No Splitting Hairs1 Feb, 2012 By: Thomas Haire Response
“Yes, you can build the premier medical services provider in its category with direct response,” says Rob Spurrell, vice president of sales and marketing for Beverly Hills, Calif.-based Bosley (www.bosley.com), a world leader in hair-loss solutions and medical hair restoration. “We’ve been doing it for 37 years now and we’ve experienced our greatest growth during the past two years— in a down market — all through DR. And today, you’re seeing it more and more, with different businesses using the same model we pioneered many years ago. Look at the laser eye surgery industry, or the legal services business — or look at a specific service like Lifestyle Lift. They’re using what we call the ‘Bosley model.’ And it’s a testament to DR, building strong brands in the medical category.”
The 39-year old Spurrell joined Bosley 15 years ago and has worked in various areas of the business, including marketing, business development and operations. But his background prior to joining the company — with stints in sales for a publisher and in the hospitality world — remain invaluable.
“Doing ad sales taught me that sales is not really about presentation, but about communications and persistence,” Spurrell says. “From my hotel experience, I learned that it was that first customer experience — at the front desk — that really set the table for the rest of that customer’s stay. My experience with that type of service actually prompted me to bring in experts from the Ritz Carlton to train Bosley’s office leaders in how we present our services to prospective patients.”
Bringing those concepts to Bosley’s DR campaigns — which center around television, but also include Web, print, E-mail and more — has helped Spurrell lead the company to its two strongest years ever in 2010 and 2011, notching 25-percent growth and including Bosley’s first ever $100 million revenue year.
Bosley’s belief in DR extends to its many agency partners and vendors, whom Spurrell contends are crucial to the company’s continued expansion of its medical services practice, which now operates in more than 70 markets in the U.S. and internationally.
Founded in 1974, Bosley has now performed more than 200,000 hair transplant procedures on men and women from more than 60 different nations — staggering numbers until you consider the hard work done by the company’s leaders and, most importantly, the doctors.
“You can’t talk about the success of our marketing campaigns without first recognizing that what Dr. Lee Bosley founded and what our medical staff have cultivated here is a great practice,” Spurrell says. “Growing a medical brand for 37 years means putting patients and medical expertise first.”
When Dr. Bosley himself placed an ad in the Los Angeles Times in 1974, he became one of the first doctors in the United States to run ads. At the time, most doctors and lawyers frowned upon advertising their services. “Dr. Bosley took a lot of flack, but he pushed forward and continued,” Spurrell says. “And he changed the landscape for medical and legal advertising. What was his DR measurement? He asked his office manager to write down how many calls they received from the ad.”
By the time Spurrell joined the practice’s marketing department (he was one of its two employees at the time) in the mid-1990s, the business was performing well utilizing print direct response as its main driver. “But TV had become a strong DR medium, so the company decided to create an infomercial that ended up doing extremely well. It changed the dynamics of Bosley’s business,” Spurrell recalls.
Spurrell moved from managing the company’s print, magazine and newspaper advertising — “We were biggest in magazines like Muscle & Fitness, Men’s Fitness and Playboy,” he says — to marketing director, overseeing TV once Bosley moved into the space. It wasn’t all sweet success, though. Spurrell recalls, “In the late 1990s, I presented Dr. Bosley with an idea to create a Bosley website with an initial budget request of $25,000. He kicked me out of the conference room! Needless to say, our technology has caught up now.”
But after a few years in marketing, Spurrell moved into a couple of different areas in order to expand his breadth of knowledge of the Bosley business, serving first as vice president of operations and then as vice president of business development.
“I opened a majority of Bosley’s offices and recruited a majority of its doctors during this time,” Spurrell says. “At this point, I’ve run every part of the company except finance — and I was an economics major in college.”
Spurrell eventually returned to marketing when taking on his current role in 2010. “I help oversee our 23 surgical offices and 47 consultation offices, including our media spending of more than $25 million,” he says. “We also operate three call centers — two of them in the Philippines. The key, though, is being blessed with an amazing team of managers and directors.”
Spurrell mentions his media director, Steven Aquavia, and his call center manager, Brian Liebenthal, as well as his consultation directors (who handle all of Bosley’s consultants), Jim McEvoy and Jim Lever. “These people are crucial when you consider they are helping to manage the world’s largest cosmetic surgery group for men,” he says.
The Changing Face of DR
Spurrell and his team have created a DR behemoth, utilizing DRTV, online, E-mail and print marketing. And what that DR plan has created is a leading brand.
“Some general marketers still don’t realize that you can establish brand awareness with the right DR campaign,” he says. “You can see it with the current trend in many other DR campaigns — launch with high frequency in DRTV and go to retail. A mentor and former boss here at Bosley, George Fettig, is doing that very well with the Euro-Pro brands.”
But for a medical practice, the DR-to-brand road is a little bit different. In the 1990s, much of Bosley’s plan was centered on driving new patients with DR advertising. And it was a successful media strategy centered on DRTV that Spurrell enacted in 2000 that allowed the company to be bought out by a major Japanese corporation (the world’s largest wig company, interestingly) in 2001. But the purchase led to Bosley’s marketing team again having to sell the concepts of direct response to a new owner.
“The Japanese company was a typical brand advertiser, and they were wary of DR,” he contends. “Luckily, we were able to show them the benefits. But DR runs in cycles like that. Today, the landscape is changing so dramatically with things like social media making marketing incredibly ‘on-demand.’ It’s just another transition in DR strategy that we have to sell internally and externally.”
