Tips for Optimizing an Outside Marketing Firm

By Scott Huffer, OD, FAAO

Oct. 11, 2017

Marketing is a key to practice success. You can have the best doctors, state-of-the-art instrumentation and greatest staff, but if no one knows about it, no one will benefit. My practice tried marketing with just the know-how of doctors and support staff, but found room for improvement. Using an outside marketing firm has given us marketing ideas we wouldn’t have come up with on our own, along with help implementing those ideas.

To do the level of marketing we are doing now would easily take me 5-8 hours a week, and a skill-set I don’t have. For instance, we worked with our marketing firm this year to produce a 30-second video shown at a local movie theater before movies with professional voice-overs and cooperative advertising from Alcon incorporated. That kind of marketing would require too much time and know-how for it to be something I could do on my own.

Our marketer also was able to negotiate a much better overnight rate for radio spots, so we could effectively target “third-shift”workers in our area, those who work from midnight through the early morning.

From a revenue growth perspective, the marketing firm we work with has proven valuable. Our office gross sales are up by over $250,000 year-to-date, according our dashboard management reports, and our gross revenues are up about $110,000 year-to-date according to reports generated by our EHR.

Find the Right Firm
A fellow member of the Rotary Club, of which I am a member, asked at a meeting if he could come and talk with us about the services he provides. He worked in digital advertising, and made a pitch that was way out of our league financially. He showed us what our local competitors were doing with digital advertising, and this was enlightening.

Many local area offices spend large amounts of money attracting patients online. His plan for our office was much too expensive, and we did not end up working with him, but our conversation made it clear we were not paying enough attention to our marketing efforts digitally or otherwise.

We had another member of our Rotary Club involved in marketing ask for an opportunity to meet with us. He knew we were an office in transition, with some partners buying out others, and spoke with us about how to better manage this transition. He suggested transitioning into a new name, and developing digital and traditional marketing plans. It was a much more comprehensive approach, so we decided to give this marketer’s firm a try.

Work Out Payment & Set Budget
We pay a monthly fee for marketing services. This covers consulting on any advertising we place. The firm re-words many of our simple advertisements, and typically charges a nominal fee (less than $100) for ad production, in addition to our regular monthly fee.

The improvement in our ads has been significant. For example, the community events our practice supports, like the police benefit, are customized to the event, and are much more powerful than a business card placement in which a simple photo of a business card is used.

We set a marketing budget at the beginning of each year, and we have monthly meetings throughout the year to ensure we stay on track. We set a marketing budget for 2017 of $40,000. In my marketing research I found out the typical business spends 3-5 percent of gross revenues on advertising. Our budget is significantly less than 3 percent of our gross revenues.

Another way to think of it is local chains are spending more than twice as much as we do on marketing. It is why many people believe local offices are more expensive. They are controlling the message.

Our firm has been remarkably helpful in keeping us on budget. I was able to provide our marketer with contact information for cooperative advertising. We are now doing advertising in partnership with Alcon and Bausch + Lomb. This has helped us stay well under budget this year while doing much larger-than-anticipated projects.

A marketing piece created by Dr. Huffer’s firm. He said the firm is especially adept at creating materials to suit specific community events, such as those honoring local police.

Help the Firm Help You
Our marketing firm is not large, and we have a personal relationship with the owner. We have all our conversations with him, and he is directly accountable for all of our projects.

I am responsible for communication with our marketing firm. We divide practice business management work among the partners, and marketing is one of my responsibilities.

If the owner of the marketing firm needs information to help him work on a project for us, he will sometimes contact our office manager, or our optical manager, if the questions are ones they can address without my input. For example, we are currently working on educational handouts for patients, and he has been communicating directly with employees to ensure the proper content.

I probably spend one hour per week working on marketing. Most of that time is spent having conversations with our marketer about which opportunities best utilize our budget, and helping him edit our marketing content. Sometimes we would like to say the same thing in different ways. The point of advertising is to get and capture attention, and sometimes I have to encourage a more conservative approach to avoid being misleading or irresponsible.

Evaluate New Marketing Opportunities & Improvements
As a Vision Source practice, we are able to access detailed demographic information for our region. We are thinking about investing in targeted direct mail. We are able to identify regions smaller than zip codes that spend high amounts on eyecare services. We are considering promoting LipiFlow in these areas, along with other goods and services.

We are also cleaning up our handouts. We are working on a series of handouts that are all consistent to give patients on conditions such as dry eye and macular degeneration. We also are working on handouts for our front desk to give patients on the difference between routine and medical services, our contact lens fitting fees, and our pricing structure for other services. And we are working on handouts for our optical on spectacle lens options, the dangers of blue light and our warranty policy. We’ve found that such internal marketing is as important as the external marketing we do. Fortunately, our marketing firm can help us with all of it.


Scott Huffer, OD, FAAO, is a partner with with Drs. Helfman, Lasky & Associates in Nashua, N.H. To contact:

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