A story worth telling

Jul 01, 2007, 4:00am

: Simple steps can transform the office visit from one that is forgettable for the dermatologist, patient and staff to one that is unforgettably positive.

You deserve your five minutes of fame - and then some! Modern dermatology involves not only cutting-edge procedures and products, but also an unwavering focus on patient satisfaction and practice marketing. From routine cosmetic procedures to treating serious systemic diseases, dermatologists perform great services for their communities, and telling these stories can result in increased patient flow for your practice. Why? In addition to helping people find professional services that suit their needs, good press can also have tremendous effects on your bottom line. The leaders of the most accomplished and admired healthcare practices do not achieve success accidentally.

Medical professionals marketing-leery

Although it's true in every industry, medical professionals especially seem to shy away from "marketing," due to misconceptions about being too promotional.

PR not advertising, and vice versa

Do you have open appointment blocks on your schedule?

Do your associates lack a caseload that fills their days? Is there an office expansion in your plans, or are you chairing an important event in the near future? If you answered "yes" to any of these questions, a PR plan may help your practice.

Although PR and advertising can accomplish marketing goals, the two shouldn't be confused. Advertising in phone directories, professional magazines and even in regional lifestyle magazines is common in today's market. Representation in these periodicals is important if you want to stay competitive, but prices for these ads can be expensive. The content itself is seen as "paid for" by target audiences, and viewers may be suspicious of the messages.

Public relations is defined by Merriam-Webster's dictionary as "the business of inducing the public to have understanding for and goodwill toward a person, firm or institution." In simpler terms, PR professionals act as consultants to reporters and editors by pitching stories containing angles that benefit the business of their client.

Many practice managers and physicians fail to capitalize on opportunities for publicity in articles, broadcasts and events. Through public relations efforts, dermatologists can keep their names in front of patients, referring physicians and the public at large.

The most challenging part of this process is getting stories in front of editors and producers who make the ultimate calls for what gets written or aired. A press release or a simple "pitch" to your favorite reporter about what's new to your practice can kick off efforts that result in maximum exposure to target audiences!

Stories to tell

Your PR plan should include methods for reaching the public and methods for reaching referring healthcare professionals.

If your goal is to get your name in the news, think about the stories you have to tell. Publicity is not limited to inventors and academics - professionals who perform needed services are also newsworthy - and people want to hear the details. Where should you begin to look for ideas for stories about your practice? Intriguing stories can be found in every corner. Have you achieved superior skills in performing a particular procedure? Has your front office appointment setter just completed new coursework? Is your nurse working nights to chair an event for a compelling charity? You have a story to tell.

Open any patient's file and you are sure to find inspiration! Although you must keep specifics confidential (unless the patient has signed a release giving permission to discuss his/her case publicly), the file will have nuggets of information that can be developed into a story. Any file will identify common concerns felt by the general public. Examples include:

Did you know that these everyday topics in your office are exciting news items for the nonclinician and potential new patient? Many doctors fail to recognize stories that people are waiting to hear. These stories help to educate the public and increase the caseload of the doctor who writes the story or who is interviewed in an article.

Connecting with the media

Depending on your local newspaper, you can interest an editor or reporter in your story with a simple phone call or a formal press release.

You can find press release templates online, or you can simply draft a notice that includes the business name, contact information (name of person in your business whom the media rep should contact), the heading "Press Release," date and a brief description of the topic of your proposed story. Include the who, what, when, where and why of your story. You can manage the distribution and activity of a press release yourself, or you can hire professionals to perform these tasks for you. Professionals can locate stories, make connections with media, plan events, write drafts of your articles (including ghost-writing articles with your byline) and follow up on article placement. If you are uncomfortable promoting yourself, or if your time is limited, invest in a PR firm that can deliver what you need.

Once a reporter or editor is interested in your story, some "nuts and bolts" elements to consider include determining whether you want a reporter to contact you for an interview, or whether you want to supply a written story. An interview may be easier, but you can control the content of a story you write yourself. If you do write the story, include photos, images (especially when talking about skin rashes or other conditions) and exciting details of your intended message.

With a little effort, PR can help expand your patient base, grow your profits and deliver the cases you want to treat. PR can help patients appreciate the value of your work, which can maximize patient retention and attract new patients.

Events

Consider hosting events to bring attention to your practice.

Anything that gets people to your office will help them bond with your staff and develop loyalty to you. Events provide opportunities for delivering your messages, and encourage guests to ask questions about your practice.

In addition to media relations targeted at consumers, your PR plan may include events to attract referring doctors, mixing entertainment and business. For example, a CME course will educate referring doctors, and a catered lunch at your facility will show that you appreciate their trust in you. Give referring docs a few tips for treating mild dermatological cases, and they will repay you by sending you all their difficult cases.

Don't forget that events are press-worthy! Take pictures and make notes. Invite the press to attend your event, or distribute a press release the morning after your event - get the most impact for your efforts!

Disclosure: Connie Jankowski is a senior account executive at Pascale Communications (http:// http://www.pascalecommunications.com/) and can be reached at (714) 962-2699 or at connie@pascalecommunications.com
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