It Takes a Village: Why Community Outreach is Almost Like Free Optometry Marketing

Situated in Southwestern Ontario, Petrolia Optometry is making waves with their new marketing strategy. Their secret? They aren’t the only ones trying to get new patients in their door. Through intensive networking and community outreach programs, Petrolia Optometry has the whole town marketing their practice! Read on to find out how a single eye care practice rallied the community together to boost both themselves and their local economy.

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Petrolia Optometry

For over 20 years, Dr. J. E. St. Pierre has committed herself to quality eye care without compromise. Ensuring a patient’s needs are met is her top priority. Patients will frequently tell her she gave them the most thorough eye exam they’ve ever had in their life. “I don’t like taking shortcuts,” Dr. St. Pierre said. She explains that a part of her yearly routine is to ask herself what she can add to her eye exam to make it better. For Dr. St. Pierre, constant improvement is the key to growth both for her eye care practice, and for her patients. So when her community needed help, she knew what she had to do.

Strength in Numbers

Why speak with one voice when you can speak with 6,000? That was Dr. St. Pierre’s thinking when she started including the community in her marketing efforts. The COVID-19 pandemic had just started, and businesses all across town were struggling to stay afloat. To counteract that, many businesses started pushing consumers to shop locally. Seeing an opportunity to do some good for her community, Dr. St. Pierre led the charge to create joint advertising campaigns with many business owners in and around Petrolia. “We have some pretty awesome stuff going on here, and we wanted to showcase that — especially new businesses,” Dr. St. Pierre said. “We thought we’d help the cause along, and in turn, these other local businesses are helping us as well.”

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She explained that getting the ball rolling was actually fairly simple. A lot of businesses she talked to were very open to advertising partnerships. She also made a point of targeting businesses that were new to town. A “Welcome to Petrolia!” Facebook shout out and some messages back and forth soon brought most up and coming shops and service providers into the fold. From beauticians to breweries, Petrolia Optometry connected with industries across the board to join voices and speak to patients, clients and customers as one.

All For One and One For All

Mutual promotion is the name of the game, but collaboration in Petrolia runs much deeper. 

Petrolia Optometry is currently running a downtown business owner’s campaign. Dr. St. Pierre gives local business owners a pair of frames to model and they get a professional photo taken. Both Petrolia Optometry and the partner business can use it in campaigns and promotional materials. In addition, Petrolia Optometry puts the photos in a slideshow on their homepage that calls attention to each different business. As Dr. St. Pierre has noted, a lot of local businesses have returned the favor by referring to Petrolia Optometry as their optometrist of choice, and pointing customers there for all their eye care needs.

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In a campaign running from March to April, Petrolia Optometry featured a different local business every week. They gave something away from each establishment to raise awareness of their services.Then in June, local businesses reciprocated when Dr. St. Pierre celebrated her 20th anniversary as an OD. “They offered lots of free advertising and a lot of them have donated little things for promotions,” In-House Marketing Manager Alayna Watson said. By acting together with the community, Petrolia Optometry has been able to amplify their message and take it further than they ever could by themselves.

Teach Patients to Reach Patients

Aside from all the mutual business promotions, Dr. St. Pierre has also taken it upon herself to improve the community with educational opportunities. As we’ve mentioned before, eye care isn’t just a you issue. The whole town has a stake in keeping their eyes healthy. Dr. St. Pierre took this notion to heart. She gives back by giving seminars to diabetes patients about eye health. The goal of the program is to educate people about what to expect, what kind of warning signs to look out for and what they should be doing to manage their condition. She also occasionally gives talks to a local senior club at the community center about how aging impacts the eye, and why eye exams are so important.

But Dr. St. Pierre still wanted to do more. She wanted to inspire young minds and make visits to the eye doctor less intimidating for children. She invited Kindergarten classes and local Girl Scout troops to take tours of her practice. “That was a lot of fun,” Dr. St. Pierre said. “We had stations set up, and everyone got a little pair of sunglasses.” She explained that the tours produced overwhelmingly positive responses, with the children's parents calling the practice afterwards to book appointments.

“We even recently had a little girl who did a project where she made a model of the optometry office that we work in. She did that as her class presentation on community buildings,” Watson said. While she admits it took some extra time and preparation to pull off, Dr. St. Pierre sees the educational programs as necessary.

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“It’s important to build up your patient base and get your name out there,” she said. “Doing these volunteer things, you think, ‘I don’t get paid to do this,’ but it makes such a huge difference.” She set out to improve the eye health of her community, and that’s exactly what she did. In the process, she grew Petrolia Optometry into a community hub. “I got my name out there and people got familiar with me,” Dr. St. Pierre said.

It’s Basically Free Advertising

Dr. St. Pierre noted that by far the biggest benefit of community outreach is how cost effective it is. “A lot of the things we do cost us next to nothing,” she said. “It’s just the community,” Watson added. Volunteering for educational classes, giving shoutouts to local businesses and drumming up clients with a shared word-of-mouth marketing push costs nothing but time. In some cases, Dr. St. Pierre noted she even made money. One of her campaigns involved selling pairs of sunglasses to young locals with active social media so they would wear them around town and post pictures. 

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But in the few instances when she did need to spend a little, costs were mitigated with cooperation. By collaborating with other businesses in Petrolia, Petrolia Optometry has effectively been able to pool marketing resources with the whole town. In some cases they even share campaign materials such as the photos Dr. St. Pierre took of local business owners wearing her frames. The end result has been an eye care practice capable of producing better quality, and more frequent campaigns than some mega-practices in large metropolitan areas.

Where Everybody Knows Your Name

There is no doubt that Petrolia Optometry’s efforts at fostering community relations have paid off. As Watson so confidently stated, “Our sales have been really strong since we’ve started cross-promoting with other local businesses.” And the data proves it. Petrolia Optometry’s web traffic has increased 117 percent from January of last year to present, rising steadily for the most part even during the height of the pandemic. While web driven new patient appointments did take a hit in April and May of 2020, they came roaring back in June of that year at 20 percent higher than pre-pandemic levels, and then maintained that momentum with web driven new patient averages for Q3 and Q4 coming in at 37 percent and 44 percent higher than Q1, respectively. 

The fact that web traffic continued to rise even during the pandemic is strong evidence the massive cross-promotional campaigns across Petrolia did a fantastic job of maintaining interest in Petrolia Optometry, even as lockdowns were put in place. And the patient appointment statistics tell a triumphant story of a practice that was able to bounce back quickly as pandemic protections were lifted and the proverbial patient floodgates opened up. Even better, they were able to grow.

“We’re so big we don’t know what to do with ourselves now,” Dr. St. Pierre joked. She even talked about trying to bring a full-time associate on board after having grown so rapidly. Through the power of community outreach, Petrolia Optometry was not only able to weather a pandemic that was extremely hard for other practices, it was able to flourish.

Dr. St. Pierre offered up some sage advice for any eye doctors wishing to start community outreach programs of their own:

Dr. St. Pierre

“If you’re an Optometrist, think of yourself as your own brand. Wherever you go, you’re going to be Dr. So-and-So...you need to get out there, you need to get those business cards, you need to go to those community events and education trade shows, you need to get out there and do talks.”

Community outreach is one of the most powerful tools at a practice’s disposal. Yet few doctors take advantage of it. Dr. St. Pierre and Petrolia Optometry have shown that with a little effort, an eye care practice can produce robust marketing that drives results at almost no cost.

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