5 advertising practices hospitals should start — and stop — doing in 2018

Healthcare advertising serves a variety of purposes, from soliciting donations to raising community awareness. Knowing where and how to spend marketing dollars is important for getting your message across to patients.

It's no surprise healthcare is a difficult advertising space. "Let's be honest, healthcare isn't very fun," Kim Fox, partner at strategic healthcare communications and marketing firm Jarrard Phillips Cate & Hancock, tells Becker's Hospital Review.

"People are seeking us out in times of stress and anxiety; you have to be sensitive to that in your messaging. ... Some organizations struggle to differentiate themselves [from other hospital systems' ad campaigns] without pushing the boundaries of taste," she says.

At Jarrard Phillips Cate & Hancock, Ms. Fox draws on more than 25 years of experience in healthcare communications to lead the company's communications design practice. Before joining the firm in 2006, Ms. Fox served as regional marketing executive for IASIS Healthcare in Franklin, Tenn., and as director of marketing and communications for Adventist Health System in Altamonte Springs, Fla.

Despite the clear challenges in hospital advertising, there are organizations using creative and effective campaigns to build connection with patients.

Consider the recent campaign for North Memorial Health in Robbinsdale, Minn. This self-aware multimedia campaign uses heavy-handed sarcasm to address patient concerns, not just about their health, but about how they will be treated during their healthcare journey in human terms. "The ad campaign is memorable ... [because] it recognizes that a lot of the time people don't want to be [at your hospital] unless they have to," Ms. Fox says.

Today, communication plays an important role in building the patient-hospital relationship. Ms. Fox recommended five tips provider organizations can use to retool their marketing and communications strategies.

  1. Start: Social Media. "You have to reach people where they are, which most of the time is on their mobile devices," Ms. Fox says. Most organizations already use some type of social media marketing, such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube or Pinterest. Properly designed and managed, healthcare organizations can use social media to build a professional public image and enhance relationships with patients and other healthcare organizations.

    The most effective social media programs are part of an integrated, cohesive digital and print marketing strategy, Ms. Fox said.

  1. Stop: Buying ad space in the Yellow Pages. "People still wonder if they should be taking out ads in the Yellow Pages ... for that one person who's over 65 [years old] and still uses Yellow Pages," Ms. Fox says. "Stop. Using. Yellow Pages. Even my grandmother knows how to get online." Instead, hospital resources are better spent investing in digital strategies.

  1. Start: Making content shareable. Creating great content is half the battle. The other half is finding ways to share that content beyond your direct audience. Highly shareable content typically requires strategizing, planning and careful consideration. While it may not be "earth-shattering," it's an effective way to extend your digital reach, Ms. Fox says. Aurora, Colo.-based UCHealth's "Broncos Fever Video Contest" is a good example of shareable content that also makes a call to action.

  1. Stop: Agonizing over your website. "A lot of people are still thinking, 'We need an awesome website,'" Ms. Fox says. "But it's about 15 years too late for that. Instead, focus on ways to reach people on their phones." A State of Mobile Web U.S. 2015 report found roughly 56 percent of consumer traffic to leading U.S. websites came from mobile devices. Ms. Fox recommends healthcare organizations focus on making themselves more mobile friendly instead of investing in nonmobile-enabled marketing.

  1. Start: With your employees. "Something I strongly believe is that we [in healthcare] need to be better about communicating with our own people," Ms. Fox said. "Your employees are your brand ambassadors and can be your biggest advocates." Encouraging employees to participate in events, campaigns, promotions, fundraisers and other activities is a great way to drive word of mouth for your hospital, Ms. Fox says.  

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