Any Publicity Is Good Publicity

Scandals, Name Recognition Can Be Good for Business

The publicist’s time honored adage is that “no publicity is bad publicity.” And it turns out that this can be just as true for dentists as it is for rock stars and celebutantes.

It goes without saying that there are some scandals no one can successfully weather. The dentist involved in a scheme to plunder body parts for cash (including the remains of Masterpiece Theater’s Alistair Cooke) didn’t do himself any favors. There’s no bouncing back from certain crimes like murder or sexual abuse. (Genocide and human trafficking are also no-nos!)

As long as you don’t violate any cultural taboos, however, getting your name in the news can be good for your bottom line. I am not recommending you create a scandal for publicity’s sake. But if you do find yourself in the middle of a media maelstrom, just remember the silver lining: name recognition.

Let me illustrate my point with an example.

Dr. Charity, as I’ll call him, was a generous dentist who volunteered some of his time to performing dental work on low-income patients. One of his patients was an indigent woman I’ll call Ms. Patient.

During treatment, Dr. Charity gave Ms. Patient a routine injection of dental anesthetic. This led to an uncommon side effect that’s impossible to predict: the patient’s lingual nerve was hit, leaving her with a numb anesthesia

Non-dentists need to understand that no matter how well-trained a dentist may be, it’s impossible to predict the precise location of nerves. In a small fraction of cases, even the most experienced practitioner will inadvertently damage or deaden the tongue nerve. When this happens, the patient’s tongue becomes numb. This usually resolves itself within a matter of hours or days, but some patients suffer long-term or permanent nerve damage. There is no treatment except to wait out the body’s natural healing process.

That is precisely what happened to Ms. Patient. Not surprisingly, she did not enjoy the sensation of a numb tongue. What was more surprising was her reaction: she sued the doctor.

Dr. Charity’s insurance company wouldn’t settle. Ms. Patient’s complication was both minor and routine, certainly no fault of the doctor’s. They believed it was a frivolous claim, and they didn’t want to open the door to further lawsuits.

So the case went court. At trial, the jury sympathized with the poor woman over the rich doctor. Ms. Patient won her case against Dr. Charity. It was plastered all over the local papers.

Dr. Charity called me for advice. “Jim, what do I do?” he asked frantically.

“This is great!” I told him. “Let’s saturate the market. We’ll do a series of patient mail-outs.”

“But what do I do when patients ask me about the case?”

We rehearsed what Dr. Charity would say. “It happens to all dentists about 1 in 1,000 times,” went the spiel. “My insurance company stood behind me. But you never know what will happen in a jury trial.”

In the end, only two patients ever asked. However, Dr. Charity ended up with a lot of name recognition.

“Hey doc, I saw you in the paper!” said one of his many new patients. “You sure got ripped off by that woman.”

So, while Ms. Patient may have won the court case, I’d venture to say that Dr. Charity may have won something even more valuable!


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