Marketing budgets holding steady, but how it’s spent is changing

PMM readers have their say

If you’ve been able to convince your board to ante up more marketing dollars in 1998, you’re not alone. Marketing budgets may be healthier than some practice leaders believe, based on the results of an informal survey Physician’s Marketing & Management made among our readers.

Last month, PMM reported that according to the most recent Cost Survey by the Medical Group Marketing Association (MGMA) in Englewood, CO, marketing expenditures were down, even in better-performing practices.

The MGMA survey showed that among all multispecialty practices, the median marketing budget fell from $1,854 per physician in 1995 to $1,778 in 1996. For better performers, the budgets were larger, but they still declined over the year from $2,066 to $1,992.

But a few calls to some of our readers showed that trend wasn’t true for them. Beverly Taylor, marketing director for Premier Medical Group in Clarksville, TN, says her 43-physician multispecialty practice increased its marketing budget by about 10% this year.

How she is using that money, though, is changing. "You can have a billboard, and that will help recognition. But you have to see something nine times for it to sink in," she says. "Word of mouth just works better. We have found that community involvement is a good way to promote ourselves."

One of the initiatives she uses is providing medical coverage at all the home football games for the state university and six area high schools. The practice also provides an orthopedist at all away games. In the same vein, Premier puts on clinics three times a year for local athletes.

Taylor says there are other shifts in her marketing budget, too. "We are channeling our funds to more internal marketing — spending it on training our employees to provide better customer service. The best advertisement is a satisfied patient and our own employees."

When she does advertise, Taylor says she concentrates on marketing the convenience of the practices’ four sites. "We talk about our night and weekend hours."

She also makes use of the telephone hold feature in the offices to tout these conveniences, rather than playing music.

One of her next projects — and one for which she is seeking advice from other readers who may have experience in this area — is to put together a physicians’ speakers bureau, so that her doctors can spend even more time in the community.

Shift in spending priorities

For Julie Kuehn-Bailey, marketing manager for the Glen Ellen & Wheaton Medical Clinic in Wheaton, IL, the marketing budget and program has been affected by a merger. Technically, Kuehn-Bailey says she has less money than the combined marketing budgets of the two merged practices. "But Glen Ellen Clinic spent a lot of money ineffectively last year," she explains.

For instance, there was money spent advertising in local high school calendars, and $500 spent to list the clinic in a neighborhood association book.

As a result, she didn’t ask for a larger marketing budget, but instead asked for a small amount with the proviso that if there was a good opportunity to market, she would come back for more. "I did come back and told them I wanted to do more than just a brochure and a newsletter, and the board was very positive."

The budget was also smaller because the new merged clinic is part of Nashville, TN-based physician practice management company PhyCor, and Kuehn-Bailey can make use of free design services through PhyCor. "I told them that if that goes away, then I would have to ask for more money, and they were amenable to that," she says.

Other readers contacted by PMM seemed surprised that the MGMA found marketing budgets were largely down. Melanie Fite, MBA, director of physician relations at Mid South Imaging in Memphis, TN, says that while she has no formal budget, she has found her physicians increasingly open to marketing expenditure.

"We have done some expensive advertising, and once I talk to them about why it’s necessary, they agree," says Fite.

Most of her marketing is directed at referring physicians — holding luncheons for them, for instance — and the physicians in her practice are, if anything, anxious for her to increase her efforts in that area.

Kim Manning, director of marketing for Alegent Health, an Omaha, NE-based integrated health system, has also seen her marketing budget remain stable. But like her counterparts, there has been a shift in how that money has been spent.

"We are moving away from marketing the individual practices," she says. "Now, we are concentrating more on network marketing. It’s much more effective."

Recently, Alegent conducted a free public health screening as part of a campaign to be known as a network focused on health. Participants were given a basic blood screening. If the analysis came back with moderate to high risk, a nurse called the patient and suggested some changes to his or her lifestyle that could help. If the risk came back very high, the person was phoned and told to see the doctor. If that person didn’t have a relationship with a primary care physician, he or she was directed to a physician in the Alegent network.

Results are still being tallied

While Manning is still crunching numbers to see if there was an increase in new patients from the effort, she says that it was well received by the public.

"We are trying to focus more on relationship marketing," she explains. "The one-on-one marketing that emphasizes our mission to our patients is money much better spent than on marketing 50 separate primary care sites."

[Editor’s Note: Is your practice spending more or less on marketing this year? Are you doing something different in your marketing than you have done in the past? Share your stories and ideas with us. You can e-mail Lisa Hubbell at dhubbell@ix.netcom.com. Or fax her at (425) 828-9779.]

Julie Kuehn-Bailey, Marketing Manager, Glen Ellen & Wheaton Clinic, Wheaton, IL. Telephone: (630) 942-7955.

Melanie Fite, MBA, Director of Physician Relations, Mid South Imaging, Memphis, TN. Telephone: (901) 525-0095.

Beverly Taylor, Marketing Director, Premier Medical Group, Clarksville, TN. Telephone: (931) 553-4227.

Kim Manning, Marketing Director, Alegent Health, Omaha, NE. Telephone: (402) 343-4485.