Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Hospital Advertising Doesn't Work

An article in the July 29 issue of Crain’s HealthPulse, aptly titled “It’s an Ad, Ad, Ad, Ad World for Local Hospitals” references a report that says that hospital advertising expenditures in the New York area have increased by over $10 million, or 28%. The article’s title, a play on the 1963 movie “It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World” is apt, in that hospitals spending this kind of money for advertising makes about as much sense as the madcap chase across the California desert that was launched in the movie after Jimmy Durante “kicked the bucket.”

For those of you unfamiliar with the movie, let me simplify my premise: New York-area Hospitals are flushing more money (over $10 million more) down more toilets (by running costly and ultimately ineffective ads) than they did last year (when they flushed almost $70 million down their collective commodes).

Simply put, advertising to attempt to build hospital business or to enhance a hospital’s reputation is almost entirely a fool’s errand. Why? Because, frankly, hospital advertising doesn’t work (go ahead and try to find bona fide research – not some overblown “case study” puffery that ad agencies love to put on their websites – that shows otherwise).

99.9% of the time, hospitals use ads to merely “push” information at their intended audience – an audience that long ago turned its back on this type of one-sided communication, and which fails to find any personal relevance in your newest state-of-the-art thing-a-ma-bob. As a result, traditional hospital advertising doesn’t engage the intended audience. Almost always, these ads are done to pacify doctors who insist that the hospital run ads (after all, 4 years of medical school, various internships and hospital residency certainly qualifies you as a marketing expert!) that showcase their undeniable talents. This approach is akin to going to a cocktail party, and beginning a conversation with “Hey, let’s talk about ME!”

Against the backdrop of already-thin hospital margins being squeezed tighter and tighter, it is astounding that hospitals continue to waste money at these levels.

The rules of marketing and advertising changed a few years ago, yet apparently nobody told the hospital community. Today, merely touting your “state-of-the-art facility,” your “world-renowned specialists,” your “latest technology” – regardless of how “unique,” “innovative” or “leading-edge” it may be – will earn your ad nothing more than a yawn and a quick trip to the recycling bin. The key to successful hospital promotion is to achieve true engagement – connecting with your customers, fostering two-way communication, and delivering value to them as a result of their engagement with your brand. And this can be done successfully for a fraction of what hospitals now spend for advertising space.

Monday, July 11, 2011

The More Things Change...

In my last post, I not only quoted the philosopher Ferris Bueller, I talked about how much things have changed in public relations over the course of the past several years. While it is always important to stay ahead of the technology and communication curve, it is far more important to have a sound base for any PR initiative. These are among the things that have NOT changed in the past several years.

The need to plan. You’ve heard the old saw, “If you don’t know where you are going, then ANY road will get you there!” It was true when I was a young pup in this business, and it remains true today. Planning is essential. Set objectives, outline strategies, assign tactics to those strategies (including all of the new social media platforms), determine what success will look like, and set measurement matrices. A good, sound PR plan is like the score for an orchestra; each instrument knows when and what notes to play, and the end result that emerges is far greater than the sum of its parts.

The necessity of the media. To paraphrase another modern-day philosopher, Mr. T, “I pity the fool who thinks you should disregard traditional media.” In most cases, there is still no better and more credible way to connect to your audience than with traditional media. The New York Times remains the number one most quoted and referenced site on the Internet for a reason. And what people see on television or in the news (even if it they receive it tweeted, emailed or posted on Facebook) is often seen as holding far greater value and gravitas than a piece that originates solely on the net.

Content is still king. I don’t care how many “friends” or “likes” you have on Facebook or followers on Twitter. If you are not delivering solid, relevant, useful content, you will not be able to engage with your audience for long. And speaking of engagement…

You need to engage. Public relations is the deliberate, planned and sustained effort to establish and maintain mutual understanding between an organization and its public. That takes engagement. And while connecting with various publics is often accomplished in a very different ways today than it was 10 years ago, the end result should be the same: to create and maintain connections. In other words, engage.

Yes, things have absolutely changed for PR agencies and practitioners. We would be among the fools that Mr. T would pity if we were to think or act otherwise. But a solid foundation that starts with a good, sound and well-vetted plan, that employs the strengths of both traditional and social media, that delivers good and useful content and makes and nurtures connections is still the way that excellent PR is practiced today.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Life Moves Pretty Fast

One of the great modern-day philosophers, Ferris Bueller twice said (at the beginning and at the end of the iconic 1986 movie, so it must be important), “Life moves pretty fast. If you don't stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”

The same can be said generally about all businesses. But in particular, the Public Relations business has moved incredibly fast.

