Patient seminars have become an integral component of a successful marketing communication strategy, effectively connecting physicians with prospective aesthetic patients. They can be an effective way to introduce new procedures to your regular patients, as well as to attract new patients.
In addition, seminars can offer you an opportunity to expand your practice and development opportunities, and to define your product and service offerings.
Events can pay for themselves several times over. Informative, educational seminars are an excellent way to introduce your practice to the community.
Seminars often give patients a chance to meet the physicians and the staff, as well as other patients. Seminars can offer patients a chance to ask questions regarding surgery or treatments they are considering.
“Patient seminars are a way to bridge the gap when patients are not ready to ‘commit’ to a one-on-one consult, yet want more direct contact—and validation—from the surgeon, says Jeffrey S. Epstein, MD, FACS, a facial plastic surgeon specializing in hair transplantation who practices in New York City and Miami. “They provide a great learning opportunity, to meet the surgeon and see how he works, but also importantly, to have aesthetic goals validated.”
Epstein encourages patients to bring their partners to seminars, as well. “In fact, when men and women come together, couples can be some of the best attendees,” he notes.
A successful office seminar requires a well-executed marketing effort in the weeks or, preferably, months prior to the event. These events can be simple to plan and should be held on a bimonthly or quarterly basis for optimal effect.
Some practices alternate their event schedule by holding frequent in-office seminars throughout the year, and one annual or semiannual large-scale event at an off-site location. Many practices feature a “calendar of events” on their Web sites to inform prospective and current patients of the seminars they are offering.
There are benefits to planning a series of seminars simultaneously, which allows for economies of scale in terms of advertising and marketing expenses.
CHOOSING A THEME AND VENUE
Your event may center on a specific procedure, full-face treatment, or body-contouring surgery. Introducing a new technique or technology is an ideal theme for an event or seminar, and the topic should be somewhat narrow in scope, in order to attract the appropriate prospective guests.
Depending on the time of year, you can also tie your event to a seasonal theme. Holidays, summer vacations, back to school, and other busy social seasons are prime targets for seminar planning.
“We usually have at least two to three seminars yearly,” says Lisa Matas, office administrator of the Advanced Centre for Plastic Surgery in Orlando, Fla.
Venues for Events
- private clubs;
- health fairs;
- department stores;
- specialty stores;
- restaurants; and
“We hold an open-house format where guests have the option of coming in the late afternoon or early evening, and we have even done one that took place over 2 consecutive days with blocks of time set aside for this,” she adds. “We do take RSVPs, as space is limited in our practice. We normally do an e-mail invite, along with distributing flyers weeks before to patients who are in and out of the office. We always encourage ladies to bring a friend, and a great many do.”
Depending on the size and layout of your office, clinic, or facility, an event may be held in your waiting room or conference room. Some events may include a tour of your facility. Another popular venue is to use the atrium of a medical office building and partner with your business neighbors to cross-market your event.
Consider partnering with a charity or other nonprofit organization and charging a small fee for a ticket, with proceeds going to the charity. Larger-scale charitable events may also include a silent auction of items donated by vendors, patients, and friends of the practice. If you can affiliate your practice with another physician, retailer, or other business, you can share the costs of the event as well as cross-market to their customer databases.
Always have someone introduce your speakers individually. For a group practice, include all the physicians on a panel; each physician can address a specific procedure or topic.
Another popular format is a panel of three speakers—for example, the physician, a nurse or aesthetician, special guest, book author, media personality, etc. If possible, a patient or staff member can speak as well.
The event program should not run longer than 1 hour. Start with a brief introduction, and follow with a 30- to 45-minute presentation. If there is more than one speaker, 10 to 15 minutes per speaker is adequate. Always leave plenty of time for questions and answers, and for mingling at the end.
PowerPoint presentations are central to your events. The presentation(s) should be educational and designed to explain procedures and address the most commonly asked questions of prospective patients.
Sample Event Themes
- “Minimally Invasive Rejuvenation Techniques: What’s New”
- “An Evening of Facial Rejuvenation”
- “State-of-the-Art Laser Technologies”
- “The Latest Injectable Fillers”
- “Mini Makeovers for Busy Moms”
You should also add your own before-and-after photographs to personalize the presentation. It is also helpful to include key members of your staff on the program, such as your skin care specialist or patient coordinator, to add another dimension to your format.
Plastic surgery departments at institutions are also getting on board with the concept of seminars. For example, the Cleveland Clinic Department of Plastic Surgery held a public information symposium called “A More Beautiful You.” Afterward, attendees’ questions and answers were published on the organization’s Web site—a clever way to create interest in future programs, as well as to inform Web readers about topics covered at the event.
