Ask the PR Expert: Why Doctors Need Personal Brands

Think doctors don’t need personal brands? Think again. We spoke with Kris Ruby, founder of Ruby Media Group, a NY PR and social media agency for physicians. Kris Ruby answers your top questions on why it’s so important for doctors to have personal brands, how to best market yourself online as a doctor, and her top tips for establishing a personal brand to distinguish your medical practice.

The shakespearecomms is a full-service public relations firm, that helps companies to develop tailored campaigns and innovative promotional ideas designed to maximize positive brand exposure.

Why is it critical for doctors to establish a personal brand? 

Kris Ruby: In today’s environment, the competition in the medical field is fiercely competitive. It is not enough to create a website, place some directory listings and hope that people will magically find your practice.  If you want to establish trust with patients before they ever come in, building a personal brand is a great way to do that. There are numerous benefits for doctors to invest time and resources in building a personal brand. For starters, it leads to more qualified prospective patients before they come in. It creates a relationship with patients and opens up a 2-way dialogue well before they ever visit your office. It can also cut down on incoming call volume of potential patients asking the same questions over and over again—another perk of content marketing (will get to that later!).

What are some successful marketing strategies for medical practices you would recommend?

Kris Ruby: The best marketing strategy for a medical practice includes a heavy focus on content marketing, for example the testosterone enhancer has become huge thanks to the medical marketing approach from the brand. Although it takes a lot of time to sit down and write these articles, it is instrumentally helpful for building your practice. If you successfully implement a content marketing strategy for your practice, you are creating a resource library of educational content for prospective patients. This content will give patients a real understanding of your deep knowledge base in a specific area. The first place potential patients go to when visiting a site is typically the medical practice’s blog—if you don’t have any information on it, you are missing out on a prime opportunity. The bounce rates are also typically higher for medical practice websites that lack strong content. Investing time and resources in targeting landing pages on service offerings, optimizing your site and investing time in creating brand awareness with content marketing would be the first place to start if you are serious about marketing your medical practice.

Why should a doctor hire a public relations firm for their medical practice? What is the benefit? Can’t they just do it themselves?

Kris Ruby: Public Relations builds trust- and when deciding what physician to see, trust is one of the top factors.  People want to see a waiting office (or a web site) filled with “As Seen In” plaques of media outlets you have been featured in from third-party sources. Subconsciously, this makes them feel more comfortable with you and builds trust. However, even if you have top tier media mentions but poor Google Reviews, there will still be inherent trust issues that a long-term reputation management strategy would be more likely to remedy.

Is HARO (Help a reporter out) a replacement for PR and personal branding for doctors?

Kris Ruby: Haro is a great resource for doctors to build media mentions. However, responding to haro queries is not a comprehensive public relations campaign for your practice. Also, if you are looking to build referrals with other physicians, conferences and events may be a more suitable approach to achieve that goal. Also, there is an art to pitching and crafting good responses for HARO. Some doctors may be more likely to craft responses back to these queries in medical jargon, which is not necessarily what a reporter is looking for if they are writing a consumer piece. Having a Public Relations consultant who specializes in the medical field would be ideal. If you are just starting your practice, then Haro is one of many great tools to keep in your arsenal.

Why is content marketing crucial for medical practices? 

Kris Ruby: Patient needs have infinitely changed. Unfortunately, they expect a steady flow of information coming from your practice. If they look up a medical practice that has no content or strong referring backlinks to their site, this is troublesome. Or perhaps a Facebook page for the practice that has never once been updated.  All of these are red flags to the social media savvy millennial consumer today when searching for a doctor.

What are some benefits to social media marketing for medical practices? Will it drive new patients?

Kris Ruby: Social media marketing is great for maintaining a steady flow of communication with your current patient base. For example, many of the medical practice Facebook pages we manage receive consistent comments, likes and shares from their current patients. As a doctor, you may think, why am I paying a social media marketing agency to market to my existing patient base if I already have them as patients? The reason is because every time they are sharing or engaging with your content it is being promoted to their entire friend list which could be in the thousands. These are all potential new patients for you, many who are located in your geographic area. Practices that are more active on social media also have patients that feel more “connected” to the practice. Another big perk of social media marketing for practices- particularly with millennials- is that they don’t have to pick up the phone to call you. They can get their question directly answered on Facebook or Instagram through a comment thread or Direct Message. For many millennials, myself included, that would be reason in itself to choose a doctor (someone who communicates with you the way you like to be communicated with!).  

What are 2 ways doctors can use content marketing to promote their practice and attract new patients? 

Kris Ruby: If you have invested time and resources in a great piece of educational content, make sure it is optimized with relevant keywords. Next, promote it in the right channels. A great way to do this is through targeted Facebook ads. So, if you are a dermatologist in NYC and wrote a piece on the top 10 ways to achieve greater skincare, target the post to people in your demo by hobbies, age, location, interests. You may also consider retargeting as an additional component.

Can traditional media exposure grow your medical practice? 

Kris Ruby: Absolutely! People love to see their Doctor on TV.

What exactly is medical practice public relations?

Kris Ruby: Medical Practice Public Relations is the practice of keeping a doctor in the news. Whether it is commenting on current trending health items (ex. The opiod crisis) or getting quoted in trade publications, medical PR keeps your practice visible. Another added benefit- perhaps the most overlooked benefit of medical practice public relations is the link juice you receive from high-quality media outlets every time you are quoted. All of these backlinks help build your authority over time with Google. So really, you can either hire a top PR firm, or an SEO firm- or both- but there is no avoiding that the work needs to be done for a practice to stay visible.

