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Hospital Marketing Costs Remain Cause for Concern

Doug Desjardins, for HealthLeaders Media, March 30, 2011

This column was updated  on April 1 to correct an outdated reference to a wage freeze at OhioHealth and the spelling of the CEO's name, and to identify a news source.

A few days before OhioHealth launched its new branding campaign “Believe in We” on March 28, marketing leaders at Central Ohio’s largest hospital system met to preview the TV, radio, and print ads that were ready for release. As usual, marketing execs worried about details like semantics – particularly the odd use of the word ‘We’ – and how physicians would react to using the word ‘Believe’ in a medical context, according to a report in an Ohio business journal.

But chief among their concerns was the expense of the campaign and how hospital employees would react to OhioHealth spending big bucks on a marketing campaign. “It will take months, a year, but it’s going to pay off,” OhioHealth CEO Dave Blom said, according to Columbus Business First.

Even with the economy on the rebound, hospital marketing teams must walk a fine line between competing with other hospitals in their market and justifying the expense of new marketing campaigns, especially those that use pricey TV ads. Marketing costs became a big issue in 2008 when the recession kicked in and drove patient volume down, forcing budget cuts at many hospitals.

In 2010, legislators in Vermont went so far as to introduce a bill that would have banned hospitals from marketing their services. “On one level, it’s competing for business,” said Steven Maier, the lawmaker who introduced the bill. “I think it’s appropriate to question whether or not our not-for-profit systems need to compete.”

The bill failed to advance but it got the attention of hospital marketing teams and got them thinking about marketing campaigns and how they are viewed by both consumers and hospital employees, who could rightly wonder whether those funds might be put to better use.

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2 comments on "Hospital Marketing Costs Remain Cause for Concern"


Andrew B. (4/11/2011 at 5:52 PM)
Does the agency have a skin in the game? I'm guessing they don't, as is usually the case. If the campaign fails to produce the intended results, in most cases, the agency shrugs its shoulders, cashes a HUGE check, and that's that. While well-[INVALID]d creative and broadcast media have their place (and can make a very positive impact in healthcare marketing), agencies need to be held more accountable for results.

Bill Lindsay (3/30/2011 at 4:50 PM)
Thanks for this article, Doug, and the historical perspective on resistance to hospital marketing campaigns. I wonder how social media might factor into some of these discussions around cost, as it's increasingly clear in today's social climate that advertising isn't the only way to market – especially online? A social media marketing campaign can be very cost-effective, as long as hospitals are aware of the time it takes to manage an engaging social media presence. That said, a Facebook or Twitter initiative could have more impact than a straightforward banner ad. I wonder if, in your discussions with hospitals, you're finding that social media is something they're looking to as a way to enhance their marketing without throwing money at, say, a TV ad? Thanks again for this good fodder for discussion.