In marketing the Super General Dental Practice, we sometimes find that the most effective things are the least expensive. The School Program that we have been using for almost 30 years is a great example of what a little time and very little money will do for you. It has the air of Back to the Future marketing: It goes back to the high touch, low tech, and huge return on investment marketing style that was prevalent in the early years of healthcare marketing. This has to be one of the single best marketing ideas to create “validity” or the idea that “you are the doc to see”.
Basically this is a program that targets the schools in your area. We try to target the K through about 3rd grade classes. If you go with any higher grades or ages, you run the risk that the kids will be smarter than you are, so keep it simple and keep it predictable.
I know what you’re thinking: I don’t want any kids in my practice; they’re too much trouble with too little return. Keep a few things in mind before you discount this strategy.
1. Mom and Dad will spend money on their kids that they would not spend on themselves.
2. Decayed, missing, and filled teeth in middle class kids is almost non-existent. This means that hygiene will be busy, but few will actually need to see the doctor.
3. Getting good with the kid’s means every adult in the area will want to see you. We all want to be treated like kids in a dental office: We want it to be fun, quick, and painless.
4. If the kids like you, then you get the parents, their friends, and the rest of the family. You become the “IT” practice.
5. If you don’t want kids, you probably are not ever going to continue to grow and profit in future markets. In our practice, 47% of the new patients were kids and we had a low 50% overhead and collections of over $500,000 per month. If you are still on the fence about this, just go back to what you are currently doing in marketing. I am sure it is bringing in 250 new patients per month already.
STEP ONE: GETTING YOUR FOOT IN THE DOOR.
It is surprisingly difficult to get into schools the first time. It’s kind of like telling them you work for Winchester Firearms or are personal friends with the local drug king. I have included a letter we send to the school nurse but there is nothing better than having a patient who is already a teacher at the school or a parent who volunteers frequently to help you the first time. Once you get in, you will be invited back every year. In Texas, as is the case with most states, there is a mandatory cursory medical and dental exam done on each child at the first of the year. That might be a way to work your way in. Secondly, you could approach it as if you were this year’s poster child for dentistry during February, which is National Dental Health Month. Any way you can get in is a good way. I found that it is possible to make an appointment with the school nurse the first time. Explain the program, the free tooth brushes, film, and poster contest and how you would go about a cursory dental exam without actually touching the child. It works every time. Just remember to do all of this a month or six weeks ahead of when you want to actually do the program. (HINT: The first week of January would be ideal. Don’t procrastinate.)
AN EXAMPLE OF THE LETTER TO THE SCHOOL NURSE:
Dear School Health Coordinator,
The fears and discomfort of poor dental health should not occur with our children. We have a better way to introduce our kids to the new era of dentistry.
Our Dental Health Day is designed to educate your K-3rd graders with the basics of dental care. We show the American Dental Association’s “Dudley’s First Visit to the Dentist educational video, provide ribbons and prizes for a dental poster contest, along with dental screening of all students, free toothbrushes for everyone.
We have offered this service for the last seven years. In an effort to be more efficient, we will call to set up our visit and answer any questions you may have.
Your name, D.D.S.
PS: I would include a sample of a toothbrush, ribbon, and exam card that you will use along with the title and something about the film.
STEP TWO: STAGING FOR THE ACTUAL VISIT
1. Order the toothbrushes so that everyone gets a toothbrush. I always used Smart Practice in Phoenix (www.smartpractice.com) and would have my practice name or web site along with our phone number printed on the brushes. I would go for an inexpensive brush for the kids with bright colors.
2. Order the ribbons to be given away to everyone that does a poster for the dental health day. I ordered these from www.award-ribbons.com. I have included an example at the end of this article.
3. Order the front and back printed cards to use for the exam to send home with the kids. I used a mom and pop small printing shop. I have also included a copy of this at the end of the article.
4. Order Dudley’s First Visit to the dentist from the www.ADA.org.
STEP 3: IT’S SHOW TIME.