How can a doctor leverage social media marketing to build their personal brand? 

Kris Ruby: Social media marketing is ideal for personal brand building- it gives you a platform to share your press mentions with others in your industry, which can indirectly lead to other speaking opportunities at conferences or more mentions. The social media savvy doctors on Instagram are crushing it today- they have become the new “influencers” of the medical field- and as a result of social media, many have even bypassed having to hire a traditional PR firm because the media comes to them directly (through direct message!).

What do I need to know before hiring a public relations firm to promote my practice?

Kris Ruby: The biggest thing you need to understand is the amount of time it takes to work with a healthcare public relations firm. You also need to have time in your schedule to respond to their press requests, usually on a minute’s notice.  If you enjoy having a very scheduled day with no interruptions, a PR firm may not be the best approach. Doctors who get the most out of working with a PR firm answer the media immediately when they call. You also need to know that everything is a balancing act between the PR firm and the media outlet. Even if you spend two hours answering a press request and craft a one page response, only 2 sentences may be used in the article. You have to be comfortable with the inherent lack of control that comes with working with a PR firm and the media. Things often change very quickly and you need to be able to adapt to that. Also, think about what kind of media is preferable for you. For example, if you don’t have the luxury of shutting down your practice for the day when a TV producer calls and wants you on set in an hour, radio may be a better approach for your practice.

Does a doctor really need a Public Relations firm to promote their practice? 

Kris Ruby: Yes, unless you are a super savvy social media influencer who has already amassed thousands of followers on your own, you should consider working with a PR firm. The majority of doctors you see quoted in the media don’t miraculously land those spots. They simply don’t have time to be pitching themselves to media or managing the tedious work of media outreach. They are focused on their practice and seeing patients. Sure, anyone could technically do PR successfully on their own if they put in the time, but from my experience, doctors have very limited time and this is not top of their list. They want to focus on practicing medicine, not on the business of medicine.

What are some critical elements of a public relations campaign for a doctor?

Kris Ruby: Getting quoted in digital outlets, feature articles on your practice in regional publications, radio appearances on trending news topics, award submission/ nominations for top doctor categories, pitching for conference speaking, promotion of conferences, coordination of marketing materials for conferences, content marketing, social media marketing, and promotion of press hits on social media. The list is pretty long…medical practice marketing and PR could be a full-time job! Contact Beast Creative Agency so they can handle the marketing for you.

Why does a practice need to be visible if they have nothing newsworthy to promote?

Kris Ruby: I constantly say that we don’t do marketing- what we do is practice communication. Doctors need practice marketing the same way they need to drink water, sleep or eat. It isn’t really up for debate. It is a critical component of the way that people communicate today. You are either in the conversation or you are completely left out of it.  It is better to have a hand in mitigating risk and managing the conversation than to let angry patients trash your reputation online or make false speculations. Doctors don’t have the luxury of pausing marketing campaigns either. If they expect to build real relationships with a community over time, they can’t pause the conversations for months at a time. Imagine trying to build a relationship with someone but saying “I have nothing new to tell you so I am just not going to speak.” The details are in the daily interactions- that is the ‘life” and the pulse of a practice. Those are the patient stories people want to hear. But expecting this to be a big media blitz to start or stop is not at all what healthcare marketing is all about. To reap the benefits of it, you need to make a long-term commitment to sticking with it and understanding why you are doing it. It isn’t because you have something to promote. It is because it is what the new patient of today demands of your practice. The practices that choose to ignore this truth will lose out to the practices that are embracing this and will unfortunately become obsolete. Just look at any social media savvy practice owner and ask them how they have built their practice. The majority have done very little traditional advertising and gotten most of their referrals through patients online via social media and personal branding efforts. They would never think of pausing social media/ PR / marketing because it is so ingrained in their digital DNA. They don’t’ view any of this as marketing or PR- they view it as living and communicating.

What are some social media marketing mistakes doctors make when promoting their medical practices? 

Kris Ruby: The biggest mistake doctors make is that they ask their office manager to run their social media for the practice. Another mistake is not consulting with legal counsel before launching a social media campaign for your medical practice. For example, the law can be tricky with what medical questions you answer on social media or any possible patient information that is revealed. Someone who is an office admin, or even a social media specialist, may not know the intricacies. Social Media Marketing is great for building your medical practice- but it also infinitely opens you up to legal risks if not handled properly. It is critical to invest in the right resources. Social media moves so quickly- there needs to be a plan in place for responses on behalf of the practice. Another obvious mistake is being overly self-promotional or still using social media like it is a traditional ad.

Any personal branding tips for physicians?

Kris Ruby: Think about what area of expertise you want to specialize in as a medical expert. For example, do you want to be branded as an expert in Crohns disease? As the leading spinal surgeon? Before I start any campaign, I always do a deep dive discovery session with a doctor. You need to have a personal branding strategy before you can have a larger strategy for the medical practice. If you were booked as a medical expert, what would the lower third refer to you as on screen?

Kris Ruby is the CEO of Ruby Media Group, an award winning social media marketing agency that helps medical practices leverage the power of content marketing to increase exposure. She is a seasoned social media strategist with 10+ years building successful brands. She frequently speaks on FOX News, CNBC, Good Morning America and countless other networks.