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Marketing and Advertising

Aside from excellent patient care, many analysts suggest that an organized marketing strategy is a powerful business builder. In addition to standard methods, such as referrals and the patient grapevine, today's practitioners have a range of sophisticated tools to spread the word about their practices.

Though multi-leveled by nature, a good marketing plan need not be complex or costly. For the most part, publicity begins within the practice itself, so getting started is simple. After that, print and electronic media continue the job.

Busy professionals have found through experience that a public relations consultant can do all the legwork, a service well worth the money. Even so, for those who prefer to do their own marketing, experts make the following recommendations:

In the Office and Treatment Areas

  • Provide a clean waiting room. Stained carpeting and dusty furniture sends the wrong message about practice standards.
  • Monitor reading materials. In offices where children may accompany their parents (e.g., pediatrician, dentist, family practice), make sure all publications are G-rated. Survey magazine covers for content - an article talking about the pros and cons of chemotherapy, for instance, could cause a lot of anxiety in a patient whose oncologist is treating him/her for lung cancer.
  • Train staff to be positive, professional and friendly. No news spreads faster than tales of a rude receptionist or indifferent hygienist. This brand of advertising results in lost revenue and a tarnished public image. Always address inappropriate behavior in staff members directly and without delay.
  • Provide accessible office hours. Given that many patients have full time jobs, dentists operating strictly on a 9 to 5 basis may be at a distinct disadvantage. Solo practitioners might consider starting office hours at noon one or two days a week and staying open until 7 p.m. Group practitioners could alternate rotations with colleagues to offer extended coverage.

Make the News

  • Create a media kit. A media or press kit is a collection of print and/or audiovisual material promoting a particular product, service or individual. Target sectors include newspapers, television, radio, periodicals, community groups and any other business, group or organization that might generate business.

A dental practice kit might contain: the dentist's biography, including education, credentials, awards and experience; brochures or fact sheets on the practice; news articles featuring the practice or dentist; business cards, contact numbers, and Web and email addresses; and CDs presenting the practice's history, services and accomplishments.

Practices with websites often provide electronic counterparts to print kits.

  • Contact local newspapers. Any positive development within a practice - office relocation or expansion, new hires, awards or recognitions, free screenings, special events (e.g., practice anniversary) - merits area press coverage. A public relations professional will know the standard procedures, but do-it-yourselfers should get in touch with the appropriate department editors for guidance; health/science, features, local/regional and lifestyle editors typically are the best people to contact.
  • Paid ads, particularly useful for new practices and relocation, also work well. In this case, someone in the newspaper's sales division can help with the process.
  • Write a press release. A well-crafted announcement or news story, preferably sent via email, often works more effectively than a telephone call. Busy editors appreciate not having to dig for story details, and a solid release does the job for them. When putting one together, observe the following guidelines:
  • Find an angle. A story about a state-of-the-art drill, for instance, is more interesting when it leads off with an unusual detail. Is it the only one in the area? Is it painless? Does it mean a cost savings for patients? In other words, transform an otherwise dull announcement into real news.
  • Capture the reader's interest. Provide important details in the headline and first couple sentences, with finer points following the hard information.
  • Write in a "media" style. Announcements slated for a particular newspaper, for instance, should follow that publication's format. Use published articles in the same vein as your story as models.
  • Use direct quotes. This lends both human interest and credibility to a press release.¬†
  • Be truthful and objective. Go with the facts and avoid injecting personal opinion. Remember, this is a news story, not an editorial. Avoid exaggeration, overstatement and emotional language.
  • Use active voice. Passive voice makes for monotony, while active voice engages the reader. For instance, "Dr. Smile promoted her to assistant office manager" is much stronger than, "She was promoted to assistant office manager by Dr. Smile."¬†
  • Use words sparingly. Go light on adjectives and repeated phrases, telling a tight story in concise language. Avoid using exclamation points in general, and never more than one at a time.
  • Avoid medical jargon. Unless the press release is headed for a scholarly journal, use laymen's terms to describe equipment, procedures, job functions, etc. Otherwise, readers may give up before they finish the story.
  • End with a boilerplate. This is simply a short paragraph with information about services, staff and practice/personal history.
  • Never submit a release in all upper case letters. A busy editor won't even read it.
  • Use proper grammar. Stay away from slang and, most importantly, run a spelling check. Before submission, have someone do a thorough proofreading.
  • Follow a standard format. Here is a sample template:

