How do I maintain my sense of professionalism while "marketing" my practice and not feel like a buffoon or a used-car salesman?
If you believe that pets need certain types of care to keep them healthy, and you know your practice can deliver these services in a professional and caring manner, why would you feel anything other than confident discussing them? Consider it your duty to inform your clients about best practices for their pets' health and wellness. If you are simply trying to increase the bottom line and are doing so disingenuously, you will feel uncomfortable.
One reason why people may be uncomfortable discussing their practice or service recommendations is that they have not thought about the responses they might give to clients' objections or questions. So prepare yourself. List all the doubts or resistance you may get about a recommendation and write responses to them that you can practice. When the time comes to discuss them, you'll feel more confident and not stumble over your words, making you appear unsure or as if you were pushing something their pets don't need.
It's important for you and your team to list the distinguishing characteristics of your practice so that you can describe it easily and clearly. For instance, "We are a small-animal veterinary practice that focuses on prevention and wellness care, including nutrition and weight management," or "We are an advanced care practice that provides general wellness diagnostics, including ultrasound for dogs and cats, and we have received accreditation from AAHA, the American Animal Hospital Association." What you need is an "elevator pitch," which is a concise, carefully planned, and well-practiced description of your company that your mother should be able to understand in the time it would take to ride an elevator.
How do we track the productivity of charitable donations, community educational presentations, participation in trade shows with a booth, and so forth? Even if our client and patient numbers increase, can I attribute it to the PR or would it have happened anyway?
Public relations, or PR, is defined by the American Marketing Association as "That form of communication management that seeks to make use of publicity and other nonpaid forms of promotion and information to influence the feelings, opinions, or beliefs about the company and its products and services . . ." Given this definition, using PR is generally not designed to convert new customers directly. It is more a means to create awareness and manage a business's image in the public's view by use of third-party coverage.
As a practice, you will need to decide what you want to accomplish by taking part in activities outside your hospital. The more visibility you receive in front of pet owners whom you deem to be good candidates for clients, the better. So the question is, at what cost? If participation at an event has a fee attached and that fee is going to a charitable cause, then you know your participation will serve two important purposes and you can volunteer to participate if it fits your time and resource budget. If there is no charitable component, however, as with any other marketing decision you may make, doing your homework beforehand to determine the size of the audience relative to the cost will help you decide whether it is a worthwhile expenditure.
Measuring the results of this type of exposure is extremely difficult, but suffice it to say that it is the sum of your media mix that helps build a strong brand in the eyes of the community and serves to reinforce for your current clients that you are a good and honorable member of society.
-  The term "elevator pitch" is attributed to Robert Pagliarini of SeekingCapital.com.