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Public CE a breeze with planning, purpose


Promoting your practice through public continuing education events requires careful planning for a successful and well-attended outcome.

Promoting your practice through public continuing education events requires careful planning for a successful and well-attended outcome.

Marsha L. Heinke

Open houses and other public events can be a very satisfying way of showing off your veterinary practice, improving staff team work and communications, and gaining new clients and reinforcing the bond with your existing clients. Having recently survived two recent public events relatively unscathed, we thought DVM Newsmagazine readers would appreciate some from-the-trenches tips and planning recommendations.

What is the primary purpose of your event? Existing client education? New client acquisition? Staff education? Client appreciation? We found it fairly easy to get fragmented and diverted on tangents that were secondary to our primary purpose. Expenses really add up when you try to do too much at once.

Establish objectives

Revisit the practice mission statement and your own personal vision. Both will help you focus on finding a strong purpose the entire practice can rally around. A successful event depends to a great extent on enthusiastic practice employees. An event mission statement will sharpen the focus and keep it there from project start to finish.

You may find you have two parallel objectives that should be succinctly defined. Veterinary practice events often have the two- pronged goal of expanding market awareness of services and to educate.

Once you've defined the primary objective(s), concretely define the target audience. Write a list of all prospective guests and attendees. This first list will be the core around which the rest of the event is structured, based on the marketing and education objectives.

A year in advance of any event is not too long. Special guests, speakers and some of your audience have prior commitments that can span greater than a year. You'll want to pick a time of year that is typically at the nadir of patient and client activity.

Start early

At the same time, practice slow times are the most common for employees to take vacations, and your audience, too. Get staff on board with concrete event dates early on. Not only avoid vacation schedules overlapping the event, also be careful of key employees taking time off within two or three weeks beforehand. Much last minute logistics take place in the final 10 days preceding larger events.

If you are seeking economic or other support from vendors, they need to know well in advance. Veterinary industry vendors are known for substantial generosity in supporting events and are in high demand. Available funds to support your event may be gone if you wait too long to put your proposal and request forward.

Check calendars for conflicting events. For example, if you are conducting a seminar for your horse-owning clients, a rodeo or horse show could decimate the guest list. We made the mistake of overlooking a major dog show that significantly impacted a seminar targeted to trainers and other professionals.

A successful event depends in large part on the majority of your practice's employees participating. Early communication of the mission and objective, dates and guest list stimulate interest and excitement.

Staff buy-in and commitment

By keeping your staff informed, you benefit from avoiding conflicts and challenges you might have overlooked. Employees contribute great ideas that can make an event even better than you originally envisioned.

Regularly written memos and a project board updating help keep the lines of communication open and help employees meet your expectations. Assignments made in writing encourage better follow through. Establish deadlines for delegated tasks, and refer to your master project management plan at least once every two weeks in the early stages, and daily when closing in on the event date.

Take care to retain control of those aspects of the event over which you want a certain way. Give clear direction and budget guidelines. Enthusiastic staff can easily strip your wallet without some defined limits. We blew our budget on excessive purchases of logo-emblazoned giveaways (magnets, key rings, balloons, bags, leashes) because of unsupervised employee ordering.

Keeping all the event planning balls in the air, while running a busy practice, can be challenging. We found using an outside marketing consultant made all the difference in the world. She kept assigned staff on task, helped with intimidating writing projects, like press releases, and maintained contact with key local media outlets.

Engage experts

A marketing expert knows how to effectively distill media releases to the exciting essence of what will get your practice attention. We found our event objectives were much better defined and client interest peaked.

Because we expected our event to draw general media attention, our consultant provided basic media training to key employees, so they knew how to adeptly handle questions. The training investment was well worth it, since the acquired skills blend over into everyday effective client communications.

Decide if you will want other organizations involved with your event.

Seek support

Inviting members of non-profit groups and clubs can increase the probability of media attention if your event is for the general public. Otherwise, various clubs, breed groups and similar entities can be an excellent resource to increase the invitation and mailing list.

Vendors are helpful for more than just financial support.

Many will contribute products or small promotional items suitable for door prize use. One of our favorite salespersons volunteered to help us with set up and throughout the event as a tour guide and client greeter. Another generously offered support through use of her fax list that included members of our targeted audience.

Will participants be taking notes? Ask your supplier if he can help with paper and pens.

For space consideration, the following list bullets additional topics you'll want to consider as you plan your big event:

Other logistic issues

  • Assign (hopefully by volunteer) one employee as the event point person or coordinator. We recommend a back-up, or second in command as well.

  • For large events, one person should serve as a media contact.

  • Establish an agenda for the entire project early on and drop-dead dates for completion. We didn't plan ahead for postage, and had a hard time getting the spay/neuter postage stamps we wanted for guest invitations.

  • Keep in constant contact with any demonstrators or guest speakers. One of our police dog demonstrations fell through because they forgot the dates and no one called them to remind them far enough in advance to salvage the appearance.

  • Refreshment service and supplies, including ice chests, coffee makers and similar serving accessories.

  • Restrooms and guest comfort issues - do you need to rent a few Porto-potties?

  • Travel, food and lodging arrangements for out-of-town guests.

  • Any guest special needs or diets?

  • Audiovisual needs: screens, projectors, extension cords, etc. Check out room acoustics in advance.

  • Consider videotaping and professional photography (digital pictures to put on the practice Web site or in your newsletter later).

  • Contingency plan for bad weather and illness.

  • Name tags

  • Handouts, binders, printing needs

  • Allow time for invitation design and printing.

  • Mailing and fax lists take quite awhile to compile - allow adequate time.

  • Order in adequate mailing labels.

  • Establish a parking plan. Traffic control may be an issue. Give the highway patrol or local police department the courtesy of a call in advance to ask for advice and help.

  • Notify neighbors if they will be affected.

  • Tent rental and set up, chairs, table rental.

That concludes our short list of logistical needs. Those of you who have been blessed with daughters and wedding planning probably have a good handle on what to do, or maybe have a lead on a good planner.

Regardless of your outside resources, the key points are these: Concretely define your objectives, plan ahead, and have fun in the process. There are many professional and community rewards of a well-planned event.

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