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Using the Local Media to Promote Your Practice
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Unless you are in a very, very small town, your eye clinic is likely not the only option for patients in need of care. That means people have a choice, and in our competitive world, you have to do what you can to make sure your clinic is their preferred choice. One way of establishing awareness and credibility for your practice is through your local media.

undefinedSo, you say the only thing you know about the media is that Grey’s Anatomy comes on Thursday night? And what does the administrator of a retina practice know about the media?

The more appropriate question might be, “What does someone with 25 years of media experience know about managing a retina practice?” I have worked in local television news as both a manager and on-air talent. Hopefully, some of that experience will help you use the media to your advantage in creating more visibility for your practice.

Don’t Be Scared
I can understand why most people are intimidated by the media. You don’t really understand what they do or how they do it. You’ve seen Mike Wallace grilling some poor soul about the way he/she does business, and you’re terrified that if you let a local reporter in the nurse’s station, he/she will find out it has been two hours since anyone called back Mrs. Jones to answer her question about which brand of eye drops is best.

Here’s a little secret: The media needs you, just as you need them. Unless you are in a top 20 market (e.g., Los Angeles, New York, Chicago) the local health reporter is always looking for a story. Pick up the phone, call one of the television stations or the newspaper and ask to speak to the health reporter. Tell them you have a story idea that their viewers/readers might find interesting. The worst thing that can happen is that the person on the other end will say no. However, as sure as there will be a 60 Minutes re-run on Sunday nights in the summer, there’s a good chance the response will be positive.

Keep it Simple, Stupid
This just in: Most reporters don’t know the difference between a cataract and a catamaran. Therefore, you must speak to the reporter in layman’s terms. Take that five-syllable eye disease and explain what it is and how it affects people. When you do, make sure you are clear and concise.

In the media, brief is always better. Do you realize the average local television “package,” where the reporter tells a story with words, lasts one minute and 30 seconds or less? Take a look at today’s paper. Unless it’s an in-depth special report, you won’t find a very lengthy story. In today’s hustle and bustle world, a story — no matter how medically complicated it is — must be short and to the point: what is it, and why should people care.

May I Help You?
Once, I visited a doctor’s office for a story the practice had suggested to the local media (just as I am recommending to you). However, upon arrival, my photographer and I had to wait 20 minutes before being called into his office. Then we then had to wait another 20 minutes until the doctor “had time” for us. He then acted as if we were bothering him, blitzing through medical terminology as if I was a doctor. Then my photographer explained we needed to shoot video of the doctor examining a patient. Well, you would have thought we asked for free Lasik surgery!

The story, as is almost always the case, turned out to be free publicity for the practice. Not surprisingly, I never received a thank you note.

So, know that when you invite the media, you must do the following:

  • Be ready. That TV crew or newspaper reporter likely has two other stops to make and has to make deadline. They don’t have time to wait. Making your next patient sit an extra 15 minutes is worth what you will get by spending time with the media.
  • Have a patient ready. You know you have to have a patient’s written permission to have his/her picture taken and be quoted. Make sure the paperwork is signed ahead of time. In most cases, there’s not a story if the media cannot interview and photograph a patient. For a media story, interviewing the doctor exclusively is usually not enough.
  • Make the media’s job as easy as possible. A lot of reporters/photographers are just plain lazy. Truth be told, they want to get in, get what they need and get back to the station/newsroom. Give them some notes you’ve written — an outline of the story and the definition of terminology. The exam chair needs to be moved a couple of inches so the photographer can get the shot he/she wants? Move it! The photographer could use a hand carrying in that equipment bag? Grab it!

Remember: help the media, and the media will, more often than not, be willing to help you.

Thanks for the Memories
Unless the media has just busted you for a laundry list of HIPAA violations, it likely did you a favor. You can’t buy the kind of advertising your clinic will receive from being mentioned on the late news or in the morning paper. Don’t take that free publicity for granted! Pick up the phone, call the reporter, and say two simple words: thank you.

But don’t stop there. Make sure you send a handwritten note, letting him/her know how much their professionalism and courtesy was appreciated. Want to do something more? I assure you, no media-type will be offended if you send them a cookie basket. One thing I miss about being in TV is the free food!

In Closing
I want to make sure you don’t underestimate the power of the media. Joe Anchorman telling thousands of viewers that you are using a new drug in the treatment of macular degeneration goes a long way. I know. This year, the local ABC and CBS affiliates, as well as the area’s leading daily newspaper, have reported such a story involving our clinic.

Each time, on the heels of those reports, we received many calls from patients wanting to know if he/she was a candidate for the treatment. Of course, we don’t know until we see them for an exam. Remember, a patient in your waiting room is one less patient in your competitor’s waiting room.

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About the author: This article is excerpted from the July 2006 issue of Executive Update. The author was Tony Taglavore, an administrator at Vitreo-Retinal Associates, a retina specialty practice in Shreveport, La. His previous management experience included overseeing television news departments for ABC, NBC and FOX affiliates. Prior to moving into management, Tony was a popular on-air personality in Shreveport.

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