Our medical practice clients often ask us whether or not we think it’s worth it to do what we call “traditional” media–print ads, billboards, sponsorship banners at sporting events, etc.
While we’re naturally a bit biased toward online media, it’s a valid question. Before online marketing evolved to what it is today, print advertising and other traditional media was the main avenue for getting the word out about a small business like a medical practice.
The truth is, like different types of online marketing, not all print ads are created equal. Each vendor will have different processes, publications will have different audiences, and there will be different ways you can (or can’t) track the results of your ads. Online ads have reporting built in, and you can set up even more sophisticated tracking to try to determine your ROI. With traditional advertising, this is not always the case. And for most of the clients we work with, it’s important that they understand whether or not that investment was worth it.
If your practice is considering these more traditional forms of media, we recommend being thorough in vetting the vendors you work with. These are some of the questions we recommend you ask.
Questions to Ask Print Ad Vendors
If you are considering running any type of print ad, we recommend asking these questions so you can weigh whether or not it’s worth the investment.
What does it cost?
This one is probably a no-brainer to you, but worth mentioning. If it’s just a small ad in, say, a school bulletin or something similar, maybe it doesn’t cost all that much and you don’t need to really worry about return on investment. But if the cost is on the higher end, then it makes sense to ask more questions.
Do you have any demographic information about the audience that will see the ads?
If you’re paying for ads, you want to make sure that they’re reaching the right audience. For example, if you are a practice that specializes in joint replacement, it doesn’t really make sense to place an ad in a magazine geared toward parenting small children. For publications that are less niche in nature, it is also helpful to get a breakdown of their subscriber demographics, if they’re available. If most of the people who would potentially see your ads are not the right audience, then it doesn’t make sense to advertise there.
Do you have any tracking methods in place that will help me determine if new patients came to us because of the ads?
Online ad platforms will tell you exactly how many people clicked on your ads to go to your website, but it’s a lot harder to tell how many people saw your ad in print and decided to make an appointment.
Aside from asking each patient how they found you, there isn’t a way to track this from print ads with 100% certainty. However, there are a couple of methods that an advertiser can use to help you get a better understanding of whether or not patients are contacting you after seeing the ads:
- Campaign-specific URLs can be printed on ads to help you track website visits from the ads. If a specific URL is only available on the print ads, then you’ll know that anyone visiting that URL had to have seen the ad. That said, you’ll need to make sure that it’s a short URL, since people will have to type it into their browser.
- Call tracking phone numbers are phone numbers that are different from your actual phone number, but forward to your office line. You can set up a call tracking number specifically to put in the print ads, and call tracking services can tell you how many times the call tracking number was dialed (and often, who made the call). This will let you know how many times the number was dialed.
- QR codes are a type of barcode that can be scanned by a mobile device, which takes the user to a webpage. QR codes can also be set to have campaign tracking similar to campaign-specific URLs.
If your advertiser doesn’t offer any of these services, you can set up these things on your own if you really want to run the ads and need to get some sense of ROI. In general, it’s getting harder to track ads of all types back to new patients, but these types of tracking methods can at least tell you if a potential patient is coming to you directly after seeing the ad.
Do you design the ads, or are we responsible for creating the finished product?
Some advertisers will put together the ads for you; others will give dimensions and other specifications, and it’s up to your practice to put the ad together. If it’s the latter situation and your practice doesn’t have someone on staff who can do it, you’ll likely have to hire a designer to put together the ad. That’s another thing to factor into your advertising budget.
Deciding Whether or Not Print Ads Are Worth the Investment
The answers to the questions above should give you an idea of whether or not the print ads your practice is considering are the right fit for your needs. Advertisers should be able to give you clear answers to each of these questions. If they cannot or will not, that is your first indication that the advertiser may not be right for your practice.
If the ads are low-cost and for a local event or organization, then it might be worth it even if you can’t get any ROI stats. Sometimes just doing something nice, like sponsoring an ad for something local, is helpful in building your reputation in a close-knit community. However, if the ads are going to take up a significant chunk of your advertising and marketing budget, then we recommend ensuring there is a way to track your return on investment.
Another thing to consider is brand marketing vs. performance marketing. While most of a medical practice’s marketing efforts are focused on performance, i.e., getting more patients in the door, there is something to be said for marketing your brand. This is one area where print advertising can work well. Building brand awareness can help strengthen the results you get from your other marketing efforts. You may not be able to directly tie those efforts back to getting new patients, though, and brand awareness can be more of a longer play.
At the end of the day, print advertising can be a helpful part of your practice’s marketing mix. The real key here is having a true mix of marketing methods in your arsenal, as patients can find you through a number of different channels. If you are considering print advertising, choose options that allow you to still put budget toward other channels so that you can build the right mix for your practice.