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10 rules for getting good press and new patients along with it

To get new business, your medical practice has to be the first place the patient calls. To make the call, the patient has to know your practice’s name. To know your practice’s name, the patient has to see it over and over in the media.

Media coverage is good free marketing, says Pam Lontos, president of Pam Lontos Consulting in Orlando. But to be of any value, it has to be repeated. “Because people don’t remember anything they see only once.”

For example, most of the people who see an Al’s Refrigerators ad don’t need a refrigerator. But if that ad runs again and again, they’ll think of Al when they do need one. What’s more, they’ll think Al’s is the best place to go, not because it really is the best place but because they’re familiar with it.

That same principle applies to medical practices, says Lontos. “Media coverage isn’t a one-shot deal.” No matter how significant today’s coverage, it will be forgotten by tomorrow. To be remembered, your practice’s name has to be in print over and over.

Here are 10 rules for getting there.

Rule #1: Plan the pitch.

Don’t send the same message to every news source. Tailor your message to an outlet whose audiences will find it valuable and of interest. If the information applies to Fortune 500 companies, don’t send it to a publication that goes to mom-and-pop businesses, and vice versa.

Or, if the practice wants coverage in a particular publication, find out what the hot button issues are for the readership and address them.

Rule #2. Always shoot for the stars.

A question Lontos often gets from her own clients is “do you think you can get me in my local paper?” But there’s no need to limit your publicity efforts, she says. It may turn out that Forbes or the Wall Street Journal is the place to start.

With media coverage, anything can happen. Lontos cites one client who was a first-time author and had written a book about surviving cancer. She contacted US News and World Report, and by happenstance the magazine was covering cancer recovery at the time and so interviewed the client about the book.

There’s nothing to lose and everything to win in going after a big publication. Appearing in the national media raises the doctor far above being “just the local doctor.”

Rule #3. Don’t eschew the little publications.

One of that publication’s readers could be a potential patient.

Even better, a story in a local trade publication can get picked up by a larger publication or even by the national press.

Rule #4: Answer when opportunity knocks.

Journalists work on tight deadlines. When they ask for information, they need it immediately.

Wait till 4 p.m. to return a 9 a.m. call, and bank on it that the reporter has given up on the practice, interviewed somebody else, finished the story, and will never call again.

If a call doesn’t get returned immediately, go into salvage mode. Call the reporter, explain what happened, and apologize. Offer to help out with any later story, and to show that the offer is genuine, offer your cell number or direct line.

Any source a reporter uses frequently has to be somebody who’s always reachable.

Rule #5: Respect the writer.

When calling a reporter, don’t jump into the story pitch. Instead ask “are you on deadline?” And if the answer is yes, ask when to call back or if it’s better to send an e-mail.

Getting the message out doesn’t get it across. That reporter is only thinking “how can I get this person off the phone?”

Then at the second contact, don’t assume the reporter remembers the first conversation. Give it an introduction of “we talked Thursday about X.”

Rule #6: Don’t hedge on giving out free information.

It’s the price the practice has to pay for the free publicity.

If the question is “what’s the best treatment for X?” don’t come back with “you’ll have to read my book” or “tell people to send for my brochure” or “that’s a complicated question, but you can tell your readers they can call me for a free consultation.”

“That gives the reporter absolutely nothing to write about,” says Lontos. “Nobody is going to print that. The call is going to end right there.”

Give as much information as possible, and make it practical. “The more usable tips there are, the more people will remember the doctor.” Even better, the reporter now has a good source and will call again.

Rule #7: Don’t try to write the story.

“You’re not the editor,” Lontos says. Don’t demand to approve the story before it goes to print. Most editors don’t allow that and will have to scrap the interview and find another source.

Don’t set conditions either, such as “you can quote me but only if you mention my book” or “you’ll have to mention our website.” The story will include the doctor’s name, the practice’s name, and the location, and that’s enough for anybody to find the contact information.

Rule #8: Don’t try too hard.

If your practice doesn’t have sufficient experience in what the reporter is asking about, say so, and give the reporter the name of somebody who does, even if it’s a competitor. Better, call that person and set up an interview for the reporter.

Yes, the publicity opportunity is missed. But the reporter will see the practice as a viable information source and will call again.

Rule #9: Don’t be a self-panegyrist.

One of the main errors people make in press releases and interviews, Lontos says, “is talking about themselves and how great they are.”

“Editors don’t care about that. What they want is a story idea. When a release starts out with accolades about the practice, it automatically gets thrown into the trash.”

The same holds true for interviews. The reporter isn’t going to include the flattery. If that’s what the practice wants, “buy an ad.”

Rule #10: Don’t lose sight of the value.

Media coverage gives a doctor credibility that no amount of advertising could ever buy, yet it costs nothing, Lontos says. “People don’t believe ads, but when they see something in print, it has to be true.”

The doctor who is interviewed is instantly seen as the expert on that topic, “because people think the publication or TV network picked the best person in the country.”

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