Optometry schools don’t teach media relations, but these tips will help you interest news hounds s

BY Zach Zavoral

Published in the September-October 2-14 issue

Owners of every business size want free publicity, and eyecare practitioners are no different. Unfortunately, you probably don’t know much about media relations (also called public relations). Let’s fix that.

First, you need to understand what an editor or producer looks for in a story. A media outlet runs stories based on what their “gatekeeper” wants to run. For newspapers and magazines, that’s an editor; for TV stations, that’s the news director; and for radio, that’s the producer. Depending on the media outlet you’re targeting, what the gatekeepers want could vary. But generally speaking, media gatekeepers are looking for a story that is newsworthy.

What is the definition of newsworthiness? Think of topics that are both timely and relevant to the media outlet’s audience. Your story should also be unique. Your eyecare practice’s grand opening may be life changing for you, but — unless your business is truly the first of its kind in town — it isn’t unique.

However, if you can make something unique out of that grand opening, then you might have something newsworthy. A grand opening with free exams and an open unicycle riding competition in the parking lot? That will grab some headlines (and plenty of new patients). Plus, that particular idea wouldn’t cost much money; it’s cheaper than most one-week newspaper ads and you might even get a local radio station to broadcast live from the event.

Beyond creative events, always keep your mind open for anything newsworthy. Health care news is important to local media outlets. The importance of back-to-school eye exams, reminders to use flex dollars and the potential pitfalls of buying eyewear online are just a few topics with timely “hooks” that could interest local news organizations.

When you have your story or event in mind, search for the “Contact Us” page on the media outlet’s website to make your pitch. What has worked best for me is starting with a simple email, with whatever makes the story unique and local in the subject line. Here’s an example: What (your town or region) parents need to know about the new eyecare benefit for kids. In the email itself, focus on the news angle. Don’t sound like a business looking for free publicity; sound like a helpful local citizen giving the media the scoop on a hot story.

A few days after sending the email, follow up with a phone call to confirm that the media outlet received the email. Be prepared to discuss your story when you make that call; if you get the right person on the phone, they might ask you a few questions and give you the opportunity to pitch your story right then and there. The business owner or a top staff member should make these calls.

Be sure to take a wide view of media outlets. Small, free-distribution publications for parents, senior citizens or your business’ immediate neighborhood are often ideal audiences for your stories. And because specialty publications, community blogs and radio stations are often overlooked by businesses seeking PR, your chances of reaching these media gatekeepers can be greater than when you contact the major news outlets in your area.

You mainly want publicity to help build your patient base and reputation, but you might occasionally come across a rare eye condition of interest to a wider audience. If that happens, ask the patient whether they’d be willing to talk about it. News outlets far and wide will eat up your rare optical case, especially if the patient agrees to be interviewed.

Finally, the key to PR is to treat media personnel like royalty. If it feels like you’re kissing up to them, you’re probably on the right track — and any loss of ego you experience will be instantly reversed when your business nets a feature story on the evening news.

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