By Aaron Neufeld, OD, FAAO
Nov. 14, 2018
Introducing yourself to your community requires marketing, and it also requires building ties to the local people through involvement in the activities that mean the most to them. In my practice’s community of Los Altos, Calif., we have made efforts to participate in community events and organizations. Sometimes people note our involvement, and become patients, bringing their friends and family along with them.
The return on investment of community involvement can be hard to gauge, but we’ve found for many months following our community events, patients streaming in saying that’s where they first heard of us.
Seek Out Key Organizations
Our community involvement centers around two key organizations we are a part of: Rotary and Chamber of Commerce, for which we sponsor an annual golf tournament. With Rotary, there are a variety of small events that occur throughout the year, however our big event and fundraiser is called “Art in the Park,” a weekend Art Show that takes place in the local community. Our practice is a “gold” sponsor the event, meaning that we get our practice name and logo affixed to all programs, signage and mailings. This enables us to build brand recognition. At the actual event, our doctor and staff volunteer. Since it is a local community event, we get to interact with many people, and this interaction often generates new patients.
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Rotary and the Chamber are both organizations that champion many causes that we enjoy being a part of. We have no “pet charities” per say, but we do volunteer our time toward specific causes. We have many friends and patients who are active board members and chairs of sub-committees within these organizations. When they see our active involvement, it helps reinforce our commitment to not only being eye doctors for the community, but for being volunteers as well.
New for this year is involvement in local schools. We are taking a two-fold approach. First, we are looking to sponsor our local high school (which happens to be across the street from our office), which would enable our name and logo to appear on signage and sports schedules. This should hopefully further our brand recognition.
Additionally, I have scheduled to give presentations about eye anatomy to science classes, and optometry as a profession, to a few career-oriented classes for high school seniors. I am even scheduled to give a presentation on vision and eyes to a local Chinese school (time to start learning Mandarin!).
The great thing about community events is that they need volunteers! Organizations like Lions Club, Rotary and Kiwanis are always putting on fundraising events. Additionally, schools and health organizations are always looking for extra help. Just ask around.
The key to participating in these events, and effectively marketing yourself, is to be genuine. Get involved with causes you truly have a passion for and truly enjoy. When you find your niche, stick with it! Repetition will greatly help your cause. When you become a familiar face with a certain cause or event, an association between your practice and that charity is established, which helps people develop trust in you.
Set Community Involvement Budget
Sponsorships are typically where the money outlay is required. Our Rotary sponsorship is around $1,000, while other sponsorships can be either higher or lower depending on the organization.
The biggest “cost” in community involvement is definitely your time. Some events require that you miss time in the office. Others require that you donate your weekend. Although time is much more valuable than money, your presence at the event makes your practice’s participation more impactful. You get to market yourself as an individual. People from the community get to see you in an active volunteer position, which shows that your care for the individuals around you reaches much further than your exam room (which in turn generates profit). Potential patients get to see their future doctor.
Putting a concrete ROI number on community events is tough. The influence that these events have on acquiring new patients and reinforcing patient retention is massive, but the results are usually not seen instantaneously. We may get new patients, who saw the name of our practice on signage or a flier, come in a few days later, or we might have a new patient waltz in months later who talked to me or an associate and was given a business card that they forgot about until they had need of an eye doctor.
Brand Yourself with Your Practice Logo at Events
When we sponsor events, preparation of our logo or advertisement is key. If you are being featured in any media, whether it be electronically online, or on paper, you want to get your message across in a short and concise way. If your message is long or convoluted, it will be glossed over. However, you also cannot make it too ambiguous. For us, we have used the same graphic/logo for nearly everything we participate in. We have used it enough that it has established local brand awareness. Individuals in our community recognize the “green eye,” whether it be on a flyer or on a bottle of glasses cleaner:
We always try to get promotional material out if possible, and we always try to make it relevant to our practice. For example, we often hand out free eyeglass cleaner and microfiber cloths. Since most of the events are outside and in the summer, participants are glad to grab these to clean their glasses off.
Market Involvement Before & After Events
We market our involvement by actively showing off our participation. For the Rotary Art Show, we place advertisements for the Art Show, including banners, flyers and lawn signs, all over our practice. We also raise awareness on our web site and social media accounts before the events, and after with photos of our doctors and staff participating.
Make Community Involvement a Practice-Wide Activity
Getting support staff involved is always a great idea. Giving back to the community should be an office-wide event, and not limited to doctors. This allows our office culture and mission to permeate throughout the local scene. I believe it is vital for employees to know what is going in our community.
Community involvement allows employees to better understand our patient population, and also keeps them up-to-date on local happenings. This turns into material for conversations, which develops relationships, and subsequent sales.