January 01, 1996
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PRK promotion to embrace print, TV and radio

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BETHESDA, Md.—With about $100 million targeted for domestic promotion of photorefractive keratectomy (PRK) in the first year alone, refractive laser centers are devising innovative campaigns that they hope will translate into heavy patient volume.

"A lot of people think that the competition will be about price. However, I believe the competition will be about marketing," said Gary F. Jonas, chief executive officer of 20/20 Laser Centers, headquartered here.

The company plans a three-prong marketing strategy: direct to the public, practitioner network and news articles. "We are already running patient-education seminars," said Jonas. Two seminars held in October, advertised in newspapers such as the Washington Post, attracted 80 attendees each.

"Even the least creative among us can probably craft an ad that will generate a lot of phone calls," said Jack Klobnak, chairperson and CEO of LaserVision Centers Inc. in St. Louis. "The trick is, as we found with our centers in Canada and Europe, to convert those calls into interested prospects."

Realistic patient expectations

Therefore, LaserVision Centers will concentrate its energies on internal strategies that will give patients a realistic expectation of PRK. "We will employ radio and television, plus print advertising," said Klobnak.

The company will also be listed on the Internet and produce infomercials.

Sight Resource Corp., headquartered in Burlington, Mass., will rely on existing promotional campaigns used by its extensive optical network to reach potential patients. "For us to tag on the message of PRK will cost very little," said Linda K. Steele, manager of corporate communications.

Moreover, Sight Resource Corp. maintains a database of more than 500,000 potential PRK patients, all of whom receive a quarterly newsletter.

"We will initially start with radio and print and then possibly move into television," said Steele.

Most focus on regional, local marketing

Most refractive laser centers will focus on regional and local marketing vs. national; however, "People running centers will benefit from the generic advertising that will come from the manufacturers and from Pillar Point Partners (the holding company for both the Summit and VisX patents)," Jonas said. "It is in their best interest to make sure that everyone in America knows about laser-vision correction."

"Because prospective patients have a greater sense of trust in doctors with whom they have an established relationship, we will be doing a lot of in-house marketing with brochures and direct-mail pieces," said Jerry W. Maida, MD, chairperson of Global Vision Inc. in Jacksonville, Fla.

Television and perhaps radio advertising is valuable, said Maida; however, "we find radio a less desirable medium because people do not have anything in their hands to refresh their memory once they want to make a decision."

Aside from advertising, companies expected a lot of interest to be generated from the consumer business and news media.

Global Vision is also considering hosting a series of patient-education seminars, using radio and television.

"For companies, it is important to develop name-brand recognition to promote the procedure for their own group," Maida noted. "Of the 20 or so companies, only a few are going to be successful. The successful ones will have some type of brand-name recognition."

Another challenge for laser centers is to educate the public. "Half of the people out there think that radial keratotomy involves a laser," said Jonas of 20/20 Laser Center. "So part of what we need to do is make sure that the public is educated about what the differences are between RK and PRK."

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