Medical: Marketing and Advertising¹

Medical: Marketing and Advertising

Aside from topnotch patient care, many analysts concur that an organized marketing strategy serves as a powerful business builder. In addition to tried-and-true methods, such as referrals and the patient grapevine, today's practitioners have a range of high tech tools to spread the word about their practices - and with a landmark 1982 U.S. Supreme Court ruling, unlike their predecessors, doctors of the 21st century can take full advantage of advertising opportunities.

Though necessarily multi-pronged, a good marketing plan need not be complicated or costly. For the most part, positive publicity starts within the practice walls, so getting started is simple. After that, print and electronic media provide excellent promotional tools.

Keep in mind that a public relations consultant can do all the legwork for a fee - a godsend for busy professionals, and well worth the money. Those who specialize in health care marketing - and practitioners who've used their techniques - make the following recommendations:

In the office

  • Provide a clean, cheerful waiting area. Stained carpeting and a film of dust on the furniture can send the wrong message about practice standards.
  • Keep tabs on waiting-room reading materials. In offices where children may accompany their parents (e.g. pediatrician, family practice), make sure all publications are G-rated. Survey magazine covers for content - an article talking about the pros and cons of chemotherapy, for instance, could cause a lot of anxiety in a patient whose oncologist is treating him for lung cancer.
  • Train staff to be positive, professional and friendly. No news spreads faster than tales of a rude receptionist or cold- mannered nurse. This brand of advertising results in lost revenue and a tarnished public image. To this end, address inappropriate behavior in staff members directly and without delay.
  • Strive to provide accessible office hours. Given that many patients have full-time jobs, physicians who operate strictly on a 9 to 5 basis may be at a distinct disadvantage. Solo practitioners, for example, might consider starting office hours at noon one or two days a week and staying open until 7 p.m. Group practices might alternate rotations with colleagues to offer extended coverage.

Make the news

  • Create a media kit. A media or press kit is a collection of print and/or audiovisual material promoting a particular product, service or individual. Target sectors include newspapers, television, radio, periodicals, community groups and any other business, group or organization that might generate business.

    A media kit for a medical practice might include: the health care provider's biography, highlighting education, credentials, awards and professional experience; brochures or fact sheets on the practice; information pertaining to the specialty (e.g. an FAQ on breast health; screening tests for prostate cancer; prevention of gum disease); news articles featuring the practice, physician or patient; business cards, contact numbers, and Web and e-mail addresses; and CDs presenting the practice's history, services and accomplishments.

  • Contact local newspapers. Any positive development in the life of a practice - office relocation or expansion, new hires, awards or recognitions, free screenings, special events (e.g. an open house) - merits area press coverage. A public relations professional will know the standard procedures, but do-it-yourselfers should get in touch with the appropriate department editors for guidance; health/science, features, local/regional and life-style editors typically are the best bets.

    Paid ads, particularly useful for new practices and relocation, also are an option. In this case, someone in the newspaper's sales division can help with the process.

  • Write a press release. Submitting a well-written announcement or news story, particularly via e-mail, often works more effectively than a telephone call. Busy editors appreciate not having to dig for story details, and a solid press release does
    half their job for them. When putting a release together, observe the following guidelines:
    • Find an angle. A story about a new piece of medical equipment, for instance, is more interesting when it leads off with an unusual detail. Is the machine the only one in the area? Does it incorporate cutting-edge technology? Does it represent a huge cost savings for patients? In short, turn a humdrum announcement into real news.
    • Grab the reader's interest. Provide important details in the headline and first couple sentences, with supplemental details following the hard information.
    • Write in a "media" style. Announcements slated for a particular newspaper, for instance, should follow that publication's format. Use published articles in the same vein as your story for models.
    • Use direct quotes. The words of a real person lend both human interest and credibility to a press release
    • Be truthful and objective. Go with the facts and avoid injecting personal opinion. Remember, this is a news story, not an op ed piece. Avoid exaggeration, overstatement and emotional language.
    • Use active voice. Passive voice makes for monotony, while active voice engages the reader. For instance, "Dr. Jones promoted her to assistant office manager," is much stronger than, "She was promoted to assistant office manager by Dr. Jones."
    • Use words sparingly. Go light on adjectives and repeated phrases in favor of a tight story in concise language. Avoid using exclamation points in general, and never more than one at a time.
    • Shun medical jargon. Unless the press release is headed for a scholarly journal, use laymen's terms to describe equipment, procedures, job functions, etc. Otherwise, readers may give up before they finish the story.
    • End with a boilerplate. This is simply a short paragraph with information about services, staff and corporate/personal history.
    • Never submit a release in all upper case letters. A busy editor won't even read it.
    • Use proper grammar. Stay away from slang and most importantly, run a spelling check. Before submission, have someone do a thorough proofreading.
    • Follow a standard format. Here is a sample template:

