There are two ways to look at hospital marketing, says Constance Howes, CEO and president of Providence, Rhode Island’s Women & Infants Hospital: the narrow view, which consists of media and paid and unpaid placements—what’s typically called a traditional approach—and the broader one, which focuses on strategic outlook. “I think of it in the broader sense,” she says.
Promoting a well-known, trusted brand is essential for the long-term growth of 167-staffed-bed Women & Infants, which includes an 80-bed neonatal intensive care unit and annually sees more than 8,500 births, but sits in a competitive market. “Reputation drives volume to our hospital,” Howes says. “That’s a key part of our strategy. Marketing is part of that.” According to the 2011 HealthLeaders Media Industry Survey, close to half (45%) of the 478 senior leadership respondents agree with Howes, answering that they would try to fuel their facility’s financial growth by launching a strategic campaign for an existing market. Nearly one-third (29%) responded that they would do so for a new market.
Such results speak to marketing’s increased place in driving hospital strategy. In fact, industry leaders ranked employing a strategic marketing campaign third in terms of ways to fuel growth, above starting or increasing promising business lines, acquiring physician practices, and joint ventures. Traditional advertising campaigns still have their place. But as communication modes continue evolving and as organizations focus more on overall patient experience, marketing is becoming a larger slice of the strategic pie.
For Sanford Health, an integrated system with 1,581 licensed beds, 32 hospitals, and more than 110 clinics across eight states, marketing steers the organization now more than ever. “We’ve become a greater strategic partner,” says Angela Novak, marketing and brand strategy vice president for the Fargo, ND, region. “It’s an opportunity to expand our role from pure advertising or communication to taking a look at the broader definition of marketing, what the patient experience is, what the delivery of [care] would be.” Marketing there is no longer about simply fulfilling requests for advertising campaigns, she adds.
Novak gives the example of Sanford Medical Center Worthington. “In the past, Lynn [Olson, the hospital’s CEO] may have determined what he wanted on his own and kind of ‘placed an order’ to marketing,” she says. “Today it would be more of a partnership.”