Case Study: Measuring on Pins and Needles: Accountability Pumps Up PR Around Plastic Surgery

Company: American Society of Plastic Surgeons

Agency: KDPaine & Partners

Timeframe: 2006--Ongoing

The American Society of Plastic Surgeons (ASPS), the world's largest plastic surgery specialty organization, needed to wrap its proverbial arms around the effectiveness of its PR department's communications with its audience. To accomplish this, in 2006 the ASPS turned to KDPaine & Partners to conduct an analysis of the organization's media coverage. Its findings would be used to streamline departmental objectives, as well as presentations by the executive committee to its members.

Just as everything in life starts with a single step, so did the partnership between the ASPS and KDPaine & Partners. It began with a fortuitous meeting.

"I spoke at a meeting of association executives and [Nancy Ryan, director of public relations for the American Society of Plastic Surgeons] came up to me and said that she has this membership organization, and really needed to do something about measurement," recalls Katie Paine, owner of KDPaine & Partners. "Originally, she said she needed to be accountable for her membership and board for the money that they spend on PR."

When Ryan discovered that KDPaine & Partners had a "dashboard system," which made the technology of tracking and quantifying data extremely efficient, the deal was cinched.

"Measuring impressions is good, but it's a little vague," Ryan says. "We decided [the dashboard] would work to quantify our effect, as well as how our association is ranked among others that we're not necessarily in competition with, but that are also in the plastic surgery arena."

To kick off this initiative, KDPaine & Partners brainstormed the following tactics:

  • Collect a census of coverage of ASPS and its peer organizations;

  • Continue using a descriptive content analysis methodology;

  • Construct metrics that are relevant to ASPS' 2006 goals, without jeopardizing data collected in 2005;

  • Write a report and schedule that is meaningful for practitioners and management; and,

  • Provide 24/7 access to a Web dashboard that facilitates up-to-date information.

To execute the above, the team leveraged ASPS' Lexis Nexis and Cision accounts and collected data from nontraditional sources, such as online health resources (e.g. WebMD) and television entertainment (e.g. Discovery Health Channel programming). They also analyzed all audio and video content and added subjects as they materialized in order to identify timely media trends. Further, an effort was made to break down data according to ASPS' audiences (i.e. business, broadcast, general/news, medical, national, Web and women's).

Analyze This

From the beginning of the currently ongoing program, analysts wrote reports, ranging from three to nine pages, which focused on both quantitative trends in key metrics and qualitative examples of noteworthy media coverage to illustrate the link between outreach efforts and department performance. What remains particularly important to ASPS is the effectiveness of their spokespeople in delivering key messages of the organization to the media--a factor that was essential to identify at the onset of the measurement initiative.

"Their No. 1 message is that [if you want to get plastic surgery], then you need a board-certified plastic surgeon," says Paine. "There are a whole bunch of other things about how they're the most authoritative source. But fundamentally what they're trying to get across is: Don't get your nose job from some back-alley guy in Miami. You need board- certified physicians."

When the ASPS releases a piece of research, Paine says, her organization keeps track of are the following: Who picks it up? Does it get picked up and convey a key message? Who is seeing it? With information that was being tracked, the ASPS could determine which spokespersons were doing a good job and which were not.

"We could take information back to our leadership and give them Excel data that was quarterly, percentages or semi-annual," explains Ryan. "[This gives upper management an idea] of what impact our public relations program really has. It's really easy to say that so-and-so has done the Wall Street Journal when we should have been there instead. And it's true--we need to continue to foster those relationships and make sure we're part of those stories. But sometimes one big story, one big hit, can seem like the other guys are in the ballpark and you're not. When we're able to measure it, we found that we're consistently in the ballpark, and we're able to deliver the results that our leadership was looking for."

Besides the effectiveness of its spokespeople, KDPP also tracked coverage of the FDA's approval of silicone breast implants; ASPS' lawnmower safety initiative; frequency of coverage in top publications; and citation of studies from Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery Journal.

Extreme Makeover, Measurement Edition

The partnership worked like so: ASPS sent its information to KDPP for analysis or storage. A human coder was specifically trained to analyze the data. A prominent highlight of an earlier phase in the program was the addition of "face transplant" (which became prominent during the coverage of the world's first face transplant in late 2005) to the group of tracked, non-exclusive subjects.

