It Is a Sign


Strengthen your image through billboard advertising.

By Deb Gulbrandson, PT, DPT

A number of years ago, my practice had to face the reality that it really had no physician referral sources left. Even though I had been the director of the local hospital and had good relationships with many physicians when I started my private practice in 1989, things gradually changed. Every orthopedic practice in our area became a physician-owned physical therapy service (POPTS), many family practice and internal medicine doctors went to work for the hospitals, and the private equity corporate physical therapy chains moved into our hometown. We could not match their schmoozing strategies in either time or money.

Although we had a great reputation, years of experience and commitment in the community, and patients who informed their doctors they wanted to see us for physical therapy, how could we let newcomers to our area know about us? Our clinic is “hidden” in a professional building, somewhat off the beaten path. One of our strategies became the billboard campaign. Using the adage that “One picture is worth a thousand words,” our aim was to be visible on a quarterly basis at various spots along an eight-mile stretch of highway. According to the county demographics, over 60,000 cars travel that road daily.

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Initially, we started with professional stock photos, which we purchased through an advertising agency. I gave the agency the concept and the pictures we wanted to use. Their staff then created the billboard artwork. I chose scenes that depicted everyday life, or experiences to which our potential patients could relate.

Emotion is a powerful attention grabber and we started with humor, using the “Got Pain?” campaign. We have since moved on to highlight what makes us different. As the only private practice around, we want people to know that the owners are onsite, willing to do what it takes to help patients.

When choosing the look of our billboard, we have learned open space is not a bad thing, especially when your reader is traveling at 45 miles an hour. We have eliminated our address and phone number, assuming all they really need is our name. They can look us up on the Internet for more information. We are also in the process of choosing a specific font and color scheme for branding purposes.

We have always brought our dog, Bailey, to work with us. She is a natural “therapy dog” and often stands by a patient who is feeling down that day. Another of our distinctions is true one-on-one therapy but in fact, sometimes our patients receive two-on-one therapy with Bailey helping out. Bailey made the billboard campaign last month.

Of course, the big question is, does it work? What is our return on investment? We track how patients hear about us. Over 70 percent are either word of mouth or as previous patients. Every so often someone actually does mention the billboard. However, many people comment that they saw our new billboard and love the photos. It tells me they notice. It is another way of keeping our company “top of mind” when someone needs therapy.

I’m convinced that there is no one way to market our services. It is the repetition and variety of places and spaces that resonate with people. And it allows us to use our creativity to show what makes us exceptional. Just wait until you see what is next!

Deb Gulbrandson, PT, DPT, is a PPS member, Impact editorial board member and owner of Cary Physical Therapy in Cary, Illinois. She can be reached at

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