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Physician Reputation: To Brag or Not to Brag

By Stewart Gandolf, Chief Executive Officer

Among Benjamin Franklin’s considerable list of achievements in life is—along with physician and surgeon Thomas Bond—establishing the first hospital in what later became the United States. Pennsylvania Hospital in Philadelphia continues today as the oldest hospital in America.

In the tradition of Franklin and Bond, many doctors have much to brag about...if they wanted to do so. They are recognized as civic leaders who generously donate their time, talent and money to charitable and humanitarian endeavors. Franklin might have viewed this as: “Doing good while doing well.”

Many physicians and healthcare professionals are quietly involved with formal and informal groups ranging from Doctors Without Borders to the neighborhood Free Clinic. For various reasons, their work doesn’t garner much public recognition.

Although generous good works add depth to a physician’s reputation, it turns out that advertising a doctor’s “prosocial behavior” can backfire. Good deeds and a positive reputation are good, but it turns out that “bragging” can be perceived as selfish and a public relations (and reputation) no-no.

An academic study, The Braggart's Dilemma: On the Social Rewards and Penalties of Advertising Prosocial Behavior, published in the Journal of Marketing Research, describes two public perceptions—the positive and negative options…to brag or not to brag. The authors report:

“People often brag about, or advertise, their good deeds to others. Seven studies investigate how bragging about prosocial behavior affects perceived generosity. The authors propose that bragging conveys information about an actor's good deeds, leading to an attribution of generosity.

“However, bragging also signals a selfish motivation (a desire for credit) that undermines the attribution of generosity. Thus, bragging has a positive effect when prosocial behavior is unknown because it informs others that an actor has behaved generously. However, bragging does not help—and often hurts—when prosocial behavior is already known, because it signals a selfish motive.

“Finally, the authors argue that bragging about prosocial behavior is unique because it undermines the precise information that the braggart is trying to convey (generosity).”

Professional reputation and how you talk about good works…

How to recognize—or even publicize—a doctor’s philanthropic good deeds, is a delicate public relations issue in that it depends on how it is presented and perceived by others. Be cautious walking this line.

When “bragging” is taken as a grab for personal recognition, the motive isn’t seen as being generous, and reputation may take a black mark.

On the other hand, when “bragging” (perhaps too strong a word in this context) is seen as marketing, it’s a matter of presenting information, and thus professional reputation scores a point for unselfish kindness.

It’s not what you do…it’s what you say and how you say it.

FOR MORE on this topic, click through to the Healthcare Success (free) marketing library:

Stewart Gandolf, MBA

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