When most people hear the words “public relations” they immediately think that something has gone wrong and a company or brand is trying hard to put a positive spin out into the news cycle. And with all the scandals, missteps and just plain awful behavior from the people in many organizations today, it’s totally logical for damage control to be your first thought when PR is mentioned.
But it doesn’t have to be like that.
Your medical practice can benefit from PR even when there’s nothing you’re trying to “spin” or “control.” In fact, PR, especially in the online space, is infinitely more effective when working to generate positive buzz rather than trying to dig out of a hole.
PR vs Other Paid Efforts
All PR costs money. Sure, some brands may have a “viral” hit with a particular campaign that brings in revenue that dwarfs its cost. But more realistically, PR is about a consistent, ongoing effort to tell your story in the channels where people are listening. It’s about shaping a story, building a brand, and maintaining a following of people who dig what you have to offer.
In many respects, PR is the opposite of PPC advertising. PPC is all about immediate eyeballs and sales. Run an ad and pay for every person who clicks. You can calculate your return on investment down to the dollar. In contrast, PR is a longer-term investment to build goodwill and make your brand stand out.
Want to be known as the most innovative cosmetic surgeon in your market? That won’t happen overnight with a few PPC ads. It’s about “showing not telling” by earning appearances on local media, getting raves on social media channels, and shaping the conversation over time to position yourself in a consistent way. It is a natural extension of SEO efforts in this respect.
Doing Your Research
While PR investments will seldom have an immediate payoff, it’s not true that all PR opportunities are created equal. Certainly, getting a quote in a major publication or a soundbite on a nightly newscast might feel like a big win. But in many cases, a lot of time, work and money has been spent to build the stepping stones needed for a nationally recognized persona.
Well before that time, you can start small in your local community by building ties with people who shape opinion. This may look like identifying patients who have a particularly robust social following, forging friendships with community leaders, or volunteering for causes that have a major positive impact among your target audience.
Traditional Media Mentions
More traditionally, people think of PR resulting in coverage in the news and on TV. While the audience for traditional media continues to trend downward, there are still people who favor these types of media. Plus, coverage on a local network will extend to their website and social media.
Always be on the lookout for “feel good” content that will resonate in your community. Maybe you and your staff spend a day volunteering at a women’s shelter or food bank. Or you just got back from a medical mission in a foreign country. Craft a message about why that matters and pitch it to the local news stations.
Some people (and patients) have an outsized influence on social media platforms. Their friend circles are larger, they have more savvy about what messages are appealing, and they’ve often taken the time to finely craft their own brand.
Social influencers are in a particularly good position to share messaging about why your practice stands out and is making a positive impact. When you provide a service to an influencer, it’s worth the extra effort to showcase all the “bells and whistles” of your practice, including what you and your team are doing to impact causes and concerns close to the heart.
PR on Your Own Site
Don’t miss the opportunity to “toot your own horn” on your own website. To track coverage, you can have an “In the News” page. To tout your social media creds, integrate your Instagram feed or publish a selection of mentions from influencers. You should also consider a “Giving Back” page to share your volunteer efforts in the community and beyond.
Now for the really hard part. You’ve done all this work to build awareness and shape your story. You’ve gotten some traction in your local media and from some important social media connections. But now how does that translate into revenue for your business? How do you measure PR success?
Larger corporations have the resources to do extensive polling, psychometric studies, and other techniques to better understand the headspace of the public and the thoughts about their brands. But on a smaller scale, you can still set quantifiable goals for PR efforts:
- Media Mentions: You might want to set a goal of pitching local TV channels once per quarter with a new story idea. You can measure how often your pitches are successful, and rack up bonus points if you get an “in” with a local reporter or two who proactively comes back looking for more story content.
- Social Metrics: Facebook and Instagram offer all kinds of tools to measure your followers and how well they are engaging with your message. It’s always nice to have a big and growing number of followers, but look beyond that number to analyze which of your PR messages are getting the most play, and tailor the message accordingly.
- The Tie to Organic Search: In the digital space, a PR “win” is often counted as a link back to your website from a news site, blogger, social maven, or other third-party referrer. You may start a campaign with the goal of earning 5 high-quality links, for instance. Google still factors in external links when determining where a site should rank for search terms.
While quantifiable goals are certainly important, don’t get too caught up in measuring PR efforts under a microscope. The most important factors for a successful PR effort are 1. appealing, genuine message, 2. consistency over time. Telling (and showing) your community the right thing enough times will foster the brand awareness and loyalty that are instrumental to all extremely successful medical practices.