Taking the ultimate marketing plunge

An in-house marketing director can pay off

About four years ago, Charlotte Surgery & Laser Center in Charlotte, NC decided it had little to show for the $100,000 the practice was spending each year in Yellow Pages advertising and a patient newsletter. Rather than abandoning marketing altogether, the practice decided to take a risk. It diverted half of its $75,000 Yellow Pages budget to the salary of a part-time marketing director.

The gamble paid off, says Center medical director Andrew Walker, MD. In fact, the marketing director produced such good results that the practice increased her hours from part-time to full-time.

If your marketing efforts are falling short of expectations, Walker recommends reviewing of priorities. Consider expanding the role of your marketer, he advises. Usually the money needed to lure a good marketer can be found in the advertising budget.

An experienced marketer will do more for your practice than whatever advertising you might otherwise buy, he argues. Walker and his colleagues hired their marketing director away from a smaller practice in town. "Our administrator knew her and knew she would do a good job," he says.

Ease the transition

Some of Charlotte Surgery and Laser Center’s doctors had doubts about whether the practice could keep a marketing director busy on a full-time basis, Smith says. A compromise was struck. The practice brought in a part-time marketer for three days a week.

The new marketer’s salary primarily was paid for by cutting back on the practice’s Yellow Pages ads. Eventually, the practice would pare its Yellow Pages expense to $35,000 annually — less than half of what it had allocated earlier.

The group quickly came to rely heavily on its part-time marketer. In addition to writing the practice newsletter, the marketer established a new patient satisfaction survey. "We had done some surveys in the past with outside consultants, but usually they were just handed out or mailed to customers with little follow up," says Walker.

The practice’s physicians were impressed with the results they got when the job was done in-house. The survey response rate skyrocketed because the part-time marketer really worked at getting patients to complete and return the questionnaires.

The new employee also did a very thorough job tracking results of the practice’s advertising efforts. Finally the physicians knew how many patients had come in for consultations as a result of a particular advertisement and how many actually went through with a surgery thanks to the follow up done by the marketing director.

It didn’t take long for the physicians to see the value of having the person on board full time. After they agreed to budget $35,000 to $40,000 for the position, there were still doubts. Some of the physicians wondered whether there was enough work for a full-time marketing director.

Again, they compromised by bringing the marketer in on a full-time basis and incorporating into the job description several tasks that weren’t just marketing.

Such apprehensions on the part of practice physicians are pretty normal, says David Cassidy, ATC, MPd, marketing director for Jewett Orthopaedic Clinic in Winter Park, FL. Cassidy began his marketing role by helping out with public relations at trade shows and health fairs.

Over a few years, his role evolved into a full-time position which now involves everything from developing practice brochures to maintaining the group’s World Wide Web site. He also keeps close tabs on what managed care organizations in the area are doing.

Before a practice has a full-time marketing director in place, however, it is difficult for the physicians to imagine all the different ways they will use a marketing director, he says.

Charlotte Surgery & Laser Center’s current marketing director, Carole Batten, has opened doors for practice physicians that they previously didn’t know existed, says Walker.

Her contacts with local newspapers have provided the opportunity for her to place stories about the benefits of plastic surgery. The stories work like advertisements. They are free to the practice, except for the commitment of Batten’s time spent pitching stories to reporters and researching ideas. She also has found new marketing opportunities by scheduling evening seminars where practice physicians speak at local health fairs and retirement homes.

"What we learned was that you can get a lot of marketing free. All you need is for somebody to be out there looking for it," says Walker.

Getting started

Now Walker tells anyone who will listen to consider getting a marketer in-house as soon as possible. Even when it may not seem financially feasible, figure out a way to make it work.

Many practices wait far too long to hire someone to look after their marketing, Walker says. Charlotte Surgery & Laser Center had 10 physicians before hiring its full-time director. Jewett Orthopaedic had 18 physicians before hiring Cassidy as its marketing director.

Small practices often try to leave marketing for the administrator to do on a slow day. It simply doesn’t work.

"They are ineffective because they don’t have time to follow up on any of their marketing ideas," he says. Administrators are too busy closing the books and keeping the office running smoothly to do the job. Marketing is too important to be put on hold during an office crisis, Walker says.

"You need somebody independent of the administrator who has more marketing expertise," Walker says.

What most practices don’t understand is that there are many people who could do the job on a part-time basis, he says. And a part-time marketer is affordable for most practices.

A sole practitioner could use a part-time marketer at least one day a week, Walker says. A three-physician practice has enough marketing work to fill three days a week. But many small practices don’t believe that they can find someone with the expertise on a part-time basis.

"You may only have a $10,000 marketing budget. You want to buy $5,000 in advertising, leaving $5,000 for a part-time salary," he says. "My point is that there are a lot of people out there who have family obligations and don’t want to work full-time. They can come into the office for a few hours."

Try it and see how much value you get for your money, he advises.