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Demystifying Television Advertising: It May be Within Your Reach After All

By Stewart Gandolf, Chief Executive Officer

old tvHow to know if TV fits your local Healthcare Marketing Plan

We're glad you're reading this article. TV is often easily dismissed as being either too expensive or too difficult as a media option for doctors. We'll be the first to tell you that television advertising is not right for everyone.

Is it complex? Yes. But contrary to what you might think, television advertising can be affordable and effective - if done correctly. So put down the remote, pick up a pencil and I'll help with the math.

Here are the first five questions to help you know if TV has a place in your marketing plan.

What are you planning to promote?

What makes TV (or any media) an affordable option is not just the cost of the media, it's the Return-on-Investment (ROI). In planning your TV message, the bottom-line test will be: what does each new patient mean to your business in terms of revenue? Is the case size big enough to generate a positive return-on-investment (ROI)?

In round numbers, we often target a 3:1 ROI goal. The math then becomes simple.

Let's say for example you are considering targeting an elective procedure that nets you on average $2,000. The TV rep wants you to invest $6,000 in an initial test. That means you will have to generate 3 cases to break even, and 9 cases to enjoy a 3:1 ROI.

So, you'll need to decide if this calculated risk is worth trying. As you think things through, remember that if television does work for you, you can go back to that same well over and over again.

What is your market area like?

There are usually three options in television media: the major network stations, the independent local stations and the cable providers.

(We can help you sort out the overlapping media options in metro areas. Call us if you need help with this. It can be confusing, and sometimes we find smart options you didn't know about.)

Large network stations are at home in large metropolitan population centers. Big broadcast outlets have big audiences and big rate cards. For a community practice, the coverage area is probably too large and simply cost-prohibitive.

There are, however, second-tier options. Independent local stations in a metro market (or suburban areas with fewer stations) are likely to have more "community friendly" options and more reasonable rates.

In addition, cable outlets often offer VERY local advertising, sometimes by zip code. You'll typically buy packages of such stations as Lifetime, A&E, Home and Garden or the History Channel.

Among the options, cable stations often standout as the best choice for two reasons. First, the cable service area is local and is more directly aligned with your practice drawing area. And second, cable rates are cheap by comparison. (More about buying cable TV time in a bit.)

What about the production cost?

In addition to buying the TV time, there is a cost to create your commercial message. (Likely more than one message and more than one length.) And it's got to be good...really good...so you can't do an amateur production.

Your commercial message will play among the big-budget-mini-movie storytelling of national ad agencies. Next to these, a poorly done commercial will either make your practice look bad or it will not grab attention and it will get lost. You don't want either option.

So even though your local community college or cable station may offer to produce your "spots" for low cost (even free), steer clear unless you want to end up looking like local used car dealers.

Over the years we have worked with some very high-quality production companies that offer reasonable rates. We also do the scripting.

We know you're not writing "Gone With The Wind," but your script should still offer a compelling "story." It should begin with a problem and then offer a solution. It should also explain why the patient should come to you for the procedure. Finally, you need to offer a deadline to get the audience to act quickly. If done correctly, the result is a professional production that demands attention and produces results.

Here's a recent example of a TV commercial we produced for a practice doing tattoo removal.
See for yourself:

Medical tv commercial

View Our 60 second commerical

Your investment in producing your commercial spreads across many uses over a long life. Eventually you will refresh or replace your message, but production is not a continuing or repeat cost-unlike the media cost.

What's the budget for cable TV commercial time?

Fortunately, the unit cost – per commercial play – is low. The rate depends on the time of day, what frequency discount you might earn (the more airplay you buy, the less cost per unit), and what "program package" is available . Commercial time can also be sold on a "preemptable" basis-meaning the cable company will give you a lower rate but reserve the right to reschedule you in favor of a higher paying advertiser. This lower cost trade-off is usually worth the occasional inconvenience. So for cable, each commercial "spot" can sometimes be as low as $5 each.

Each cable subscriber household may have 200+ channels on tap, and the audience is difficult to quantify. So the media schedule that you buy in cable TV has to include a lot of repetition. Although the rate is low, you need to repeat your message frequently to be effective.

You'll want some guidance in planning this, but here's the ballpark. You'll want a mix of 60-second and 30-second announcements. (The longer format "infomercial," of two to 30 minutes, is another option with cable, but not included in this example.) As a baseline, we typically recommend a schedule of about 80 to 100 commercials per month. Allow at least $4,000, plus production costs, for an initial budget.

What's the big picture?

Generally, we do not recommend using TV as a stand-alone promotional idea. Typically we recommend television as an additional layer in the mix of a broader campaign. It needs to blend into a carefully considered marketing plan, and we can help with the overall strategy and tactics that support your goals.

Television advertising requires careful consideration, but it can be useful and affordable.

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