Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Advice on Marketing a Natural/Alternative Cancer Clinic in Central America

By Ned Barnett

I was asked by a colleague for advice on how to get publicity for a cancer treatment center in Central America that uses a natural/alternative form of therapy. This represents several challenges - the medical establishment, a lack of a specific news hook, and indifference from the mainstream consumer media. My recommendations are based on my significant experience in this market, and can be applied to any alternative therapy product or treatment.


You’re going up against the medical establishment, and that’s not easy. After more than two decades working for conventional medicine (hospitals, MDs, etc.) I branched out in ’94 and began working with natural and alternative healthcare providers (including the makers of supplements). I was PR director for Citizens for Health – among other things (in the last days before email), we put two million letters on Congressmen and Senators’ desks in two weeks – each individually written (these weren’t form letters) and got the Health Freedom Act of 1994 passed and signed – that’s the law that allows you to function today with alternative health treatment based on natural herbs. I also launched HealthWorld Online – then and now the largest natural and alternative healthcare site on the Internet. I’ve worked with a number of other natural and alternative health clients. I mention all that to mention this: my advice to you is based on more than 15 years of experience in this general marketplace.

First, the national mainstream media is predisposed to stand in opposition to you. They credit American-born (or at least American-trained) MD medical doctors (even osteopathic DOs are suspect, although they have the same license to practice as allopathic MDs) at the expense of all others. Central American cancer cures and cancer clinics are especially the butt of scorn and bad jokes – you may not remember Laetrile (made from apricot pits) that in the late 60s and early/mid 70s offered hope and early graves to thousands of late-stage terminal cancer patients, but the media remembers.

So understand going in that you’re fighting an up-hill battle; a guerilla battle to set yourself apart from other natural/alternative healthcare solutions (because yours works), and to do that, before you can even fight the battle, you have to create the weapons.

Try this:

First, get as much coverage as you possibly can from the natural and alternative healthcare publications, websites and other media (there are some natural/alterative healthcare and lifestyle radio stations or programs, too). In that coverage, do everything you can to emphasize the German tie-in and minimize the Central American tie-in. There will be a time (see below) when you can leverage these clips into coverage.

Network out with the Whole Life Expo crowd (speaking engagements and booths at shows) to gain further credibility; when you’re there, see if you can get LOCAL interviews on radio, local TV or in local newspapers – the “local” hook (and the fact that Whole Life Expos and similar events are also often advertisers) will get you the first clips from the mainstream. If you do radio or TV, capture those digitally so you can later use them in your client’s website press room – and get screen-captures of the clips, as the local media won’t keep them online forever, but you can.

Next, to begin to reach out to the mainstream media, create news. They don’t care that you claim an improbable (to them) cancer treatment – but they’ll cover newsworthy events (maybe).

To do this, stage events that bring together satisfied (survivor) clients with those suffering from or fearful of cancer – in a format where the satisfied former patients can give their personal testimonials (believe me, they’ll love to do that – this has changed their lives, and they can’t help it any more than a reformed smoker can help being a self-righteous PITA around still-smokers). You can have an “alter call” at the end, a time when those looking for hope, help and a change in their prognosis can come forward and sign up for appointments for pre-qualifying exams. Shoot straight – let them know what’s involved, and you’ll have people flocking to you. Example: For a dentist client who wanted to do nothing but dental implants, I created the Mid-Cumberland Dental Implant Society (the Nashville area is known as the Mid-Cumberland, having to do with the Cumberland River that flows through Nashville). Every patient he’d ever had was automatically a member-for-life, and many of them would show up at meetings for potential patients to give their personal testimony. There’d be nurses and the dentist there, too, and here’s what we’d tell those potential patients:

“Dental implants are not covered by health insurance – a full set will cost you about $22,000. Dental implant surgery is painful – you’re going to hurt, and there’s a limited amount that we can do to mitigate the pain while you’re healing. However, when you’re healed and the implants are in place, you’ll be able to eat anything you like – apples, steaks – anything at all.” Our approach was a cross between educational seminar and tent revival meeting. Our target was people with money and dentures, and after they’d heard the testimonials, after they’d been told several times that it was both expensive and painful (facts which created trust), we had an alter call, and we only needed one of these events each quarter to keep that dentist’s practice full. You couldn’t beat them away with a stick – the hope of being able to eat something other than soup, ice-cream and baby food was irresistible.

Now, think about how much more important being healed of cancer is than being able to eat apples or steaks. Then hold these seminars, and invite the press. Record them on video, so the press doesn’t have to show up, but can still see the testimonials from real people (who’ll consent to interviews). You may have to do these a while before you get someone to actually cover you – but since these are great marketing tools that will bring in paying clients, you can probably afford the wait.

One more thing. Get someone to ghost-write under your client’s byline a book – “New Hope for Cancer Sufferers …” or something like that (I ghost-wrote a book called “New Hope for Cancer … (something)” about 22 years ago for a cancer surgeon who’d been a professor in a major New Jersey teaching hospital before moving to South Florida to practice medicine and practice golf – it was very helpful for his practice, so I know this works). People with cancer are desperate for hope – in spite of all the medical advances, the Big C is still seen as a death-sentence, and who among us hasn’t had loved ones or close friends die from cancer after enduring the most humiliating and painful treatments – radical mastectomies (or other ectomies), radiation and chemo that leave them wasted and thin, bald and hurting, vulnerable to other infections (including nosocomial infections, the ones you get while you’re in the hospital – which kill about 9% of all the people who die in hospitals). So hope for something that’s holistic and WORKS, something that lets you heal while vacationing in a tropical paradise … it doesn’t get better than that. And of course, books and authors can be promoted and the media will pay attention in a different way than they do about the treatment itself. Stage book-signing events that will also draw press coverage.

OK – so you’ve got lots of natural/alternative healthcare coverage, and a fair amount of local media coverage, you’ve got book reviews and the credibility of a (hopefully) best-selling author, and finally, you’ve got newsworthy events. With all of this, you’ll be as well-positioned as possible for generating mainstream media coverage. Absent this (or FDA approval – and I wouldn’t hold my breath, no matter what your client hopes), there’s not much reason for the media to cover you. With this, you’ll be hard to ignore.

I hope this helps. Good luck.