April 2014 Plastic Surgery Practice

5 tips for hiring a publicist

By Anthony Youn, MD, FACS

OReillyNo question about it. Being on TV gets patients in your door.

When I first started my plastic surgery practice in 2004, I had $200,000 in medical school debt, $100,000 in start-up loans, and zero patients. I brought bagels and orange juice to family practice offices, gave dozens of community talks, and wrote letters to local physicians.

Still, no patients.

Then my phone rang.

The producers of E! Television’s Dr. 90210 said I’d be featured on their next episode. “Get ready,” they added. I envisioned red carpets, Emmy awards, interviews on Entertainment Tonight, and invites to all the big Hollywood parties.

The show aired 3 days later. I was introduced in the middle of the half-hour program. My television debut lasted 3 minutes.

I went to bed that night very, profoundly disappointed.

The next morning, the phone began to ring. And ring. And ring. It didn’t stop.

Ten new cosmetic patients booked appointments that day. Then nine more the next. My practice took off, and for the next 2 years I reaped the benefits of my brief foray into reality TV.

If it happened to me, it can happen to you.

5 TIPS FOR HIRING A PUBLICIST

Prior to my fellowship in Los Angeles, I didn’t have any idea that plastic surgeons had publicists and/or handlers. Aren’t they only for the super-rich and famous?

Not really. Although some publicists specialize in handling media inquiries for celebrities, many publicists spend their time trying to get their clients on TV and in magazines. I’ve hired seven different publicists in the past 9 years. They’ve arranged for me to be on The Doctors, the Fox News Channel, HLN, E!, and Access Hollywood. They’ve gotten me a half-page spread in USA Today, two segments on NPR, and several mentions in entertainment magazines and tabloids.

Lots of plastic surgeons have publicists, although few will admit it.

So if you’re thinking about hiring a publicist, here are some of my tips:

1 Don’t Overpay: Publicists are typically paid a monthly retainer, and most of them require at least a 3-month commitment up front. So they can get you absolutely nothing (which happens quite often) and still get paid. Most physician publicists are paid between $2,000 and $4,000 per month. Paying more than $4,000 a month is unlikely to pay off unless they really have major connections like Barbara Walters’ cell phone number.

2 Don’t Believe the Hype: Every single publicist I’ve ever hired has excitedly told me about all the TV shows and magazines that he or she will try to get me on. The key word here is “try.” Some of these publicists have come up completely empty 3 months later.

3 Choose Ads Over Publicity: I consider publicists to be a luxury, not a requirement. If you have a struggling practice and have $3,000 to put toward a publicist or an ad, choose the ad. If you choose your ad correctly, you are almost guaranteed to get patients calling your office. Publicity, however, is a gamble. If gambling really paid off, would casinos be in business?

4 Focus On Local: If you’ve never been on TV before, consider hiring a publicist from your local area. You’re extremely unlikely to go from complete obscurity to Doctor Oz, even if you hire a big-name New York City publicist. Your best bet is to hire a local publicist with connections to the local health producers. Most local markets (except the really big ones like New York and LA) are looking for stories to fill their large blocks of broadcast time. This could be your “in.”

5 Try Pay-Per-Placement: Not many publicists do this, but some work on a pay-only-if-I-get-you-something basis. This eliminates the risk of you paying thousands and thousands of dollars for a bunch of nothing.

Anthony Youn, MD, FACS, is a board-certified plastic surgeon in Detroit. He is a regular guest on the Rachael Ray Show and has been featured on E! Television’s Dr. 90210 and The Doctor Oz Show. He is also on the editorial advisory board of Plastic Surgery Practice magazine, Youn can be reached via PSPeditor@allied360.com.

Original citation for this article: Youn, A., I am a doctor, and I play one on TV. Plastic Surgery Practice, 2014; April: 22.