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My Twitter Site

March 10th, 2010

Medical marketing speeds along on a daily cycle. Just like journalism.

Every morning we take in the day’s news agenda, imagine the media’s needs that day,  and find a way to make our clients’ stories fit those needs. (A new heart stent may be hard to sell….but not on the day Dick Cheney returns to the hospital with chest pain.)

Any occassional insights are brief and have a shelf-life measured in hours.

For those reasons, I’ve been writing more on Twitter, often several times a day.

If you need to know every morning, what the medical media’s thinking…and what it’s seeking, please visit my daily posts at



Leveraging Your TV and Print Exposure

October 30th, 2009

In medical marketing content isn’t always king.

I recently placed a newspaper story that said our client, a large multi-specialty group, represented the next generation of primary care. Electronic medical records, data outcomes, and other tools had effectively made them like “Marcus Welby on steroids.”

The content was certainly positive, but I wasn’t prepared for my client’s euphoria.

The Swine Flu Virus….Your Media Opportunity!!

October 30th, 2009

Today I pitched plenty of client stories to the media:  a multi-specialty clinic is designated a “medical home,” a plastic surgeon has a better way of doing facelifts, a medical device company releases a better stimulator for chronic pain,  an audiology clinic sees a spike in hearing-impaired women,  a dentist happily hands out  “healthy” Halloween candy, and more.

But medical reporters and producers don’t care.

For the moment (as one put it) it’s “all swine flu all the time.”

Fortunately, that challenge is also an opportunity. Medical reporters are desperate for new angles on a continuing story. We’ve found some angles and gotten some coverage.

Here are different approaches that worked for us..and provided publicity for clients sometimes far afield of Swine Flu:

Are Doctors Risk-Takers?

September 23rd, 2009

Physicians are very complicated.

Take our attitude toward risk. On one hand we’re risk-takers. We were trained to routinely make life and death decisions. The practicing doctor thinks clearly in the most stressful situations. We tell ourselves of course we’re risk-takers.  (Never, ever tell an orthopedic surgeon that he’s afraid of risk.)

Yet physicians are also self-selected to be risk-averse. As a rule we chose a conventional career path for the guarantee of a lucrative lifetime income. And we excelled in an educational and medical culture that rewarded unquestioning obedience and conformity.

Yesterday I dealt with three doctors who personified all these attitudes toward risk.

The Media and Swine Flu

September 1st, 2009

I don’t know just how serious the coming swine flu season will be. It’s obvious no one does (even the WHO and CDC can’t agree on a message.) But I do know this:

The media and the government will try to scare your patients to death.

I know this because (like the raging LA wildfires) the government will provide the heat, and the media will provide the spark to ignite a seeming disaster (real or not)

I know this for two reasons:

First because TV news and newspapers are going through their last spastic death throes. At this point they’ll do anything to get your attention. And nothing works like stoking up a panic. Of course, the media will claim to be “responsible” about it’s coverage. But “responsible” is a very relative term. For instance, last week the WHO’s estimate of 90K deaths was page one in most papers. Later that week, the CDC’s less alarmist outlook was on page 32.

No. The MSM is desperate and with jobs at stake, ethics have become expendable.

But the media’s not the only party interested in stoking the flames. The Swine Flu “pandemic” is a godsend for the Obama administration. In the midst of the health care reform fiasco, Swine Flu creates universal fear and lets the government come to the rescue. The government gets to show it really can deliver healthcare and that voters really can’t get by without a government solution.

Most important, the greater the fear, the greater the calamity the government can claim to have prevented.

So over the next few weeks look for a one-two punch. First the government will issue dire warnings…then media will scream them to the sky. And ultimately, when the outbreak is minimal, the government will credit its own aggressive intervention. It’s just good politics.

Who knows? Those future warnings might turn out to be accurate. But I suspect the Swine Flu story isn’t about a disease…but about a timely cure for the powers-that-be.

Using Twitter To Get Major Exposure

August 26th, 2009

Yesterday I met with the honchos of a suburban hospital. They want to compete with the “big boys” ie the city’s academic medical centers. That means generating some citywide coverage.

