As the aging Baby Boomers approach their mid-50s, fatty deposits, sagging flesh and aching muscles and bones are all constant reminders of approaching mortality. But the Boomers are not sitting still for this unwarranted intrusion into their hedonistic lifetime quest for youth and vitality. They’re turning to cosmetic surgery, and in big numbers. In 1998, 2 million Americans underwent some form of cosmetic procedure, spending $15 billion in the process, $5 billion more than was spent on cosmetics. Liposuction was the No. 1 favorite, increasing 215 percent over the period of 1992-1997. Almost 200,000 people had the fat sucked out of them last year. More than 150,000 people had themselves “zapped” to get rid of wrinkles, leg veins and other unsightly blemishes. Despite the silicone implant scare, breast augmentation has increased three-fold over the same five-year period. Interestingly, this concept of lifestyle medicine is booming as people seek immediate, short-term answers to what were once long-term impediments. For example, a recent Wall Street Journal study showed that more attractive, younger-looking applicants with equivalent credentials are more likely to be hired than their less-attractive counterparts. Hence the rush to the surgeon’s office. One Atlanta-based consultant is riding the cosmetic surgery wave with some success. Carol Martin is president of The Informed Choice, a cosmetic surgery consultancy that guides the consumer through the psychologically risky and emotionally demanding experience. Martin started her career as a successful model, appearing in movies, TV and national advertising. At the conclusion of her 20-year career in 1995, she was fortunate to be the subject of a cover story on “nipping and tucking” that generated scads of inquiries about the procedure that she had undergone. That spawned The Informed Choice. It’s a recent line of business. In fact, even today, there are still few such advisory services in the United States. Martin was the right person at just the right time, as cosmetic surgery was becoming both popular and democratized. Today, she is the veteran of eight cosmetic surgeries herself (nose, breast augmentation, two liposuction procedures, upper/lower eyes and neck and face lift). In her 40s, Martin could pass for a 29-year-old. Her client base includes more than 500 men and women, mostly executives and professionals to whom she has provided sound advice and realistic expectations. Martin’s client base is still 90 percent female, even though males are swarming to cosmetic surgery in ever-increasing numbers. The majority are working professionals, but a growing number are mothers who are attempting to combat the ravages of childbearing. Most are not extremely wealthy, with household incomes in the $50,000-$250,000 range. Fitting within the 40-55 age group, they come to Martin primarily for advice on youth retention. While they believe that the procedure will make them feel better about themselves, they carry enormous fear about surgical risk. Will it hurt and will it work? Says Martin, “It also surprises me to see that, for a large number of women, their biggest fear is that they may not be able to exercise after they’ve had the surgery.” Martin offers a $300 consultation that answers such patient questions as: ? What should I look for in a doctor and which ones are best qualified to do the surgery? ? What questions do I ask the doctor? ? What should I pay for the procedure? ? How do I deal with the post-operative healing process? With the average procedure costing anywhere from $4,000-$10,000, reliable up-front advice becomes a necessity. Martin insists on sitting-in on a surgical procedure before she will recommend any surgeon. She also regularly attends medical conferences and symposiums to remain knowledgeable about current practices and trends. But, while many surgeons consider a referral by Martin to be a sort of Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval, she remains steadfastly the patient’s advocate. Says Martin, “I love the surgeons I recommend, but I work for the patient, not the doctor. The end product is too important to allow this distinction to be blurred.” Martin counsels clients on what they can realistically expect from the surgery and is also sought out by victims of botched procedures whom she refers to surgeons who excel in such repairs. But, because even the most qualified surgeons will admit that they don’t have time to explain everything that could occur to their patients, Martin steps in to guide her clients every step of the way. Martin wants to use marketing to educate the public about the benefits and risks of cosmetic surgery. And she wants more clients. From a positioning standpoint, she has established The Informed Choice as a place where the consumer can seek understanding and information. In an environment where natural interest is high, ignorance is rampant and options are many, The Informed Choice is positioned to provide reasoning to a confused category of consumer. Martin’s most effective strategy has involved exploiting public relations. Because of the newness of the category, the press has a natural consuming interest in the subject. The “before and after” also makes for a compelling visual. Martin has appeared extensively in television lifestyle programs, where she is obviously her own best advertisement. She supplements her marketing effort with coverage in lifestyle magazines, newspaper health sections, and sporting and fitness publications. She buys little advertising, but conducts three seminars a year for potential surgery prospects. Martin understood very quickly that her business responds dramatically to a P.R.-driven strategy and has made considerable investment in a P.R. professional who is gradually gaining her the national prominence which is so important to long-term growth and success. Carol Martin has done what few others have attempted created a whole new business category. She’s done it successfully by gaining a genuine understanding of the psyche of her customer and has built the business by providing the one-to-one interaction that is always the sign of successful salesmanship. Not bad for an ex-model with a overhauled body, who saw the wisdom early on in making a business out of cosmetic surgery instead of blowing it off as a necessary evil. Alf Nucifora is an Atlanta-based marketing consultant. He can be contacted via e-mail at email@example.com or by fax at (770) 952-7834.