Shining a spotlight on your practice

The Power of the Press

Media meets medicine is not something that happened overnight with the debut of reality-based television shows such as ABC-TV’s “Extreme Makeover” or Fox-TV’s “The Swan.” The media has been reporting on developments in the cosmetic/plastic surgery industry for more than 2 decades. Innovative surgeons have always realized the “power of the press,” and innovative public relations (PR) firms such as ours have follow suit by developing methods and contacts to help educate the consumer via their most trusted source: the news media.

However, positioning oneself in the news is not an easy task. More often than not, it is time-consuming and costly if you don’t know what to do or who to hire. During the past 5 years, the cosmetic/plastic surgery industry has grown tremendously. Not a day goes by without a news report on a new (or old) surgical technique or a patient story. But the questions are:

• How can you shine a spotlight on your practice?

• How can you take advantage of the recent blitz of media interest?

• How can you be sure you are investing time and resources into a newsworthy campaign?

Learning to Work the Media System

First, you need to understand how the media works and why it has become the most important marketing tool that today’s successful physician can utilize. Media courses are designed and presented to offer physicians and their staff in-depth training on such topics as press release writing, finding news within one’s practice, approaching the press with a newsworthy story, and proven follow-up techniques. There are also courses that teach interviewing skills, which give physicians the opportunity to practice on-camera interview techniques. Until you have the opportunity to take a media course, here are some practical ways that you can begin your very own media campaign right now:

Think news. Every patient that comes into your office is a potential news story. They each have a particular and very personal reason for wanting surgery. Often times, they want to share their stories with others and are willing to be candidates for press interviews. Over the years, we have gained media exposure on everything from surgery resulting from domestic violence to celebrity trends. Watch what is going on in your local press, and look to your staff and your patients to provide you with newsworthy material.

Keep up with trends. Each year, societies and academies publish results of surveys conducted among their members. Those surveys result in statistics that show the increase in certain trends and procedures. The media loves to see growth statistics, especially those that can be proven by such credible organizations. While most national media outlets report these statistics, many local press outlets are never shown the results and may welcome the opportunity to interview you as the local resource.

Get more than CMEs at industry events. While many of you attend annual meetings and events to learn new techniques and fulfill CME requirements, I’ll bet you don’t realize what a gold mine of information is available in the exhibit hall. This is where all the new future possibilities lie. Many times, things are discussed there before they are discussed from the podium. Check all the new ideas and opportunities you can find to help build your practice. Also, should you be in the market for a new piece of equipment, several of the larger technology firms offer promotional packages that you can use to obtain valuable media coverage in your area.

Be charitable. Charitable work or philanthropic contributions are always of interest to the media. In these instances, cosmetic surgery is considered “surgery of the soul,” especially when it is performed for reconstructive purposes. It is important to structure a campaign that establishes trust and evokes a positive community image.

Making a move? Tell the press. If you’re planning a grand opening, invite the press. Many community newspapers have a “society” or a “locals only” section. Also, if you are starting a new practice, get involved with the local Chamber of Commerce and have a ribbon-cutting party. The press will definitely show up for something like this, especially in smaller communities where they realize the importance of supporting local businesses.

Obtaining press—literally speaking. If you have written a book, are involved with clinical research, or are conducting community speaking engagements, let the press know. Make the local press aware of all of these activities.

Use the Media to Build Your Practice

Learning how to use the media to build your practice is crucial if you want to attract local, national, or international coverage. It is unrealistic to expect that your nurse, receptionist, or office manager will have the necessary experience or media contacts. Hiring a professional dedicated to public relations, who can bring years of knowledge in dealing with the media, is the best way to garner media exposure. You will save time and enjoy more reward for your effort.

This position carries full-time obligations and high expectations, and requires minute-by-minute responsibility and experienced work-related creativity. Whether the person you choose is part of a public relations agency, such as ours, or is a part of an office staff, he/she should have a lineup of easily accessed media contacts.

Generally, a physician who employs a public relations firm to handle media relations benefits almost immediately due to the firm’s established and long-standing list of contacts. For example, if People magazine needs a cosmetic surgeon to comment on a celebrity’s latest aesthetic procedure, a magazine staffer will call a well-known PR agency looking for a cosmetic surgeon to interview. That kind of exposure is not likely to come to the cosmetic surgeon who is doing public relations on his/her own.

For me, one of the best things about PR is that media exposure gives a surgeon a third-party endorsement and credibility that advertising cannot buy. If you, as a plastic surgeon, are quoted during a local newscast, the perception is that you must be an expert. Why else would a reporter be interviewing you? Not only does this kind of PR boost patient awareness and peer recognition, it affirms to the patient that has already booked surgery with you that he/she has made the right choice.

Lastly, understand that getting yourself in the spotlight does not always happen overnight. Public relations campaigns can take weeks, months, or even years to become successful, depending on the client’s goal. I have been developing press campaigns for cosmetic surgeons for more than 17 years, and I have watched the cosmetic/plastic surgery industry grow from a mild level of curiosity, to feature stories in Vogue magazine, to reality-based television shows that showcase the wonders of cosmetic surgery in America and around the world!

Angela O’Mara is president of The Professional Image Inc, a medical specialty public relations and practice development firm based in Newport Beach, Calif. O’Mara is an industry expert featured on E! Entertainment Television, and she regularly contributes articles about practice promotion to industry magazines. For more information, reach her at (949) 760-1522 or [email protected].