I told the staff that I could do that, but only with their help. They had to question their staff to help find the great stories that are all around them.

At which point the hospital’s CEO said, “Frankly I’ve given up on the media. We just got a national award for our diabetic care. Not a single station or newspaper showed any interest.”

Of course not. That story is dead on arrival.

To understand what the media wants, you first have to understand how it works.

You Have A Story!

August 25th, 2009

This morning I mentioned to a physician client that my son just entered USC’s “Business of Cinema” program.

He said, “You have to be young to be in movies these days. Video is changing so fast it’s overwhelming.”

“No joke,” I said. “When I was in TV news my goal was to make pictures look like reality. I’d walk out of one frame and into the next…obey the rules of continuity. Now TV news stories are a kaleidoscope…just random jump cuts. Some stories even have music and special effects. There’s not even the pretense of faking reality.”

“What happened?”

Getting National Attention

July 27th, 2009

I have a very clever client.

He’s just published the first heart disease prevention book ever for preschoolers. I wrote a press release, made some calls, and got him some local exposure. But, frankly, not as much coverage as I hoped.

His solution? He demanded I press the national media.

And there, we got lots of response….from USA Today, CBS Morning News, Fox News Network, and other national outlets.  It’s counterintuitive but a poor local story can make a great national story (and vice-versa).

You can get national media attention…with the right story.  Here’s what the networks, national magazines, and newspapers of record are looking for:

National outlets have to appeal to audiences of all ages and ethnicities. The illness or condition you pitch has to appeal to them all. For all practical purposes that means stories about obesity, sexuality, stress, exercise, nutrition, heart disease and perhaps a few other very broad topics.  Besides the heart disease book, other personal example that worked would be “off label prescription drugs that help you lose weight,” and “how Botox can help your complexion.”

  • Very Strong Human Interest Component

You have to be able to offer a compelling patient for the story. National producers on daily schedules don’t have time to find these patients themselves. You have to provide them and they have to be telegenic.  Eg I put a reproductive doc on CBS AM News (about a new form of IVF) but the producer did the story only because the couple involved was so attractive and articulate

  • Skews Young

For the record, this is something I hate but it’s a fact of life. The national media is now obsessed with attracting younger viewers. They’re the only ones advertisers will pay for. (NBC for example couldn’t care less Leno is losing to Letterman; he kills Letterman in younger viewers.)

The bottom line is the first question I’m always asked at the national level is: “How old are the patients this affects?” If the story skews over 65, it’s often a non-starter. No matter how good, or deserving, the story is.

  • Very Topical

National media loves health angles on larger stories e.g. the ridiculous health tie-ins to the Michael Jackson story. The networks did endless stories on vitiligo, scalp burns, prescription drug abuse, plastic surgery addiction, racial identity, anything that let them keep talking about Jackson. Another example would be national attention we got for a dentist who treated a Hurricane Katrina victim for free. If you can pitch a creative angle to a national story as it happens, you’ll receive countrywide attention.

If you have a story that meets some of these requirements. here are some tips when you contact the national media:

  •  Avoid Any Local References

For example, that producer in New York doesn’t care if your orthopedic surgeon just became the first in Chicago to use a new hip implant. Save that line for your local paper.

Focus on the universal importance of that new implant to everyone, no matter where they live.

  • Practice Your First Sentence

Once you get that jaded twenty-something “Today Show” (or other) producer on the phone, you have a single sentence to get their attention. Make it count. That sentence has to make that producer go “huh?” Examples are “I have news about a diet that can make you pregnant,” “A new study shows Botox can actually be used to treat someone’s acne!” or “Many dentists are now treating gum disease to prevent obesity!” In general that first sentence should be the banner you put on your Press Release. Only then, when that producer knows she may have story, should you identify who you are and who you represent.

  • Know Your Shows

Different national shows like different stories eg Oprah is all female problems and all about emotion. You have to have an emotional patient. The “Today” show prides itself on being topical. That’s a great place to pitch if you can tie-in to a national breaking story (same with the New York Times.) Fox News (unfortunately) is all about sex and medical oddities. They also like patriotic stories (eg I sold Fox a PTSD treatment story).

