Is Your Marketing Plan Strategic?

Chess game

5 tips to stop spinning your wheels and get some traction.

By Michelle Collie, PT, DPT, MS

Marketing is an essential element of any business.

Physical therapists in private practice are often challenged by the process, with costly, time-intensive campaigns often leaving one questioning the effectiveness of their marketing efforts. Alternatively, when marketing is ignored as a business function, practice owners wonder why they do not have enough new patients to thrive. A successful marketing plan is not just a random assortment of social media posts, events, advertisements, a functioning website, and visits to referral sources when time permits. Just like the treatment plan of a patient, the marketing plan for a physical therapy practice needs to include an assessment, objective measures, goals, all with serious consideration of the resources. A marketing plan therefore needs to be strategic.

1. Integrate marketing and operational objectives and goals

So often marketing and operations are siloed from each other. The objectives and goals of a marketing plan must be integrated with the practice’s operational plans. For example: A practice’s objective is to develop a pelvic health program. This objective has been established based on an assessment of the community needs, opportunities, and current clinical staff’s professional goals. Next, SMART (specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, timely) goals1 are made to establish clarity and the coordination and alignment of operational and marketing endeavors. It is not fiscally efficient to spend time on a campaign to bring in new patients if operationally the clinical staff are not able to accommodate and treat these patients. And vice versa, being overstaffed while waiting for a marketing campaign to bring in new patients can have dire financial ramifications.

2. Know the target patient

One of the most common measures of success for a marketing campaign is the number of new patients. It’s important to start with the end in mind and define who these new patients are. Consider a sports medicine–focused practice that embarks on a campaign for more sports medicine patients, that results in increased numbers of geriatric patients. Despite the increased number of patients, the campaign certainly did not bring in the target patient. When describing the target patient, the more detail, the better. Define their age, demographics, lifestyle, activity level, leisure activities, their living situation, family and friends, and the payer. This step allows you to design a campaign that reaches and appeals to these patients.

3. Manage resources by knowing the opportunities and threats

Resources including time, knowledge, and money need to be managed and maximized. Consider completing a SWOT analysis2 to fully understand your practice’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats (SWOT). Resources can then be dedicated appropriately. For example: A practice’s objective is to move into a new, larger, and aesthetically pleasing location in six months. Strengths include the increasing number of new patients and the clinical competency of the staff. A weakness is that due to the current clinic size patients are being discharged early and are falling off schedules.

The opportunities include having a more aesthetically pleasing clinic to promote growth and financial success. Threats include loss of patients due to the geographical change, and not having enough clinical staff to see more patients. The strategies for success include operationally improving systems to address the current less than optimal visits in an episode of care, educating therapists on messaging value, a thorough messaging and communication plan to the community about the new location, and active recruitment efforts for new clinical staff.

4. Stick to a budget

Establishing a marketing budget is essential, and the most objective way to develop this is based on the marketing cost per new patient. This can be determined by a review of the health care environment, historical trends, and the maturity of a clinic. For the established practice the marketing cost per new patient is around $8, whereas a practice in its first three years of business or in a phase of growth will have a cost per new patient closer to $21.3 In order to execute an effective marketing plan, a business should be spending at least between 1 percent and 10 percent of sales revenue on marketing.4 Marketing expenses include: costs incurred from direct marketing to referral sources, website design and maintenance, social media campaigns, advertising, event sponsorship, print media, branding giveaways, and the salaries of marketing staff.

5. Execute and reassess

The target patient, objectives, goals, strategies, and the budget have been defined—now it’s time to execute! But the execution of the marketing plan still needs to be strategic and include a frequent analysis of what worked and what did not, with ongoing adjustments accordingly so that business goals will be met. For example: A practice’s objective is to see more injured runners. One strategy is to have an injury screening table at local road races to connect with injured runners. Email addresses can be collected, giveaways provided, and potential patients contacted on Monday morning. After each event, consider what worked and what didn’t to refine and adjust the system to ensure success.

Marketing should not be the mysterious, baffling endeavor that results in questions about effectiveness. With an emphasis on strategy, your marketing plan can ensure you reach your business goals.


1 Accessed September 2018.

2 Accessed September 2018.

3 Marketing 101: Module 2, Marketing, Planning and Budgeting. Free to members, Marketing 101 is a series of presentations by respected marketing gurus Lynn Steffes PT, DPT, and Scott Wick. Accessed September 2018.

4 Accessed September 2018.

Michelle Collie

Michelle Collie, PT, DPT, MS, is the chair of the PPS PR and Marketing Committee and chief executive officer of Performance Physical Therapy in Rhode Island. She can be reached at

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