Meeting the Community Needs
Promoting the Human-animal Bond in Veterinary Practice
Thomas E. Catanzaro, DVM, MHA, FACHE, Diplomate American College of Healthcare Executives

There is marketing, and there is advertising. Some people even add public relations to this list of outreach programs. But in veterinary practice, we have centered on gimmicks and one-shot attempts, then wonder why we have failures. So let us look at the difference, from least offensive to most offensive, as seen by our colleagues.

Public Relations - Those things that we do to improve the image of the profession, such as: volunteer for church committees, host Scout tours of our facility, speak at the local schools, judge science fairs, sponsor pet walks for cancer or maybe just support a local welfare agency.

Marketing - A three-step process based on making a client aware of a preexisting need, informing the client that the need can be filled with today's technology, then telling the client that we can provide that service in a caring manner (Ch. 5, Veterinary Healthcare Services: Options in Delivery, Blackwell Publishing, or Signature Series monograph, Marketing & Internal Promotions, VIN Press).

Advertising - The methodology to convince clients that they need a service or product for the benefit of the seller (but that service or product should do no harm).

There are some who would disagree with the brevity of the above definitions, such as those who make their living by selling advertising or public relation services, because the clarity is designed for the consumer and not the seller. But the real fact of the matter is that it doesn't really matter. In reality, clients don't care what you call it, and your staff is not impressed by the definitions, it is the perceptions that must be addressed in a veterinary practice. Perceptions are simply the view of the client to what is being offered, for instance:

 Does the consumer buy coal, or do they buy heat?

 Does the reader by a newspaper, or do they buy information?

 At an optometrist, do you buy glasses, or do you buy vision?

 Does a family purchase a new water heater, or do they just want more hot water?

 Do you buy a circus ticket, or are you buying entertainment & thrills?

 Does a pet owner want preventive healthcare, or do they want a healthy, happy, well family member?

These perspectives are the basis of marketing, and in some cases, the basis of advertising. In the advertising field, they talk about "selling the sizzle," which comes from the original bacon advertising scheme. How can you market a product that clogs arteries and is basically just the fat from a pig? On television, they let you hear the sizzle, not see the product; they talk of how it goes with eggs or BLT sandwiches, not how it balances the nutritional needs of the consumer. They sell bacon to the senses, not the product.

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Thomas E. Catanzaro, DVM, MHA, FACHE, Diplomate American College of Healthcare Executives