  • Don’t Forget The Internet!

Recently I placed a story that’s been translated into five languages, seen nationwide, and was the lead story on a medical news show. And all without any coverage by the national  mainstream media. The story simply became viral on the internet. If you Googled it you’d see dozens of references this story. What’s more to my client, a plastic surgeon, this coverage is even more important than mainstream coverage. Why? Because almost all his patients do their homework. They Google his name when they’re looking for a provider…and they learn that he gets worldwide attention.

This level of exposure has been a real learning experience for me personally. I’m (perhaps belatedly) discovering I can help my clients without getting them on traditional media. Public relations has become a whole new ballgame.

  • Be Patient

You may not hear from a network show for weeks.  It’s just the way national media works these days. Everything is by committee and all ideas have to percolate to the top for approval. It’s a slow process but once the story is green-lighted, you’d think the Space Shuttle had exploded. They have to do the story immediately. There’s an almost comic sense of urgency. You just have to smile and go with it.

You may disagree with the results, but there is certain logic to what the national media covers. Better to understand it…because you’re not likely to be the exception.

Pardon this but: Choose the right “pitch” and you’re far more likely to hit a media “home run”



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Health Care Reform: Why Doctors Personalities May Never Be The Same

July 24th, 2009

A high price buys the best….unless you’re looking for medical care. In that case cost and quality are on separate planets.

We hear that message a lot from the supporters of health care reform. They praise the Mayo Clinic, Cleveland Clinic, and other models of efficiency.

But if those models become the norm, we’ll be seeing a different breed of physician…for better and worse.

I’ve seen that breed for myself. I first visited the Mayo Clinic twenty years ago when, as a medical reporter in the Twin Cities, I travelled to nearby Rochester. Everyone knew it was the best hospital in America: I wanted viewers to know it was also among the cheapest. (Some difference I made! This is still news to almost everyone.)

By the way, do you know just why the Mayo Clinic is one of the country’s least expensive hospitals? The answer has nothing to do with good medicine.

How The Health Care System Contributed To Michael Jackson’s Death

June 26th, 2009


                                 “The Rich Are Different From You And Me.”

                                                                                                                                                            F. Scott Fitgerald


That’s true when it comes to health care. And not always for the better.

Just look at Michael Jackson .  Jackson was rich…and because of it he received inappropriate care that ultimately killed him.

We’re now learning the pop star received daily doses of Demerol from his personal live-in doctor. Family members say yesterday that doctor “injected too much” and Jackson collapsed. (The LAPD is now on a manhunt for that doctor as I write.)

Everything about the pop star’s treatment was wrong and unethical. The mutilating plastic surgeries, the refusal to confront his apparent pedophilia, the overprescribing for “stress” and other ailments.

It’s fair to say that Jackson’s “medical” care helped kill him. All because fawning, parasitic physicians were willing to give the unbalanced star any treatment he desired.  

I once knew a famous transplant surgeon who treated former Senator Hubert Humphrey and other national celebrities. He always claimed “Celebrities get the worst medical care of all.” His argument was that fearful doctors treated celebrities “by committee.” The problem was (like Aesop’s fox with too many plans of escape) the docs wasted precious time nervously debating the best course of treatment while the patient just continued to deteriorate.

I know. This is the exception. Rich people live longer and a main reason they do is because they have access to better health care. The rich are “different” there as well.

Just look at Steve Jobs. He effectively bought his liver transplant. The national transplant registry encourages patients to get on transplant lists in as many regions of the country as possible. But that’s just not practical for most of us: insurers will only pay for the extensive pre-transplant work-up at a single hospital. So in reality most hopeful recipients are on a single waiting list in the region where they live.

Not Steve Jobs. He spent the money for work-ups at hospitals nationwide and ultimately got a transplant at Methodist University Hospital in Memphis. This loophole for the rich is typical, perfectly legal…and totally unethical.

Which reminds me of Ernest Hemingway’s rejoinder to Fitzgerald’s observation about the rich. “Yes,” said Hemingway, “They have more money.” And as Mark Twain said, “When it comes to money, more is better.”

Unless you’re Michael Jackson. Then you get the worst health care of all.


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