“If I had one dollar left, I’d spend it on PR.”
Otolaryngologists wanting to further establish themselves and their practices may do well to heed Bill Gates’ advice. Traditionally, reputation and word of mouth have been the driving forces behind obtaining referrals and fueling a practice’s growth. Of course, these factors still come into play when a patient selects a doctor, but with more and more people doing their own searching for the “right” doctors, those otolaryngologists who stand out the most—a goal usually accomplished with help from a reputable public relations firm—are more likely to get the lion’s share of business.
“We are living in a media-driven society,” said Katherine Rothman, CEO of KMR Communications, a public relations firm in New York City with numerous medical clients. “We choose our restaurants, fashion and beauty and fitness products in large part due to what the media dictates.” For most people, selecting a doctor is not really all that different—mostly thanks to the Internet.
As Kelly Cinelli, founding partner of CWR & Partners, based in North Attleboro, Mass., explained: “According to the Pew Research Center’s Internet and American Life Project, 61 percent of patients turn to the Web to research health information. If they see that the doctor has been quoted in several publications or has been on national television, they feel more secure choosing this doctor.”
Let’s say you’ve introduced a new procedure or technology and have consequently received quite a bit of local press that has helped drive patients to your practice. Why would you require national exposure? “While local media coverage is certainly vital,” Rothman said, “ENT doctors who don’t think they need national media attention are negating important national outlets such as the Today show, CNN, USA Today, The Huffington Post, WebMD, and numerous others that are seen and heard by those in their local markets.” Quite simply, this coverage can help improve reputation. “No amount of advertising can give a physician the credibility that media coverage inspires,” she added.
This is where a public relations firm can come in handy, helping doctors get sound bites—PR speak for “quoted”—in mass media. “Most often, when a doctor is quoted with any regularity in print media, online or on TV, it is because that doctor has employed a public relations firm,” Rothman said. Classic examples can be found in sub-specialties of medicine such as plastic surgery, dermatology and cosmetic dentistry, where doctors who have utilized public relations have become national phenomena. These physician “stars” are able to charge as much as their local markets can bear, can choose not to have their practice insurance-based and can even pave the way for future endeavors such as books, product lines and paid speaking engagements.
“Public relations allows us a news-centric platform to share our expertise and perspectives, with varied constituencies, on any number of relevant topics,” said Wayne Eisman, MD, FACS. “And, unlike advertising, it does so in an environment of information, not selling.”
Dr. Eisman, president of ENT and Allergy Associates in Tarrytown, N.Y., said his practice has its own internal public relations team. The practice would have been unlikely to grow to its current size without employing public relations and, he said, the physicians’ influence and visibility would be greatly diminished.
While media exposure doesn’t necessarily imply that a doctor is more proficient in his or her field, it does imply a level of media savvy that many patients value. “Today, health care is all about choice, and it’s important to stand out, or potential patients may overlook you,” Cinelli said.
What to Look For
Don’t know how to choose a PR firm? Both Rothman and Cinelli recommend getting referrals from friends or colleagues who have had successful media campaigns. Also, online PR industry trade publications, such as O’Dwyer’s (odw
yerpr.com) or Public Relations Society of America (prsa.org), have a directory of firms. But be aware: “It is absolutely critical that a physician employ a PR firm that has extensive experience with medical clients,” Rothman said. Just as there are sub-specialties in medicine, there are specialties within PR. Additionally, said Cinelli, don’t get locked into a long-term contract, think that the cheapest is the best or go with a company that promises the moon, because they may not have your best interests at heart.
What to Expect
With added exposure comes added work but not as much as one might expect. “While the doctors [at my practice] do a great deal of the heavy lifting in terms of interacting with reporters, et al., the vast majority of the workload falls on our marketing folks, who identify, arrange and facilitate the opportunities,” said Dr. Eisman.
Doctors who decide to employ a PR firm have to be willing to be proactive, involving themselves in activities that may include approving PR-generated press releases, providing before and after patient photos, conducting interviews and occasionally traveling for national media opportunities. “The doctors who respond to media, give good sound bites and meet editorial deadlines are those who will go to the top of a press person’s Rolodex as a perennial source,” Rothman said.
A good PR firm will create press releases that are timely and not self-promotional. For example, an otolaryngologist’s press release could begin by discussing actor Michael Douglas’ recent battle with advanced throat cancer and might then have the doctor talk about early detection and warning signs.
In the end, a PR firm can help you achieve greater success than you might have enjoyed employing advertising or relying solely on word of mouth. But, according to Dr. Eisman, public relations can have other, perhaps unforeseen, positive results. In addition to elevating the practice’s standing with current and potential patients, and even with its own employees, PR, he added, “helps provide a practice-point-of-difference to residents and fellows who are deciding which career path to pursue—and yes, it is absolutely worth it!”