Marketing: A New Name

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Even a well-known name could need a change if people don't know who, where, or what you are.

On her daily commute into Boston, Brooke Tyson Hynes typically hears at least five healthcare commercials on her car radio. At home, she sees TV spots run regularly for a host of healthcare organizations, from community hospitals to academic medical centers.

"In this market you have to remain competitive," says Hynes, vice president of public affairs and communications at the 350-staffed-bed Tufts Medical Center in the Chinatown neighborhood of Boston. "There was a great need for us to be out there, internally and externally." That need arose from a confluence of challenges.

The problems
For starters, there's been a decades-long tug-of-war over the hospital's name. It opened in 1930 as the New England Medical Center and in 1950 became the New England Medical Center Hospital. In 1968 it was renamed Tufts-New England Medical Center to reflect the growing relationship between the hospital and Tufts University in Medford, MA. In the late 1970s, though, tensions between the organizations resulted in "Tufts" being dropped from the name. By 1991 the relationship had mostly healed and an affiliation agreement was drawn up—and the name was changed back to Tufts-New England Medical Center.

Then there were financial challenges . . . and ensuing leadership changes. In 2003, hospital trustees, facing million-dollar losses and other strategic challenges, broke with longstanding tradition and hired a nonphysician leader. They were looking for a CEO with a business background who could develop and implement a strategic plan—and they found what they were looking for in Ellen Zane, wooing her away from Tufts' successful competitor, Partners HealthCare.

In the meantime, the organization responded to some of the tumult by "going dark," halting its marketing efforts altogether.

The result? People didn't know who, where, or even what Tufts was.

Half of consumers did not know that Tufts (the hospital) and Tufts (the university) were affiliated. They didn't think of the hospital as a convenient, "in your own backyard" choice. Awareness of high-end services was low—people didn't see the hospital as cutting-edge. On the other hand, people considered Tufts a good choice for high-risk pregnancies and fetal care, but did not think of it for routine deliveries.

The solution
In March 2008 Tufts launched a rebranding effort that included another name change—Tufts Medical Center—to emphasize its ties with the university, a new logo that incorporated part of the university's emblem, new signage for its Chinatown campus, and a $1.5 million branding and advertising campaign. Its pediatric affiliate for children was rebranded, too: It became the Floating Hospital for Children at Tufts Medical Center.

The campaign "was core to our business to talk about our brand and help people remember who we were and why we were an excellent choice in this market," Hynes says.

"A lot of what we're hearing in the market is folks are really questioning, 'Why are hospitals spending money on marketing to consumers?'" says Tony Cotrupi, president of PARTNERS+simons, the Boston-based brand communications firm that worked on the Tufts campaign.

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