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November 2011 Premium Practice November 2011 Premium Practice

The Happening

Staging an event—or participating in one—can help introduce potential patients to a practice in an up-close and personal way.

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Peter Drucker, the top management thinker of the 20th century, once stated, “The role of marketing is to make sales superfluous.” Indeed, marketing is a key component of any premium practice, and I have long believed that marketing is much more than advertising: it is any and every activity performed to attract potential patients to your practice. As the effectiveness of advertising dwindles (courtesy of the DVR, satellite radio, and news headlines pushed to smartphones), many wonder how to invest wisely in attracting patients. This month’s Premium Practice Today focuses on the staging of events, and you get to hear from noted public relations expert Georgette Pascale why events are an important part of the marketing mix. In addition, you get some topnotch ideas from practices around the country. Putting on an event entails much more effort than placing an ad; it is also more personal, more engaging, and ultimately better for starting and building relationships with people who, now or eventually, will be looking for services that enable them to see better.
—Section Editor Shareef Mahdavi

Your surgical skills are stellar, and you have the outcomes to prove it. In the competitive world of refractive cataract surgery, however, it takes more than word-of-mouth referrals and a well-designed Web page to attract the volume of patients necessary to convert significant numbers to premium implants. The importance of a strategically designed marketing plan is often cited in the pages of Premium Practice Today. The emphasis on virtual or online marketing initiatives may inadvertently minimize the crucial human element— especially as it applies to health care. A truly wellrounded and effective marketing plan will include opportunities for the surgeons and staff to interact with the community and thus serve as walking, talking billboards for the practice. Hosting or participating in a charitable or educational event can help brand the practice by strengthening its visibility in the community. More than that, the live, face-to-face connection offers potential patients a sense of what they can expect if they put their eyes in your hands.

Examples of events that premium practice surgeons say they participate in include seminars designed to familiarize prospective patients with surgical options, vision screenings that provide a free service to the community while simultaneously identifying patients who need care, and charitable events to benefit a group or person in need. These activities can be low-key or elaborate, depending on the practice’s marketing budget and goals. Either way, they add a personal touch that patients appreciate in a society that increasingly defaults to “virtual” initiatives.

FACE TIME

Georgette Pascale, owner and CEO of Pascale Communications (Fairfield, CT), stresses the importance of face time with stakeholders—whether they are patients or clients. “No matter how evolved the practice’s social networking plan is or how deep its advertising budget, the surgeons have to carve out the time for ‘meet and greets’ and other events that will make them visible to the community if they want to generate word-of-mouth referrals,” says Ms. Pascale. The marketing and public relations professional represents clients of both David and Goliath proportions in the ophthalmic arena. “Not everyone is looking for their information online, and now more than ever, people want to feel reassured about how their health care dollars are being spent,” Ms. Pascale adds. “This is especially true of patients of a certain age. Ultimately, you really have to get out there and talk to people when your goal is garnering new patients.”

“Events are an easy and effective way to grow a medical practice,” says marketing professional and author Laurel Tielis. In her book Ka-Ching! How to Bring in More Sales (www.laureltielis.com/ka-ching-how-to-ringup- more-sales), Ms. Tielis explains that events enable a business or practice to stand out from the crowd and they lead to increased visibility, credibility, and profitability. “They’re especially valuable in professions such as medicine, where advertising is sometimes seen as self-serving,” she adds.

Community events in particular, such as health fairs and charity events, show that a practice is a good neighbor. Ms. Tielis points out that an added bonus is that these types of events increase the likelihood of media attention. Even if no reporters arrive on the scene, there is still the opportunity to post news or video about the event on the practice’s Web site, Facebook page, YouTube account, or Twitter feed during the event and then intermittently afterward. Updates on social media sites about engaging events that people can relate to or empathize with are much more likely to be forwarded or retweeted. This garners even more exposure than, say, repetitive posts about two-for-one LASIK specials. (See Online e-Vents Can Go Viral and Events With “Legs.”)

