“You guys need to spend more money on a PR campaign” said speaker Adele Cehrs, CEO of Epic PR Group, addressing a crowd of physical therapy business owners at the American Physical Therapy Association conference in Salt Lake City last week. The Public Relations veteran pulled no punches when encouraging the audience to think differently about how they market themselves.
“Consumers don’t understand ‘musculo-skeletal’. They know something went pop.” At this point one of the audience members said that a ‘pop’ isn’t an indication of a problem. Adele pointed out that consumers don’t know this, and it’s about speaking their language.
Adele’s PR firm represents the Private Practice section of the APTA, whose members own some of the 57,000 independent physical therapy clinics in the United States. She told the audience that she has a really hard time finding clinic owners willing to speak to the press when she has a story, and was extremely surprised that people weren’t coming forward to take advantage of this membership benefit of the Private Practice Section of APTA.
When she wasn’t encouraging the audience to be more proactive with marketing and understanding what their potential customers care about, Adele led the group through a number of exercises to develop creative solutions to real-world marketing challenges. She started by dividing the audience into groups of 3, and requiring that each person spin a wheel to determine what role or ‘hat’ they would represent in the group. The roles consisted of common archetypes in either in business and group work, and each person was responsible for approaching the problem from the perspective of that person. In our group we had a future visionary, a bean counter, and an analyst. The role of the visionary was to evaluate the ideas had sticking power in the long run. The bean counter was responsible for ROI, and the analyst was to question the viability of the solution. I was the analyst in our group, which is my natural behavior, so it wasn’t much of a stretch. The idea of this role playing is actually to see things from another perspective, so I didn’t have that benefit. However, not actually being a physical therapy clinic owner did enable me to stretch my viewpoint significantly.
In our small groups we worked on two business problems, the first was to determine how to capitalize on new research that showed 33% better performance from patients that didn’t receive overly positive encouragement (“you’ve got this”) from their physical therapists. With my analyst hat on, I questioned whether everyone liked the same type of motivation and also wanted to see the actual study. Our group decided that some groups, for example, seniors might actually like friendly encouragement, so our recommendation was to screen patients and match them with the type of physical therapist who would be most compatible for their personality. Another group recommended using the patients phones or clinic iPads and filming them, and said that when patients are engaged everyone wins. (At Wellpepper we concur, but also think you can go further in extending your reach outside the clinic and also warn you to make sure your mobile patient communications are HIPAA-compliant.)
Another exercise involved ways to increase the number of clients at the clinic. Solutions to this included examining where most referrals came from and trying to duplicate this with another segment of users. Other ideas included offering free screenings or volunteering to provide services for a local team. Adele pushed people to go further, both in sharing the data around why physical therapy works and sharing patient stories for additional human interest.
Adele also mentioned that people trust their own data more than yours, which is why her company offers an online quiz to access your PR readiness. She explained that when people see their own PR readiness, it’s a much more powerful change agent than her firm telling them what their gaps are. She asked the group to consider how to apply this theory to marketing physical therapy. Our group decided that an online falls quiz might be helpful for attracting the attention of people whose parents were aging and at risk. Adult children and caregivers could do it together, and it would be an opportunity to educate on how physical therapy can aid in falls prevention.
We didn’t actually get to finish all the content in the 90-minute session because of the interactive nature of the talk and the great stories told by Adele. If you’re a member of APTA’s Private Practice section, we recommend joining her newsletter for additional tips and PR opportunities, and if you’re not a member, having a resource like this available to you might be reason to consider joining.