Are infomercials really that expensive?

Ok, let’s talk money. What are the economics of the decision to create an infomercial.

The first thing you have to understand is how many patients you would have to see to recoup your production costs, says Andrea Eliscu, RN, MBA, president of Winter Park, FL-based consulting firm Medical Marketing.

That’s not always as easy as it sounds. When laser corrective surgery was first introduced, physicians charged more than $2,000 per eye in the San Francisco market. Today the norm is just under $2,000 and some physicians say that the price will likely stabilize at about $1,200.

If your production costs are $60,000, that’s 30 to 50 operations just to cover that expense.

Experts say it will cost roughly $30,000 to $60,000 for a full-service production house to produce a high-quality infomercial for a practice. But how firm is that price?

Among the most prestigious vendors, it’s not likely to waver much. But there may be other options, depending on how flexible your practice can be. Eliscu offers the following tips:

1. Inquire about stations’ in-house production units.

"Right now a number of the local television stations have a production arm," says Eliscu. "If you will do these infomercials and buy time on their station, they will cut a deal with you to have their production arm help you do your infomercial at a package price."

The only downside to that sort of arrangement is that it is generally a one-size-fits-all package. "You only get what they give you. They may decide they are only going to give you one camera," Eliscu explains. If you are set on a much more sophisticated and interesting approach, that package won’t work, she says.

2. Check out hospital media departments.

Some local hospitals have extremely sophisticated media departments, says Eliscu. If yours is well-equipped, let the hospital’s media staff bid on your infomercial’s production. You might get a bargain.

3. Strike a deal with a production house.

Lesser-known production houses can be found in any community and are usually very good, says Eliscu. If they don’t have experience in your field, your staff may have to write script, for example.

"You sit down and negotiate a deal with them. [Specify] who’s going to write the script, who’s going to take care of all the production points, who’s going to get all the permissions, and who’s going to get all the [actors] there," says Eliscu. The more work your staff can handle, the lower the vendor’s bill.

Assuming you reach the desired terms on the production of the infomercial, you still need to consider the cost of buying air time to run the program.

4. Buy cable stations’ air time.

The cost of air time varies widely by market, but most markets have small cable stations that run old movies, old situation comedies, and infomercials. "Some of those are incredibly inexpensive," says Eliscu.

For example, it costs as little as $25 to run an infomercial in the Orlando market, depending on when it airs. Larger cable stations and better times can increase the cost to $200. It is possible to buy time an a major network’s local affiliate, but the time slot is likely to be 2 a.m. and the cost would be higher yet. Cable stations are better buys, Eliscu says.

5. Don’t buy more geographic coverage than you need.

In the Orlando market, it’s possible to buy eight- or 17-county coverage. For the vast majority of procedures, people are not willing to travel very far to see a particular physician.

6. Run the program as long as it pays for variable costs.

The costs of production are invested once your infomercial is shot. The idea is to get the maximum mileage out of those investments by airing the commercial as often as possible, but only when viewer response pays for the variable cost of air time.

Again, the importance of a tracking mechanism like a toll-free number cannot be overstated, says Eliscu. If viewer response isn’t paying for air time, you want to discontinue use of the infomercial.

A well-made infomercial can run in different places and times for as long as 18 months before the market has reached saturation, says Eliscu. But it has to be memorable to play that long.

If an infomercial gets shown 200 times and its production costs were $60,000, the production cost per viewing is a very reasonable $300.