Beat the system

Nontraditional marketing includes those efforts that make you slightly uncomfortable, ideas your competitors won't do first, and-most importantly-things that bring patients to your practice, according to Debi Dilling, who is responsible for marketing Eye Physicians and Surgeons of Florida in Fort Myers, FL.

Nontraditional marketing includes those efforts that make you slightly uncomfortable, ideas your competitors won't do first, and-most importantly-things that bring patients to your practice, according to Debi Dilling, who is responsible for marketing Eye Physicians and Surgeons of Florida in Fort Myers, FL.

Dilling began by explaining that it is absolutely necessary for marketing efforts to have the support of a practice's ophthalmologists and administrator.

She added that when you develop a concept, idea, or event, you must plan, execute, and track the results for the effort to be considered effective.

Dilling brought a background in marketing, not healthcare, to this cataract practice, but soon realized that the aim of an ophthalmic practice is to make money, just like all other businesses.

She convinced her ophthalmologist, John W. Snead, MD, FACS, and the practice administrator to bring marketing efforts in-house instead of relying on the out-of-state marketing firm they had been using.

"We know our practice, our patients, and our area better," Dilling pointed out.

Dilling develops an annual marketing plan based on the budget she's given. The practice administrator reported that 8-10% of revenue is spent on marketing, depending on the year. She admitted to "squirreling away" discretionary money to spend on extra things throughout the year.

Dilling realized quickly that the practice name, Eye Physicians and Surgeons of Florida, is not recognized in the community, but Dr. Snead's name is. While Dr. Snead is modest, he agreed to a rebranding effort. The practice is now referred to as "Snead Cataract" in the busy southwest Florida cataract market.

"It's simple. It says who we are and what we do," explained Dilling. "Our ads go on to say that we cure cataracts and we give the phone number. It gets the message out and we get a lot of calls asking how we cure cataracts. We explain how we do it."

Mass media marketing

Dilling said their approach is different than most ophthalmic practices in their area. "Our local newspaper has 16-20 ads every day for cataract doctors. Most of them have a picture of the doctor, list his credentials, and have a call to action. Ours is much simpler."

Dilling recommended using "scatter ads" in the newspaper. "They're smaller, standalone ads, and it seems like they're everywhere in the paper. They are cheaper and can be more frequent. People comment that they see Snead Cataract everywhere. We place these ads in the classifieds near popular yard sale listings, in the healthcare section, and even in with the personals."

The practice also is considering advertising in a weekly shopper magazine that is widely distributed.

Radio ads for the practice follow suit.

"Our radio ad is simple and concise," said Dilling. "We say, 'Dr. Snead has been curing cataracts in southwest Florida for over 25 years. Call us today.' "

Dilling added that a practice should not have to pay for production of its radio ad.

She does not use testimonials in radio ads because she thinks they're often not credible. The practice displays some testimonials in the reception area instead.

Dilling said that an "adlet" is becoming a popular option for radio advertising. An adlet is a 5-second message between songs.

"It's not lost in the clutter during commercial breaks and it's cheap," she said. "Keep the voice consistent with radio/television and focus on one product. People don't retain info."