By Joyce Sunila

Movie mogul Sam Goldwyn once remarked that verbal contracts weren’t worth the paper they were printed on. The same could be said of automated e-newsletters.

In fact, “automated e-newsletter” is an oxymoron. There’s nothing about a newsletter that lends itself to automation. It’s unique and specific by definition. Doctors, lawyers, and other professionals have been sending newsletters to their clients for decades to:

Keep clients in the loop about the practice.
Give clients insider information about their specialty.
Send timely reminders.
Offer free advice in between visits.

Their generosity has been reciprocated when clients:

Remember who they are.
Admire their expertise.
Feel like somebody’s got their back.
Get a rush of gratitude and loyalty that makes them want to visit again.

A Venerable, Proven Marketing System

Until the advent of bulk e-mail, this system worked well enough that doctors lavished a generous portion of their marketing budgets on newsletters. They hired ad agencies to produce printed newsletters, paying thousands of dollars for every issue. They understood that the agency had to hire educated writers to compose their messages and top designers to package them like consumer magazines.

Printing was expensive back then, too. And the post office charged a bundle for home delivery. A doctor with 2,000 patients could expect to shell out $10,000 for every newsletter he sent.

Now that bulk email has replaced postal mail, a devolution has taken place. E-marketing has become the red-headed stepchild of medical marketing. Doctors are dismayed to pay more than $300 for an e-newsletter. They try to strong-arm office staff into producing their e-newsletters, even when their staff has no writing or designing experience. They tie up their office computers trying to send bulk email from practice management software, just because they’ve paid for the e-mail module. Often, they crash their servers — a very costly mistake.

They fixate their thrift-consciousness on e-marketing. Meanwhile, they lavish fortunes on directory leads whose conversion rates stink. (And you thought people who graduated med school had to be rational.)

Shrink-Wrapped Messages

A rational doctor who found out his practice manager couldn’t write or spell would look for a service with the right skills. But today’s doctors look instead for a different kind of automated e-mail service — one with prepackaged messages that apply to their specialty.

Why? False economy. The bar was lowered when people found out that distributing email costs next to nothing. MailChimp, Vertical Response, Constant Contact and the rest can be had for $30 to $100 a month. Doctors shopping online for e-marketing  unaccountably see this absurdly low price as the benchmark for what e-newsletters should cost.

But what about the writing? What about the designing? How did those get bumped out of the equation?

Only one kind of company can come close to matching the absurd benchmark of automated email. That’s a company that pre-writes messages and places them in an automated system, syndicating the content among many doctors. No expensive human beings involved, ergo low cost.

But that’s upside-down thinking. Now the tail is wagging the dog. Look what’s happened: Herr Doktor is sending shrink-wrapped, flash-frozen information to his most valuable constituency – his patients, the precious low-hanging fruit that’s six times likelier to come in for a procedure than a new patient. Instead of a unique, specific message that wins loyalty, he’s cluttering their inboxes with junk. And there’s a very good chance his competitor is sending them the same junk, too.

This is a far cry from the old-fashioned newsletters of yesteryear — unique, specific messages that won hearts and lifetime loyalty.

As with giving your wife cheap rhinestone jewelry instead of real diamonds, misguided thrift can only backfire. Don’t play your patients cheap. They got you to where you are today. They deserve better, more thoughtful communication from you.

Joyce Sunila is the president of Practice Helpers, providing e-newsletters, blogs and social media services to aesthetic practices. You can contact Joyce at [email protected] or visit the Practice Helpers website at