2009: Is it Over Yet?

Gienna Shaw, for HealthLeaders Media, December 31, 2008

At a recent gathering, a man held up his glass to offer a toast: "To 2009," he said in a booming, upbeat voice. But instead of clinks of glasses and cheers of "hear, hear," he was met with an uncomfortable silence. "How about," someone said, "we toast to 2010 instead?"

For marketers, like many professionals, 2009 looks like it's going to be all the fun of a hangover without any of the hassles of a big party. In 2009, we're all going to be asked to do more with less.

But that's particularly true for hospital and health system marketers. Let's face it—hospitals are going to cut marketing budgets before they stop buying new medical devices, funding quality initiatives. They're going to cut your staffers before they lay off nurses and technicians or cut physicians' pay.

But when it comes to predictions, saying that 2009 is going to be a tough year is like saying that some people will get drunk and kiss total strangers on New Year's Eve.

So here are a few others:

Looking to other industries

"Innovation" is becoming as overused a term as "outside of the box," but people are still talking about it. I hope healthcare organizations in general—and marketing departments in particular—continue to innovate and think outside of the box in 2009.

Another idea that has legs is the concept of borrowing marketing, communications, and business practices from industries outside of healthcare. One organization, Memorial Hospital and Health System in South Bend, IN, is combining both of these trends by partnering with other industries to learn new ways of doing business. Memorial's Diane Stover, VP of marketing and innovation strategy, is leading this effort and says the improvements have been phenomenal, from learning how to improve quality and customer service to forming partnerships and discovering new business opportunities. You can hear more about it in my interview with Stover and she'll also speak at greater length on the topic during an upcoming Webcast on learning from other industries.

Looking for new ways to use new media

I'm hesitant to make a prediction about new media, especially since I've already changed my mind about a column I wrote two weeks ago examining the marketing possibilities of the social networking site Twitter. I said flat out that I didn't plan to use it—but after two weeks I am totally hooked. At least I'm doing my best to follow my own advice to only post messages and links that are meaningful and useful to my audience of healthcare marketers.

Social media is hot. It's hard to imagine that it won't get even hotter in 2009. For one thing, it's cheap, unless you count the time it takes to set up and maintain your presence on any given social networking site. And in the current economic climate, we like cheap.

But even if the most ingenious new platform came along tomorrow and even if 100% of all the people on the face of the earth signed up to use it and even if you had the time and the staff to dedicate to it, it still wouldn't do you any good unless you have a strategy to communicate the right message and reach the right customers.

Social media marketing might be all the rage in 2009, but it doesn't mean guaranteed success or a positive return on investment.

Looking to stay upbeat in a downturn

Internal communications will remain hot in 2009—or, to be more specific, internal crisis communications. Have I mentioned the economy yet? With hospitals closing, laying off employees, cutting benefits, and canceling the annual holiday party, it's more important than ever to communicate openly with your employees.

This should be led from the very top of the org chart—with transparency and leadership by example. But the marketer's job (perhaps in concert with HR) is to communicate the story to employees. To recognize that they're crucial to the future success of the organization. Nothing is going to hurt your hospital's mission (let alone patient satisfaction scores) faster than a bunch of uninformed, scared, and disgruntled employees.

Speaking of downsizing, last year I made five predictions about healthcare marketing. Sorry, this year you only get three. To make up for it, I'll give you one last prediction—in the form of a hot stock tip. If you really want to make a killing in 2009, invest in shares of antacids.

Gienna Shaw is an editor with HealthLeaders magazine. She can be reached at gshaw@healthleadersmedia.com.
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