Sometimes I describe my job as a high-level matchmaker in the natural products industry. Companies approach me to help them get more exposure for their products to increase awareness, and health experts request my services to promote their book, practice or visibility with the public. Matching the expertise of a health professional with a quality company and product can produce mutually beneficial results for everyone involved. The product gets a credible, third-party voice to explain why it’s needed and how to use it, while the health expert gains a publicist and a purpose to his or her media campaign.
Without each other, the product and the expert may not have a sustainable publicity program. For the company, they can only get so much exposure on a new product or study. Once it’s been reported, then what? For the experts, they can only get so much exposure for themselves or a new book, then what? However, when a company and expert come together, you combine both purpose and passion through ongoing storytelling that a good publicist can provide.
Once you’ve decided to engage a health expert for a publicity campaign, how do you choose the right one? Do you pick based on title alone? Selecting a medical spokesperson for a publicity campaign is not the same as selecting a physician for your next physical. In fact, some qualities that make a person a great doctor, make them a horrible spokesperson, and vice versa. What television producers and reporters are looking for in a health expert is surprisingly not the logical attributes a company may even consider when choosing a representative for their product.
I would definitely choose a cardiologist to be my doctor if I had a heart attack, but once I was working with a primo cardiologist on a vitamin K2 publicity campaign, scored him a spot on the “Today” show and then he told me he was “very sorry” but he couldn’t make it to the interview. You can only imagine what my client’s response was to this news.
Here are five top attributes to look for when choosing a medical spokesperson to represent your supplement or ingredient for multimedia, broadcast interviews:
Television interviews can be demanding on your schedule because you literally have to show up somewhere at an inconvenient time, hair-, makeup- and wardrobe-ready, often with visuals and all for a three- to five-minute interview. Is it worth it? Yes, because no one can underestimate the value of connecting an audience with a real person who is sharing the spotlight with your product. But here’s the catch: That incredibly brilliant doctor who you call your spokesperson, needs to be willing to leave his or her busy practice and patients. See the issue? Is that doctor willing to leave a lucrative practice or busy hospital to go rushing off to CNN with less than 24-hour notice? A good doctor will always put patients before media interviews. Therefore, the most ideal spokesperson is the retired doctor who has dedicated his or her career to writing, speaking, consulting and being a go-to media expert on all things health. The second-best spokesperson is the physician who sees patients part-time and sets aside ample availability to devote to media engagements. Both of these options trump any superstar doctor who is loaded up with patient appointments. From a publicist’s perspective, getting at least 50 percent of an expert’s schedule to use for media opportunities is necessary or there will be a minimal level of return on investment from the client’s perspective.
If you are going to talk about being healthy, you better look the part. Think about it, if you have a prestigious doctor discussing weight-loss tips but he has a beer belly, who is going to believe what’s coming out of his mouth? Most people are only going to be thinking about what’s going into his mouth, and then your message is lost.
Beyond looking healthy, appearance in general is important and spending the money to look good before a TV interview should be in everyone’s budget. Your spokesperson is going to be on set under bright lights and projected on high-definition TV with some of the most beautiful people in journalism: anchors. Male or female, these news anchors spend time every day in a stylist chair for makeup, hair and wardrobe. Unless you are scheduled for a national TV appearance, these services will not be available to your spokesperson, which is why you will often hear producers say to come “camera ready.” That means do your own hair, makeup, wardrobe and oh, by the way, look fabulous. The do-it-yourself approach to hair and makeup does not compare to what a professional can do to get you ready for the spotlight. So whenever possible, allow for this expense and encourage your spokesperson to purchase the right clothes and schedule grooming before an on-camera appearance. Because most audiences are attracted to good-looking people, producers are looking for someone who will catch the viewer’s eye.
I once worked on a project for an organic food company with a celebrity chef. She had a book, a popular restaurant in Los Angeles, CA and an A-list clientele including Pierce Brosnan and Billy Bob Thornton. You would think that would be enough material to get her on a local FOX TV affiliate in Los Angeles, but no, the producer asked me what the chef looked like and to send her pictures before committing to the interview. Luckily, the chef passed the test thanks to quality imagery, which is why investing in professional headshots is also critical to getting your spokesperson on air.
