Traditional Advertising

Guidelines for Practice Success | Managing Marketing | Other Advertising

While the focus on online marketing may have you thinking that print marketing is dead, rest assured that’s not the case. When done selectively, traditional marketing can be a very strategic and effective aspect of a comprehensive marketing campaign. Your approach will need to be more especially compelling since it’s competing for attention in a very crowded environment.

Traditional marketing, especially in localized communities, can make you a neighbor, someone who’s part of the neighborhood and accessible and convenient to local patients. In fact, it’s even possible that the results of your patient survey revealed that your best patients initially came to your practice because of traditional marketing. Another plus to this approach is that it can help differentiate you in a crowded marketplace. More information is available in The Patient Survey section of this module; the article Collecting and Using the Survey Data will provide more useful information.

Also consider reviewing the American Dental Association’s (ADA) Advertising Basics for Dentists and Dental Associations: A Guide to Federal and State Rules and Standards. This publication offers many tools to help dentists understand issues related to advertising and includes an overview of federal advertising rules, additional resource links, information on state advertising regulations and information on codes of ethics in dentistry.

Direct mail

Dental care is built on creating and nurturing a lasting and trusting doctor-patient relationship. Direct mail gets the attention of prospective patients who may only come across your website if they narrow their search by geographic location. It establishes you as part of the community, which can be an important factor for patients who want a dentist close to their home or office or who want the dentist to be someone they know.

Many businesses like direct mail because they believe it hits the target every time. Like social media advertising, direct mail campaigns can help ensure that you reach prospective patients in a specific area. Direct mail campaigns also allow you to time when mailers drop.

Direct mail is most effective when the printed piece, which can be a postcard or a brochure, has an eye-catching design and features an appealing message. Some practices opt to partner with an external marketing consultant or professional who knows which marketing strategies, offers and design are likely to have the greatest impact. Oftentimes they can also provide data detailing how many new patients contacted the practice as a result of a particular mailer.

Print advertising

When used in the right way, print advertising can be very effective, especially if your market research and your patient surveys reveal that your preferred patients are a mature population or those who read local newspapers or specific magazines. The articles in The Patient Survey section of this module, Why Survey Patients?, Who and What to Survey, Fielding the Survey, and Collecting and Using the Survey Data, will recap why it’s important to survey patients and provide suggestions on how to do that.

Unlike broadcast media and billboards, print ads can tell a compelling and inspiring story and their visuals can have a very strong impact. Print ads should highlight an offer that’s too good to miss and that connects with prospective patients. Whenever possible, use high-resolution photos of real patients rather than stock images in your ads. Make sure you have the patient’s written permission to use his/her image before developing the campaign. A Sample Photography/Image Release Form available in this module as well in the Case Presentations article in the Managing Patients module of the ADA’s Guidelines for Practice Success™.

In addition, dental practices covered under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) must also have the patient’s written valid authorization before using full face photos and comparable images that could be used to identify the patient, even if the patient is not named. More information on the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS) regulations on covered entities and business associates is available through the hyperlink below. The ADA offers many helpful resources, including the ADA Complete HIPAA Compliance Kit to help dentists understand and comply with the regulations.

Finally, repetition matters: print ads need to run a minimum of 10 times just to be remembered. Make sure your ads feature the practice’s name, phone number and website in a way that’s both easy to see and read.


The digital age has caused many dentists to abandon newsletters so this traditional marketing approach can actually be an effective way to differentiate your practice from others. The purpose of a practice newsletter is to educate and inform, not to promote, and it should always highlight the benefits of treatment rather than discussing specific equipment. For example, it’s fine to include an article that describes how your patient management and clinical systems respect patients’ time. Articles that focus on the latest piece of dental equipment installed in the practice will not be likely to attract patients into the practice. Newsletter content should inspire confidence by addressing and resolving patients’ obstacles and fears about getting dental treatment. You should look at doing a newsletter as a value-added proposition – a thank you – to a person for being your patient.

Effective newsletters contain content that’s relevant, educational and beneficial to all patients. Send it to current patients only since they’re the right audience for its messages about the services you provide.

Telephone marketing

While telephone marketing might not be considered traditional marketing, it’s more aligned with that approach than online marketing, even if it involves contacting patients via other electronic methods, such as email, or is mainly used with patients of record. In addition to being both relatively low cost and highly effective, most patients respond favorably to phone marketing by keeping their regularly scheduled appointments. This approach can be managed by staff or outsourced to a third-party company. Of course, you should always make sure that you have the necessary permissions before calling, emailing or texting patients, and you must comply with laws such as the Telephone Sales Rule, Telephone Consumer Protection Act, and CAN-SPAM law, as well as HIPAA restrictions on using patient information for marketing purposes. If you use a vendor to communicate with patients, you may need to have a HIPAA business associate agreement with the vendor before disclosing information such as patients’ names, addresses and phone numbers.

You may not realize it, but you’re actually using phone marketing when you or someone on staff contacts patients who’ve had major procedures done to see how they’re doing. Consistently taking this extra step to contact patients reinforces how much you care about them and strengthens the doctor-patient relationship by letting them know they matter. That type of interaction can strengthen the doctor-patient relationship and boost word of mouth referrals as current patients tell their family and friends about what a great and caring dentist you are.


ADA’s Advertising Basics for Dentists and Dental Associations: A Guide to Federal and State Rules and Standards

HHS’ Information on Covered Entities and Business Associates

ADA Complete HIPAA Compliance Kit