That “on-demand” world is a challenge for DR-reliant advertisers like Bosley. “Yes, DR is more popular, and it makes sense when you’re marketing to those younger generations who are used to getting everything right now,” Spurrell says. “Everyone’s evolving now, and with things like Netflix and Hulu changing the way TV is consumed, it’s definitely raising questions about how long-form DRTV plays in the future against short-form DR.”
Sticking with a campaign is crucial, according to Spurrell. “Your creative and agency partners are a big part of your brand. They have to be there for you and not give up,” Spurrell avers. “A lot of marketers and their partners throw in the towel as soon as they have a lean period. But it’s being proven by many companies now that if you can get through a downturn, you can still make a good campaign work.”
Partners Drive Recent Success
Getting through an economic downturn with great success is something Bosley has proven in the past two years. One wouldn’t think an expensive hair transplant surgery would rank high on consumers’ wish lists during a tough economic time, but by targeting the right demographics and tailoring its message, Bosley powered through 2010-11 with huge gains.
“In the past 12 months, we’ve launched a new infomercial and three new spots,” Spurrell says. “All have exceeded expectations, due to great creative, media and back-end work. At the same time, we changed the strategy of our direct mail campaigns, added text-marketing programs and launched touchscreen-capable consultation tools. DR is not just the front end of the campaign — it’s the whole process.”
The touchscreen idea came from patient focus groups regarding how they’d like to be dealt with once they arrived for a consultation appointment. “For more than 30 years, when a patient met with a consultant, they saw a photo book of different cases,” Spurrell says. “But our patients live in an exceedingly digital world, so we bought touchscreens and worked with a company named Taoti that specializes in developing software tools for large touchscreens. It’s a very branded effort, with photos and tools, and it creates a very dynamic consultation for our patients.”
Spurrell was concerned about Bosley’s text campaigns being considered invasive, but customers have actually reacted well. “Patients love it. I’ve heard more than once, ‘It keeps me connected,’” he says, also alluding to a coming Bosley smartphone app that will include new technology that will build on these other recent developments.
The company is also working with Social Radius, a social media consultancy to expand its efforts in the social space. “It’s powerful, but changes so quickly as a medium,” Spurrell says. “It’s hard for us to track in the same ways we can our DR budget, so that’s a challenge. But it’s a big part of our future. We know that with a medical practice, our patients are the best word of mouth.”
On the front end of the TV campaign, Spurrell points to the creative work of Gene Wagner. “We’ve gone full circle the past couple years on creative,” Spurrell says of Wagner, who did a lot of Bosley’s early DR production after making a name as a music video director in the 1980s. “He understands the production quality and message we’re looking for better than anyone else we’ve worked with. It’s an emotional message, and the past few shows he’s worked on have struck the right chord, leading to double-digit increases in response rates.”
Bosley has used a trio of key agencies in its TV media buying efforts — Euro RSCG Edge, Cmedia and Integrated Media Solutions (IMS). “The right partners can make or break a company, and we’ve been lucky to work with key leaders who understand our business,” Spurrell says. “We have used Cmedia and IMS frequently and they really understand the playing field and the value of analysis. And, of course, with Euro, Steve Netzley is a pioneer. Making DRTV work comes down to the quality-price ratio of the buy and the analysis behind it, and all of our agencies do it well.”
Spurrell also says that San Francisco-based Quinn Street has been crucial in the company’s pay-per-lead Web marketing efforts. “Erica Peacock and her team have made huge gains for us, and we’ve shifted many media dollars to the Web because of them,” he adds.
One area that just hasn’t worked for Bosley has been radio — and if you can tell Spurrell why, he’d be glad to hear it. “We’ve tried and tried again to make radio work over the years and it hasn’t. It’s our biggest disappointment,” he says. “We’ve tried everything — remnant time, host reads by people like Howard Stern — but the best I can come up with is that hair loss and cosmetic surgery are just visual purchases.”
But Spurrell says the Bosley team uses struggles like those with radio just as effectively as its successes as learning experiences. “Our most successful campaigns have been the most simple and straightforward,” he says. “When we try to get cute or funny or over the top, it generally doesn’t work. It makes sense. We’re selling a medical procedure, so professionalism always rises above anything else. And that professionalism is carried from the initial message all the way through the consultation, the procedure and the follow-up experiences. Setting expectations and providing real results — it just works.”
Vice President of Sales and Marketing, Bosley,
Beverly Hills, Calif.
Hometown and Resides: Los Angeles
Education: B.A., economics, University of California, Santa Barbara; M.B.A, Arizona State University
Defining Moments: “Professionally, it was launching Bosley’s new media strategy in 2000, centering around a shift to national cable. I created a strategy that earned 20-percent more inquiries on the same budget. That growth became a tipping point for the company to be acquired in 2001. It was amazing to see the execution of that Excel spreadsheet helped enable us to be sold. A more personal moment was when I was promoted to vice president at Bosley, my father sent me a one line E-mail that read, ‘You have exceeded all of my expectations of you as a man.’”
Greatest Career Accomplishment: “It’s right now! I’m more than excited that the past two years have been the most successful in Bosley’s 37-year history. It’s a great feeling to be a part of 25-percent growth and to see the company reach more than $100 million in annual revenue for the first time.”