Power of the press

Advertising and PR are still relatively new concepts to most UK dentists, yet interest in them is booming. That is because more practices are coming to understand the power of these tools in boosting their business, which is helping to ensure their success in an increasingly competitive market.

Let’s look first at advertising. There are still some dentists who think advertising and marketing are the same thing. They are not – marketing consists of a wide range of tools that help you achieve your practice goals, and advertising is only one of them.

Advertising is basically paying for a set amount of space in the media, which you can then use to promote your practice and services. This can be a tiny box in a free local community guide or several minutes of prime TV air time; but for our purposes here we will focus on the media that have proven the most effective for dentists: the local press, glossy magazines and the internet.

Local newspapers are a great way to advertise your practice. We have talked before about the cost per person reached by your adverts (CPP), and about targeting your audience effectively. Local newspapers offer a relatively low CPP, and their smaller distribution area ensures effective geographical targeting.

Another popular and effective press advertising vehicle is the Country Life type of county magazine. This is perfect for practices with a larger budget who want to attract affluent clients for specialist treatments. While the CPP is higher, you are refining your target audience, aiming more at high-earning image-conscious people in your catchment area.

You have a choice of the type of advertising you can do. Classified advertising – the little box adverts you see at the back of a newspaper – is used by some businesses, but we would not recommend it for dentistry, simply because, unless you particularly want to attract lower- paying clients, it will give your practice the wrong image.

Display advertising consists of all the other adverts you see in the newspaper, from huge double-page spreads to an eighth-of-a-page advert tucked in the corner of an inside page. A display advert gives you the chance to use powerful images and headlines to help get your message across. You can use your logo in it, and you can choose to use only one or two colours – such as blue and black – or to go for full colour.

Another option is the advertorial, which is a combination of an advertisement and an editorial (news) item. You pay for the space, which means that you have the freedom to say more or less whatever you like (as long as it doesn’t breach any Advertising Standards Agency regulations). But instead of looking like an advert, it looks like a news or feature item, and consequently is often considered by the public to carry more weight, because people tend to be more inclined to believe the content of an advertorial than an advertisement.

It is hard to quantify the success of your advertising and PR activities if you don’t keep track of the results. An obvious way to do this is simply to ask new enquirers how they heard of you. Keep a note of their answers and, over time, you should see which parts of your promotional activity are working best for you. Large organisations go to great lengths to keep a close eye on how their marketing and PR is working.

They will canvas existing customers to ask questions such as whether they have seen the latest adverts, whether the adverts have affected their view of the company, and whether the customers have been encouraged by the adverts to take up other services.

Market research is also used as a means to establish product or brand awareness or recognition, with questions such as: ‘Can you name three brands of a particular product?’ or ‘Have you heard of a particular brand name?’ The more research you carry out, the more you will be able to refine your advertising, which will help ensure a greater return on your investment.

As with most other aspects of business expenditure, you need to set a budget for your advertising, and stick to it. This last bit is important, because throughout the year you are almost certain to be approached by at least one advertising rep with an ‘unbeatable’ offer. These often arise when another advertiser drops out at the last minute, or when a deadline is fast approaching and there is still advertising space left.

But try not to be swayed by an offer like this, however enticing it may be. A 50% reduction from the normal rates does not necessarily mean the offer is for you. Think carefully about it – is this the right publication for you, does it fit in with your other advertising, will it benefit your practice, is it a worthwhile investment? Sometimes the answer will be no, but occasionally it will be yes, and only then is it worth taking advantage of a special offer.

Most publications will have an advertising rate card, which is a tariff laying out their prices for various sizes of adverts, and it can appear quite daunting. It is easy to envisage how a full-page advert will look but it can be costly. So how do you decide between a half-page vertical or horizontal, and how big is a two-column 8cm advert?

Adverts are measured either according to the proportion of the page they take up – a quarter page, for example – or by the width of the columns they use and the height. If you are not sure what a particular size will look like, draw a template based on the width of the columns and the number of columns that you will use, plus the height of your advert.

The decision about whether to go portrait (vertical) or landscape (horizontal) will depend on your advert’s design. Don’t be shy about negotiating either. Just because the rate card says an advert is a particular price doesn’t mean you have to pay it. It’s a bit like hotel tariffs, in that you rarely have to pay the full rate for a room.

So it’s worth haggling a little – and remember that, in general, the rep wants your business more than you need the space. There will be limits on the discounts that you will get, but it’s worth trying to establish what they are. Booking a number of adverts in one go, for example, usually attracts a discount.

PR can be an excellent tool to help build brand awareness and establish your expertise and knowledge among potential patients. Blue Horizons devotes a lot of time and effort to PR, and we regularly appear in leading UK dental publications such as this one.

We don’t write about our products or sing our own praises because, even if such articles were published, no-one would want to read them. Instead we write articles like this, which we hope will be informative and useful, and are not advertisements in any way.

These articles have played a key role in helping us to establish Blue Horizons as a reputable company that has demonstrable expertise and knowledge in our specialist area, so dentists naturally feel confident about approaching us for help. But this hasn’t happened by chance – we continue to develop ideas for articles, stay in regular contact with the editors, and ensure that we deliver articles when we say we will.

As a dentist keen to make the most of PR, you need to make and maintain regular contact with your chosen publication. You need to come up with ideas for articles that will be of interest to readers, and be available for comment if necessary.

As a guide, investing in a digital X-ray system, or giving £50 off the cost of tooth whitening for a month are unlikely to be of interest. But if you have a real opinion on a dental issue, such as this month’s NHS changes, or you have just taken delivery of a an amazing new piece of equipment that has obvious benefits for patients and is the only one of its kind in the area, then the media may be interested.

You may even be able to establish a regular presence, such as writing a dental problems column every month.

Yes, it will take up more precious time, but it will help to establish you as the area’s leading dental practice. Advertising and PR can be fantastic marketing tools, making a huge contribution to the success of your practice. But you need to treat them as long-term projects and investments. Over time, you will see the benefits as the monthly average of new patients rises and your profits follow suit.

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