A checklist of marketing strategies for your practice

May 1, 2005



Some physicians find the idea of advertising their practice distasteful, thinking that medical professionals shouldn't stoop to the type of promotion typically used by retail businesses. But you are running a retail business. Even if you're an excellent doctor, parents aren't going to beat a path to your office door if they don't know that your practice exists.

"You need newspaper ads, and they shouldn't peter out after the first few months," says Rebecca Anwar, a medical marketing consultant with The Sage Group in Philadelphia. "After all, Coca-Cola still advertises."

Advertising should be only one part of your overall marketing plan, however. As Anwar explains, "You first have to decide what your goals are, and how much you're willing to spend to promote your practice, including the cost of advertising." While the amount you spend will vary depending on your location and specialty, practice management consultants generally recommend budgeting no more than 1 percent of your gross revenue. Obviously, a rural practice with little nearby competition won't have to spend as much as a practice in an urban or suburban area with lots of other pediatricians.

Wherever they appear, display ads should include the physicians' names, the location of the office, the hours you're open, the services you offer, and the insurance plans you accept. Where to place the ad depends on a number of factors. Here are the choices:

Jeff Denning, a consultant with Practice Performance Group in La Jolla, Calif., says that's a common mistake for practices that provide primary care: "Nobody cares that a new doctor's coming to town. What you need to emphasize is the unique training or skills that the newcomer brings-that's something people may care about."

Denning adds: "In terms of cost-effectiveness, buying advertising time on television and radio is out of the question for most small- to medium-sized practices in major metropolitan areas. In a small town in Kansas, however, doctors can probably afford to use both."

Some metropolitan areas have specialized directories that might prove valuable. For example, Denver physician Judy Paley bought an ad in that city's Gay & Lesbian Yellow Pages. As she explains, "It identified us as accessible and nonjudgmental to a community that's very careful in picking health-care providers."

In areas with several competing directories, picking the best one can be tough. As with other forms of advertising, try a display ad-in addition to the regular listing-for one year, and track how many new patients it produces before renewing. (Display ads are often discounted the first year.)