5 key strategies to grow your practice the right way

September 26, 2015

Running an effective PR campaign can be a vital part of growing a practice, but all the work that goes into it can also be fun.

Editor’s Note: Welcome to “Eye Catching: Let's Chat,” a blog series featuring contributions from members of the ophthalmic community. These blogs are an opportunity for ophthalmic bloggers to engage with readers with about a topic that is top of mind, whether it is practice management, experiences with patients, the industry, medicine in general, or healthcare reform. The series continues with this blog by Georgette Pascale, president and chief executive officer of Pascale Communications. The views expressed in these blogs are those of their respective contributors and do not represent the views of  Ophthalmology Times or UBM Advanstar.

 

Running an effective PR campaign can be a vital part of growing a practice, but all the work that goes into it can also be fun.

During a PR campaign, you are attempting to engage the public and to start a conversation about the services you provide. I know that many ophthalmologists are very passionate about what they do, and when I speak to them, that passion is infectious and contagious.

Georgette Pascale

If your PR campaign is designed to build relationships, having that passion about what you do is a great place to start.

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But, it cannot be all fun and games. There is a lot at stake in today’s medical marketplace. It is hypercompetitive, and you should not lose sight of the fact that you are running a medical practice (or facility) that is also a business.

Fortunately, you may have more resources at your disposal than you think: Involving your staff is vitally important to the success of your campaign, but having them involved also lessens the pressure on any one single individual and widens the pool of potential expertise.

Next: 1. Remember that you are running a business

 

1. Remember that you are running a business

I know many eye care providers who struggle with promoting their practice and I am not entirely surprised by this. The ophthalmologists and eye care professionals I interact with are absolutely brilliant medical minds, and patient care is the easy part of what they do. But when it comes to the business side of things, many struggle.

The first thing I would tell anyone who finds themselves fretting over the operations side of running a practice or surgical center is that you are certainly not alone. After all, the reason you went into eye care was to diagnose, manage, and treat eye disease, but then you found out that to do so, you would be running a business. Naturally, the needs and specifics of devising an effective PR campaign are entirely foreign.

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Beyond the strength in numbers, however, the great part about running a practice is that it does get easier with experience. Running and operating a practice is a muscle that you did not know you had to use, and so the more you use it, the stronger it gets. That is, as long as you learn from your mistakes and vow never to make the same mistake twice. The same can be said for running a PR campaign-it seems daunting at first, but over time, you develop a comfort level and proficiency.

I mention these things because before getting down to the nitty gritty of planning and executing an effective marketing and/or PR campaign (and there is a difference), it’s important to approach it from the right context.

From a very top-level perspective, the best campaigns are comprehensive and aligned with the company’s goals and objectives, yet dynamic enough to allow for a change in strategy should customer needs change. And, remember, we are thinking about a medical practice/surgery center in the context of a business, and so these principles are equally applicable.

Your PR campaign should align with your intended scope of practice and capabilities, and once established, should be able to bend and not break when new opportunities present themselves.

Next: 2. Devise a plan that is coordinated and consistent

 

2. Devise a plan that is coordinated and consistent

Businesses come in all shapes and sizes, from single proprietorships to mega-sized, multiple person operations. Likewise, medical practices come in all shapes and sizes. Perhaps the biggest mistake a practice or surgical center can make is to be unaware of its own identity and situation. When such practices venture haphazardly into PR, the results can be ineffective if not damaging.

The first step to building a coordinated PR plan is to do some soul searching about what kind of practice you want to establish and how you plan to serve the needs of patients. Many of these elements should exist and be in place from the business plan. If they do not, perhaps planning a PR campaign should not be the first priority.

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One way to start strategizing your approach is to think from an end-user perspective. What are the needs of your patient base? How can your facility or practice serve that need? What will patients expect when they come in the door? What kind of experience do you want patients to have when they visit your practice or facility? How do you want to be perceived? WHAT SETS YOU APART?

