No two of us can or should market alike. What works in your area of the country may not work in another. What's a resounding success in your practice setting may be a dismal failure in the office next door. Does your success mean that you're a more effective marketer than your colleague?
Not necessarily. Success in marketing is mostly about knowing the answers to a couple of important questions: What types of marketing work in a particuar geographic area, and what types of marketing efforts mesh with the personality of the individual doing the marketing.
What follows is a wealth of ideas on how members like you evaluated both their marketplace and personality strengths and used this knowledge to develop creative and unique marketing promotions. So start your creative juices flowing and feel free to use your colleagues' ideas as a springboard to your own current marketing efforts.
Getting the Word Out
by Nancy B. Swigert
After two decades of providing services to individuals with communication and swallowing disorders, our practice in Lexington, KY, established a new program for children with reading, spelling, and written language disorders. We had read the research, selected and learned the approaches we wanted to use, and prepared staff. Now, all we needed were clients for The Reading Center.
Because we wanted a logo and a polished informational brochure unique to this program, we decided to contract with a marketing firm. We discussed the message we wanted to convey, the audiences we wanted to reach, and the image we wanted to project. We also provided the actual copy for the brochure, which would serve as the backbone of our print materials.
Armed with this "capabilities" brochure, which explained our services in detail, we began to spread the word that we were ready for business. We determined that print ads in the local newspaper were too costly and didn't target the audience we were trying to reach: parents of children who were having trouble reading and who could afford to pay for our services out of pocket. Insurance does not cover reading therapy.
Instead, we selected a monthly publication that is distributed free to parents in physicians' offices, schools, day cares, and other facilities. We designed the ads ourselves, using pictures we downloaded from the Internet. We agreed to run six ads a year, which reduced the cost of each ad. This was by far our most cost-effective form of advertising. Each time the ad runs, we receive 4–5 inquiries, most of which yield evaluations. We also often purchase small advertisements in programs at private schools, since this is our primary target group.
We sent letters and brochures to the principals and guidance counselors of all public and private elementary schools requesting that they share the information with their teachers. We received many phone calls of inquiry and were able to provide one-on-one education with the educators who called. In the letter, we offered to provide an in-service for teachers at no cost to the school. Several private schools took us up on the offer. These schools now often call to discuss students who are having difficulty. We send a reminder letter each spring about our intensive summer program. One contact is not sufficient … your audience needs to see and hear your message over and over.
We also sent letters with the brochure to psychologists in the area who provide diagnostic testing for school-age children and spoke to the staff at the local university's attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) clinic. We exhibited at the local chapter of Children and Adults with Hyperactivity Attention Deficit Disorder, since many children with ADHD also have dyslexia. Of course, we also sent information packets to pediatricians, although none of those resulted in a referral.
Other ongoing marketing activities include providing a coupon for a free pre-reading screening to any preschool child who is seen for a communication disorder by our practice. The coupon is redeemable on the child's fifth birthday. These screenings allow us to identify children at risk for reading failure. We always have provided preschool speech-language-hearing screenings at day care centers and preschools, so we added a reading readiness component for 5-year-olds.
We also contacted a local bookstore and, wearing shirts with The Reading Center logo, presented a program in the children's department to demonstrate to parents ways to develop pre-reading skills. We had read in The ASHA Leader ("Reading Between the Lines: Clinicians Develop Creative Ways to Promote SLPs' Role in Literacy," May 1, 2001) about a similar event held in Cincinnati, OH, and decided to duplicate it in Lexington. The bookstore invited us back any time to repeat the event.
We contacted one of the local television stations, which airs a segment during its noon news show highlighting area businesses. The station came to The Reading Center to film students at work, interviewed us and parents, and aired the segment that day. We have since been featured on another local channel's evening news, after contacting the reporter to share information about students' success with our program.
