The PR News Interview: Gil Bashe – Specialized Knowledge a ‘Buoyant’ in this Economy

Gil Bashe, Executive Vice President, Health Practice at Makovsky + Company, understands how to engage the media and even, at times, disengage with them.  He’s deliberative in his PR approach and prescriptive with regard to how his healthcare clients should manage their reputation.  Prior to joining Makovsky, Gil was chief executive of Health!Quest Global Communication Partners and group company CEO of CommonHealth, a WPP Group company, among other impressive stints.

Diane Schwartz, group publisher of PR News, recently spoke with Gil about his views on branding, media relations and client and employee retention.  You can also meet and hear more media relations strategies from Gil on March 10, when he’ll be speaking about “powering up your public affairs communications” during the PR News Media Relations Forum.


PRN: You deal with a lot of sensitive client issues in the healthcare industry – are there times when you just need to keep the media away or at bay? 

Gil: I recommend in every situation for clients and agencies to sit back and realize that media relations is one facet, one vital tool of public communication. What often happens is – carpenter wants to saw wood, plumber wants to reach for adjustable wrench and the PR person wants to do media relations. We have to break the habit of using our traditional time tested tools. We need to sit back and say, what would it look like if it were complete and finished and successful?

PRN: How important is social media to the healthcare industry specifically – ie to blog or not to blog?
Gil: It’s becoming essential -- and the blog has become as potent as major news itself. The blog is morphing into the new wire service. Examples are the health blogs by Wall Street Journal and health blogs.   

PRN: Are your clients scaling back on PR services in this tough market?

Gil: It’s going to depend on client type and industry sector – in many cases, all clients in this environment – advertising clients, direct communications, PR - are looking at spend toward outcome. In our case we’ve been spared a lot of that because we deal with practices that are steeped in regulatory and clinical areas. Because we have focused much more on using PR tools toward specific economic outcomes for our clients, we’ve been spared a lot of what’s going on in the marketplace. Specialized knowledge is really serving as a buoyant.

PRN: Over the past five years, Makovsky has had an impressive 97% client retention rate: what has been the key to this success?
Gil: Agencies start to look at staff as employees instead of essential conduits to the clients. Agencies are graded in the media for client wins and the attractiveness of focusing on clients seems to be less potent in trade media.  Clients are looking for agencies to be a long-term part of the intellectual property that drives their clients forward.


PRN: The churn rate at Makovsky + Company is very low by industry standards – what keeps your colleagues motivated and engaged?

Gil: Client retention leads to less staff anxiety. When people become smarter with their client’s needs and objectives, they feel their careers are being propelled forward.   

PRN: You co-authored a book on branding healthcare: what’s the key to identifying your brand in the marketplace?

Gil: Often people mistake branding with awareness. Awareness is fleeting – like a fireplace – there’s fire as long as you’re feeding it logs. Branding is the ability to leave the family room and still feel the glow of the fire within. Branding comprises four aspects: intellectual understanding of why the brand provides benefits and change; it connects the emotional understanding that your life is better because of the brand; you intuitively act on it (gut); and the fourth is you appreciate its value. That’s a new component of branding, because initially branding was a features-benefit discussion. Then it became experiential, and then it became gut reaction. Now because of the interconnectivity of people to build a brand, we’re creating four quadrants.

Gil Bashe’s Personal Favorites:

  • Business Book: Flight of the Buffalo
  • Book for pleasure: Self-Portrait of a Hero
  • Web site – Jerusalem Post (; Wall Street Journal
  • Blogs: (Matthew Herper) and Wall Street Journal
  • TV show: Jon Stewart’s “The Daily Show”
  • Day of the week – Saturday
  • Mistake – not appreciating the importance of mistakes,  and not understanding difference between listening and hearing
  • Advice – follow your passions and make relationships be an essential priority of your life