Writing op-eds, speaking at community centers, and participating in local 5K events are just a few ways to generate buzz about your pharmacy–for free.
Although it can be easy to confuse the purpose of public relations and marketing, they are not the same thing. In the simplest terms, public relations focuses on creating a positive image for the pharmacy, while marketing is focused on the selling of products or services.1
Public relations is just 1 spoke in a pharmacy’s communication wheel, which consists of advertising, sales, and merchandising. The difference between those activities and public relations is that public relations is an effort to generate news or buzz about the pharmacy without spending any money on advertising or promotions.
Some public relations ideas include speaking at local community or senior centers on topics such as diabetes or high blood pressure, authoring guest posts for an online news resource in your area, getting involved in health fairs, and having the pharmacy team walk in local parades or 5K events.
Deepti Pidakala, PharmD, a pharmacist at Marley Drug in Winston Salem, North Carolina, noted that both marketing and public relations are essential for promoting a pharmacy and building patient trust. “Marketing focuses on promoting your products and services to potential customers, while [public relations] focuses on building relationships with the media and other stakeholders to enhance your brand reputation,” she said. “Unfortunately, by only concentrating on marketing, you are ignored in the news when you have exciting updates to share with your community. Therefore, it’s important not to neglect the [public relations] side of things.”
To be successful with marketing and public relations, it’s important to have a clear messaging strategy and to deliver high-quality content that resonates with one’s audience consistently.
“For us at Marley Drug, from the marketing side, we have successfully promoted ourselves as a healthier pharmacy experience,” Pidakala said. “We know that customer service is a pain point for many Americans who are used to substandard care at big box chains, and this message helps drive new customers to our store every day.”
One message that resonates with Pidakala’s customers is cost savings for overpriced medications. Pidakala uses public relations efforts to make sure that customers are aware of the pharmacy’s efforts to help—spotlighting the pharmacy in a positive way within the community.
Dat Nguyen, PharmD, pharmacist-in-charge at Pharmedico Pharmacy in Sarasota, Florida, views marketing as not only promoting products and services, but as a way to increase sales or customer loyalty. “Public relations, on the other hand, is the practice of building relationships with stakeholders such as customers, employees, and the media,” he said. “The goal of public relations is to create a positive image of the business and to build goodwill in the community.”
To be successful with both marketing and public relations, it is important to have a clear understanding of your target audience and to tailor your messaging accordingly. Nguyen shared to start by developing a clear strategy that incorporates both marketing and public relations efforts to ensure that your messaging is consistent and effective.
Joe Moose, PharmD, owner of Moose Pharmacy in Concord, North Carolina, noted that a pharmacy can’t just put their marketing on autopilot and expect things to go smoothly. The same is true for public relations; it’s important to be proactive.
One effort that has been a great public relations move for Moose Pharmacy is building a relationship with the local TV news. “Every time there’s an issue, we call them—or they will call me,” Moose said. “During COVID-19, every morning at 7:30, I had a call with a reporter on what [was] new. If it was something significant, they would come over and film us. We were on TV every other week for months.”
Moose also suggested that pharmacies build relationships with newspapers, as a source for reporters or by writing op-ed letters to the paper. These activities will promote the pharmacy’s name as a reliable and trusted source. “It’s about getting the good will of the business exposed to as many target people that you can,” he said.
Rebecca Jones Sorrell, RPh, co-owner of Ritch’s Pharmacy in Mountain Brook Alabama, explained that her pharmacy was one of the first in Alabama with COVID-19 vaccines. The team did a significant amount of community outreach to 23 zip codes to let people know it was available. This was a public relations effort that was obviously well received.
“I’m not here to make me look good, and it’s not a focus on Ritch’s pharmacy solely and tooting our own home,” she said. “When we send out info, we want it to be where we have put feet to pavement and helped someone and made the world a better place. Our dollars are focused on outreach.”