Lets Party!

July 1, 1997
Plenty of excuses can be made for hosting a madcap affair! But the best reason of all is that patients fondly remember these special events at the dental office.

Plenty of excuses can be made for hosting a madcap affair! But the best reason of all is that patients fondly remember these special events at the dental office.

Naomi Rhode, RDH, CSP, CPAE

When Dr. Ralph Lazaro brought a chicken into his reception room and tied a goat in front of his office nearly two decades ago, he had no idea he was starting a tradition. It led to an annual festival called "Farm Day" that has become one of the most enjoyable and highly anticipated fall events in Great Falls, Va. Patients of all ages have the opportunity to see a large variety of farm animals, bob for apples, have their faces painted and enjoy hay rides, visit a tooth booth and a barbecue booth, see a stage show, view a fire truck and police car, and participate in a "furry friend" raffle.

Every summer, Dr. Alan L. Longfellow, a pediatric dentist in Tempe, Ariz., sponsors a free movie day for all his patients and their parents. He rents a six-theater movie house and gives out free popcorn, imprinted balloons, toothbrushes, and stickers. Nearly 2,000 kids turn out for this event.

When Dr. Art and Minnie Zack of Paulsboro, N.J., decided to celebrate 20 years in the practice they originally purchased from a retiring dentist, they published a special practice newsletter, featuring the history of the practice, as well as photos of special events. They also invited patients of record who had been with the practice for 30 years or more to a dinner party at a local restaurant.

Dr. and Mrs. Zack gave out individual certificates of appreciation to each of these patients for their years of loyalty. They also gave a watch to the patient of greatest longevity - 59 years with the practice - who, by the way, has never missed a recall appointment. Dr. and Mrs. Zack also invited former staff members who were still residing in the area to the party. The local newspaper gave their 20th anniversary celebration terrific free publicity with a feature article titled, "A Legacy of Smiles."

Although differing in style, location and theme, all these office celebrations had something in common: They were all well-planned and they were very successful!

The moral of the story

Why am I telling you this? It`s simple! Does your practice ever have a special event or open house? If not, have you ever thought about having one?

Many of the successful practices I visit do. They find it`s a great way to boost referrals from loyal patients and professional colleagues. It`s also a wonderful way to invite prospective new patients to visit the office for a "high-touch, low-fear" introductory tour.

Whether you`re planning a one-time event, such as an anniversary of the practice or an open house, or an annual event, what follows are some tried-and-true tips from successful practices that I`d like to share with you.

Step #1: Plan well ahead of time. Brainstorm ideas. Everyone on the staff should have some input on suggestions for your special event or promotion. Ask each team member to come to a planning meeting with at least three ideas. Designate a "recorder" to write down all ideas on a large newsprint pad, dry-wipe board, or piece of paper. Consider all ideas and then narrow them down.

Step #2: Get organized! Make a checklist of all the required tasks. Ask for team members to volunteer for specific assignments. Ask patients and friends of the practice to volunteer to help. Set your dates well in advance.

Step #3: Choose a theme. It sets the tone for all elements of the event. Choose a theme that`s positive, upbeat, simple, and easily communicated. If in doubt, try it out on several patients, and ask them to describe what they think it means.

Step #4: Determine a budget. Often, the best plans fall short for lack of planning a strategic budget to cover the special event. Depending upon the elaborate or simplistic nature of the event, you should plan on giveaways, promotional costs (printing and mailing invitations), refreshments, decorations and door prizes.

Many practices determine an annual budget and include from 3 to 8 percent of their total budget for marketing. From this, they earmark a specific amount for their annual promotional event or open house.

When setting a budget, it`s wise to either set a per-guest amount or an overall budget. This will help you gauge how much you can spend overall. It also will help you track your return on investment (in new or additional patient services) generated from the event. Remember, a new adult patient, on average, is worth from $600 to $1,000.

Step #5: Plan your giveaways and printed materials to be tied directly to the theme. For example:

- "Measure your Smile" - give a personalized neon ruler.

- "Brighten your Smile" - give an imprinted penlight flashlight or glow-in-the-dark button, and have plenty of tooth-whitening materials available.

- "Tin Grins Are In" (for orthodontic practices) and give out metallic or holographic stickers.

Another orthodontist, who was celebrating 10 years in practice, used his practice`s theme, "Straightening Smiles for a Decade." He gave out T-shirts printed with his theme, as well as a grand prize of a gift certificate from the local sporting goods store for a 10-speed bike. He also gave out practice-imprinted sun visors, frisbees, and car sunshades for the kids` parents. Not surprisingly, his gross revenues during the next quarter increased by 17 percent.

When our dentist-daughter, Beth, and her physician-husband, Curt, had their first child, they used blue toothbrushes specially imprinted with their son`s name, birth date and weight and the message, "It`s a boy!" as their distinctive birth announcement.

Arrange to have plenty of giveaways ready to hand out, such as stickers, appliquès, personalized pens, pencils, mugs, magnets, etc., to let guests take the theme of your event to their home or office when they leave.

Here are some helpful hints to keep in mind about practice giveaways. They should:

- Carry your practice name, logo, and message.

- Provide your office telephone number and address.

- Be a useful merchandise.

- Be ready-to-use with no assembly required.

- Be packaged in a way that make it easy for guests to take them home (for example, in a personalized tote bag). Remember, never let a patient leave your practice empty-handed!

Step #6: Promote your special event. Patients and prospective patients will turn out for a special event when they have sufficient notification and when they feel exited and enthused about the event. They need a reason to attend - something that will excite them! Many people, deep down, think: "What`s in it for me?"

Promote your event with:

- A notice in the office`s newsletter.

- Statement stuffers/postcards or special computer-generated messages on statements or printed invitations.

- A notice in your local newspaper on at least three occasions.

- Designate a special "dress-up" day at the office to promote your event`s theme (This is a fun idea!).

- Print special "admission tickets" for the event and give them out to patients as they`re dismissed. Tell them to bring the tickets with them when they come to your event to register for special door prizes.

There is a final step: a post-event meeting. Use this valuable time to determine successes and suggestions for improving the next special event. Remember, there are no failures, just improvements for the next time. Best of luck with your special event!

Naomi Rhode is co-owner of SmartPractice, a dental and health-care marketing company based in Phoenix, Ariz. She is a past president of the National Speakers Association.

7 reasons to celebrate

(1) Open house

(2) New associate/partner

(3) New location/building/office

(4) Completed remodeling of an existing office

(5) Patient appreciation day

(6) Anniversary of number of years in practice

- Engagement or wedding

Celebration checklist

Before the event:

- Choose a theme.

- Set a date.

- Delegate tasks and details to specific individuals and entrust them to do an outstanding job.

- Make out your guest list - don`t forget your top 10 referrals!

- Order printed materials, such as invitations.

- Make arrangements with caterer.

- Order flowers, give-aways, large cake, etc.

- Arrange for a professional photographer or videographer.

- Write a press release in advance.

During the Event:

- Relax and enjoy yourself - have fun - it`s a party!

After the Event:

- Make sure the people who have been put in charge of clean-up have done their job.

- Send thank-you notes or gifts to those who contributed to the success of your celebration.

- Publish highlights and photos of the celebration in your practice newsletter.

- Keep a file on the cost, the guest list and other pertinent details as a reference for planning your next celebration; make a list of anything you would like to add or change next time.

- Offer to help other practices or referring practices with their celebrations.