As someone who works in PR, it always surprises me how low-key pharmacists are. Before I started working with the profession, I had no idea of the wealth of useful health information and services I could get in a high-street pharmacy. With this in mind, marketing to the public is critical to generating awareness of any service you offer – including flu vaccinations.
Independents don’t normally have the specialist expertise, marketing tools and budget of the multiples, so it’s not surprising that this is an area in which they often fall down.
But marketing doesn’t need to be costly to be effective; it just needs to be regular and promote a consistent message. By employing a few – or all – of these eight steps, you can communicate your service at minimum expense.
Identify your audience
The first step of any marketing is to identify your target customers – and the pharmacy flu service is no different. Think about the people you are trying to reach. Are they already customers of your pharmacy? Do you want to attract new people? Or both?
Understanding the age and gender profile of those in the market for your service, where they live and work and their habits will be the key to communicating with them. If they are already using your pharmacy, you have a captive audience. If they don’t already come into your pharmacy, where do they go?
Make use of resources
Once you’ve decided who you’re targeting, consider whether you can reach them through free marketing materials available to you. Although you don’t have a marketing team working for you directly,
you’d be surprised what resources are freely available through manufacturers and membership organisations.
“Social media is another free tool at your disposal – and many pharmacies already have their own Twitter and Facebook accounts”
Use the media
A free resource at your disposal is the local media – you just have to convince them your flu service is worth a story. Local media like to publish topical information, so the fact that this time of year heralds the start of the cold and flu season gives you a hook, (for more tips, see Engaging with the local media, right).
Social media is another free tool at your disposal – and many pharmacies already have their own Twitter and Facebook accounts. Why not promote your flu service through these channels? Don’t forget to update your website with details of the new service, too.
Keep it professional
If you do need to create your own marketing material, use a professional – would you want to be vaccinated by someone with amateur-looking publicity? Place the materials in your pharmacy and, to achieve maximum impact, make them part of an eye-catching display – perhaps with some facts and figures about flu, details of who is eligible for a vaccine, etc. And don’t forget to think more widely – could you use your materials to advertise locally in your community centre, village hall or supermarkets, for example?
Talk to your local GP
Competing for flu vaccinations has infamously soured relationships between pharmacists and GPs in many areas. But, if your surgery is receptive to the idea of collaboration, you may want to consider doing something jointly to ensure you vaccinate as many of the at-risk population as possible. Your message can highlight the availability of the service and the options available depending on what the patient would prefer.
Get your staff on board
It is sometimes easy to forget that you already have an effective marketing resource in your pharmacy: your staff. Talk to them about identifying eligible candidates for the flu service and use them to recruit these patients and book appointments. Consider appointing a flu champion who can take the lead on boosting patient awareness, supporting other members of staff and motivating the whole team.
A sticker on the counter or till can remind your staff members to have the conversation about the flu jab, and you may want to consider a reward scheme to motivate them. Dispensary staff can also fix stickers to bags of prescription medicines to identify those likely to qualify, such as those with diabetes or the over-65s.
Don’t forget private jabs
I suspect that, because many pharmacists spend their day dealing with the elderly and chronically ill, they may forget there is a working population only too happy to pay for their services.
This could make it worthwhile to offer a private flu vaccination service. It will depend where your pharmacy is, but if you are on a busy high street with nearby office buildings – or even better, located where people frequently commute to work – a paid-for service is likely to be valued for its convenience. Consider contacting local businesses with a business case that demonstrates the value of your service to them, for example, the cost of vaccinating staff versus cost of time lost due to staff absence.
Claire Salmons is a PR consultant who has worked with pharmacy clients for more than 10 years. She can be contacted on [email protected]