The physicians of Boston-based Lexington Eye Associates show their good neighbor stripes by volunteering their surgical services for a week every year in El Salvador. The practice hosted a local event this year, the Walk for Vision (www.tinyurl.com/63bkefq) to help fund the mission and to further support the goals of the Asociacion Salvadoreña Pro Salud Rural—Salvadoran Association For Rural Health. The group exists to serve the visual needs of indigent people in El Salvador. In addition to having a premium IOL conversion rate of approximately 35%, corneal and cataract surgeon Jeremy Kieval handles marketing for Lexington Eye Associates. He says the primary and secondary goals of the Walk for Vision and the practice’s annual mission work are to provide surgical services to people who would otherwise go without eye care and to fulfill an obligation to give back to the community.

“There’s the stereotype that physicians are at the top tiers of the economy, and I think that it’s important for the community to see that we care,” explains Dr. Kieval. “It’s an intangible that we’re able to convey to our patients and potential patients through our charitable efforts. It probably helps brand the practice, but that’s not why we do it.”

PRACTICAL MATTERS

To those considering events as part of a marketing strategy, branding and marketing consultant Jon D. Stephens, president of Rockhill Strategic LLC in Kansas City, Missouri, stresses two things. First, he advises practitioners always to focus on what is in it for the participants. Second, he says physicians must decide how they plan to communicate with participants after the event.

The Lunch & Learn Lecture series hosted by Florida’s St. Luke’s Cataract & Laser Institute reflects Mr. Stephens’ recommendations. Participants are treated to a complimentary lunch and educated about various ocular conditions, including cataracts. Prerecorded surgeries are most often broadcast during these events. Once a month, however, the main Tarpon Springs facility hosts live cataract surgery, which guests watch via a satellite camera. The operating physician and technician both wear microphones throughout the procedure, so the participants are privy to everything that happens before, during, and after the surgery. After the procedure, the surgeon, technician, and patient join the group for a questionand- answer period. Colleen Singer, a member of the practice’s marketing staff and the organizer of the event series, says the main goal is to educate participants. “Naturally, we hope that, if and when the people need to have that procedure, they’ll come back to St. Luke’s,” she says. “They’ve already been to the facility and met the surgeon, so there’s a rapport. The lecture series is about building relationships with the community.”

In-house flyers, newspaper advertisements/announcements, Web page notifications, and Facebook postings are used to invite interested individuals to register for the Lunch & Learn lectures. At the event, attendees are asked to fill out a form with their contact information, and as they exit, they are given the opportunity to schedule a procedure. “A week or two after the lecture, participants are contacted by a scheduling department staff person, who calls to thank them for attending and to let them know that, if they ever need our services, we’d love to take care of them,” says Ms. Singer.

James Dawes, chief administrative office for The Center for Sight in Sarasota, Florida, says, “A great event is one that attracts new patients and provides an opportunity to schedule an appointment or gather contact information for our lead database.” He explains that The Center for Sight opts for participation in visual health seminars and vision screenings where lead generation is likely. The center avoids events like health fairs where exposure is the primary benefit. Mr. Dawes targets audiences such as those at golf clubs and specific residential communities for vision seminars where participants can commit to providing follow-up contact information. “It is important to track the leads from event marketing over time in order to determine one’s return on investment for the event,” he stresses. “If you don’t know the revenue generated from an event, you cannot determine its effectiveness.” One of the most important metrics to determine the effectiveness of an event is conversion. “How many contacts or leads were developed, and how many converted to an appointment?” he asks. “If an event is not going to yield appointments, then you really have to question the value or purpose of the event.”

James D. Dawes may be reached at (941) 480-2105; jdawes@centerforsight.net.
Jeremy Kieval, MD, may be reached at (781) 862-1620; jkieval@lexeye.com.
Georgette Pascale may be reached at (412) 526-1756; georgette@pascalecommunications.com.
Colleen Singer may be reached at (727) 943-3111, ext. 2475; csinger@stlukeseye.com.
Jon D. Stephens may be reached at (816) 979-1753; jstephens@rockhillstrategic.com.
Laurel Tielis may be reached at (917) 288-2362; laureltielis@gmail.com.

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