The answers to these sorts of questions will help to identify the image you want to project; you can then work backwards to develop a plan that will help educate the public about your particular expertise and experience in addressing the needs of the type of patient you are trying to attract.

Next: 3. Marketing vs. PR

 

3. Marketing vs PR

A quick note here about the difference between marketing and PR. The digital era and the growth of social media have served to blur the lines between these two disciplines. In the traditional sense, marketing describes those efforts designed to promote sales and grow brand awareness, whereas PR is more concerned with image and relationship building and public and consumer education.

 Historically, marketing is closely related to advertising and it usually entails capital investment; in PR, the objective is to attract media and consumer attention so that there is opportunity to educate and build a relationship with the audience.

In old school marketing campaigns, a certain brand identity was established and promoted through advertising. Messaging was concerned with presenting that brand in a certain light so as to attract consumer attention and influence a purchasing decision.

When such tools as Facebook and Twitter (and Instagram, Google+, LinkedIn, and etc.) are harnessed to the full extent of their abilities, brand identity and corporate image are integrated into a single message. The importance of brand identity is deemphasized in the digital realm, and effective promotion is achieved via reputation building and education.

The “conversion” in terms of influencing consumer (read, patient) action is subtler and capitalizes on the consumer’s desire to become part of an experience.

Next: 4. Getting the team involved...The whole team!

 

4. Getting the team involved … The whole team!

OK, back to the topic at hand. Once you have established what you want your practice to be and how you want it perceived, its time to get some insight from your team. The best plans include both a top-down as well as a bottom-up perspective. This has the added benefit of giving everyone a stake in growing and promoting the practice.

I advise ophthalmologists and eye care practitioners to involve the entire team-from front office staff to the technicians to the billing staff-to gain input on how to grow the practice. Demonstrate to each member of the team how growing the practice ultimately benefits each and every member of the staff. But do not forget to include the entire staff in this discussion-everybody wins when the practice succeeds.

The most successful practices I encounter have the entire team moving in the same direction and committed to growing the practice together. In today’s eye care marketplace, it takes a coordinated effort to deliver high-quality patient care, and in truth, it is no different for promoting the practice.

One way to get this initiative underway is to sit down together to plan an event or function that will help highlight the practice. In addition to helping to position the practice, giving the team the chance and opportunity to come together to plan and coordinate a special event is great for team building.

There is a practical benefit to involving the team, of course. You may find that someone in your office has particular experience using social media. Someone in the billing department may be really good at getting feedback on Facebook and maybe one of your technicians knows how to effectively boil a cogent message down to 140 characters.

You can also incentivize your team to get them involved with social media efforts. For instance, you can set up a bonus structure for those who engage and promote on social media. ASK WHAT THEY ARE GOOD AT AND WANT TO BE INVOVLED WITH! IT WILL MAEK THEM HAPPY TO BE HEARD AND BE PART OF THE TEAM!

The staff at your practice or facility can be the engine that drives your campaign, but they can also be the very thing you talk about. Do you have a technician who does a particularly good job of relating to patients? Share his or her story on Facebook. Did one of your doctors get recognized for an award or publish a paper? Tweet out the good news. Did a member of your billing staff just pass 10 years of working in your practice? That longevity is great fodder for a blog about how your practice strives to build long-term relationships.

Of course, if you are at all uncomfortable with taking all of this on, there is always the option to outsource your PR efforts. A PR firm can help build relationships with local media outlets and can help position your doctors as experts on a given topic area.

Sharing news about a new practice offering and highlighting patient experiences are great ways to attract local coverage.

Next: 5. The little things matter

 

5. The little things matter

As in most things, the devil is in the details. Planning an effective PR campaign is only half the battle; it has to be executed properly to succeed. Of course, any good campaign will likely need to be tweaked as you learn what works and what does not.

Try to stay on track as much as possible, pay attention to the details (typos and grammatical mistakes in a Facebook post can be confidence killers), but remember also to have fun with your campaign. Remember, after all is said in done, you are promoting your business, but you are also sharing your passion with the world.