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I once heard someone say that the only thing better than owning a boat is having a friend who owns one. The notion of course, being that one doesn’t have to own that which he needs in order to have a good time – he just needs to have a friend who does.

And whether the subject be that of a boat, a vacation home, a babysitter, or anything in between, we all understand that those within our closest of circles offer us benefits beyond the kinship and camaraderie which may have drawn us together in the first place.

And there is no place in which this holds truer than in business.

Relationship – er, friendship – is an important component in business dealings because it is a conduit to the trust and rapport necessary in order to rely on one another. It can provide access to sales, referrals, and exposure because of this level of trust. You purchase from your equipment dealer because you trust them. Your physician referral sources send patients to you because of the same. And it is often these relationships that allow those from one market (e.g., equipment sales) to reach the audience of another (e.g., physical therapy patients).

For physical therapists in private practice, our pursuit of the highly coveted consumer market is on the perpetual rise, and because of this it is important for us to leverage relationships which can help us reach the consumer in efficient and powerful ways. Relationships with the media is one such method, and one that is largely untapped by healthcare providers in most markets – physical therapists included.
In this article, I will discuss how to cultivate and leverage friendships with the media in a manner which can expose your physical therapy practice to your local consumer market, and without spending for more than a cup of coffee in most cases.

Treat the media like a referral source.

The first rule in engaging the media is to realize that they shouldn’t be treated any different than your referral sources. A media outlet is just another organization – much like any physician group that sends patients your way – and within the organization there are a number of contacts to which you’ll want to be close.

The contacts are typically writers or editors, and they – like professional referral sources – see a high volume of solicitations each day. Media solicitations traditionally take the form of story ideas and press releases, many of which promote a story, product or service which is self-serving in nature to the submitter.

Standing apart from the masses is achieved through the relationship. A personal relationship with the writer or editor can go a long way toward receiving consideration for publication of a story idea or press release. This relationship is best started through community networking and introduction, however it can also start with a phone call to the editor to learn more about their needs and how you may be able to help them.

Writers and editors are paid to produce good content, and are on the constant lookout for resources that can help them do just this. A simple offer to meet for coffee to discuss their column, or previous articles they have published can be the beginnings to a foot-in-the-door to a relationship which can provide mutual benefit.

Give more than you take.

The media owes you nothing, and is not in the business of promoting you or your practice – the advertising department gladly accepts payment for such purposes. As such, if you approach a media contact with a press release or story idea that is overtly self-promotional in nature, you’ll likely get no play and may put any relationship or goodwill you’ve achieved in jeopardy.

The media is in the business of storytelling. They tell stories as they deliver news to the consumer audience, and infuse within their publications the elements necessary to tell the story. By positioning yourself or practice as a component of a larger story of broad community interest, you provide the media with opportunities to make references which may serve you well, while avoiding overt promotion.

The practice which specializes in spine care or ergonomics may serve as a content expert on a larger story about the prevalence of work-related injuries in the community, and may easily be afforded the opportunity to show value to the community through a few key quotes in a local newspaper article. Contrasted with an attempt to gain media attention by promoting the addition of new equipment or services to your practice, and it is easy to see who would receive the value of such media attention (and which is less likely to happen).

Have an objective.

When establishing relationships with the media, have an objective in mind and know the position you are seeking.

General objectives appropriate to a media relations strategy include awareness, position, and lead generation. Awareness is typically measured in impressions, or the number of times a key phrase (such as the name of you or your practice) is seen or heard. While difficult to measure with a high level of certainty, impressions can be estimated if media distribution can be obtained from the media outlet.

Position is achieved by juxtaposing your solution with an issue or problem known to be of broad community interest. In the example above, the practice is positioned as a solution for those with spine-related injury from their work environment.

Lead generation is also fair game in a media relations strategy, and in the presence of a trustworthy relationship with the writer or editor, a phone number or web address can be easily added to media mentions in order to provide the community with resources relevant to the problem addressed in the story.

Make their life easy, and make them look good.

Writers and editors are just as busy as we are, and anything that can be done to make their life easy (and make them look good) can earn easy favor. When pitching story ideas or press releases, be clear and concise, allowing the recipient to easily understand how you or the story can be used to produce good content. Press releases should not be more than a page in length, and should clearly identify a known problem, and how you provide a solution that is of broad community interest.

Knowing whether your media contacts need to use you as an expert resource or are looking for story ideas that will help them produce good content, is important to understanding how you can make their life easy and show them the most value. Oftentimes writers and editors are looking for both, and having a good relationship can serve you both well in this circumstance.

Relationships with media can be of the most powerful available within private practice physical therapy, especially where direct links to the consumer are of particular importance. By understanding the media and developing relationships which provide solutions to their needs, the private practice owner can receive the benefit of community exposure at a minimal expense. The result of such relationships can provide great value to the media, community, and the practice owner – a trifecta which is easily attainable by anyone able to develop the relationships necessary to make it happen.