Campaign Finds Robust Prospecting for Viagra

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While Viagra is helping steam up bedrooms across America, the diamond-shape pill is sparking response rates to marketing campaigns by Integrated Medical Resources (IMR), manager of a nationwide network of clinics that treats impotence.


"We've had tremendous response. In fact, we've had to slow down our marketing a bit in order to better accommodate patients," said Kathleen Piper, vice president of marketing and sales for IMR, Lenexa, KS.


More than 600 callers buzz IMR's toll-free information line every day after seeing its direct response commercial or receiving its direct mail piece. Both of the company's marketing efforts highlight the breakthrough impotence treatment and announce that its 28 clinics offer the pills.


One week after the Food and Drug Administration approved Viagra at the end of March, IMR began dropping a series of direct mail pieces aimed at 50,000 current and former patients and 150,000 previous callers to its toll-free information line.


"I didn't want to do the mailings in one drop for fear that it would flood our call center and/or flood our clinics all at once," Piper said.


The mailings, created with the aid of ad agency Fasone Garrett Boehm Advertising and Marketing, Kansas City, MO, give details about the drug and provide IMR's toll-free number. The material arrives in an plain envelope marked "Confidential" that bears a return address without the sender's name.


"We feel this is a very sensitive issue," Piper said. "We know that it's going into men's homes, and those men may have children or teen-agers around. We do everything we can to keep it as confidential as possible."


IMR had informed all recipients that they would be receiving information in the mail, allowing them the option to decline or to provide another address.


Late last month, IMR began airing a 60-second direct response commercial on major networks to reach the estimated 14 million men ages 40 to 70 who battle with moderate to complete impotence. The commercial features Dr. Troy Burns, president, chief medical officer and founder of IMR.


About 40 IMR customer-service representatives are fielding calls generated by the campaigns. The operators record each caller's name, address, telephone number and medical problem. With the caller still on the phone, representatives can connect online to the closest clinic and schedule an appointment. Those callers who didn't receive the direct mail piece are sent a fulfillment package that includes a map of the nearest center.


"We try to make it as easy as possible because we know that men have to overcome a lot of hurdles just to pick up that phone and call us," Piper said, adding that women also are inquiring about Viagra and make up about 15 percent of the calls.


IMR regularly broadcasts commercials to raise awareness of its centers and issues direct mail to keep patients and callers posted about new treatments. Although Piper has yet to tally response rates to the current campaigns, she said that previous mailings had generated a 10 percent response rate and that past direct response commercials have spurred several thousand phone calls each month.


"When we first marketed on television, we were the only people to talk about the idea of impotence," Piper said. "We are very aware of the emotional barriers that a man has to overcome. That's all changing, however, with the introduction of Viagra, which is becoming a household word."


The campaigns are bound to exceed former marketing efforts considering the media frenzy that has catapulted Viagra into the national spotlight. Viagra, which is made by Pfizer Inc., represents the most exciting treatment option for IMR since Muse, a urethral suppository introduced by Vivus Inc. in late 1996. Muse replaced previous drugs that had to be injected with a needle.


IMR estimates that the market for the treatment of impotence, including diagnoses, prescriptions and surgery, represents as much as $5 billion in total annual revenue.

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