Vol. 11 • Issue 5 • Page 32
The written word can be a powerful and influential tool. The adage "the pen is mightier than the sword" attests that writing can shape opinions easier and more completely than even brute force.
In the same way, a written article can garner publicity and build connections in your community even better than public appearances. Not only will an article likely reach a wider audience than a Q&A session or hearing screening, but it will also establish you as a local expert and build goodwill.
"It elevates your image in a commmunity as being someone who is an expert in your profession" says Megan Nightingale, AuD, owner of Peninsula Hearing Inc. in Poulsbo, WA. "I think it improves people's perception of you as being a professional who really cares."
In addition, an article can lead potential patients to seek out an audiologist for their hearing problems, while conveniently plugging you as someone who can help them. Dr. Nightingale estimates that each article she writes in her small-to-midsize community leads to three to 10 new patients.
"If you're sharing some tips and advice in my daily or weekly newspaper that are hitting on topics that are bothering me right now, I'm going to tune in and pay attention," says Sandra Beckwith, owner of Beckwith Communications and author of a several publicity books, including Streetwise Complete Publicity Plans: How to Create Publicity That Will Spark Media Exposure and Excitement.
Finding a Topic
If you aren't sure what to write about, consider addressing the commonly asked questions you get from patients. But don't limit yourself to the basics; Dr. Nightingale also suggests pursuing articles on breaking research and other new developments in the field. The only rule of thumb is that your topic resonates with readers.
"You have to share information that's helpful... something that's going to truly improve their life," Beckwith says. "It might not be in a huge way, but if you've given them one little 'aha moment' that's going to help them change how they do something, maybe something they've been doing wrong, then you've absolutely served your purpose."
Pitching Your Idea
Once you've chosen a topic, Beckwith suggests using one of three tools to pitch your article to news outlets-a pitch letter, press release or tip sheet. The most direct method is to write to a specific editor, sending a pitch letter that addresses your idea, why you're qualified to write about it and why readers will be interested.
You also could take a more indirect approach by writing a press release, which is basically a news announcement; the best ones mimic the form of an article in the hopes that editors starved for content will run them verbatim. According to Beckwith, this is most likely to occur at smaller weekly papers.
The tip sheet, which is basically a press release that offers tips in a bulleted format, may be the most valuable tool for audiologists, according to Beckwith. Although a tip sheet may lead to a full length article, she says editors are prone to use these "news nuggets" as small column notes to fill space, and so tip sheets can make for quick and easy expert positioning.
Whichever method you use, it is important to cultivate relationships with the local media. Dr. Nightingale attributes her consistent headlines to her long-term relationship with a newsgroup that runs five weekly papers in her area.
"Because I have been advertising in those papers ever since I've been open-it's almost 20 years-I have some very long-term relationships," she says. "For people who don't have that relationship, they need to get to know the particular representative from whatever paper they choose to go with. It really makes all the Difference."
Writing the Article
When you sit down to write your article, make sure it has proper journalistic style and that all your information is fact-checked and edited. Avoid "advertising techniques" like overcapitalization, cite your sources properly and assemble your thoughts in a logical way. For news stories, try to follow the traditional inverted pyramid approach, with the most important information at the top; if you're writing a column, feel free to be looser, focusing instead on crafting a story that speaks to the reader.
It's also important to write to your readership, avoiding medical jargon in favor of common, everyday English. While doing so may not make you sound as sophisticated as you think you should, this approach, which Beckwith sums up as "show don't tell," will let readers know you can provide quality service without turning them off.
The writing process may seem intimidating and time-consuming, but Dr. Nightingale says it gets easier the more you do it. "I think it might take me, all total-from conceptualizing the article to actually sitting down and writing it-a few hours," she says. "For someone who's never done it, it might take longer, but it's worth the time."
Become a Source
If you're having problems getting published or if you just don't have the time to research, write and edit articles, Beckwith suggests becoming an expert source.
"It takes more effort for you to talk somebody into running your material and way more effort into you writing that material-and writing it well enough for publication-than for you to pick up the phone or send an e-mail and pitch a journalist on an article that can involve you as an interview source," she says.
Dr. Nightingale said she's been interviewed for several articles and that they often result in follow-ups from readers with hearing problems. Beckwith attributes this to the "implied editorial endorsement."
"It says to the consumer, 'Gosh, that reporter thought enough of that practitioner that she interviewed her for this article,'" Beckwith says. "'She probably did all that research into figuring out who was the smartest and most informed source in the area, so she's done all that research for me, and if that source is good enough for her and the article, she's certainly good enough for me to help me with my problem.'"
However, in reality, reporters on deadline often reach out to sources already in their rolodexes, who, as a result, get all the exposure due to a lack of competition. That's another reason why it's important to actively reach out to the press with phone calls and pitch letters, even if you're not looking to write an article yourself. Going above and beyond by suggesting other sources, mapping out the story as you would in a normal pitch letter and putting a face on the story by offering up a few patient stories (make sure to get permission first to abide by HIPAA requirements) can lead to more exposure for your practice.
"This is where most people doing publicity fall short, including publicists paid to do this for a living," says Beckwith. "They think only in terms of putting themselves or their clients out there; they don't think of it from the perspective of the journalist. And as a journalist, I can tell you that anything somebody can give you to help do your job better is going to endear you to that person, but also it's going to make it more likely that they will follow up on your story idea, because you've done some of the research for them already."
Worth a Shot
Investing time into crafting and pitching story ideas may not always lead to articles and source opportunities. However, according to Beckwith, when you succeed in getting your name in the paper-in a byline or through an interview-it can often be even more powerful than an advertisement, because readers are smart enough to know you didn't pay for it. Plus, unlike advertising, it costs nothing, which can be especially helpful for practices on a budget.
"I always encourage people to try publicity before they try advertising, because all the publicity costs is your time," Beckwith says. "There's no guarantee it will be used, and you have no control over when it will be used. But it can work and work well if you put the effort in."
Frank Visco is editorial assistant for ADVANCE for Audiologists. Contact him at email@example.com.
Hear Sandra Beckwith, owner of Beckwith Communications, discuss the advantages of writing an article and how practice owners should go about getting published.