Optometric Management Tip # 125 - Wednesday, June 09, 2004
Letter Writing PR Campaign
It's more effective to market your practice in a slow, steady, personal manner, then with a big splash of advertising.
Sending letters on a regular basis to patients and referral sources is a great way to build your practice over time.
Who has time to write letters?
The letter writing marketing campaign I'm referring to should not take any time at all for the doctor, and it should take
only minimal staff time on a weekly basis, once the system is in place. The burden should fall upon the office computer
system. Most practice management software systems have provisions for generating letters automatically, including storing
the names of the recipients, finding and inserting the addresses automatically, and integrating a word-processed form
letter with this special database. If you aren't using this module of your software system, you're missing an opportunity. It's not difficult, it just takes planning and the discipline to run it.
Of course, someone does have to write the initial form letters, and it's a good idea to write a few versions and rotate
them so they are not repetitive.
Types of letters
Here are some ideas for sending letters and cards on a large-scale basis. These are in addition to the individual referral
and report letters that would be done specifically for patients as needed for clinical care.
Get ready to send lots of letters
- Thank you for the referral. This letter would typically be sent to an established patient who has referred a new patient
(usually a friend or relative). Your office procedure must have a way of asking each new patient how he or she heard of
your practice. One great way to do this is to include a line on your self-history questionnaire, providing a space for the
new patient to write in the name of the person who referred him. The business office staff enters this referring party's
name into your software system for automatic inclusion in the next batch of thank you letters.
- Welcome to the office. All new patients should receive this simple letter saying that you appreciate the patient
selecting your practice and that you value a long-term relationship. A couple of business cards and a practice brochure
could be included in the envelope.
- Birthday cards - or other holiday cards. Many management software programs can send birthday cards to all appropriate
patients as a weekly process. After all, the system already knows the right day and the address. Thanksgiving cards are
a nice touch since they are non-religious and they stand out more than Christmas cards.
- Special announcement letters. These are special projects, not weekly and automatic, but they can be run as often as you
wish. These may be tailored to select a certain segment of your patient base, such as an age group, zip codes, last visit
date, refractive error range, sport interest or whatever applies to the reason for the letter. Of course, the data must
have been put into the computer in the first place in order to get it out. These letters could announce availability of
new bifocal contact lens, invite patients to a fashion frame trunk show, or could reactivate patients who have not been
seen for a long time.
- Recall letters. I assume you're doing these, but consider customizing them by patient type... children, insurance plan,
ocular disease, contact lens wearer, etc.
- Report letters to physicians. This is a great way to introduce yourself to local primary care physicians, and to
demonstrate the high quality medical eye care you deliver. You may want to have a line on your history questionnaire that
asks for the name of the primary care MD, and asks the patient to indicate if he or she would like an eye care report sent. Don't overuse this or waste the physician's time with reports on completely healthy patients, but these letters can be valuable for patients with systemic disease or medications that have ocular consequences.
- The doctor signs the letters. Depending on the volume, consider leaving a space and having the doctor personally signing
each letter in ink. The first two above should not be difficult - if a stack is on the doctor's desk each Monday morning.
If you want to make letter writing a part of your marketing plan, then you need to get serious about the mechanics of
mailing them. That means making an investment in equipment and staffing. Plan to send a large volume of letters every
month, and make it easy and efficient for your staff to do so with a postage meter with an automatic envelope feed and
auto-sealing. Today's meters allow you to obtain more postage instantly via a phone line and an open account. A
letter-folding device is another great tool.
You may also want to obtain a bulk rate mailing permit form your local post office. You'll also want to order a large
quantity of letterhead stationery, envelopes, window envelopes, and mailing labels. This may also be a good time to
re-look at your practice logo and ink colors, and make sure it presents the image you want for your practice.
What about postage cost?
Yes, your postage bill will go up with this plan, but letter writing to target markets is probably the most economical
marketing effort you can undertake. If you're doing it correctly, your goal is to have the postage bill keep going up
because that means the number of new patients you're seeing is increasing.
Best wishes for continued success,
Neil B. Gailmard, OD, MBA, FAAO
Chief Optometric Editor, Optometric Management