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For good marketing, try an open house

Want a marketing approach that’s both effective and inexpensive?

Try an open house.

It’s an open sales opportunity, says Robin Samora of Let’s Make You Shine, a Boston marketing firm for medical practices and small businesses. It can achieve a number of good things:

  • Introduce the practice to prospective patients
  • Introduce new physicians
  • Show off the expertise of an individual physician or of the group
  • Show prospective patients what the place looks like so they are comfortable coming here.

But success isn’t automatic. It calls for planning. And the open house “has to be thoughtfully laid out,” Samora says.

A bond plus added value

An open house has to follow the rules of marketing, Samora says, and marketing “is all about engagements.” It’s getting people engaged in or involved with the office. It’s making them aware of the physicians’ expertise and letting them get to know the staff and the office.

That creates a bond with people. And that’s the first part of marketing success.

The second part is added value, or giving people something more or better than what they expect.

A successful open house has to achieve both of those elements, “because there are a lot of choices out there,” she says.

It has to create a bond with the patients and give them added value in the quality of the information and person attention they get.

What should our focus be?

The focus has to be something people want and that will, in turn, bring in new patients.

For example, a plastic surgery practice might use the open house as a platform to explain the benefits and risks of cosmetic procedures or Botox or fillers. Or the focus might be high-risk pregnancy or how to care for a child with a particular illness or specific procedure such as bypass surgery.

What do we do?

As to the format, Samora recommends starting with 30 minutes of meet and greet. Follow that with a presentation. And follow the presentation with a question and answer time.

And use illustrations. Show drawings of how a procedure is done. Show before and after pictures. Or, for a procedure such as Botox injections, it’s even effective to have a model and administer the Botox as part of the presentation.

And always serve food.

How do we get people to come?

There needs to be a reason for patients to attend, Samora says. There needs to be an enticement.

On the material side, free is the operative word.

The manager can ask for gift certificates from merchants. A natural foods outlet, for example, might supply gift certificate or coupons for produce. Or a hospital might give free passes for exercise classes.

Even better, if one of the physicians has written a book, give out free autographed copies.

But beyond free things, the greatest draw is the physicians themselves.

If one of them is well known in some specialty, present the open house as an opportunity to speak directly with Dr. Well Known Cardiologist.

Being well known, however, is not a requirement. What people really want is good information about a procedure or a diagnosis or health care in general. And if it’s an elective procedure, they want to know the cost.

Any physician who gives people the information they want is a good attraction.

When is the best?

The best days for open houses are Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays.

Weekends are out because people are busy with home and social activities. Mondays are too busy. And on Fridays, she notes,  “everybody wants to go home.”

The best time is usually morning, before the day begins. By afternoon, people are busy finishing work and getting children home from school.

If the open house is held in a hospital, an evening time is also good, because the hospital is open and has safe parking.

As to how often, the most effective approach is to hold an open house quarterly with a different program for each one. That keeps people aware of the offices, because they keep coming back for more information.

Whom should we invite?

For the invitation list, start with the patients or potential patients who have inquired about the topic or who are on a waiting list for the procedure.

Ask the hospital if it has a database of people interested in the topic or who are on the hospital’s magazine distribution lists.

Put a notice in the hospital’s newsletter. And in the office’s newsletter. And on the office’s website.

Mention it on the office’s voice mail recording, perhaps, “and don’t forget our open house Thursday, May 5, to introduce Dr. A to our practice.”

If the physician is involved with the Red Cross or Chamber of Commerce or works with a senior center, call the community relations person at that organization and ask if it can send an email notice to its members or mention the open house in its newsletter.

Also, she says, it’s possible to hold an open house jointly with another practice of a complementary specialty, such as cardiology with orthopedics, so that each benefits from the other.

What should our invitation say?

Invitations need to go out one month ahead of time. They can be personal mailings or general announcements, but either way, all they need to say is “you are invited to hear Dr. A talk about such-and-such” or “you are invited to meet Dr. B, our new pediatrician.”

Include a reply form and put in a note that space is limited and reservations will be made on a first-come, first-served basis.

Two or three days before the open house, call the people who have signed up and verify that they will be there. To create a sense of having to be there, tell them seating is limited and to think of any questions they want to ask and e-mail them in advance if they like.

Again, Samora says, “marketing is all about engagement.” Those personal calls engage the prospects with the office before they even get to the open house.

How do we follow up?

The open house doesn’t end when the last person leaves. If the attendees are never contacted again, the effort is in vain.

The most effective follow-up, Samora says, is a call from the manager saying, “We’re glad you had an opportunity to come to our open house. I was calling to see if you have any questions we didn’t answer.”

Then listen mostly for an opportunity to offer the office’s services. If the program was about knee surgery and the person mentions a knee problem, say, “Dr. A could evaluate that for you. Would you like to do that? We have a cancellation for next Wednesday.”

Shining in the marketplace

Successful marketing means the office “shines in the marketplace,” Samora says. It means the office stands out from the crowd.

And, according to Samora, that means:

  • Making the office (or oneself) remarkable enough to attract people.
  • Letting people know the office “is good to do business with.”
  • Presenting the physician or the practice “as an expert.”
  • “Being your authentic self so people know you are for real.”
  • Showing a positive, can-do attitude.
  • Branding the office so people recognize its name and logo and what its doctors do.
  • “Not being afraid to put your best self out there and share your gift.”
  • “Making the patients feel special” by showing the office cares about them.
  • “Over-delivering,” or giving people more than they expect.
  • And making people feel personally connected to the office.

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