Marketing Mistake # 5: Neglecting Community

All businesses and organizations operate in communities of customers, partners, stakeholders and competitors. And at a time when trust is such an important part of competitiveness, active community connection is crucial. This couldn’t be more true than with hospitals.

I recently caught up with Angela Spino, Director, Marketing and Communications at Rush System for Health. In discussing hospital marketing and brand development, Angela spoke at length about the importance of community marketing. Today she feels the hospital’s community marketing outreach accomplishes what all hospitals, both large and small, should aspire to do (humbly so). However, it didn’t start that way.

When Angie came to work at the hospital, departments and individuals throughout the organization were putting together their own communication pieces. What shocked her were two requests on her first week, for poster board and magic markers, to create signs.

Over time, Angie established formal marketing practices. Efforts involve a wide array of community organizations, through sponsorships and active roles as part of the community. They also participate in Rotary and Chamber events, local community outreach, community health fairs, and offer free classes, seminars, and provide public health screenings, including AC1 diabetes, blood pressure and other tests.

Angie also communicates with physicians, to bolster referrals. She focuses on one major service line per year, while supporting and sustaining previous campaigns and practice groups. The hospital is just finishing a campaign for orthopedics, underscoring that the orthopods are Rush Hospital physicians.

“I work off of a five-year plan. This sends a signal to administration, that this is a long-term strategy, to create value and ultimately results in attracting new patients and increasing revenues for the hospital,” explains Angie. “If I am any less formal, with a one-year plan—much less week-to-week or month-by-month—our budgets would evaporate without generating meaningful awareness or visibility of the value and strengths of the hospital.”

Consequently, she deflects one-off requests for marketing pieces. In the process, she has earned respect, and is even just a little feared for her tough reputation.

“Overall, I think we are managing a pretty good communication program for a community hospital,” reflects Angie.

Well-done.

In today’s turbulent health care environment, it would seem expected that large hospitals operate at this level, and that community hospitals would be less comprehensive, but at least running the essential elements of a community communications program. Not so, however. We are seeing hospitals of all sizes that are unaccustomed to connecting with the communities they serve.

The months and years ahead will continue to bring pressure in the form of health care legislation change, rising  costs and shortfalls in health care personnel. In our view, hospitals (and other care providers) will need vibrant community marketing programs to strengthen their base with patients and other constituents. At the base of all that is a very simple notion, one of connecting with the community.