The 4 Traits of Successful PT Marketing Leaders

building blocks and a plant in front of a desktop computer
By Peter Decoteau

In the 2015 Forbes article “4 Traits of Successful Marketing Leaders,” marketing strategist Steve Olenski culls a list down from two separate lists of 12 traits each into a succinct group of attributes.1

While Olenski’s list is reasonable and actionable, marketing for physical therapy tends to be unique. Therefore, it’s helpful to explore these traits as they pertain specifically to our industry.


The main point of this trait is twofold: (1) that “marketing leaders need to be accountable for revenue” and (2) that “modern marketers no longer can claim success with ambiguous metrics like brand value or impressions.” As it relates to marketing for physical therapy, the waters get a bit muddy. We are not, after all, selling a product or even necessarily selling a service, but instead providing care for those who need it. Still, revenue will almost always be driven by a combination of new patient volume and patient visits, sometimes with hard ceilings for both depending on external and internal factors.

While your metrics for success will likely boil down to how your marketing efforts impact these numbers, the numbers don’t always tell the whole story. Perhaps, as we explored in the June 2020 Impact article, “Understand Your Patients to Maximize Your Marketing Efforts,” your clinic or organization is consistently reaching capacity and looking to get more granular with regard to patient population, or would like to shift the referral source mix from doctor referrals to self-referrals.2 The entire marketing team must be cognizant of these more specific goals, as well as metrics that reflect the impact marketing efforts have in reaching them. These metrics may include things like website traffic and conversions, doctor referral numbers, and phone calls but will certainly shift depending on the goals you’ve set.


Olenski notes, “As customers change, marketing must change…”1 Seems obvious, right? The article goes on to emphasize the importance of knowing your customers. Avoid generalizations and buzzy fads and instead explore, experiment with and invest in what your target customers are actually paying attention to, including new technologies and trends. Once again, it’s important to focus on specific goals and target audiences.

Physical therapy is, generally, an “as-needed” service, which is to say it’s not an impulse purchase but something that individuals research and act on only when necessary. In adapting to shifts in patient behavior, you might find it helpful to break out your marketing focus into “intent-based” and “awareness-based” efforts. This is because the behavior of people who show intent to need physical therapy will, in many cases, differ from those who do not, and so the ways you aim to market to those audiences should differ as well.

For example, over the past 10-20 years, the shift in “intent-based” customer behavior from yellow pages and phone calls to online searches has been almost complete. But while the platforms we use to get in front of these audiences may have changed, the messages extended therein may have remained fairly consistent. On the other hand, in the same timeframe both the platforms and the messaging used to promote physical therapy broadly, and your brand more specifically, have likely changed drastically, largely due to technological development, as well as policy changes (direct access, health care insurance, etc.) and public perception about physical therapy and ownership over our healthcare decisions. It’s important to remember that “smart adaptability” means not rushing to change media or messaging, but instead segmenting and surveying your audiences, experimenting, tracking and then capitalizing on what’s proven to work.


Olenski’s point that, “It’s the role of marketing to champion the voice of the customer and to share market insights that lead the company,” has never been more relevant than it is today.1 Given the proven effectiveness of “social proof” in messaging, and the prominence of content marketing in any successful marketing strategy, the ability to highlight the voices and experiences of your patients can be incredibly valuable. Ultimately, this is because endorsements from real people – your prospective patients’ family, friends, neighbors and community members – are authentic messages about how awesome you are. It certainly sounds better than just saying it about yourself! Making a concerted effort to feature these testimonials on your website, on social media, and in advertisements, as well as encouraging patients to spread the word socially, can do more in a single sentence than can most of your photos, videos and copy combined.

Internally, the voices of your patients are just as valuable. Implementing a consistent and clear way for your clients to provide feedback about their experience is a vital way to continue to advance your business, and positions marketing leadership as an indispensable resource for clinic operations. Not only can this feedback help you to understand and improve the patient experience inside the clinic, it can also provide valuable insights into other important elements of your business, such as the scheduling and onboarding process, as well as effective marketing messaging, preferred communications platforms and most engaging media. As an added value, asking for and acting upon feedback makes your patients feel valued and invested.


In most fields, marketing leaders build teams of specialists around them that execute the business’s marketing strategy by department and need – public relations, communications, web and social, graphic design, etc. Unfortunately, most physical therapy clinic owners do not have the benefit of an entire marketing team behind them. Still, the concept of building a team focused on activating your marketing strategy is an important one and can be the difference between a line of haphazard and marginally successful efforts, and a complete, successful marketing campaign.

Breaking your strategy down by priority will help make the plan more digestible and will make it easier for you to either delegate responsibilities to support staff or determine whether outside support is needed. For example, if a top priority is to be more consistent in sharing engaging, branded content on social media, you may be able to enroll an employee who is willing and able to create interesting pieces like short videos and blog posts (or maybe the testimonials mentioned above?). In this case, the direction, types of content and messaging focus comes from your strategy, but the charge of executing on it will fall to the social media coordinator – whether that’s a member of your marketing department, a physical therapist willing to put in a few hours per week or a front desk staffer looking for growth opportunities. On the other hand, if a new website is a top priority in your marketing strategy, you may need to hire an outside agency for the initial build-out, and then task an employee with filling in the content. The most important aspect in all of this is ownership; by being clear about who owns which part of the strategy, you’ll avoid becoming the default owner of everything. 


1Olenski S. 4 Traits of Successful Marketing Leaders. Forbes. Published Jan. 7, 2015.

2Decoteau P. Understand Your Patients to Maximize Your Marketing Efforts. Impact. 2020;6:14-15.

Peter Decoteau

Peter Decoteau is the Director of Marketing at Physical Therapy & Sports Medicine Centers (PTSMC), Connecticut’s largest private practice physical therapy company. He can be reached at

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