Fuel for thought

pumpChris Barrow looks at ways to pump up your marketing campaign to drive your practice forwards

While marketing is a necessary part of owning or running a dental practice, there seems to be uncertainty amongst the profession as to what should be done and what shouldn’t.
I am often asked whether specific advertising opportunities are suitable for practices or not, and while there are no set rules, there are some generic guidelines to follow and things to avoid.

Being specific

A practice owner recently asked me if it was worth advertising in a local private school’s magazine, as the students and their families were the practice’s target clientele. She wanted to highlight the practice’s ‘modern and state-of-the-art facilities’, as well as the ‘relaxed and comfortable environment’.
My problem with these phrases is that most of the points made are stating the obvious – no dental practice is going to be described as ‘old fashioned’, ‘dull’ or ‘uncomfortable’.
This is the fine line between PR and marketing, and I think not knowing the difference is one of the most common and costly mistakes that practice owners make. As far as I’m concerned, PR is the affair of maintaining visibility amongst either the profession or the public, and enhancing recognition of the business or brand. Marketing focuses on encouraging someone to actively do something – it is a call to action. For example, ‘Chris is great, he provides good advice from comfy sofas’ is PR, whereas ‘Chris is now offering one-day consults and the next 20 enquiries will receive 5% discounts’ is marketing – it’s making a specific offer on a specific service or product, encouraging the reader to physically do something about it.

‘Not knowing the difference between marketing and PR is one of the most common and costly mistakes that practice owners make’

Talk the talk

The second most common mistake made by dentists is the tendency to talk about the dentistry, as opposed to the effect it can have on people’s lives. Yes, at some point they do have to explain the treatment process in detail, but not in their initial advertising.
A large percentage of people coming forward for major treatments now seem to be in their 60s and 70s – the baby boomers who have finished paying their children’s education, paid off their mortgage, are now fairly affluent and looking to enjoy a high quality of life. They are likely to be attracted to restorative treatments that can enhance the aesthetics or function of their smiles, so such procedures and services should be marketed in a way that appeals to them.
So, going back to the advert in the school magazine, this would only be an effective use of budget if the piece is marketing the practice, and isn’t just the generic PR material we see so often.
The same principles apply to websites – if they only describe the practice, the team and the treatment offered, there is little distinguishing that practice from others.
The website will be much more effective if it tackles the reasons why patients seek out dental work, offering ways in which it can increase their confidence and highlighting the beneficial outcomes that will help patients enjoy life more.

Stretching the budget

The third most common mistake when it comes to marketing is that many practices don’t spend enough money! I always recommend that a practice budgets for 5% of its annual gross sales to be used in this area, whereas most businesses I speak to spend less than 2%.
With so little going into marketing the services offered, practices cannot generate sustainable traction through their marketing campaign – they are simply not putting enough fuel in the engine.
Imagine you’re buying a new car, and you have the choice between an Aston Martin, a Mercedes and a Ford. The Aston is way out of your budget, but you decide to stretch your savings and buy a Mercedes. The next day your partner wants to go for a ride, but you can’t afford petrol because you’ve just spent every last penny you have. This is exactly what many dental practices do – they spend thousands on welcome packs and websites, but with no budget left to keep the momentum going, it has little affect.

Totally devoted

The last two common marketing errors seem to be a lack of both allocated time and delegation. In order to sustain a successful marketing campaign, enough time must be dedicated to it.
I would suggest that if the practice is worth half a million, one day a week should be spent on marketing; a million pound practice should commit two and a half days a week, and a two million pound specialist referral practice should have a full-time member of staff dedicated solely to the marketing campaign.
As a result, it is up to practice managers and/or owners to delegate the responsibility and ensure that the appropriate attention is paid to the practice’s marketing.
As an area that can either drive the practice forward or hold it back, marketing must be given sufficient time, money and dedication. Successful ongoing campaigns help practices maintain their reputation and recognition within the local community and, in turn, encourage new patients and increased referrals – enabling growth and development of a successful business.


Chris Barrow is a founding partner with 7connections business coaching. He has been a consultant to the dental profession for more than 20 years and offers high-end coaching expertise to take advanced practices to the next level.

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