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Hospital Marketing Costs Remain Cause for Concern

Doug Desjardins, for HealthLeaders Media, March 30, 2011

According to James Unland, editor of the Journal of Health Care Finance, hospital marketing campaigns were unheard until the 1980s when pioneering ad agencies began approaching hospital executives with the idea of TV commercials. Since then, it’s become commonplace and set what Unland suggests is a bad precedent.

 “I am not opposed to hospitals marketing appropriately to their own service areas,” Unland told WBEZ in Chicago. “My issue comes with the huge expenditures on TV and broad-based media advertising that is very, very expensive.”

Instead, Unland said hospitals should focus on media-driven commercials such as public service announcements about free services and Internet advertising. “The great thing about the Internet is that the unit cost of telling the story of the hospital and what services it has is minute. And you can tell a long story. You can interview your doctors. You can give people a virtual tour.”

Unland has a good point, though any marketing team will tell you a campaign that relies on inexpensive mediums such as the Internet, direct mail, and print ads would have a limited impact. According to a 2010 study from Conde Nast and McPheters & Company, an Internet banner ad had 16% of the value of a 30-second TV spot in terms of consumer recall.

For the most part, that study vindicates the multi-media approach used by most hospital marketing campaigns and draws on the old axiom that – in any business - you have to spend money to make money.

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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.