Getting the second impression right

Communicating in the written form is a lot like pulling teeth, once you have completed the deed there is no going back! But that clever use of dental analogy doesn’t justify members of the dental team launching associated careers as copywriters. After all, how many copywriters do you know who moonlight as dentists?

Whilst some people are naturally gifted at writing eloquent, concise and grammatically correct text, most do a dreadful job and I am ashamed to say that it is all too apparent when reading letters of consent, referrals, reminders, newsletters and, unfortunately, even dental websites!

The devil is in the detail

There are lots of people giving advice about how to market your practice effectively. Everyone talks about having the right image – a logo that reflects your values, welcome and walkout packs, websites, referral cards, newsletters – but we rarely ever see any attention paid to the content of the communication, the actual words. I appreciate that first impressions are all-important, but we should remember that following quickly on from a successful first impression is a second one and as they say, the devil is in the detail.

The good, the bad…

Several years ago I was talking with a practice manager who was proudly boasting the launch of her new practice website which she took credit for producing. Intrigued to see what all the fuss was about, I visited the site and was very impressed. It had great visuals and played an apt and celebrated song about smiling; for its time the site was definitely ground-breaking. I was about to email her my congratulations when across the screen appeared a strapline containing a very basic grammatical error. It was so obvious that it became larger than life and literally eradicated any positive messages the site and therefore the practice was offering. If they couldn’t get the spelling right, would clients trust them with their smiles?

…and the downright ugly

I was recently speaking with a dentist who asked me to look at a letter he had drafted to his patients. He was planning on converting to private practice but, before announcing that drastic change to patients, his associate had to advise them he was taking a year of study leave and would be putting them in the hands of an unknown replacement! He told me it was crucial that the tone and content of this letter was right and here is an excerpt of what he considered to be a well-crafted communication:


Many of you will have been with me since I started six years ago, while others joined me just over two years ago when Fred Smith left. While I am away we have been lucky enough to appoint a young dentist by the name of John Peters. I am sure he will charm all of you, as he did us at his interview.’

What I have shown you is the beginning and end of his letter but you will no doubt understand my point. A personal letter that becomes generic within the first line is a really bad start but then it sounds as if the practice has been taken in and is now trying to con the patient with a charismatic but not necessarily competent dentist – young and charming is not exactly what the patient had in mind! It doesn’t inspire confidence does it, and if I was a patient feeling unsettled by this letter then I am fairly certain I would be considering my options when I find out about the subsequent changes.

I suggested that for a small fee, £25 in fact, he could engage the services of a professional – a freelance copywriter for instance. He took my advice and if nothing else the paragraph introducing the associate’s replacement was worth its weight in gold:

‘In my absence we have secured the services of a young dentist who has been working in a London-based practice where he has gained extensive experience in general dental practice. We were most impressed with his professional ability, conscientious approach and warm manner, and we feel assured that you will be too.’

Much better and considerate of the target audience’s need! Just as I abhor the thought of high-street shops offering dental services and hairdressers advertising

tooth-whitening services, it frustrates me that dental practices assume skill sets that reside within other professions. Dental practices are not interior designers, web design experts, furniture craftsmen or wordsmiths yet often I see them acting as if they are with detrimental results. Poor grammar, badly constructed sentences, spelling mistakes, incorrectly used words and nonsensical copy are commonplace within practice literature.

First impressions are important but if you are in business for the long haul, it pays to invest in someone who can produce articulate and persuasive language so that you can

get back to what you’re good at – keeping teeth!

The British Dental Practice Managers’ Association (BDPMA) website features a number of advice sheets for practice managers and tips for writing copy. To find out more about the Association, or to join, contact the BDPMA by phone on 01452 886364, email or visit

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