Making headlineson 2nd September 2019
Zac Fine emphasises the importance of a newsworthy story and how it can help your business
One of the reasons modern life can be so irritating is marketing. We veer between overwroughtness and apathy as this junk – the soundtrack and canvas of modern life – tries to hoover up our attention. And if we have learned to ignore the white noise and salvage some mental bandwidth, we have paid a price for it – cynicism. You only notice this after some time out. After I left for a meditation retreat, for example, stepping back into the mainstream world felt bizarre. A jumble of invasive pings, words and images vied for my attention from my phone, my car radio and roadside banners as I drove back into the system. In no time, though, I became desensitised again – and cynical.
But sometimes even cynicism doesn’t work. Presumably you too have felt that flash of despairing rage when something meaningful and important – an important piece of work, perhaps – was disrupted by some vapid marketing landing in your inbox. It takes, on average, 23 minutes to regain your concentration after it’s hijacked, and yet the inescapable fact is that if you own a business you too must do marketing to fuel it. Marketing will generate the customers and the revenue you need, but only if it’s handled with sensitivity. How can you be sure it won’t add to all that misery out there?
One way is to do something newsworthy so that someone or something else, a newspaper say, tells your story for you. That way you don’t come across as another shouty business hawking its wares. This feels different for the end user, who first of all chooses to buy the newspaper and then chooses to read the article, which is written by a third party they trust. They are bound to feel less cynical because they have come to this information, which has been subjected to editorial veracity checks, entirely by themselves.
For that reason, in the PR world, editorial is seen as three times better than advertising. If it costs you £500 for a half page ad in your local rag, the same half page of editorial would be seen as being worth £1,500. So how do you land some editorial? It takes a lot more thought than placing an ad. The first problem is that most dentists have little sense of what members of the public – and therefore editors – find interesting. It can’t be too technical or too jargon-heavy. It has to be relevant and make immediate sense to the average person on the street.
Often, when I have worked on press releases for dental practice owners, the client has urged me to scrap all traces of precisely that – known as colour or human interest – ensuring a final draft so dull and pompous that there’s no chance of it being picked up by any publication. There may be a paranoia among dentists about being caught out, either by the CQC for producing misleading (ie non-jargony) information or by peers for not seeming sciencey enough. If that sounds like you, with respect I would suggest you avoid PR because it will cause you too much anxiety.
If, however, you like thinking about how non-dentists perceive the industry then there might be something to be gained. There aren’t many dentists doing this and so if you are successful you will stand out a mile in your locality, and it’s a good time too – there has been a steady ramping up of media interest in dentistry for the past five years. Yes, many of the headlines have been horror stories about botched operations, dodgy facial aesthetics and the shameful state of children’s teeth, but that doesn’t matter. The fact is that dentistry has entered the news agenda and so editors will be grateful to receive a good story.
How, then, do you go about creating a newsworthy dental story? First of all, be authentic. Journalists receive hundreds of press releases a day and can easily sniff out cynical headline-grabbing ploys. You need something with legs that you can back up, so think about what your business stands for and what kind of message you want to send out. Not ‘we do great dentistry’ or, ‘we have a special deal on’. But something like ‘we hate how sugar / dementia / heart disease is affecting our community and so we’re doing this to help.’ Ideally, your story will touch on bigger stories that are already in the news, making it a no brainer for editors to run.
Our client David Murnaghan, principal at Boyne Dental & Implant Clinic, did a good job at this recently. He happened to share a car with fellow water polo player Michael Sheridan, 32, who showed him a full mouth of black, crumbling teeth. They had ruined his life, changing his personality and diet, and he was in pain and suffered abscesses. A while later Michael came in to see David for a consultation, and it was clear a full mouth clearance was needed. He was going to be getting married in late 2018.
The obvious solution for Michael’s budget was full dentures, but David felt that, being the same age, this was a terrible outcome for such a young man. He began looking at the story in a wider context: Michael’s addiction to Coca-Cola (five or six litres a day) seemed like an indictment on the Irish sugar habit, and the sugar tax was in the news; Michael was an extreme example of a problem that too many Irish people experienced: decay from sugar, poor oral hygiene and avoiding the dentist.
David asked his suppliers Bio Horizons and Gordon Watters Dental Laboratory in Belfast if they’d cover their end of a 12-implant treatment if he would cover his end. They would in return for some media coverage. David asked around and someone was interested in making a TV documentary. With four cameras on him – three from the documentary crew and one from the Meath Chronicle newspaper – David extracted 27 teeth in one sitting.
The Meath Chronicle story was picked up by national newspapers in Ireland, the UK and further afield, and then David and Michael were invited onto Claire Byrne Live, a primetime TV chat show on RTE2. They were also guests on Newstalk and RTE Radio 1, and were twice invited onto LMFM, the largest radio station in County Meath.
David had no media training but no matter because all he had to do was be himself and explain things in an open and honest way. There was no need to pump his business up, he simply linked Michael’s plight to the wider Irish phenomenon of high sugar consumption and poor dental attendance, dropping in a couple of statistics. And, crucially, he explained the treatment plan in layman’s terms – no jargon.
To his credit, David handled the rush of media interest with integrity. After the story broke he was approached by some of the national papers for an exclusive, but he allowed the Meath Chronicle to keep the story with a succession of banners, double page spreads and videos for its website. In doing so he kept a valuable mouthpiece in his catchment onside, and the nationals ran with it anyway, and there will be plenty more interest from all parties when Michael gets married this winter.
Clearly, David’s effort is going to be a difficult one to beat, but it just shows you what’s possible if you put yourself in you patients’ shoes and ask: how can I make a meaningful contribution to the public conversation?
Zac is content director at Fine Company, which delivers integrated, bespoke support packages that create outstanding results for dental practices. across planning, marketing, finance, buying/selling and interiors and exteriors. Zac spent seven years working on national newspapers and brings Fleet Street production values to content for the dental sector. His ability to imbue copy with brand personality enables practice owners to speak to patients with consistency across all platforms and break down the pervasive clinical jargon in dentistry for the benefit of patients.