Now we’re talking: Communicating with the public

October 5, 2023
In the final installment of the AOA Focus series on communication, AOA members share how they reach and educate the public.
AOA Eye Deserve More - Media Tour

Excerpted from page 40 of the September 2023 edition of AOA Focus.

It was a whirlwind of a morning. Tiring but exhilarating.

In six fast-moving hours one morning, Jason Compton, O.D., was interviewed live 24 times on local television morning shows. Starting at about 7 a.m. and moving from the East Coast to West Coast, Dr. Compton stressed the importance of regular, in-person, comprehensive eye exams.

“The AOA had some bullet points they wanted to make sure that I hit,” says Dr. Compton, owner of Compton Eye Associates in New York City. Other than that, each interview was a bit different, depending on the reporter’s tone and focus. Dr. Compton talked about computer vision syndrome and other eye conditions and the importance of giving the eyes a break.

The satellite media tour was part of the Eye Deserve More campaign, a multichannel, national consumer campaign the AOA launched in 2021 to underscore that everyone in the U.S. deserves in-person, comprehensive care from an AOA doctor of optometry. Only one-third (33%) of people in the U.S. prioritized a visit to an optometrist in the past year, according to the AOA’s 2021 American Eye-Q Report. Of those who didn’t visit the optometrist, nearly 2 in 5 felt it wasn’t necessary, and 1 in 10 postponed it to a later date.

That 2022 satellite media tour was a huge success, resulting in 685 airings and 71.2 million impressions across TV, radio and online. While it was part of a larger AOA effort, individual doctors of optometry, optometric practices and AOA affiliates also can harness the power of media to educate the public and improve eye health.

“I feel very strongly and passionately about the message the AOA is putting out there,” Dr. Compton says. “It’s all about awareness, and [media outreach] is a great avenue for you to help not only your colleagues but your own practice.”

Using humorous videos to educate

Jen Wademan, O.D., uses the visual power of Instagram to educate consumers and reach potential patients. With nearly 15,000 Instagram followers, Dr. Wademan uses humor and light-hearted fun—often with music and voiceovers—in bite-sized videos known as “reels.”

In a recent reel, she warned against a trendy online makeup tip to use a blow dryer to blow your eyelashes upward instead of using a safer eyelash curler. In another, she explained the only organ more complex than the eye is the brain.

“I love patient education; I love talking about why eye care is important,” says Dr. Wademan, owner of Bidwell Optometry in Folsom, California. “I love that aspect of advocating and elevating eye care, then transforming that into relatable content online. In the exam room, I’ve always loved figuring out, ‘OK, how do I communicate this condition to the patient? How do I make it so it’s digestible so they can adapt this into their day-to-day routine?’”

Around 2017, Dr. Wademan instructed one of her staff members to create an Instagram account for the practice. Later, Dr. Wademan took over the account, changing it to @DrJenWademan and switching the brand voice from the practice to her as an individual. She started with photos, then began making more videos after Instagram introduced reels in 2020.

“When I started, it was a creative outlet,” she explains. “I moved it from being a general account for my optometry office into something more personalized and relatable, focusing on being a doctor, practice owner and mom. And it blossomed.”

She realized the scope of her videos when she and her husband—who makes cameos in some of the reels—were recognized when they were walking down the street in their community. That reach also has garnered her new patients, as they come across her Instagram platform and follow up by scheduling an eye exam.

“It has generated more traction than I ever thought it would,” she says.

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit the U.S., it allowed Dr. Wademan to reach even more people, as they looked for connection online during lockdown. Watching the reels quickly gives viewers a glimpse of Dr. Wademan’s fun personality, while she educates about eye health. That authenticity and truth-telling is even more important today, as many social media users are turned off by phoniness or a facade.

Partnering with a public relations professional

At the state level, the Georgia Optometric Association (GOA) has invested in a relationship with a public relations consultant since about 2010. Curran Public Relations LLC, founded by Dan Curran, highlights Georgia AOA members and the importance of comprehensive eye care through media interviews and social media campaigns. The agency also provides media training to up-and-coming doctors of optometry through the Leadership GOA program. Periodically, GOA leaders select eight to 10 doctors who have been in practice five years or less to take part in the program.

“We always want to have a deep bench of optometrists who are comfortable with interacting with the media,” says John Titak, O.D., GOA president. “Dan helps provide opportunities to participate in events and then pitches it to the media, resulting in stories that are positive about optometry.”

Last Halloween, through Curran’s efforts for the GOA, an Atlanta news station interviewed GOA Board member Frank Winski, O.D., on the dangers of using decorative contact lenses. The segment was aired 11 times on the station and six times on a sister station over four days, reaching approximately 1.1 million consumers, according to Dr. Titak.

“What we liked most was that the public saw a doctor of optometry as a resource and were directed to the association’s website to find members near them,” Dr. Titak says.

This past spring, eight Georgia doctors of optometry and their staff gave free eye exams and arranged for students to receive glasses at no cost at two elementary schools with the VSP Vision Eyes of Hope mobile eye clinic. By reaching out to the media about the event with a news angle focused on the STEM aspect of optometry, it was covered and aired five times over two days and promoted heavily online.

“The one thing we try to teach all the doctors is to be proactive, so engage with the news media on a regular basis if you have a story,” Dr. Titak says. “The biggest thing is to be responsive. ... If a media person ever calls, you should definitely answer the call.”

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