      Headline (80 characters or less). All words are capitalized except prepositions and modifiers consisting of fewer than three characters.

      City, State, Month, Day, Year - Lead sentence or sentences. The reader should get most of the information in the first paragraph.

      Detail paragraphs (who, what, when, where, why, how). Two or three short paragraphs can include direct quotes and specifics. Keep it brief; the entire release should be 300-600 words.

      Final paragraph. Additional information such as deadlines, telephone numbers, e-mail addresses, etc.

      Boilerplate. Practice/personal information

      Contact Name

      Practice Name

      Phone

      E-mail

      Web site

  • Use the telephone book. Don't underestimate the power of the Yellow Pages. Experts suggest that phone book ads allow medical professionals to target market segmentation - or the division of the market into demographic groups. A recent study by the Yellow Pages Association reveals that the telephone-book heading entitled "Physicians & Surgeons," ranked second highest in access of all available topics, with roughly 1.2 billion referrals. Online, the heading garnered 99.1 million hits.

    What's more, researchers also suggest that, on average, advertisers earn $27 on every dollar they invest, primarily because they're reaching potential clients just when they're looking for those particular products and services.

Electronic media and the Internet

  • Consider a television or radio PR campaign. While fees for local commercial production vary widely according to the market, experts say running well placed advertisements (e.g. on television, around news broadcasts or in prime time; on radio, during morning and evening peak drive times) targets a broader range of demographic groups than do print ads.

    If the marketing budget is tight, think about pitching a news story - for instance, a piece about specialized or expanded services, a professional award or the addition of cutting edge equipment may well warrant some air time. Again, a marketing firm can make access to the right people a whole lot easier.

  • Invest in the Internet. Any medical professional trying to grow a practice must own a Web site to effectively market their services. With more and more people using the Internet to research products and services (and to read their newspapers), overlooking this cyber-tool is foolhardy indeed.

    The fees for using a Web host - a company that operates the site - can run as little as a couple dollars a month. Web designer services, however, cost more, from a few hundred dollars at the low end, up into the thousands. The more capabilities the site possesses, the higher the price. Remember the old adage - "You get what you pay for."

    In addition to providing general information about a medical practice, a Web site allows the use of press releases, e-zine articles, news updates, medical information, blogs, e-mail, digital video features, sound bites, links to other sites and much more.

  • Get into the social networking scene. Not so long ago, online networking was a territory reserved for teens and lonely singles, but these days, venues such as Facebook and LinkedIn are drawing thousands of visitors every day - with businesses of every type putting up pages. Given their tight schedules, however, physicians owning small practices might find that networks geared toward the medical community are the best option.

    As a marketing tool, social networking is inexpensive, convenient and personalized. On sites such as Sermo.com, DoctorsHangout.com, Student Doctor Network (www.studentdoctor.net), MedicSpeak (http://medicalnetwork.medicspeak.com) and DoctorNetworking.com, physicians can:

    • Establish personal branding through logos, pictures and videos
    • Examine marketing possibilities in the U.S. and abroad
    • Share news about services, practice changes, staff additions, etc.
    • Connect with fellow practitioners
    • Exchange professional knowledge and information
    • Conduct staff searches

Get help from the Pros

The strategies listed above represent only a fraction of the methods available to promote health care practices. Still, those who find the prospect of any marketing intimidating may want to hire a professional marketing/PR consultant. Their job is to provide as much positive exposure for their clients as possible - from ad placement and media opportunities, to publicity (such as speaking engagements) in the community at large.

Quality marketing firms or consultants should possess:

  • A solid performance history in health care disciplines
  • An extensive network of electronic-media relationships
  • A good relationship with area journalists and news personnel
  • Professional-level materials, including media kits, brochures, press releases, digital products, etc. Always ask to see samples.