    Headline (80 characters or less). All words capitalized except prepositions/articles less than three characters
    City, State, Month, Day, Year - Lead sentence or sentences. The reader should get most of the information in the first paragraph.
    Detail paragraphs (who, what, when, where, why, how). Two or three short paragraphs can include direct quotes and specifics. Keep it brief; the entire release should be 300-600 words.
    Final paragraph Additional information such as deadlines, telephone numbers, email addresses, etc.
    Boilerplate Practice/personal information
    Contact Name
    Practice Name

  • Use the telephone book. Don't underestimate the power of the Yellow Pages. Experts suggest that phone book ads allow medical professionals to target market segmentation - the division of the market into demographic groups. Researchers suggest that, on average, advertisers realize significant earnings on every dollar they invest, primarily because they're reaching potential clients when they're looking for those particular products and services.

    Electronic Media and the Internet

  • Launch a television or radio PR campaign. While fees for local commercial production vary according to market costs, ad executives say well-placed commercials (e.g. on television, around news broadcasts or in prime time; on radio, during morning and evening peak drive times) target a broader range of demographic groups than do print ads.

    If the marketing budget is tight, consider pitching a news story. For example, a piece about specialized or expanded services, a professional award or a revolutionary cleaning process may well warrant some air time.

  • Invest in the Internet. Dentists who've grown successful practices know a user-friendly website goes a long way toward effectively marketing services. With more and more people using the Internet to research products and services (and to read their newspapers), overlooking this cybertool is foolhardy indeed.

    The cost for using a web hosting service - a company that operates the site - can run as little as a couple dollars a month. Web designer services, however, cost more, from a few hundred dollars at the low end, up into the thousands. The more capabilities the site possesses, the higher the price.

    Besides providing general information about a practice, a website allows the posting of press releases, event information, breaking news, patient education information, blogs, email, digital video features, sound bites, links to other sites and much more.

  • Get involved in social networking. Not so long ago, online networking was a phenomenon busy healthcare professionals simply dismissed. These days, though, sites such as Facebook and LinkedIn are drawing thousands of visitors every day - with businesses of every type putting up pages.

    As a marketing tool, the concept is ideal. User "A" shares information with 30 or 40 "friends," who in turn make it available to their friends - and so on. Cheap, convenient and personalized, social networking sites present an abundance of PR opportunities. Users can:

    • Establish personal branding through logos, pictures and videos
    • Examine marketing possibilities in the U.S. and abroad
    • Share news about services, practice changes, staff additions, etc.
    • Connect with fellow practitioners
    • Exchange professional knowledge and information¬†
    • Conduct staff searches

    While joining a popular site such as Facebook is a good way to sample the networking scene, some sites do target certain professions. In the dental industry, for instance, is the leading social network specifically for dentistry. Free to join, melds social aspects with business function by providing an ADA members-only forum.

    Get Help from the Pros
    The strategies listed to this point represent a mere fraction of the methods available to promote dental businesses. Still, those who find the prospect of marketing completely unattractive may want to hire a professional marketing/PR consultant. Their job is to provide as much positive exposure for clients as possible - from ad placement and media opportunities, to publicity (such as speaking engagements) in the community at large.
    Quality marketing firms or consultants should possess:

    • A solid performance history in healthcare disciplines
    • An extensive network of electronic-media relationships
    • A good relationship with area journalists and news personnel

    Professional-level materials, including media kits, brochures, press releases, digital products, etc. Always ask to see samples.