May 2016




Use eye awareness months to your advantage

by Vanessa Caceres EyeWorld Contributing Writer


The opportunity to educate a large group of people with a high potential to be personally connected to the topic is invaluable. Marissa Rossnagle


7 steps for easy, thoughtful education and marketing for your practice

It seems like theres an awareness month for just about everythingever heard of National Doghouse Repairs Month (July) or National Chicken Month (September)? Some of the monthly awareness themes may be downright silly, but if your practice isnt observing at least some of the eye health-themed months throughout the year, you could lose out on a solid educational and marketing opportunity.

Take, for example, the experience of Center for Sight in Sarasota, Florida. The large practice recently decided to participate in eye awareness months, and Diabetic Eye Disease Month in November seemed like a good place to start, said Marissa Rossnagle, director of marketing, Center for Sight.

We realized this was an untapped opportunity to educate current and prospective patients about common eye conditions while also positioning Center for Sight as an expert source and go-to provider for specific eyecare needs, Ms. Rossnagle said.

The office sent out a press release with diabetic eye disease statistics and tips to prevent and manage onset of the condition. That helped the practice secure a feature piece in a local health magazine. The practices vitreo-retinal surgeon also spoke with a journalist on the subject, providing information beyond the press release, Ms. Rossnagle said. The opportunity to educate a large group of people with a high potential to be personally connected to the topic is invaluable, she said. Because of the outreach effort, the practice has decided to partner with a local diabetes non-profit group to share information on the topic.

7 steps for awareness month outreach

If you think your practice would benefit from marketing and education efforts related to various eye health awareness months (see sidebar for a list of the months), then consider advice from these awareness month pros.

1. Decide which months youd like to promote. Do you want to target certain months with topics that are most relevant to your practice, like Center for Sight did? Or would you rather take a broader approach and celebrate all or almost all themes? For example, Hugo Higa, MD, Honolulu, has celebrated eye-themed months for almost 20 years, as he thinks they help raise awareness about scheduling regular annual exams. Another way to approach it: Think about a goal you have in mind for patients and how you can use the themed months to help them reach that goal. At John- Kenyon, our goal is to encourage the community to schedule regular eye exams, the same way theyd schedule an annual physical or go to the dentist regularly, said Asim Piracha, MD, John-Kenyon, Louisville, Kentucky. We often see people neglecting their vision because they arent sure it can be corrected or are nervous about the treatment. The promotional efforts the practice does around the monthly themes help to raise awareness about specific conditions that can be better treated with regular exams, Dr. Piracha said.

John-Kenyon also uses the monthly promotions to raise awareness about trends, such as proper contact lens wear during Halloween.

2. Draft a press release. This is your basic tool to get the word out to the local or regional press about the theme during a given month. Obviously if your practice has a marketing director or publicist, he or she could write the release, said Mona Wood, public relations and marketing director for Dr. Higas practice. If you dont have someone in that role, you could work with a local public relations student or a freelance writer to craft a release for you, Ms. Wood suggested. Your PR contact will know the best way to get the release out to local media and follow up with targeted press contacts; some local chambers of commerce also have programs that help you get releases into the hands of press contacts.

3. But also think beyond the press release. Although press releases are a definite tool in the promotion of eye awareness months, there are other things you can do. I often participate in health fairs and talks around the communityat hospitals, shopping malls, veteran halls, elderly care homes, etc.and even present at least 4 events each year in my own office for free, Dr. Higa said. He will usually focus his talk on the topic of the month. Dr. Higas office will promote these talks at his office, in newsletters, via press releases, and other venues.

If your office is large enough, you could hold your talk there. Or you could think about access to a meeting room or coffee shop. Make sure to provide light refreshments, like coffee and drinks, Dr. Higa advised.

4. Use social media. You can promote educational efforts or special events via social media sites and/or on your website. You can also use social media sites to share weekly tips or education related to a monthly theme. Strong visuals are key, Dr. Piracha said. On social media, especially Facebook and Instagram, we try to use engaging visuals with key information.

5. Target your information to specific audiences. For example, in tandem with Age-Related Macular Degeneration and Low Vision Awareness Month, Dr. Higa spoke with a group of seniors about the importance of taking care of vision to help prevent falls. During Childrens Eye Health & Safety Month, he enjoys visiting elementary schools, and he changes up his presentation to include more visual aids and interactive activities.

6. Dont forget promotional products. Michigan Hair Restoration, the sister company of the Vision Institute of Michigan, Sterling Heights, had a huge hit when it gave away 555 hats at an NFL event for National Sun Awareness Day. The hats had our logo on them, and more than a year later, we still have people tagging us in photos online, posting to Facebook, and wearing the hats out around town, said Mark Berkowitz, MD, chief oculofacial cosmetic and reconstructive surgeon, Vision Institute of Michigan.

7. With your efforts expect some initial increase in patientsand a better media relationship. Speaking with people one-on-one and having them get to know you beyond just an image from a newspaper or TV spot builds trust, Dr. Higa said. Other times, you may not notice a direct uptick in patients, but you will notice that youve built a solid relationship with the media, who will be more likely to call you with questions for related stories, Dr. Piracha said. The Vision Institute of Michigan had a particularly positive experience when it promoted Winter Weather and Dry Eye Awareness earlier this year, Dr. Berkowitz said. The outreach prompted a TV appearance on a local ABC Detroit affiliate to speak about dry eye awareness; after that, the practice received many calls and questions as well as multiple new patients. It also bolstered the practices relationship with the media.

Promoting eye-themed awareness makes your outreach information timely and newsworthy, establishes credibility for your practice and staff, helps drive new patient growth and retention, and provides an excellent public service, Dr. Berkowitz said.

Contact information

Higa and Wood:

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