Whenever I’m coaching an expert for media interviews, I tell them they have to do three things in three minutes, and in this order: entertain, educate and pitch. A bad interview is one that starts out with a pitch. You should never do this or you will not be asked back. A boring interview is one that starts out with a ton of facts and information. Producers always fear this, which is why, especially when I’m pitching a physician, scientist, PhD or other health professional, they always ask for clips of other interviews that person has conducted. They are not checking to see how brilliant the person is—they could see that on paper. Rather, they are checking to see if the expert is lively, fun, engaging, quick, down-to-earth, relatable and knows how to answer questions, not just give lectures. I’ve had national television producers ready to book medical experts based on topic and expertise, but then see a clip they don’t like and it doesn’t go through. Producers have told me that certain doctors or other health experts are too flat, low energy or stuffy. A lot of this comes down to individual personality, so it can be really challenging to coach someone to be more entertaining, especially if the doctor has little interest with being in the spotlight in the first place. How do you find an entertaining doctor? At the next conference cocktail party you attend, notice which doctors attract people to them and keep an audience captivated, while laughing and smiling. Most doctors can put on a show during a conference lecture and appear to be entertaining. You want the doctor who is naturally charismatic and stands out in crowded room.
A common personality trait that every great spokesperson has is confidence, and love of the spotlight. I, for one, do not share this same love and would much rather be situated behind the scenes, off camera sharing my expertise in an article, audio flash briefing or pitching someone else to be on camera.
When I first started out in my career, I was the weekly health and fitness correspondent for a local ABC TV affiliate as part of my public relations director role at an international fitness center chain. It was great promotion for the club, but I did not enjoy doing it and would never watch any of my own segments, as I’m too hypercritical of myself, especially on camera. You don’t want your spokesperson to be nervous or self-conscious on camera. You want your spokesperson to watch his or her own segments to continually improve, and most importantly, you want a spokesperson who is self-confident and thrives in the spotlight, as this makes him or her more entertaining and a better promoter for your product.
I talk about availability, attractiveness, entertaining and confidence before credibility because usually people think the reverse is true when securing the right spokesperson for a publicity campaign. Credibility is important but there’s no need to go overboard for broadcast media. You don’t need to engage with the top internist, cardiologist, cancer specialist or immunologist to speak on behalf of your product when it comes to most broadcast interviews. I always recommend saving these experts for print interviews, where being on-camera is not required and there may be more flexibility with time. Journalists who write health stories tend to go deep into research and then break down the information for their readers. They need intelligent experts who are able to go beyond the surface of the health issue and give them something new that they may not find in an Internet search.
TV producers, on the other hand, just need the spokesperson to be smart because they are more concerned about the expert speaking in basic sound bites and layman’s terms on a subject matter in three to five minutes. They are looking for credentials but not necessarily a medical doctor. In fact, many national outlets hire their own physicians to serve exclusively as their medical correspondents to cover health news, so it can be more difficult to get a medical doctor on air because you are competing with the station’s own staff of physicians. If your expert is someone they don’t have, like a pharmacist, who can discuss drug interactions with supplements, for example, it is a major plus. There are other titles producers are intrigued with these days: holistic, naturopathic, nutritionist, metabolic, natural health and fitness experts. Yes, on paper a medical doctor may seem to bring your brand heightened credibility, but on camera if that physician is not available, attractive, entertaining, smart in a sound bite or lacks confidence on camera, it doesn’t matter how brilliant he or she is, you may never get your publicity campaign front and center in the spotlight. NIE
Amy Summers launched Pitch Publicity in 2003 in the face of a rapidly changing climate for communication and media relations. She has 20 years of experience working with major clients in the natural products industry to increase visibility and exposure to targeted audiences through national publicity exposure across all mass media outlets, high-level fundraising campaigns and developing key strategic communication strategies. She serves on the board of directors of the University of Florida Alumni Association and the University of Florida College of Journalism and Communications Public Relations Advisory Council. Pitch Publicity is based in New York, NY. Receive free daily pitch tips from “The Pitch with Amy Summers” flash briefing on Amazon’s Alexa, Google Play, iTunes and Podbean: www.PitchPublicityNYC.com/ThePitch. For more information, visit www.pitchpublicitynyc.com.