In Defense of Hospital Ad Spending

Marianne Aiello, December 19, 2012

Hospital advertising has long been an easy target, from both internal and external critics. It seems that whenever it's time for a healthcare organization to tighten its belt, the marketing team and its budget takes the biggest hit.

And yet, the media and general public decry the fact that a hospital needs to promote itself at all.

It's funny—for being professionals geared around boosting their organizations' brands, hospital marketers are hard pressed to enhance their own reputations.

Every once in a while—this month, for example—a slew of media criticisms are published in short succession, reporting on the thousands or millions of dollars hospitals spend on advertising while failing to mention the percentage of the total organizational budget that it accounts for.

Normally, we grin and bear it and move on. Not this time.

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch recently published an article dissecting its competitive healthcare market. While the reporting is balanced, it starts with a markedly negative tone by quoting Sidney Wolfe, director of the non-profit consumer advocacy group, Public Citizen.

"Hospitals seem to be spending money left and right trying to get more patients," he said. "Absent significant costs controls, there's nothing to stop them. It's siphoning money away from healthcare. Advertising shouldn't be confused with taking care of patients or improving patient care."

I think we can all agree that his last sentence isn't worth addressing. But in this column I will explain why, in the vast majority of hospitals, advertising and marketing spending is necessary, effective, and does not take away from quality of care.

Marianne Aiello

Marianne Aiello is a contributing writer at HealthLeaders Media.

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