Show up early and thank the school nurse and make sure to bring her a nice gift of toothbrushes and maybe mention that you would be pleased to extend to her a professional discount of 20% if she ever wanted to come in or bring her family to you. We always did three classes at one time. That is about 60-90 kids. The total time that this would take is under 40 minutes. It generally took place in one classroom or a meeting room where there was a TV or monitor to play the video on and enough room for the kids to sit and watch. It went something like this:
• “Hey kids, my name is Dr. Michael Abernathy and I am a dentist. How many of you like movies?” They all cheer. “How many of you would like a free toothbrush?” Cheers. “How many of you would like to take some time today and have a dental poster contest?” More cheers. (The teachers are cheering now because they know you will take 40 minutes and the kids will take an hour or two to do the poster and they can coast.)
• Next comes the movie. It takes about 8 minutes 39 seconds (not that I was really counting the time that closely) to run it. It is a cartoon about Dudley the dinosaur’s first visit to the dentist. Great introduction for a kid to dentistry, and very well made.
• Next I ask: “Do you guys know the difference between a “story” and a “question”? This is important because you don’t want them to start telling stories. The teacher laughs because she is constantly correcting the kids at this age about just asking a question and not going on with a long-winded story. “OK! I want everyone to stick their tongue out and take your finger and scratch it a couple of times (I am demonstrating this for them as they do it). Now everybody smell your finger. (Everyone is making noises about how bad it smells.) Do you know what that white stuff is that smells bad?” Kids respond with: “It’s food”. I say: “No, it’s bugs. Do you know what they eat?” No one answers. “They eat candy and sugar and then they “poop” on your tooth and the acid that they poop eats your teeth up and makes cavities.” This never fails to get a rise out of all of the kids and the teacher who is about to fall off her stool laughing. It never fails that when I meet the parents the first time they visit our office, they ask what I told them at the school. Their kids won’t take the toothbrush out of their mouths. All they want to do is brush off the “poop”.
• I tell them that at the end of the day, the teacher will give each of them a toothbrush to take home.
• Next I tell them about the poster contest and that everyone that does a poster will win a ribbon to take home. This means that your name and phone number will end up on every home refrigerator until little Johnny or Becky goes off to college. Statistically, a mom goes to the refrigerator 15 times a day. Every time she goes, you are subliminally brainwashing her to think of you as their dentist.
• Finally, I hold up the card with the tooth chart and tell them what I am about to do. I remind them that this is not a “report card”. I am just going to peek at their mouths and mark any areas that I see that their dentist should take a look at. (Fact: Only 50 % of the population goes to the dentist routinely, so be aware that 50% or more of these kids are potential patients. Parents have become painfully aware that fewer and fewer dentists want to see their kids (you do it by making your reception area unwelcoming to a child that might break or smudge your precious reception room decorations), and will rejoice at finally finding an office that not only will see their kids, but that openly welcomes them.
• Next, I have all the kids place their first names on the card and then we are ready for the exam.
STEP FOUR: THE EXAM
1. Pull on the gloves, and take out your small LED flashlight, and a larger permanent red marker.
2. Have the kids line up by class and have each one just hold the card up and you take a look by having them open wide but never touch the child and if you see anything, and I mean anything, just place a large red mark on the card and go to the next child.
3. I generally just sit and let them walk by. Keep in mind that if you do ortho, be sure and have the word “Orthodontics” written on the card and just circle it.
4. The card says: “Areas marked in red are areas of concern. Please see your dentist at your earliest convenience”. Sounds like a caring, compassionate dentist doing a public service to the sweet kids. Bottom line is that 60-70% of the kids that you mark their cards will call you if you have Fridays, Saturdays, and consumer hours and take their insurance.
Truly, this is another “shooting dead fish in a barrel with a bazooka” strategy that just can’t miss.
Take the time to say bye-bye to the kids, and tell the teachers how much you appreciate them allowing you to meet them and give this presentation. Give them your card, the ribbons, and toothbrushes, and you are on your way. I hope you found this informative and intriguing. It works, it works, and it works. Try it. You’ll like it.
Michael Abernathy, DDS