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    Going commercial

    In the quest to stand out in the marketplace, hard-hitting strategies may get attention — but unrealistic expectations can do damage

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    “The infamous billboard in Glenview, Ill., which drew both attention and ire.
    Plastic surgeon Steven Bloch, M.D., says billboard advertising was just what the doctor ordered. The medical director and owner of Skin Deep Medical Spa in Highland Park and Glenview, Ill., recently cosponsored a billboard (shown left) in tandem with a local high-end salon. The billboard, touting noninvasive cosmetic procedures, drew both accolades and disdain, with community naysayers winning out and the billboard coming down after only two weeks. The controversy drew media attention, with mentions in the Chicago Tribune and a segment on a local television station.

    Pascal Ibgui, owner of Pascal Pour Elle spa in Glenview and Glencoe, Ill., says he runs ads in newspapers and magazines but finds it hard to stand out in a crowded, competitive marketplace. Mr. Ibgui says the billboard he ran with Skin Deep Medical Spa did the trick. The $5,000 they spent to advertise on a 36-foot billboard in Glenview got him more mileage than years of print ads. "...We tried to push the envelope a bit and go for a bigger presence with the billboard," he remarks.

    PUSHING THE ENVELOPE But how far should physicians go to get attention? Catherine Maley, president and senior marketing strategist of San Francisco-based Cosmetic Image Marketing, a public relations, marketing and advertising firm for aesthetic practices, says pushing the right buttons is necessary and good, but the message has to be realistic.

    Promising the world on a silver platter and not being able to deliver will only get you disappointed patients and a tarnished reputation, cautions Ms. Maley, who wrote the industry book Your Aesthetic Practice: What Your Patients Are Saying. She says that advertising should not only get attention, but also build credibility and trust.

    According to Ms. Maley, patients are saturated by news of quick fixes and go to their doctors hoping to look like the people they've seen in ads. Practitioners who use advertising to educate about the reality of aesthetic procedures can build long-term patient relationships with it. Alternatively, those who try to get patients in the door by advertising unrealistic expectations can damage their practices.

    Advertising is all about the headline, Ms. Maley counsels. The messages have to strike a chord. So, the headline "How to look 10 years younger without surgery," is not inappropriate unless it builds unrealistic expectations. The doctor who uses that headline should educate patients about how that can happen, realistically.

    Ms. Maley says doctors who advertise should be both consistent and persistent with their messages. They might use direct mail and newsletters to back up their advertising campaigns. And always have a Web site which sets the same tone as the ads, newsletters and direct mail, she advises. "A Web site today is not a nicety; it's a necessity. You will lose all sorts of credibility if someone asks you for your URL and you don't have one," Ms. Maley cautions.

    ADS THAT WIN According to Ms. Maley, successful ads have three elements:

    • An eye-catching heading and subheading
    • "What's-in-it-for-the-reader" copy, including benefits, benefits and more benefits
    • And the clincher: the special offer or reason to call.

    "Keywords in advertising are 'free,' 'announcing,' 'discovering,' 'learning' — all the active verbs," she says. Finally, make sure to place the ad where it best reaches your target audience. Ms. Maley also advises doctors to hire ad agencies or marketing firms when they are serious about advertising and marketing in a professional or strategic way. "Make sure you work with professionals who understand the aesthetic industry and patient," she advises.

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    Lisette Hilton
    Lisette Hilton is a writer in Boca Raton, Fla., who heads up her company, Words Come Alive.

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