Each time we evaluate a child, the child's school, pediatrician, and any other professionals treating the child receive a copy of the report (with the parents' permission) and a brochure. These and other ongoing marketing strategies have helped make The Reading Center a large part of our practice.
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Nancy Swigert is the owner of Swigert & Associates, Inc., a private practice in Lexington, KY. Several years ago she founded The Reading Center, serving children and adults with reading and written language disorders. Contact her by e-mail at mailto:NSWIGERT@aol.com.
by Solveig Ingersoll
You know, you can't give away gold without advertising!" said a new employee of our hearing center in a conversation about marketing.
The more common attitude among speech and hearing professionals is that marketing of oneself or one's practice is somehow unseemly for professionals. But in today's tight economy, educating the public regarding the benefits of our services is a necessary part of any successful practice.
Virtually any outreach activity is marketing, whether it be full-page newspaper advertising, reports to physicians or other referral sources, brochures, lectures, or even talking about your services in social situations. In our practice, we have done all these things and more. In fact, better than 10% or our gross revenue is plowed back into the practice in the form of marketing activities.
One of our more interesting activities was hosting a weekly radio show that we called "All About Ears." The title allowed us to lead into our advertising with lines like, "This show is ‘All About Ears!'" It also set the format to discuss virtually anything related to ears and hearing. We presented information on a variety of hearing-related topics and had guests ranging from representatives of hearing aid manufacturers, to physicians, to individuals with hearing loss. One of my personal favorites was a show focusing on ways to enhance communication with residents of assisted-living facilities. Certainly we talked about hearing aid technology and the numerous choices now available to consumers. But we also discussed some of the non-technical considerations, such as manual dexterity and budget limitations. While we encouraged listeners to use our professional services, we also provided referrals to more convenient practices when that was appropriate.
Our radio involvement came about by chance. It began when we contracted with our local "oldies" radio station to present one-minute commercials on a regular basis. My husband was able to write these commercials so that we seldom needed more than one take to record them at the station. He accomplished this by timing my rate of speech and then carefully counting the words used in each commercial.
One of the producers was so impressed with our performance that he suggested we consider a regular show on their business-radio affiliate. We were intrigued with the opportunity, signed a contract, and quickly learned that a half-hour of talking time was just not enough to cover even a limited topic. Within weeks, we had expanded to an hour format and started inviting guests to join us. Our show was on a talk-radio station, so listeners had the opportunity to call in with questions during the broadcast. We used the telephone number for our office and then used call forwarding to transfer calls to the station during the show. This way, listeners who thought of a question during the days after our broadcast had the number to reach us directly, rather than calling the station number where the staff on duty might have limited knowledge of how to reach us.
Whereas some shows of this nature are syndicated and then sold to stations across the country, our show represented an advertising cost to our center and was considered outreach, education, image building, and an opportunity to provide exposure to some of the manufacturers who provided excellent support services to us. Occasionally, patients would schedule evaluations citing our show as the reason they selected our practice. More often, some other motivator was cited, but information gleaned from our presentations arose during the intake interview process. We also received positive feedback from guests and from the callers who had questions during the show.
After about three years, a national chain purchased the station, and the format became more confrontational. Since we believed our target audience would no longer be listening, we discontinued our show. The experience was quite positive, and I would recommend it as an avenue for others to consider. For more information, our Web site at www.hearingcenter.com has a list of topics we covered.
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Solveig Ingersoll is director of The Hearing Center, Inc., in Wheaton, MD. Contact her by e-mail at mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org.
Spreading the Word to Latinos
by Luis F. Riquelme and Emilia Santo
In 1999, concerned that many of the Latino families we worked with in our office in Brooklyn, NY, knew little about bilingualism, communication disorders, and speech-language pathology, we agreed it was something that needed to be addressed. We had heard too many stories about parents being misinformed about the detriments of bilingualism.
