, balance, or blend, because a well-balanced marketing program should include both advertising and PR elements. Although they use similar media to communicate their message, PR differs from advertising in three unique ways: its ability to establish credibility, the longevity of its results, and its dual role as both a promotional tool and a search-engine optimizer.

Establishing Instant Credibility

Credibility is crucial, particularly in the world of medicine. Practices live and die by reputations and recommendations. Whereas an aggressive advertising campaign will certainly get your name out to the community, it’s often perceived as biased self-promotion and cast in a negative light.

This is where PR can make the difference. A successful PR campaign is built on third-party endorsements from members of the media: your local columnist, evening news anchor, or magazine editor.

In today’s society, people base many of their decisions on what the modern media deem as the next big thing. Journalistic adherence to an ethical code gives the public confidence that what is being reported is both accurate and unbiased. When journalists write your story, they are putting their stamp of approval on your practice.

This trust in the media can go a long way toward establishing you as an expert and specialist in your field. Commentary on trends, techniques, controversies, pro bono work, and patient personal interest stories are all proven ways to boost both your name recognition and client base. Consider it word-of-mouth marketing on steroids.

The Longevity of PR Results

The point where PR really outstrips traditional advertising is in its longevity. Editorials, in general, are much more dynamic than their advertising counterparts.

A news story evolves, spreads, and remains useful for years on end. An advertisement costs a one-time fee and obtains a one-time placement, but a well-done story will continue to live, breathe, and promote your practice long after it has been printed.

So, how does PR continue to work for you after the initial publication? Let’s look at a few possibilities.

Source filing: Once journalists work with you, they will keep your contact information on file for future stories. To ensure that they will return to you for future commentary, your PR must be handled appropriately.

Because journalists and producers are constantly working with deadlines, a good PR firm will make you, your staff, and your materials readily available to them. If things go smoothly, you will be seen as reliable and easy to work with, which will guarantee additional free exposure in the future.

Press pages: Every physician’s Web site should have a press section featuring articles, sound bites, and video clips. As discussed earlier, you’ve been given a stamp of approval, so let the people know about it! The use of past media hits on your site and promotional materials guarantee that your press continues to work for you.

Press begets press: Many physicians tend to turn their noses up at content in smaller publications. It’s easy to pass a low-circulation paper off as “not worth the time,” but the truth is no publication is too small!

Smaller publications tend to have very loyal subscribers, and oftentimes freelancers, producers, and other journalists scan local papers for larger stories. If they see something that piques their interest, they may call you.

The Internet: Today, thanks to the Internet, one well-written piece can snowball into 20 across the United States. Wire services, online publishing, syndication feeds, and blogs are all tools that help spread your story, all the while boosting your page rank and search-engine optimization (SEO).

In the world of journalism, wire services are the mass distributors of local, national, and global news; and they constitute one of a publicist’s greatest tools. After your publicist writes your release, he or she will most likely submit it to a wire service. Then, it will end up in three places: the journalist’s desk, a blogger’s e-mail inbox, or a syndicated news feed.

Thousands of journalists subscribe to paid wire services. In the instances when your release falls in line with their beats, it will arrive neatly on their desks in a daily feed.

Each day, a journalist spends a fair amount of his or her time scouring wire feeds for new story ideas. The only downside is that your story is categorically lumped in with hundreds of other stories competing for their attention.

The holy grail of wires is the Associated Press (AP) because it can keep your story alive for months. The AP is a tight network of journalists around the globe that distributes written stories on the private wire for syndication. If you’re lucky enough to have your story covered by a member of the Associated Press, the same editorial could pop up in local and national publications from Boston to Bangkok overnight.

Just like a wire-service story, a blog can attract an instant worldwide audience. Bloggers are becoming an important part of today’s media and carry significant weight with their daily readers. Because most of them update their blogs several times per day, they rely heavily on category-specific wire feeds as well. Just like journalists, if bloggers believe that their readers will enjoy a story, they’ll post it.

Many sites today feature news pages that run on what is called really simple syndication feeds (RSS feeds). To fill massive news sections, content providers subscribe to RSS feeds and pull their stories, many times directly from the wire. If your release is written well and is appropriate to the site, it may be syndicated across dozens of Web pages in release form or be regurgitated in syndicated blogs.

Your PR results are twofold: Not only is your story playing to a vast readership as it works its way across the Internet, but equally important, it is acting to boost your Web site’s search-engine rankings through SEO. Two birds, one stone.

Search-Engine Optimization

Ah, SEO . . . the three letters that will make or break your online presence. This is a hot topic for physicians today because more and more people are Googling in lieu of thumbing through the yellow pages. Though many people commonly throw the term around, few understand the basis of SEO and, consequently, how the two PRs—public relations and page rank—relate.

Page rank was first introduced by Google in 1998, and today it is used by almost every search engine available. Prior to Google, most search engines relied solely on a page’s on-site content and trusted that if the words “aesthetic surgery” appeared on your Web site 15 times, you and your Web site must be affiliated with aesthetic surgery.

To drive traffic, Webmasters began to exploit these search methods by “spamming” the bottom of their own pages with thousands of keywords, both relevant and irrelevant to the pages’ actual content. Google quickly entered, introducing a “democratic” page-rank system based almost entirely on link popularity.

So, if search engines are a “democracy,” how does your site receive “votes”? The answer is through back links from outside Web pages.

When any Web page links to your site, specifically in the form of a text link, it is considered a “vote” for your Web site from an independent third party. But what is the link voting for exactly? The “anchor text” of the link itself determines what the vote is for—in other words, what the link actually says on the page.

For example, if the word “public relations” in an article links directly to www.cosmeticpublicrelations.com, our firm would receive a “vote” deeming the site to be a good source for information on the keyword “public relations.”

To read past articles on public relations, search public relations on our website.

The more links you build, the more votes you receive; and the more votes you receive, the higher you rank on today’s search engine. For example, if you have 800 links to your site reading “aesthetic surgery” and your competitor has 400, you win and will rank higher in the search results.

So in short, how do the two PRs—public relations and page rank—finally come together? When your release is distributed on a paid wire service, published by the local newspaper online, blogged about, or syndicated, each back link or Web-site mention gives your page another vote. With one home-run release, you could be featured in dozens of newsstand and online publications while adding countless “votes” to enhance your page ranking.

The media world is deceptively small, and a well-written story can be a major asset for your business, boosting credibility, exposure, and online presence. A good PR firm will consistently keep you in the news and make every bit of press work to your fullest advantage.

Jason C. Ellman is the vice president of Los Angeles-based Cosmetic Public Relations, a firm fashioned to meet the specific media-exposure needs of the plastic surgery industry. He can be reached at (310) 382-0762 or .