by Carolee Boyles
and Mark Diss
Massage therapy is a unique business
because therapists offer physical relief from pain and stress. That
distinctive professional element brings with it some opportunities
that other businesses don't have. Here's one big opportunity: If
you provide massage to a cause, you'll benefit the cause - and you
may increase your own clientele as well.
In 2000 the Jackson Institute, a philanthropic
organization that works with research and grant proposals for nonprofits
in Washington, D.C., conducted a survey of 1,000 respondents. Researchers
found that when customers were given a choice of purchasing a product
or service from a company that did charitable service or one that
did not, 78 percent of respondents said they would prefer to do
business with the company involved with charities.
Of course, in some volunteer situations it's just not appropriate
to market yourself in any way.
"Anyone who is helping stressed,
tired and anxious emergency-response people needs to concentrate
on offering relief, not commercials for their business," says
Paul Rouse, Ph.D., a behavioral psychologist with the Damar Management
Group, who consults with medical professionals and service people
to build their practices. "Helping others during a crisis is
not the time to do commercials."
But even at those events, just the
fact that you're there, offering your skills selflessly, can generate
a measure of public recognition.
"Certainly you shouldn't ever
become involved in any service project or charitable cause just
to get some sort of business boost from that endeavor," says
Marc Shehey, M.D., Ph.D., director of development for the New England
Arthritis Foundation. "On the other side of that statement,
however, is the fact that we as an organization recognize that our
donors deserve any recognition we can give them. If their involvement
results in some positive publicity or an increase in business, then
we're glad that happened for them."
Making the most
of a worthy cause
There are plenty of volunteer and outreach events where you can
engage in subtle marketing.
"We're always willing to take
our skills and donate them to worthy causes," says Dillon Deering
of MassagePlus, which is part of a chiropractic practice in Orlando,
Florida. "One of our favorite events is the All Children's
Hospital Telethon. We go to the studio and to one of the hospitals
and give chair massages to hospital staff and to volunteers. It's
really gratifying to see how pleased these people are to get this
service from us. Even people who are a little reserved about having
any type of massage [tell] us how much better they feel after one
of our therapists has worked their magic."
Many massage therapists spend time
and their own money providing massage therapy for a wide variety
of charitable causes. But few of them claim any credit for what
"It doesn't surprise me that professionals
are reluctant to step up and claim credit for being involved in
charitable causes," Rouse says. "However, there are ways
that they can use their charitable service to help their business
without demeaning the service they've donated."
Once you've committed to participating
in an event, get in touch with the event coordinator, Rouse recommends.
Most of the time this will also be an employee or long-term volunteer
who's in charge of working with vendors and companies providing
donations. The event coordinator will probably be the person handling
media and advertising. Give her your brochure and a short corporate
biography that includes the education and experience of the massage
therapists who will be working at the event.
Next, evaluate what you'll be doing
at the event. If you'll do seated massage, be sure you're readily
accessible to clients. Avoid using full-body massage tables; they
tend to intimidate people at public events, and you don't want anything
to keep people from approaching you. The more people who see what
you're doing, the more potential positive publicity you'll have.
Whether or not you take the next step of garnering publicity for
your practice depends on the type of event at which you're volunteering
your time and skills. If you're working on emergency responders
at the site of a disaster or on hospital staff, you won't proceed
to the next step.
However, if you're working at a health
fair, a sporting event such as a marathon, or something similar,
make sure that you or someone from your staff takes pictures of
the setup, the event, and of you and/or your therapists working.
Be sure that the charity's or event's name or logo appears in the
photos. Then after the event is over, send a news release to your
local newspapers; pictures help get your news release printed. Or
save the photos and use them next year in your pre-event news release
when the same occasion rolls around again.
If the event has a festive atmosphere,
don't be shy about taking pictures or trying to generate additional
potential client names for your database.
"One of our local hospitals sponsors
a community health fair," Deering says. "We give chair
massages to people who sign up for a drawing for a free therapeutic
massage. We collect those names for our database."
You can use a lot of techniques to
collect names at events, including drawings, newsletter signups
and business-card collection. All the process requires is an organized
and deliberate plan. Many events let the public notice who you are
and what you do, subtly and effectively generating positive publicity
for your practice. Once the event is over, you can send a handwritten
thank-you note containing your business card or a magnetized business
card; it's an effective reminder to potential clients that doesn't
smack of advertising.
Massage therapists Don McKeel and Larry
Jackson work with an orthopedic practice in Largo, Florida; they've
become masters of subtle marketing.
"We're always trying to find ways
to get out the word that we operate as full-time massage therapists
inside a respected orthopedic practice," McKeel says. "We
volunteer to be a part of the phone bank for our local Public Broadcasting
System television station. When we do, we make sure that our practice's
logo and name are in front of us, and that along with the firefighters
and unions we get our practice mentioned by the host at the top
of every hour."
McKeel and Jackson also volunteer at
a semiannual SPCA event. "We help out in the adoption tent,
and always have our practice's logo and our business cards out so
people will know who we are," Jackson says. "I can tell
you that of the 100 or so cards we have out on any given day, by
the end of the day none are left."
Marketing your practice through involvement
with nonprofit and charitable causes requires tact, finesse and
delicacy. At the same time, ignoring the publicity opportunity that
your involvement brings you is bad business. As the Jackson Institute
survey showed so clearly, people are more inclined to use the services
of a professional who commits to service and charitable activities
than one who doesn't. That fact alone should be enough for any serious
massage therapist to involve himself in some kind of community service.
Professional massage therapists bring
special skills to the table every day. You deliver relief from stress
and pain and make stiff muscles and joints move more freely. Offering
those skills to a charity as a gift is a noble thing. And when you
do, it's in both the charity's and your best interest to let the
community know in the most gentle and tasteful way possible that
you and your practice support that charity with your time and your
Mark Diss, Ph.D., is the general manager
for Phalanx Media Group, a full-service media and marketing firm
in Tampa, Florida. His writing credits include Big Rock Sportsman
and Shooting Industry.
Carolee Boyles is creative director
of the Phalanx Media Group. Her writing credits include Selling
Power, Shooting Sports Retailer, Shooting Industry, Big Rock Sportsman,
CBA Marketplace and Pad.