Define your goals and objectives to decide whom you will invite to your seminar. Your target audience may include only your existing aesthetic patients, all your current patients, and/or new patients.
The most popular days of the week for events tend to be Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday. Friday and Monday are more difficult days to attract patients. Usually, the weekend is not a good choice because potential attendees may have family commitments.
Choosing the time of day will depend on your target audience. For example, if many of your aesthetic patients are working women or women with children, evening hours may be best. The lunch hour may also be appropriate in certain markets. If you are trying to attract stay-at-home moms or retirees, morning hours may be suitable.
Place an invitation in an attractive frame in your office’s patient areas. Offer a sign-up sheet at your reception desk. You may choose to either e-mail or “snail mail” invitations to your current aesthetic patients.
In accordance with HIPAA regulations, you have to be sure that you have a signed consent to market to your patients. The invitation’s format should include a “seating is limited” notice and a specified cutoff date for RSVPs; in addition, always include a “bring a friend” invitation.
Luring male patients to events is more challenging, even if you select a male image-enhancement theme.
“In my area of expertise, surgical hair restoration, over 70% of my patients come from out of town—from throughout the US as well as the world—after reading about my work largely on the Internet,” Epstein says. “Having seminars in different cities is a great way to acquaint myself with prospective patients and to foster a relationship.”
THE FINER DETAILS
If you plan to put on frequent events, invest in an LCD projector and screen, as rented projectors are expensive and not always readily available. In lieu of a screen, you may be able to project your images on a wall in your office. You should make adequate seating available; folding chairs can offer additional seating.
It is customary to serve some form of light refreshments at all events—finger foods, crudités and dip, cookies, cheese and crackers, coffee and tea, mineral water, soft drinks, iced tea, etc. In general, serving alcoholic beverages is not recommended. Avoid using paper cups and plates; glassware is preferable to plastic. Have cocktail napkins on hand. Fresh flowers add a nice, festive touch.
It is a good idea to include “goody bags” for all your guests. The bag should be attractive, with coordinating tissue paper, preferably including your practice logo. Some items that may be included in the bags are your practice’s marketing brochure, skin care samples, mirrors, pens, or other giveaways from vendors. Goody bags are usually given out as your guests are leaving.
It is important to keep your seminars educational in tone, upbeat, and as noncommercial as possible. An atmosphere of salesmanship and self-promotion will not work to your advantage.
Consider ways to add new features to each seminar format to keep it fresh and interesting. For example, computer imaging and diagnostics is a good way to engage your guests. Patients can have their photograph taken or skin analyzed at the end of the presentation.
“Our seminars have most often focused on the skin care and nonsurgical portion of our practice, but [the physician] is available to answer questions, which is a big plus,” Matas claims. “We usually have one of our skin care companies bring their skin scope, and we have our makeup company bring their new products and a makeup artist to demonstrate.
“We take loose reservations for these services, as they take time with each patient. Skin care and makeup product sales are high during these events. We always provide food and beverages and try to make it social and light, so that ladies don’t feel they are being scrutinized. Interestingly enough, some of our core patients are always in attendance,” she says.
GET THE WORD OUT
In addition to inviting your own patients, consider other potential sources in your community. If you are partnering with another physician, aesthetician, spa or salon, or private club, you may also be able to cross-market to their database.
Ask referring physicians, salons or spas, or retailers in your area if you can provide seminar invitations for their customers. Invite potential referral sources to your seminar, so they have a chance to meet the physician and the staff and to experience your facility.
To increase attendance, promote your seminar online by posting the details of the event on your Web site, including a hyperlink to RSVP. Investigate local Web resources in your area that post event calendars, such as Digital City, Time Out, Splendora, etc.
The www.evite.com Web site, for instance, offers a way to send out invitations electronically. Print advertising in local newspapers and weekly neighborhood papers may also be a cost-effective method to attract prospective new patients. If you are planning a large-scale, off-site event or a series of events well in advance, consider advertising in regional glossy magazines.
The best way to embark on a seminar program in your practice is to include it in your yearly marketing plan and budget.
As with all of your practice-enhancement efforts, consistency is key. If you hold your first seminar and attendance falls short of your expectations, reconsider how you can do things differently the next time rather than giving up the idea entirely.
Hosting a free educational workshop for anyone wishing to learn more about aesthetic surgery options can be a straightforward opportunity to instill confidence in prospective patients and to elevate your practice’s image.
Wendy Lewis is a consultant and writer in the field of aesthetic medicine, and the author of 10 books, including the upcoming Plastic Makes Perfect: The Complete Cosmetic Beauty Guide (Orion, 2008). She can be reached at www.wlbeauty.com.