Using the Power of the Press to Grow Your Practice
By James P. Humphries, DVM,
For Veterinary Practice News
Whether your practice is well established or you are planning a grand opening, you will want publicity to be a part of your marketing strategy. Practices that achieve the kind of publicity that media exposure offers grow faster and stay in business longer than those that do not.
Media exposure is valuable publicity and can be even more powerful than paid advertising. Advertising is increasingly expensive for any business, new or established. Publicity is free and can even be more powerful than paid advertising. America’s largest corporations know this and use it to their advantage—and you should, too.
No matter how large or small your practice is, you need to have a media kit. It is your story in a folder. If you carefully develop it and keep it up to date, you will be surprised at how often you use it and how helpful it is.
Inside the folder, keep the following:
• A news release about you and your practice (most important)
• A photo of you and your hospital
• Your bio in a short, one-page presentation
• A brief summary of testimonials, praise and recommendations.
• A brief practice history (no more than one page)
• Any published magazine or newspaper articles
• Your business card
• A sample of a brochure from your hospital.
Any news release you deliver should follow proper format, which includes your contact information, a compelling headline, statement of the actual news, expert quotes and something to make the story visual.
Good press releases also follow the “inverted pyramid” style of writing where a great headline is followed by the most compelling points of your story in the first one or two paragraphs – details to follow further into the release.
The idea is to give the reporter or editor enough information to get them started on your story.
Should you make basic mistakes in the release, like grammar or spelling errors, format errors, sales language and the like, it can actually hurt your effort, as the media will see you as amateur and probably "not ready for prime-time."
Start by defining your audience and then create a list of media you plan to contact. In your market, this may only be a few weekly or daily papers, radio stations and TV stations.
Before you contact the media there are a couple of things to consider:
• Do your homework. Find the right person to receive your information.
• Find out the best time to make a call to the media contact. You don’t want to call assignment editors or producers when they’re on deadline.
• Build a database of the media contacts and best times to call. Include e-mail addresses, fax and phone numbers.
• Don’t be a pest. If they tell you to call back later and they sound like they’re in a hurry, respect that and call back later.
• If you contact the media by phone, remember they are very busy people. Get to the point in the first 10 seconds of your phone call and sell your story in the first 30 seconds.
You do this by thinking in headlines that will capture their attention immediately. Then support the attention-grabbing headline with two or three supporting facts that make the producer say, “Really? I didn’t know that!” Then, you have them.
It is important to remember you don’t have to tell the producer your whole story. Capture your editor in this crucial first few seconds – then once they are interested, they will give you time for details.
In the summer we see many more cases of heat stroke in pets. Heat stroke can be fatal and is an immediate medical emergency. In severe cases, veterinarians must treat shock as well as cool the animal, then look further into organ damage.
This is ALL true, but boring to a busy news producer. Capture them with a headline: “Did you know that 10,000 pets die each year by being locked in a parked car?”
Really? I did not know that.
Now you have them and you can move on with more details.
Build a relationship with the editors. If you deliver a worthwhile story to them, you will be remembered and trusted. If they say no, cheerfully accept it and move on. Rejection is a way of life in the media and doesn’t necessarily mean your idea was bad. It just wasn’t the right timing.
Keep an eye on the news and see how each story links to your practice. Is there a connection or an angle? Set up a Google news search and watch the trends of news stories across the country. Then take your local angle or unique perspective on the story and let local producers and editors know about it.
Pets are such a compelling visual with universal appeal that just about any creative angle you can think of will get some attention. Watch for things like new drug or product releases and brainstorm for subject ideas such as ”the fattest cat,” “the most unusual X-ray,” “the dog that swallowed a screwdriver” or “the most unusual insurance claim.”
These types of stories usually generate media interest.
How often have you read a newspaper or magazine and seen a dog trainer or self-declared “pet expert” writing? You think to yourself, “I should be doing that.”
Well you should!
Even if you have little or no writing experience, begin the process by writing a few sample columns and submit them to the local newspaper. You may be surprised at editors’ interest.
Also, keep a digital camera in the office at all times. You never know when an opportunity will present itself for you to get that once-in-a-lifetime photo that helps give you an unusual story and promote your practice.
If you work it right, the day will come when you will receive calls from members of the news media asking if you’d be willing to talk about a certain issue or topic.
It happens when the media have trusted you in the past and know they can depend on you.
To become a source, you first have to build and develop a trusting relationship with editors and producers.
The media builds a database of people they can call on who are experienced and reliable in discussing certain topics. Your goal is to be in that database and to be the first person they call when a story comes up related to your field of expertise.
Once you’ve been used as a source your name will be in the media database and, if you were good, you’ll be called in the future.
The Veterinary News Network was designed with this concept in mind. You can tap into professional print, radio and TV format resources that you make your own and submit to local media. This saves you time and gives you what you need to approach a wide variety of media in your market.
No matter what type of practice you have, you want publicity to be a part of your marketing strategy. Practices that understand and use publicity techniques thrive and grow, even in difficult financial times. Media attention is almost always positive and, when handled properly, can establish your credibility and bring in pet owners who are already convinced that you are the right veterinary hospital for them.
Jim Humphries, DVM, has worked in the media for 25 years. He now serves as president and news director for The Veterinary News Network at http://www.myvnn.com/.
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Using the Power of the Press to Grow Your Practice
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