By the spring of 2000, we—along with Armand M. Diaz and Alexandra Barreno—successfully obtained an ASHA Multicultural Projects Grant. The purpose of the project, entitled "Increasing Awareness: Communication Disorders among Hispanics," was to raise consciousness about communication development and disorders, as well as about the professionals that work with the Hispanic community. The proposal included the development of three public service announcements (PSAs) in Spanish.
As we began to develop the PSAs, it quickly became evident to us that no information was readily available regarding knowledge in this area among Latinos. The first step, therefore, was to develop and conduct a random phone survey to help us understand what Hispanics knew about our services in New York City. We obtained sample phone numbers from a market research firm, and graduate students from Long Island University (LIU)/Brooklyn recruited friends for two nights of phone surveys. All volunteers were bilingual/Spanish, as were the surveys. LIU/Brooklyn contributed the phone banks.
Once 250 surveys were completed, the data were analyzed. Results revealed several trends. First, name recognition for speech-language pathologists was greater than for audiologists. Teachers and physicians were cited as the professionals trained to diagnose and treat speech, language, and hearing disorders nearly as often as SLPs and audiologists. About one-third of the respondents believed children would outgrow communication problems. Few respondents were aware that hearing could be tested at birth. Overall, parents had good awareness about the fact that bilingualism did not negatively affect language development.
By November 2000, the Spanish language PSAs were ready. Each PSA involved the recording of an activity along with the message, and all ended with ASHA's toll-free number for additional information. The three topics were bilingualism, speech-language development, and hearing disorders. These were then distributed to seven Spanish radio stations in the greater New York area. Each station played at least one PSA at least once. The most popular PSA was the one on speech-language development.
Our interest was in making sure more Latinos in the greater New York area became aware of bilingualism and the services offered by SLPs and audiologists. We now have a greater understanding of what inner-city Hispanics know about what we can offer. We also know that there is much to be done in this area, as bilingualism is still viewed with some negativism. In addition, misconceptions—such as "language confusion" and greater language delays among bilinguals—need to be dispelled.
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Emilia Santo and Luis F. Riquelme are bilingual SLPs (English/Spanish) in New York City and co-owners of Riquelme & Santo, a small private practice providing services to bilingual children and adults with neurological impairments who have communication and swallowing disorders. Contact Riquelme by e-mail at mailto:LUISSLP@aol.com.
Marketing Strategies for Private Practices
by Gail Linn
Starting an audiology private practice—over 10 years ago now—was both exciting and frightening. Our primary means of income was from hearing aids, and we also provided basic audiological evaluations. In the beginning, I was not only the audiologist, but also the accountant, the marketing manager, the bookkeeper, and the chief bottle washer.
As the "accountant" I had to work within my budget, and as "marketing manager" I had to build the patient base. No easy tasks. But I did develop a few strategies over the years that worked for me. I'll share them with you.
Training. I found that taking the role of "teacher" worked well. There were and are many people who know little or nothing about hearing aids. I called a number of "assisted-living communities, " nursing homes, hospitals, and other facilities and offered to give training programs to their staff on the "Care and Use of Hearing Aids." I don't think I ever was turned down, and they were thrilled for their staff to have the added training. I did do one thing that was rather unique and popular. I organized a "toolbox" that I left with the staff. In the toolbox were wax loops, wax brushes, battery testers, listening stethoscopes, troubleshooting guides, and my business cards. I ended up giving these talks about once a year to each facility. Whenever their residents needed help or new hearing aids, guess who they called? Cost: $45
Hospital Emergency Rooms. Every year, hundreds of people with hearing loss visit the emergency room without hearing aids. Often they have been left at home or lost on the way and, in some cases, patients just don't have hearing aids. This creates a particular challenge for ER physicians and their staff to communicate with patients with hearing impairments about their health problems. Knowing that this problem exists, I purchased "pocket talkers" and gave them to a couple of the local hospitals. I also provided training for the staff, a guide for communicating with individuals with hearing impairments, and my business cards for emergencies. It helped get my name and my business name out to many health care providers in the community. Cost: $115
Newspaper Advertising. I lived in a rather small community of 100,000 +. Generic advertising was often unsuccessful and sometimes a real flop. I decided to make my advertising more personal. I asked patients who had already written me a letter or card about their positive experience with our office if I could share their note along with their picture in an advertisement. Most agreed. That personal touch really worked in gaining people's confidence in our practice. Cost: $450+
Television Advertising. I was amazed when my local TV station approached me about advertising to find that it was fairly reasonably priced. Of course, that depends upon where you live and your viewing audience. Cable TV advertising, even in larger cities, is often affordable. I took the personal approach again and had our local college basketball coach, whom I had fit earlier with hearing aids, do our commercial. It was extremely successful. Cost: $2,000+
Obviously, my first two examples were of my early years. However, their successes allowed me to do the more expensive advertising down the road. Don't let anything seemingly too small or too large discourage you from exploring the possibilities. Marketing is challenging, fun, creative, and—most importantly—necessary.
