Start the course: Anatomy of a marketing plan

When physicians at the Hattiesburg (MS) Clinic noted in 1992 that there was no comprehensive epilepsy center in Mississippi and decided they would like to start such a center, Theresa Erickson, CME, assistant administrator of the clinic, went to work to develop a marketing plan.

She started as if she were developing a plan for the whole clinic, she says, following the rules experts agree work best: Set your goals and develop a specific plan for attaining them. (See related story p. 35.)

"We came up with a general vision statement that we wanted to provide a comprehensive epilepsy center that provided both diagnostic and treatment services," says Erickson. That vision led to some specific goals related to the products and services which would make that vision a reality.

Erickson developed a list of services that are recommended by the Minneapolis-based National Association of Epilepsy Centers that included electrodiagnostic services, epilepsy surgery, imaging, — including magnetic resonance imaging — and pharmacological expertise. The association also provided guidelines on the type of personnel that would be needed to adequately staff such a center.

She and the physicians also came up with patient goals — to see two patients per week by the end of 1992 — potential prices, a target market based on the prevalence of epilepsy in the United States, and a "sphere of dominance" from which the clinic could expect to win patients.

Using these guidelines, Erickson came up with some specific aims as follows:

Establish product identification.

This included developing a logo, a name, literature, and collateral materials.

Develop an operational plan.

Included in this category were developing a budget, determining equipment needs, and establishing billing and reimbursement procedures.

Develop organizational awareness and support within the Hattiesburg system.

This included writing articles about the center, disseminating guidelines for referral, speaking to area physicians, and distributing brochures to physicians and departments within and outside the clinic.

Become a major referral epilepsy center.

Erickson had to make sure that referring physicians, healthcare professionals, and other relevant organizations were known. She wrote a letter of introduction to all interested parties and also circulated information to doctors, schools, and other community groups.

Develop a promotional campaign.

This included printed materials and graphics, Yellow Pages advertisement, a media campaign, and participation in community projects that increased levels of awareness.

Track and monitor database information.

The clinic had to develop a tracking system for referring physicians and other referral services, Erickson says. Her goal was to update the database information she developed on a monthly basis so that all parties concerned would be aware of progress.

Obtain personnel, equipment, and services needed.

Erickson followed the recommended guidelines in terms of the services the center should provide. She worked with a local hospital for the necessary monitoring equipment and used internal staffing expertise to meet the staffing requirements.

Develop an informal affiliation with the EpiCare Center in Memphis, TN.

This affiliation would allow the new center to lean on the Tennessee organization for expertise in some surgical procedures.

The budget for the marketing campaign was about $33,000, Erickson says, including printed materials, advertising, and newsletter. The costs of this campaign could be met by having one patient per week referred to the clinic — a goal easily reached. By the end of 1992, the center was seeing two patients per week. Its success led, in 1994, to a temporary suspension of activities. "We had so much business that the physician in charge was overwhelmed," Erickson says. The center has recently started operating again. One lesson Erickson learned from her experience was not to underestimate the potential success of a program or the effect success can have on the staff at the clinic.

She still analyzes projects the same way, although Erickson has added a couple of steps: putting a name, a cost, and a "due date" next to each goal. She advises all people setting up new marketing programs to conduct a simple test of their theories.

"They should do a SWOT test," she says. "Test the strengths of the plan, the weaknesses, the opportunities for growth, and the threats to your plan."