How effective is regular newspaper advertising (print and online versions)?
Newspaper advertising typically is quite expensive. However, smaller community papers with a narrower readership closer to your desired audience might be a good alternative. The longer the commitment (for instance, a one-year insertion order), the lower the per ad cost. When you advertise just a few times, the ads can be more costly.
Carefully review the media kit for a potential publication and make sure the readership demographics strongly skew in favor of the type of clientele you want to reach. If having a presence in one or more of these papers is something you want, rotate several ads and avoid placing the same one every week or month. You are looking to create awareness and hit on a need a reader may have. Varying the message in your ads will help you capture a larger audience, and one of these ads may just come at the right time with the right solution.
Sometimes these publications have bundled options so that you can advertise both online and in print for a package price, which can be a great deal.
Is local commercial advertising (on Cablevision, for example) worth the expense?
The answer to this question, as is often the case, depends on what you hope to accomplish by the exposure. For example, one specialty hospital had a very successful run of ads on cable TV during a large dog show. For the amount of slots they were given over a specified period of time to a specific audience, the hospital determined that the money spent hit the target in a professional manner and was seen by those most likely to choose specialty care. The dog show was a large, prestigious event full of tradition and attended by deeply devoted animal lovers. It was therefore something the hospital wanted to be associated with, and it met their criteria for the image they wanted to portray.
Many practices automatically decline more expensive marketing tactics, but if the exposure is worth the cost and the results are favorable, this expenditure may be worthwhile for your clinic.
In the following example, a practice has reached a broad-based audience at a cost that usually would be considered beyond budget. But when you note all the positive associations, you'll see why they signed on for several years. A 24/7 pet hospital chose to be the sponsor of a program featuring an adoptable pet at every minor league baseball game at the ballpark. Not only are they helping the community by encouraging pet adoption and showing the "dog of the day" during the seventh-inning stretch on the field, but they are reaching an entirely new audience in a fun environment and promoting their practice, in particular their emergency services. This has proven to be an excellent way to reach a large pet-owning population they did not have the ability to reach previously. Because the sponsorship is for the duration of the season, they see new faces at each game, have a presence on the team's website, and are involved in many of the team's media events. Don't be afraid to explore these types of partnerships, as the cost may prove to be entirely worthwhile.
How do I find the time to stay focused on whatever marketing we start?
As with any other desired change in behavior, it starts with a decision. It is a highly unusual business that is successful without marketing. In your case, it should be as important as the inventory on your shelvessomething you wouldn't go a week without ordering. If you need help getting started and setting realistic goals, engage a good marketing agency to help you develop a plan, ideally one that understands the animal health care industry.
Once you've made the decision to invest in marketing, commit to the plan. Marketing without a plan (i.e., sending a marketing piece out on a whim or as a reaction to competition or the economy) is simply less effective and ultimately much more expensive. Once you have a specific plan, budget the resources, delegate tasks, schedule activities, and monitor the results. As you begin to see positive results, you will probably find it motivating to continue on this path.
As mentioned in several other answers in this book, get in the habit of running reports by using your electronic medical records. You probably do this already to track financial information for monitoring revenue and expenses, so look at marketing data at the same time. These reports will allow you to track relevant numbers before you launch a particular tactic. Watch for trends and adjust accordingly, so you will stay motivated and on track.