Take Time To Plan

A few hours each year can take the pain out of marketing.
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Like most veterinarians and practice managers, you are probably swamped. Work-life balance? Ha! And right in the middle of treating patients, chasing slow payers and meeting with vendors, comes a marketing project with a tight deadline. Who needs this stress?

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Fortunately, marketing stress can be greatly reduced simply by planning. While the rest of your practice might function moment to moment, your marketing program does not have to. Give your marketing program some intense attention once a year, and it will only require minimal maintenance for the next 12 months.

Here are three common marketing challenges and how proper planning creates easy solutions. Follow these simple steps and save time, ease stress and improve the quality of your promotional efforts.

Challenge #1: Last-Minute Ad Design

No matter how organized you are, sometime during the year, your practice will need a last-minute advertisement for a horse show program, equine expo directory or a forgotten magazine commitment.

Ad design is one marketing challenge that can be solved easily with proper planning. Once a year, have a stock ad designed. Whether you have an in-house person do this or an agency, the goal is the same—create a great ad that can be used year-round and in a wide variety of publications.

Choose a dynamic photo that looks fabulous in a wide variety of sizes, keep your text simple and create a space where you can personalize the ad, if needed. For example, have the flexibility to add “Good Luck Stock Show Exhibitors” to your ad in a horse show program.

Once you have an ad you love, design the piece to the three most common sizes–full page, horizontal ½ page and ¼ page. Once these ads are finished, they can be used with minor resizing throughout the year. Although the actual dimensions vary with each publication, only an hour or so is needed for small changes.

This process also works well with postcard mailers and flyers.

Challenge #2: E-newsletter and Newsletter Deadlines

Chances are good that your practice falls into one of two categories. Category A: You struggle to create each issue of your newsletter. The process is painful and stressful, but eventually results in semi-regular communication with your customers. Category B: Each year you hope to produce a regular newsletter, but with all that your practice demands, it never quite happens.

Fortunately, there is an effective solution.

Once a year create a template and an editorial calendar. To do this, answer these questions:

How many times per year will you produce your newsletter?

How many pages will it be? One page is fine. Your customers are busy.

Will it be printed or sent via email?

Will it be color or black and white?

What types of content do you want to include in each issue? Some ideas include horse health news, seasonal veterinary care reminders, practice news, etc. Schedule a topic for each type of content. This is your editorial calendar.

Who will write the articles? With your editorial calendar in hand, it’s easy to delegate the copywriting. Your office manager can write the seasonal reminders. An intern can summarize the latest recommendations about vaccinations and procure articles from other sources. (Be sure to respect copyrights.) And the senior partner can review the entire rough draft.

When it comes time to produce your newsletter, viable options include in-house, agency or freelancers.

Challenge #3: Photography and Biography

How many times throughout the year do you need a professional photo and short biography? And it’s always on short notice, of course.

Once again, the solution to this common challenge is a simple plan.
Do you have an existing professional photo? Is it digital? Here’s what you need:
8” x 10” at 300 dpi
5” x 7” at 300 dpi
4” x 6” at 300 dpi
4” x 6” at 72 dpi

If you have a working knowledge of your scanner, you can easily do this project yourself. If not, take your photo–either a print or your existing digital image–to a local print shop such as Kinkos, or your graphic designer. They can quickly give you all of the photos you will ever need on either disk or flash drive.

Update your biography once a year. There’s no need for anything fancier than a Word document. Don’t worry about snazzy formatting. Keep text files simple. A good graphic designer will be making the conference program or whatever publication it will be used for look pretty. She only needs your simple Word document to make that happen.

Like it or not, marketing is part of operating a veterinary practice. Even if you keep your promotional efforts to simple items like a phone directory advertisement, website and business cards, marketing will require some time and manpower. However, unlike other parts of your practice, planning for marketing is easy. Once a year, make a plan. It’s really that simple. The result: less stress and no more missed marketing opportunities.

SIDEBAR

How to Build a Killer E-Newsletter

Not sure how to make your practice’s e-newsletter effective, informative and worth the time and money it takes to create it? How do you continue, issue after issue, to make your newsletter stand out in the crowd and keep your readers reading? Here are four guidelines to follow:

Make it useful. Give readers some kind of actionable “aha” with every issue you send. They are barraged with emails, and eager to click the delete button as often as possible.
Your goal, therefore, is to give them pause. To make them live in fear that if they delete your newsletter, they will miss some insight that would have made a significant impact on their horses’ health.

Make it interesting.
Personal anecdotes, conversational language and the occasional joke here and there will keep your readers involved long enough for them to hear the “real” information you’re trying to give them.

Make it simple. An effective newsletter isn’t a doctoral thesis; it’s not even a case study. The goal is to provide at least one insight, tip or concept that your readers can take in, understand and remember long enough to put into practice.

Make it authentic. Done right, your e-newsletter is the voice of your practice. It reflects your unique personality and culture, whatever that happens to be. Don’t hide all that in an effort to sound “medically important..” –n’t hide all that in an effort to sound “medically important..” -- Adapted from Michael Katz, Blue Penguin Development.