When I started R&J back in 1986, the same year that Ferris gave us his great advice about life, I had an IBM Selectric typewriter on my desk, and the only Gekko we ever heard from was Gordon, who was telling us (convincingly) that “greed is good.” We didn’t even have a fax machine; they were just then gaining widespread utilization. Back in that time, our role as public relations practitioners was clear and simple: to get publicity – and lots of it – for our clients. We did this by writing lots and lots of press releases (and mailing – yes mailing – them out to the media, usually with 5” X 7” glossy photo prints), establishing personal relationships with journalists (and there were a lot more of those covering much narrower “beats” back then), and pitching like crazy. It was a great business – fun and rewarding in so many ways.

But a funny thing happened along the way. Life moved pretty fast.
Business changed, and with that change, came the need for a far greater degree of strategic, forward-looking business counsel and strategic thinking. To accommodate these business needs, the public relations industry also underwent tremendous change. And the transformation of our business and our industry that was necessary to stay ahead of our clients’ needs has been incredible – often happening at break-neck speed.

Today’s successful PR firm is far more than a publicity shop. Today, we often play a central role in brand development, market strategy and business-building for our clients. We’re called in at the beginning of discussions on positioning, market strategy and brand personality. We consult on the ins-and-outs, and the potential ramifications of every communication tactic – both traditional and in social media. We prepare, and when needed, execute crisis management plans. In short, we are important counselors and marketing partners for our clients, and not simply “publicists” (although publicity is still a very important deliverable for many of our clients).

Firms like ours welcome this never-ending change. We thrive on it, and look forward to engaging with new media channels and outlets, and new techniques. It’s actually become fun to learn how express a full marketing thought in 140 characters or less! And I am very fortunate to have surrounded myself with a lot of smart, curious and insightful people, who don’t hesitate to remind me how fast things change, and how if we aren’t riding the wave, then we risk being swallowed up by it.

Yes, Ferris had it right: Life does, indeed, move pretty fast. We are happy to have evolved along the way, and to have helped our clients through many of these changes. We continue to look ahead for the next inevitable round of changes.

Finally, to many of our clients who’ve been along with us for much of this incredible ride, as Ferris would say,Danke Schön!

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Better Bosses Want Their Employees to Fail

It may sound counter-intuitive, but better bosses actually want their employees to fail. Ok, maybe I’d better define “failure” before we go too much farther here.

By failure, I mean stretching their boundaries. Offering ideas. Trying new and innovative ways to ultimately achieve success. Figuring out ways to help your company and your customers to do more. To do what it is that you do better. And to do what they do for less money or with fewer resources devoted to their completion.

By this definition of failure, most of those new ideas and suggested tactics will fail. But even if their ideas sometimes fail, you want employees to keep producing them.

To achieve this state of business Nirvana – where employees feel free and empowered to consistently offer out-of-the-box thinking and ideas that just might ultimately drive greater success – you need to have engaged employees. That’s where being a better boss comes in. Better bosses work to foster a culture of employee engagement (note: not simply employee “satisfaction,” or even “accountability.” No, I’m talking about genuine engagement).

Engaged employees are the cream of the crop. They are fully involved in – and enthusiastic about – their work. They work with passion, partly because they feel a profound connection to their company. This connection allows them to act in ways that advance their organization's interests. In short, they drive innovation and move the company forward.

There are many ways to promote employee engagement. In fact, a whole sub-species of business books has been written on the subject. But a good place to start is at the top. Remind yourself that an organization tends to mimic the example set by its leaders. Ultimately, it is YOUR CHOICE to lead your people to help you to become the kind of business that YOU want to be!

So be a better boss. Empower and engage your employees. And encourage them to productively “fail forward.”

On that point, I believe Ralph Waldo Emerson said it best: “Our chief want is someone who will inspire us to be what we know we could be.”

Friday, February 18, 2011

Better Employee Engagement Leads to Greater Revenue for Hospitals

The 2010 Hospital Pulse Report: Employee and Nurse Perspectives on American Health Care was recently released by Press Ganey Associates, and it should serve as a wake-up call to hospital administrators.

