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COSMETIC SURGERY UNDERGOES MEDIA MAKEOVER

Author: SUSAN T. PORT, Palm Beach Post Staff Writer

Dateline: BOCA RATON

Dr. Jeffrey Ganeles was watching an episode of the reality show Extreme Makeover when he took exception to the treatment a cosmetic dentist offered for a patient.

So the 46-year-old periodontist from Boca Raton called the ABC-TV show and suggested that the producers give him a chance. That move landed him the first of two appearances on the show, but the resulting media attention – “phone calls and e-mails from around the country and worldwide” – prompted him to do something an increasing number of cosmetic surgeons are doing.

He hired a public relations firm.

“I thought it would be better to have people who specialize in contact and placing stories,” said Ganeles, who signed on with Smith & Knibbs of Deerfield Beach in January.

PR professionals say the reality shows, coupled with the growing acceptance across all strata of American society for plastic surgery procedures, are leading more cosmetic surgeons to hire PR help.

“Physicians are becoming more savvy on how to market their practice,” said Diana Laverdure, partner in Boca Raton-based Reeves Laverdure Public Relations. “It’s more en vogue.”

Doctors say they’re enjoying the exposure.

“I like the confidence that the news media brings,” said Dr. Alan Bauman, a hair surgeon in Boca Raton. “The media is mirroring Americans’ public desire to look good and feel good.”

Bauman, who used to write his own news releases, hired Reeves Laverdure a year ago to manage his media requests and generate more leads. Last month he was featured in Men’s Health, providing surgery to one of the magazine’s writers.

He also has been featured on CNN and in the pages of USA Today.

“My role as a physician is to educate the general public. The quickest way to do that is the mass media,” said Bauman, 34, who founded Boca Raton-based Bauman Medical Group in 1997. “I don’t know why physicians would shy away from that.”

Particularly since cosmetic surgery is booming. In 2003, there were more than 1.8 million surgical cosmetic procedures in the United States. That’s an increase of a whopping 87 percent over 1997, according to the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery.

Dr. Richard Greco, a plastic surgeon in Savannah, Ga., and spokesman for the society, attributed the rapid growth in cosmetic procedures to the “me-centric” Baby Boom generation.

Boomers are hearing about plastic surgery constantly in mainstream media, and costs have come down, making it even easier for people who are not wealthy to afford it, Greco said. A noninvasive procedure such as a Botox injection can cost anywhere from $400 to $1,500, he said.

“It’s not much more than a big-screen TV,” he said. “In today’s world, that is not that expensive. People are making investments in themselves, making a lasting change, instead of trading in their car one time that year.”

No one keeps numbers on how many surgeons are employing PR firms, but anecdotal evidence suggests the trend has blossomed in recent years. As of 2002, health care was the strongest industry sector for PR agencies, with growth that year of 7.5 percent, according to the Council of Public Relations Firms.

Shows normalize surgery

David Reeves, president of Reeves Laverdure, has seen it himself.

A few years ago his firm, which employs four and expects to post sales of around $500,000 this year, had a large number of tech firms as clients. Now his biggest growth is in cosmetic physicians, and he expects the trend to continue.

“Our client base reflects the economy in general,” Reeves said. “Right now, health care is the story for us.”

Reality shows such as Extreme Makeover feature ordinary people receiving extensive surgery: new noses, breasts and chins, pinned ears, eye work and dental work. On MTV’s I Want a Famous Face, young men and women undergo cosmetic surgery to transform themselves into their favorite celebrities.

Fox’s The Swan features two women who get makeovers and then are judged for entry in a beauty pageant. The woman ultimately chosen the Swan wins cash and prizes.

And the FX network’s Nip/Tuck, a program about two plastic surgeons on South Beach, quickly became one of cable TV’s most-watched original series.

The shows normalize cosmetic surgery, said Robert Thompson, a professor of popular culture and director for Center for the Study of Popular Television at the University of Syracuse.

“It’s shouting out that not only is it perfectly normal, it’s the latest thing in self-improvement,” he said. “Instead of reading a self-help book, now it’s cosmetic surgery.”

Another story resonates with Americans, too, said Richard Rakowski, chairman and chief executive officer of the Advanced Aesthetics Institute, a West Palm Beach firm that employs doctors, dentists, hairstylists, makeup artists and colorists.

“The Cinderella story is so compelling,” Rakowski said. “It’s the transformation of self-love. The ultimate story is self-love discovered.”

Rakowski, an entrepreneur, opened the West Palm Beach institute in January, opened another in Palm Beach Gardens after that, and plans to open others in Boca Raton, Miami and Dallas. He employs Coltrin Associates, a PR firm in New York.

“They represent us to make sure our message gets across,” Rakowski said. “We don’t have to seek publicity. There is enormous interest. It’s more about managing the interest.”

Rakowski and his company have been featured in national media publications including Newsweek, The Wall Street Journal and Time, and he’s done a TV appearance on 20/20.

Ria Romano, director of health care PR for Boca Raton’s TransMedia Group Inc., said cosmetic surgeons are asking for help getting print, radio and TV interviews, rather than taking out ads themselves.

“Nothing beats a third-party endorsement,” said Romano, who joined TransMedia in January, and has since signed several cosmetic surgeons.

That’s exactly why Dr. Vincent Dolce, a dentist who has practiced in West Palm Beach since 1986, decided to hire a PR firm with vast experience.

“I want dentistry to be looked at in a different light,” said Dolce, 48, who hosts a brokered Saturday morning radio program on WBZT-1230 AM. “Makeover shows really have boosted our whole world. They give ordinary people the techniques to make themselves look better.”

Dolce, who is a client of Reeves and Laverdure, said it’s no longer taboo to say you’ve had work done.

“I had a hair transplant and I tell everybody,” he said. “I don’t think it’s something to be ashamed of anymore.”

susan_port@pbpost.com

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