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Healthcare Publicity: The First Three Steps to Getting Free Press Coverage

By Stewart Gandolf, Chief Executive Officer

Get Free Healthcare Practice Publicity by Giving Local Media What They Want

public relations puzzle on laptop screenEver wonder what the difference is between advertising and publicity?

Simply put, publicity is free. Advertising costs money.

In other words, if a newspaper writes a news article about you (but doesn't charge you), that's publicity. If the newspaper charges you for the space (even if it is in article format), then the message just became advertising.

Wouldn't we all like a little publicity - or "free press" - now and then...just to "get our name out there" a bit...help build reputation and recognition...and attract prospective patients?

Sounds easy enough...nice payoff...so where to start?

Before someone starts wordsmithing a quick news release from the top of their head, this quest does not begin with you or your practice - at least not yet. The first and most important insight is that getting the publicity that you want - good, effective publicity - depends entirely on being able to help the news media get what they want.

In other words, your story has to be newsworthy and relevant to your target media outlets' readers, viewers and/or listeners.

Keep in mind that "free publicity" is a bit of a misnomer. It's seldom easy, never automatic, and the required investment will be careful and thoughtful research, plus a healthy pinch of creativity. What's more, if you really want to maximize your chances of getting proper exposure, you may need to hire a professional publicist to get your message out, and publicists are definitely not free.

Begin with two important inventory steps. Make two lists...and the match between the first list and the second list is where you'll find (or make) opportunity for publicity.


#1 Media Inventory

Chart all possible media that touch the people you want to reach. Start by brainstorming to find relevant media. In addition to the obvious local daily newspaper, magazine and/or broadcast outlets, include community weeklies, ethnic or special interest publications, regional, monthly or quarterly magazines, hospital or association newsletters, etc.

In this process, also identify appropriate sub-categories. For example, a newspaper or magazine may have a designated section, editor, reporter or periodic edition for "medical" or "healthcare" - or perhaps for "science," "consumer," or "healthy living." Look at several editions to recognize what each media outlet favors and whose name is on the "by-line" or section. Identify as many people as possible by category, section, topic or interest.

It's no secret that the purpose of any commercial media is to attract an audience - and it's these readers or viewers that the advertisers want to target. So, if the media appeals to an "up-scale" audience, or a "Smallville/Main Street" audience, your best chance of successful publicity will be to tap into their goal.


#2 Personal Inventory and possible "Hook" Ideas

Now look for ideas that help the media. Take an inventory of your own strengths, special knowledge or other ideas that might be of interest to the media's audience.

You may or may not personally be part of this audience, so focus on their point of view. Look beyond the obvious, be inventive (within reason) and create a list of possible "hooks" or "angles."

What might be attention-getting or unusual? Consider:

  • What is legitimately the first, newest, latest or unique?
  • Do you have a new way to solve a problem?
  • An insight to an emerging trend or something of benefit to a large number of people.
  • A story that is truly heart-warming, tear-jerking or emotionally compelling.
  • Is there a celebrity angle? ...a "hero" angle? ...an unusual hobby angle?
  • Can you provide expert commentary about a timely topic?
  • Do you know a local angle to a national item?
  • Are you an expert, author, inventor or credentialed authority?
  • Can you create a newsworthy event?


#3 Cross-reference "what they want" with "what you've got."

Brainstorm many possible topics...narrow to several...and refine the best two or three possibilities. The refinement step will also take into consideration the needs and interests of the specific reporter, editor or producer. And that's the person to whom you will make your pitch.

It's likely that you'll find a match, but you may have to drill down and be a bit inventive to carefully make the match between what they want and what you've got. And when you do, that's where your opportunity for free publicity begins.

That's how the game starts. But there's much more to winning publicity as well as planning, public relations, advertising, promotion, strategic thinking and effective execution for business development.

As a next step, look for next week's article, Healthcare Practice Publicity: Winning Techniques and Fatal Pitfalls to Your Free Press.

Winning at the publicity game is challenging.

Read part 2 - Healthcare Practice Publicity: Winning
Techniques and Fatal Pitfalls to Your Free Press »

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