Don’t buy your own hype!

If you and your practice are after publicity, then be sure to keep your feet on the ground and get prepared by reading what media guru Tingy Simoes reveals here.

When the public is deluged with content, as we all are in these days of 24/7 news and ever-expanding social media platforms, they rely on outlets they trust to help them make decisions. 

They simply don’t have the time or the inclination to trawl through PubMed and read your peer-reviewed publications, so when they’re looking to source a medical practitioner or clinic, they will turn to their mainstream medium of choice. 

People who read The Daily Telegraph, trust the Telegraph. Same with The Sun or The Mail, Radio 4 or Good Morning Britain. They become the ‘Which?’ guide for their audience: from washing machines to hip replacements.

I have lost count over the last two decades of the amount of calls I get from forlorn medics, who can’t comprehend how this or that colleague got in some kind of ‘Top 50’ list (you won’t believe it, at no.9!) while grumbling ‘I’ve seen their work; they’re not THAT good.’

Being prominent in the media does not necessarily mean, as you well know, that this plastic/orthopaedic/ayurveda specialist is better than another. 

Background checks

The press do have a duty of care, and I have found that the vast majority of reputable journalists are quite conscientious in their background checks – that is, they usually confirm the person hasn’t been struck off. But again, they’re not going to trawl PubMed either.

So whose word are they taking, that these folks really are ‘Top Ten’ material? They, too, take the word of those they trust: publicists with whom they have a long relationship, sometimes celebrities who vouch for them, clinicians they have used for comment in the past, and others.

All they need is an assurance that you are who you say you are; that you do, in fact, have this exciting new breakthrough you claim to have; that it will help them sell issues; and you won’t kill or maim their readers.

It can be daunting for those just starting their careers to dip their delicate toes in the murky waters of media relations, when it feels infested with alligators of the ‘old guard’ – but let’s be honest: publicity just works. 

However, this piece is not strictly about how to get publicity. This piece is about what happens when you do.

Over the course of my career, I have run the press offices for specialty associations, royal colleges, private practices, hospitals and trade unions. I have publicised new healthcare technology, launched medical devices from GI to intraocular implants and even handled the media circus around the separation of conjoined twins. 

The vast majority of medics were new to public relations – that is, the concept of proactively seeking publicity rather than shying away from it. 

Kicking and screaming

Some had to be dragged kicking and screaming in front of the cameras, others were only too delighted to leap out and land in front of the podium like a Marvel superhero. Preferably with a fog machine and cymbals.

Strange things happen when you become a ‘meedja’ darling. When you go from relative obscurity to being regularly rolled out on the BBC Breakfast sofa, it’s understandable for it all to go to your head a bit.

But this is the thing: it’s not peer review; it’s Tatler.

Garnering favourable publicity is a complex algorithm with so many variables it could have stumped Stephen Hawking. 

The media outlet has to need the content at the moment you have it; the PR agent has to know which media is correct for which announcement and, within that, the correct reporter or editor to target. 

That reporter or editor has to care enough to open the email or take the call. Then, you have to hope that Boris or Trump don’t do something daft, start WWIII and ruin the news cycle. 

If you do secure the coverage, you don’t necessarily know when it will run, whether they will be quoting other people who criticise your ground-breaking development or even guess the size of the article. It’s a crap shoot. 

You’re just . . . how can I put this? . . . not that special.

It can be done

So to those out there who want to get on those fabled Top Ten lists, who want to achieve some positive exposure, those who have valid talents, abilities and techniques that should be unleashed upon the world – take heart. It can be done. 

The fella down the hall at your posh clinic who is always on the Today programme and gets all the referrals doesn’t hold some magic wand. 

They got lucky, they played a good PR game and there is absolutely no reason you can’t do the same. They might have more name recognition, but, believe me, they all started out where you are. 

It’s a funny thing, though; over time, they do acquire a sheen of untouchability. They start to believe what is written about them. 

Some become more sniffy about which outlets they will deign to bless with their participation. For example, I worked with a doctor who, in true Naomi Campbell supermodel form, ‘wouldn’t get out of bed for anything less than Harper’s Bazaar’. 

Be thankful they believe it – that leaves more space for us!

Self-aggrandising stories 

If you’re just starting out in a new practice or venture, snap up those opportunities. So what if it’s just the Watford Advertiser? 

The more deserving some of these media stars believe themselves to be of mainstream accolades, the more likely they are to become a pain for the press to deal with; ignoring those journalists who got them on the stage in the first place and issuing self-aggrandising stories that they believe people care about, such as their fancy new consulting rooms. No one, literally no one, cares.

You see, every marketing channel you choose has an arc, a life cycle. I had a client for many years who eventually became so enthralled by his own media exposure, he would threaten to sue newspapers whose coverage he didn’t approve of. I’ve also had clients indignant that other, lesser mortals were quoted alongside their hallowed names and so contacted newsdesks to complain.

Diva behaviour does not endear you to journalists, nor to your PR agency. 

When I was very young and stubbornly ambitious, projecting an image of never needing anything from anyone, my dad always warned me: ‘Don’t buy your own hype.’

So those of you looking to enjoy the fruits of regular coverage, heed my old man’s words and stay humble. Because there are others jockeying for the position – and publicity is a helluva drug.

Tingy Simoes (right) is an award-winning publicist with over 20 years’ experience, founder and managing director of Wavelength Marketing Commun­ications and author of the first-ever PR Manual for the plastic surgeons and aesthetic professionals entitled How to Cut it in the Media.