The report, which surveyed the experiences of more than 235,000 employees at nearly 400 U.S. hospitals, tells us that 45% of hospital workers — almost half! – consider themselves “distanced from or discontent with their current work.”

Even more troubling is the fact that workers who are closest to patient care have the lowest partnership scores. In other words, the actual caregivers are the least likely to feel satisfied and engaged with their organization.


The report goes on to tell us that, not surprisingly, there is a strong correlation between employee engagement and patient satisfaction.

Now let’s complete the circle: If employees are not engaged and satisfied, patient satisfaction suffers. And we all know that low patient satisfaction leads to declining admissions, erosion of brand equity, and loss of market share.

Times are tough. Money is not easily or readily available for things that are not considered “essential” at hospitals. But smart hospital leaders would be well-served to realize that engaged employees who feel invested in their jobs are a primary driver of patient satisfaction and perceived of quality care.

Hospitals that provide ongoing avenues for positive employee engagement will reap the rewards of better patient care — and increased revenues.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Communicating in a Crisis -- Choose Wisely

We do a fair amount of crisis management work for our healthcare and consumer products clients. You never know when a crisis is going to hit, and you never know what twists and turns it might take. No matter what your industry, crisis preparedness and a plan for a disciplined response are a necessity. How your organization behaves and communicates during a crisis can be crucial to your future.

With many organizations that we’ve consulted with over the past several years, especially recently, we have highlighted and planned for the use of social media – Twitter and Facebook predominantly – as prominent communication vehicles within their crisis communication plans.

The temptation by many organizations is to rely on those very useful and quite effective social media tools exclusively for communication. But every crisis is different, and all audiences are not created equal.

Case in point, the devastating 7.0 magnitude earthquake that struck Haiti on January 12, 2010.

While Twitter was an incredibly useful tool in communicating from Haiti to the rest of the outside world, a new study by the Knight Foundation reminds us that sometimes we have to think on a more basic level. The study concludes that radio – yes, radio – was the “most effective tool for serving the public,” just as it had been with the Indian Ocean tsunami and other recent natural disasters.

My point here is simply this: Don’t ignore the obvious when it comes to communicating in a crisis. In the case of Haiti, getting the word out to the widest audience – an audience without many modern tools, and one in which a good deal of people were illiterate – was the number one priority. And good old fashioned radio was the best tool to get the word out.

As the old expression goes, “horses for courses.” It isn’t necessarily the vehicle you need to focus on, but the environment in which your message needs to be delivered.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Take Proactive Steps to Ensure YOUR Brand is the One You Want!

When speaking to many marketing people on the subject of branding, I often hear an exasperated response along the lines of, “We don’t do any branding, and as a matter of fact we don’t even have a brand!”

I try to remind them that, of course they have a brand, because a brand is, by definition, a mark of distinction that is representative of how your product is perceived by its intended target audience. Like it or not, every organization and every product out there has a fundamental “brand” in the eyes of its consumers.

Sadly, it may not be the brand they want!

It is important to realize that the branding of your organization is happening, with or without your participation. Perceptions of your brand are being shaped through experience, word of mouth, and every public act undertaken by the organization and its people. Even though you may not be actively shaping the perceptions of your brand in the marketplace, strong (and lasting) perceptions are still being formed.

This begs the question, if you are not actively managing your brand, then who or what is?

If you are not actively shaping and nurturing your intended brand message in the marketplace, then you can be sure it’s being shaped either by consumer scuttlebutt or worse, by your competition. Either way, are you content to let someone or something other than you determine what the marketplace perceives about your organization?

An appropriate (albeit graphic) analogy might be a car hurtling down the highway. The driver has chosen not to drive -- he may be napping or is busy doing something “more important” -- but that does not mean the car will not arrive somewhere – it will – we just don’t know where it will arrive, how suddenly it will get there, or whether we will need a tow truck, an ambulance or a hearse to clean up the mess.

The bottom line is you DO have a brand, and it is essential that you know exactly what your consumers’ perceptions of that brand are. If you are happy with those perceptions, then your next step is to develop a strategy to defend and enhance it. If, however, you need to change your brand perception, a strategic and comprehensive program to move public perception in your favor is in order.

Consider this: Strong brands are sought out by consumers, who are willing to pay a premium for those brands. Studies show that strong brands command price premiums of, on average, 7% over lesser brands. That HAS to be worth the effort!

Let me know what you think. Respond or email me at Jlonsdorf@RandJpr.com.