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Gail Linn is ASHA's director of audiology practice in industry and private practice. Contact her by e-mail at mailto:email@example.com.
Not Just Another Summer Camp
by Anita Werner
Several years ago, in an effort to expand our services during the summer months and to provide speech and language care during this period when school is not in session, we developed Kamp Talkalot. Unlike the typical summer camp, Kamp Talkalot is a pragmatic language intervention program for children ages 3–15 held each summer in Scottsdale, AZ. Its sole focus is pragmatic interaction. This is summer camp and the children are there to have fun, but our goal is to improve the functional use of language for communication for each and every child.
Kamp Talkalot is a real language treatment experience. When a child applies each summer to Kamp Talkalot, their parents are immediately sent a "PSLS (Pediatric Speech and Language Specialists) Social-Communication Inventory" to complete. The child is then scheduled for a "play interview" that serves as a screening to determine that the child is ready for this intensive, interactive camp experience. During the play interview, the speech-language pathologist assesses the child's pragmatic language and assigns the child to a pragmatic level.
The children are placed into treatment groups by both their age and pragmatic level. During the first week of Kamp Talkalot, the PSLS Pragmatic Language Inventory is completed by the SLPs, and the staff implement treatment goals specific to the pragmatic needs of each child. The PSLS Pragmatic Language Inventory is then completed at the end of camp to document progress, and this inventory is incorporated into a progress report for each child.
The Kamp Talkalot staff optimizes the environment to create opportunities for interaction. Each week, a new theme offers campers fun activities that promote interaction. Over the course of the camp, clinicians delicately set up situations that encourage child-to-child communication. Strategies for appropriate language use are taught and modeled, and gradually the adult models fade out of the interactions.
We provide positive opportunities to ensure that children feel successful in their communication attempts. The materials and activities require joint focus and have clear roles that are exchangeable with obvious turn taking that the child can anticipate. Repetition within and across activities is important so the child has opportunities to practice emerging skills. Teaching children the rules for conversation is strongly emphasized. The goal is to have children initiate interaction and respond when others initiate. Children need to send clear information and messages to others. They need repair strategies when their message is not understood. The Kamp Talkalot staff members use specific strategies to help facilitate conversational interaction at the various levels of pragmatic functioning.
Kamp Talkalot has been an excellent way to expand the scope of our practice, raise awareness of it in the community, increase our clientele, and market our services. Kamp Talkalot is a positive and fun experience where skills are learned and practiced, friends are made, and new doors in the world of communication are opened for each child. Even though Kamp Talkalot has just concluded its sixth summer, the PSLS team in Phoenix is working right now on how to make next summer's program even better!
Anita Werner is the director of Pediatric Speech and Language Specialists, a private practice with offices in Phoenix, AZ. Contact her by e-mail at PEDIATRICSPEECH@worldnet.att.net.