Tools and Tips

There are approximately 7.6 million people in the United States who require home care services due to acute illness, long-term health conditions, permanent disability or terminal illness, according to the National Association for Home Care & Hospice. That number is expected to grow in the coming years as the baby boomer generation ages.

How will you attract this growing base of potential customers? What steps will you take to differentiate your company from competitors who are offering similar products and services?

Employing public relations is an inexpensive yet effective way for a home medical equipment dealership to raise its public profile and expand its customer base. Below are some tools and tips that any HME dealer can use to launch a successful public relations campaign.

1. Know Your Audience

The first step of any public relations campaign is to evaluate current and potential customers. How old are they? Where do they live? Which health conditions are of the greatest concern? Do they read local newspapers, watch television or listen to radio stations? What magazines do they read? Are they homebound or do they enjoy activities outside of their homes? The answers to these questions will shape every aspect of your campaign — from corporate messaging to the types of tools you employ.

2. Tailor Your Messages

Before launching a public relations campaign, first develop a set of key messages that will resonate with your target audience. Variations on these messages should be incorporated into all of your sales and marketing materials to maintain consistency — from press releases and bylined articles to advertisements and sales presentations.

Conduct informal interviews with your sales associates to learn more about your current customer base. What comments have they made — good and bad — about your products and services? What are they saying about your competition? Why are they choosing you over other companies in your market? If customers have left your company, what reasons did they give for leaving?

Use this information to develop three or four key messages about your company. For example, if ABC Medical determines that its potential customer base consists of active, middle-aged COPD patients who are looking for the latest technology to treat their condition, the dealer may want to position itself as a ?provider of innovative products and services that enable patients to live life to its fullest.? On the other hand, if ABC Medical?s potential customers are elderly, homebound patients who choose an HME dealer based strictly on cost, the message needs a much different spin.

3. Develop Media Relations

Stories about your business published in local newspapers and magazines or broadcast on local television and radio stations provide a level of credibility that is difficult to achieve through paid advertising. The media is viewed as a gatekeeper — communicating only the most relevant and timely news.

For any public relations campaign that includes media relations, it is crucial to establish a good working relationship with target reporters. Bombarding random reporters with e-mail pitches or phone calls with no knowledge of their beats, interests or recent coverage could result in your pitch being ignored.

Read through your local newspapers and magazines, watch your local television programs and listen to your local radio stations. Which reporters are covering topics and issues related to health care trends, chronic diseases or the aging population? These are your target reporters.

Start with a basic media pitch — on the phone, via e-mail or even via mail. Explain that you have seen the reporter's recent coverage on X, Y and Z and that you could be a great resource for them on future stories. Highlight your areas of expertise and experience. If you have an immediate news item or have seen a specific trend in your business, mention it — even if the reporter is not interested in pursuing something with you immediately, it may plant a seed for a future story.

4. Use Press Releases to Inform the Media

Keep reporters in the loop on your business through regular press releases. A press release can be used to announce just about anything that is timely and newsworthy, including:

  • New Products and Services — If you have a particularly noteworthy new product or service, announce it to your local media. Be sure to note its potential impact on patients in addition to its basic attributes. For example, if you are offering a new all-terrain wheelchair, illustrate the impact that it can have on patients? lives by incorporating quotes into your press release from customers who are currently using the product.
  • Corporate Growth and Expansion — Opening a new location, hiring new employees or substantial revenue growth are all newsworthy items.
  • Contributions to the Community — Charitable donations, financial or otherwise, can also be worthy of a press release. Maybe an employee volunteered time and services at a local veterans? hospital or your company donated a specialized mobility device to a family who was unable to afford it. The press release should emphasize the impact on the end-user or recipient. Incorporate third-party quotes or add a photo to the press release.

5. Establish Expertise

Many community newspapers and magazines welcome feature articles bylined by credible third-party sources. A bylined article is a perfect way to demonstrate your company?s expertise to current and potential customers. If you have a therapist or nurse on staff, ask if they would be willing to author a piece — health care professionals tend to have greater media credibility than marketing or sales executives.

The editor of the publication may determine the topic of your article, but be prepared to offer up some suggestions based on the needs and interests of your customers. Also tie your article to timely topics and issues. An article on ways to stay active during the winter months could be submitted for publication in January, while an article on chronic emphysema could be published in conjunction with World COPD Day in November.

6. Announce Events

An educational event is a great way to bring customers to you. Identify a topic that would be of interest to your customers, choose a guest speaker and set an agenda. Once again, it is important to assess your customer base. If your customers are homebound clients, an event is unlikely to be an effective tool for your company. But if you tend to service more active clients, a well-thought-out event can demonstrate your expertise and your commitment to your customers? health and well-being.

Promote the event to your local media by issuing a press release that notes the topic, guest speakers, date, time and location. Use the same information contained in the press release to develop in-store advertisements and fliers, direct mailers, or notices for local community centers, health clinics or other public places frequented by your customer base.

There are countless activities that an HME dealer can incorporate into a public relations campaign, and any company can conduct a public relations campaign that is customized to reach a target audience and tailored to fit a budget. Through strategic audience analysis, messaging and the right mix of activities, a public relations campaign can launch a company into the spotlight, differentiate it from its competitors and keep it top of mind with current and potential customers.

This article originally appeared in the January 2006 issue of HME Business.

About the Authors

Dennis Hallahan has over sixteen years of experience with on-site wastewater treatment systems design and construction. He is currently technical director at Infiltrator Systems Inc. in Old Saybrook, Conn., where is responsible for government relations and technology transfer between Infiltrator Systems and the regulatory and design communities. Hallahan also oversees a staff that is responsible for product research and testing for both universities and private consultants. Hallahan received his MS in civil engineering from the University of Connecticut and his BS in civil engineering from the University of Vermont. He can be reached at (888) 221-4436.

Ginny Trevino has been a health care adminstrator for more than 20 years. Her background includes the development and oversight of medical businesses including home health care, pharmacy and HME. As a diagnosed asthmatic, she brings to her writing of Zoey and the Zones the experience of successfully managing her disease. Visit for more information.

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