Monday, May 22, 2006

Fizzy Room

Two people watch Abraham Lincoln give his brief address at Gettysburg. One thought it was the poorest, weakest thing he had ever heard. The other (Edward Everett) wrote the President, “I should be glad if I could flatter myself that I came as near to the central idea of the occasion in two hours, as you did in two minutes.” Different people, different impressions.

So I can only report my impressions of the AMA Healthcare Special Interest Group’s “Service Line Marketing” event at the Texas Medical Center last week. No historic two-minute address here, but helpful insights and conclusions.

The photos don’t show it, but our two speakers played to a packed house. Gail McFaddin, RHD Memorial Medical Center’s Director of Business Development (top) and Andrea Patton of Iris Advertising (bottom) came from Dallas last Tuesday AM to present a comparison of service line marketing efforts from two Tenet hospitals, Houston Northwest Medical Center and RHD itself.

A crowd gives a room energy. So the Trevisio meeting room was fizzy and the speakers responded to it. They gave an honest presentation: two hospital promotions, two results…and little to show for them.

When you go to an event like this, you expect to hear success. That’s what every speaker wants to present, every client wants to show off. But Gail and Andrea stepped up and gave us the sadder facts of their case. Both promotions were based around an effort to reach men over 50 with a hospital-directed message about colorectal cancer – and they offered a free self-test kit as an incentive.

They went through the right steps: matching prospects at risk to the demographics of the hospitals’ respective service areas; creating a mixed-media campaign of postcard mailer and small ads; assembling a fulfillment package complete with a free EZ Detect Kit and a way to return the self-test results to the hospitals; and tracking the results.

The media were similar in both cities, with about the same amount of money spent on each promotion. But the Dallas campaign focused primarily on community prospects, while the Houston program split its fire among three targets: community, hospital employees, and patients in the hospital database.

In the end, Houston did better. Northwest Medical Center was able to measure its ROI: the promotion turned $14.60 in net revenue for every dollar spent on the promotion.

RHD was in the negative numbers – 52 cents in net revenue for each dollar spent…not so good. The speakers pointed to what they felt they’d done right – and what they’d do differently. But the presentation suggested that this colorectal cancer promotion didn’t play to the definition of service line marketing: a completely packaged approach to deploying and fielding a very specific service.

A service line reinforces branding – it firmly supports what your hospital or clinic is known for (or wants to be known for). It can increase volume, profitability and reimbursement. It can help maintain and even increase market share. It can improve customer service.

It’s easy to be on the outside looking in. But my takeaways from last Tuesday were two. They’ll both be familiar to you. First, the basic service line marketing idea is only sell one thing at a time. Second, sell the living daylights out of it.

Number one is hard enough…it’s tough to get any organization to focus, focus, focus. Yet we recognize immediately the cancer treatment focal point of University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, and the pediatric specialization of Texas Childrens Hospital. Even in a general-services hospital, you can strongly promote a particular specialty, as Spring Branch did a few years ago with its wound care clinic.

Number two is harder. Put enough throw-weight behind a promotion – in dollars and dedication – to make certain that it penetrates your marketplace. Northwest Medical Center’s apparent success is pleasant to contemplate but the actual dollars involved were very low. The time the promotions spent attacking their markets was quite limited. Building a brand is challenging enough. Too little time and money spend on a promotion will result in failure.

So what do you give two marketing professionals who stand in front of their peers and present a case that didn’t win?

One hell of a round of applause for taking the rougher road. Thanks to Gail and Andrea for a fine learning experience.

Thanks to Karen Orso for the photographs.

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