"This is the most entertaining read we've had," says Paine. "You realize we pay people to read about 'Extreme Makeover.' If you think about it, we capture everything that says 'plastic surgery,' whether it's breast reconstruction for Melissa Etheridge [after having a mastectomy following breast cancer], extreme makeover stuff or the woman with the face transplant." Also identified later as subjects were medi-spas, volunteer work and tissue engineering.

After coding began, KDPP introduced ASPS' PR team to the Web dashboard interface. KDPP provided technical support to ASPS as their users learned how to use the system.

Working Out The Kinks

Although the collaboration between KDPP and ASPS has been harmonious for the most part, it did encounter a snag early on. "Initially, they sent us the clips and we read them," says Paine. "We actually took over the clipping for a brief period of time and had conversations with them on how it was going. It didn't work for them. They needed to see their own stuff and to manage their own thing."

Noting they were a partnership, KDPP had no problem with this. "[Our feeling was] you go and collect and we'll read," Paine says. "So we adapted to this change." She also adds that ever since the program began, KDPP has sent out a memo once a year to ASPS asking for a status update and assessment of the program. "What do we need changed? What do we need to keep the same?" are among the questions asked.

Such a concentrated, intensively detailed research and measurement program brought with it a host of challenges. It didn't help that plastic surgery has become a hot media topic the last few years; it also didn't help that ASPS' budget was relatively low.

"Think about all the time plastic surgery is mentioned and then how to do [this program] with less than $12,000 a year," says Paine. "Nancy told me initially, 'I have $10,000 in my budget - what can you do?' I told her we can do X and X. That was fine for the first year, but then it got a little bigger. So we adapted that way. But the biggest challenge was trying to keep a handle on the costs because they get so much coverage."

Another complication was deciding what was important to track and quantify and what was not.

"[It's important to] decide what is relevant to our success and what isn't," says Ryan. "For instance, both our organization and the American Academy of Dermatology have areas where we have similar messages, such as injectables. [Both dermatologists and plastic surgeons do injectables.] It isn't that we're competing with them; when they have a great public education message that is about the dangers of the sun on the skin, their mentions are not competing with us at all."

Start In The Lead

Unlike most nonprofit membership organizations, Paine says that ASPS did track the competition from day one. It was this type of competitive benchmarking that was yet another component that led to the success of the program.

Keeping the program free from bias was one of the key lessons learned. "We need to be very open and objective when looking at measuring a PR campaign," says Ryan. "I think it's very easy to put your own personal slants in. If you're working with outside sources, make sure you have them make these decisions because it's really easy to say, 'Well that really doesn't count.' Staying out of the way of the process is very important to get an actual result. Find something that fits--that isn't too big for you but also delivers enough. Sometimes, it's just too much information."

Visuals were another best practice. "Whether you're doctors or engineers or anything else, people respond well to charts and graphs," insists Paine. "The biggest thing [for ASPS] was their giving top management feedback and having the ability to look at the data we released this month: What are the tactics that worked and what didn't work."

The ROI has been extensive. From January 1, 2006, to December 1, 2006, an independent coder analyzed 1,512 records. Records were analyzed for publication, reporters, audience reach, spokesperson communication, article type, prominence, tone and discussion of any of the 23 subjects that were tracked and identified early in the initiative.

All four quarterly and four executive reports were delivered on time to ASPS. The data from the program was included in a presidential presentation to members in July 2006. This demonstrated the department's success in positioning ASPS as a top source of information about plastic surgery.

Also, information about the program was used to form the 2007 objectives for the PR department as well as assess the department and outreach related to the Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery Journal studies.

The initiatives generous dividends also included a 2007 PR News Platinum Award in the category of Research & Measurement. PRN


Katie Paine, [email protected]; Nancy Ryan, [email protected]

Measuring Up

For companies wishing to implement a similar research and measurement program as ASPS but have a constricted budget, Katie Paine, owner of KDPaine & Partners, recommends that you at least start with something to get the initiative going.

"Even if it's $5,000, you can start something. Just start, because the moment senior management begins to see the results--particularly when they're competitive--and the moment you have the data in hand, [then you can get more money for your budget]. What [agencies] can do is help organizations grow their overall PR and measurement budgets. The results [will grow accordingly], because obviously the bigger their PR budget, the more stuff there is to measure. But that's what you want to see happen. You want to see them get more money for what's working and not waste money on what's not working."