Local PR key to finding new customers

After a spate of negative coverage for community pharmacy in national media, there have been various calls for the profession to improve its PR profile. David Rollinson, sales director for AAH Pharmaceuticals, discusses the merits of PR at a local level.

Whatever the need at a national level, the most effective PR is often that undertaken at a local level. That offers a great opportunity for community pharmacy which is firmly rooted in, and valued by, local communities large and small, rural and urban.

I think people are far more influenced by a message delivered locally which is relevant to their local needs than they are by a national – often sensationalist – articles reporting something which has happened in another part of the country.

However, there are still too many people whose perception of community pharmacy has not evolved from “the chemist” where you pick up your prescription. Those perceptions need to change and national campaigns such as Ask Your Pharmacist are very helpful, but they need to be reinforced continually at a local level.

If you run a busy independent pharmacy, marketing and PR can seem like luxuries you don’t have time for or feel qualified to engage in.

However, you can demystify marketing and PR and make them less daunting if you think about them as an extended conversation with your customers just like the conversations you have with those who come into your pharmacy each working day.

Marketing and PR are tools you can use to reach out and engage existing and new customers to tell them what you have to offer, which patient services you provide and give them compelling clinical and commercial reasons to want to come into your pharmacy.

My top five tips to help independent pharmacists raise awareness in their communities are:

1 – Use the PR and marketing resources, tools and support which exist already and are available from pharmacy bodies or wholesalers, for example AAH’s All About Health. This is an easy way of accessing advice and support material developed by communications experts.

Our All About Health programme has supported many members in many awareness days and weeks and even arranged ‘PR stunts’ for the local press to visit and take pictures.

A prop, such as a giant cigarette on National No Smoking day for example, can prove very popular and make for an interesting photo call.

2 – Plan ahead and be prepared. Draft a calendar of national and local healthcare campaigns over the next 12 months and then select those most relevant to the community you serve.

Remember several of these campaigns offer free or low-price promotional material and you can benefit from the awareness generated by media coverage of national campaigns.

3 – Develop a relationship with your local newspaper and radio station. Local media are always hungry for local news which will interest their readers or listeners.

If there are national newspaper articles about, say, diabetes then consider issuing a local press statement if you provide diabetes checks. Perhaps invite the local MP to come to the pharmacy to highlight the role of community pharmacy in providing screening services and make it into a photo opportunity for local media.

4 – Do some desk research on how other small pharmacies and retailers have promoted themselves successfully. Choose the kind of promotional activities you are comfortable with and consider how you could replicate those in your pharmacy.

5 – If you do not have a presence on the web then you need to get one: think about it, how many people do you know without a web enabled smart phone? Again, there is support out there from wholesalers such as AAH and others.

 For the more tech-savvy consider how you want to use social media to engage your customers in a dialogue.

All About Health press materials were viewed by more than 120million readers in 2012 alone across all sectors; 8.5million of those from local activities like these I have mentioned. That’s a potential 8.5 million new pharmacy converts.

Finally, do not consider this as effort: think of it as investment. If you achieve good local PR then you drive customer loyalty, footfall and ultimately profitability. If you do not do it then your competitors down the road probably will and the larger national chains certainly already are.