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Getting Your Message Out

August 1, 2004
by root
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There's more than one way to get acquainted with the public; some selective strategies by Brent Campbell

Getting your message out

Effective marketing focuses on getting the right information about your organization to the right audience You have spent a lot of time and money ensuring that you have a clean and safe facility, a friendly and caring staff, a lovely garden, and excellent activities to offer residents. But how can you best promote the advantages your assisted-living or long-term care facility offers?

Many businesses focus their marketing message on the extensive list of services they provide. These amenities are important, of course; however, it's essential to evaluate and understand what your target audience is looking for when they search for long-term care placement.

Family members will be interested in fee structures, payment arrangements, activities, social structures, etc., but they also want to be sure that their loved one will be properly cared for, respected, and valued. Therefore, it's critical not to minimize these "human" aspects of their search.

It's All About the Quality
How many marketing tools for long-term care facilities do you see that really address the issues of quality of life and right to privacy in an effective way? Are your staff committed to making the residents' quality of life their major focus-every day? Do your marketing materials reflect this? Developing and implementing an integrated communications plan that promotes the proper message will set you apart from your competitors, which will help increase your bottom line.

It's crucial that all your marketing materials share a consistent message and theme and that they accurately reflect your corporate philosophy. For a long-term care facility, a focus on issues such as right to privacy, dignity, and independence-and the steps you take to maintain this focus-will be more impressive than promoting such basic services as the beauty salon, laundry, and an in-house bank. This kind of approach will provide the assurance that you and your staff will treat residents and their families as individuals rather than just purchasers of services.

As you formulate your marketing tools, it's also important to make sure that what you communicate is accurate and truthful. If you want to promote quality of life and the opportunities you provide, such as religious services, field trips, and other significant opportunities for interaction among residents, you must first be certain that these opportunities are offered on a regular basis, and then highlight them as much as possible in your marketing materials.

Vary Communication Channels
Once you've clarified what you want to communicate, you can use a number of different tools-including public relations, advertising, the Internet, and direct marketing-to be certain that the right message gets to your audience.

Public Relations. This is an extremely effective tool for creating visibility and increasing credibility within the community. Some of the public relations channels you can use include:

News releases. For special events, new services, new employees, or enhancements to your facility, news releases are your major vehicle for getting the word out. Create clear, concise announcements and mail or e-mail them to editors of publications your target audience is likely to read.

Human-interest feature stories. Someone on your staff can submit a feature story to a local newspaper or magazine, or you can present a story idea to the publication's editor to be written by its staff. For the most engaging articles, incorporate personal stories that show interaction and friendship among residents or between residents and staff. Examples are two people who have become close friends, someone who has made exceptional progress while at your facility, or a group that enjoys working together on activities such as fundraisers for special causes. The goal is to capture the reader's attention with an entertaining or poignant story to show that you offer a special environment.

Newsletters. Create a newsletter to send to family members and the community. A monthly or quarterly newsletter is an affordable way to inform, educate, and update your audience about your facility, staff, and residents. It also helps you maintain a consistent presence in the community. Be sure to include plenty of personal stories and photos.

Community events. Plan special events throughout the year, such as a craft sale, an open house, health fair, or run/walk. Choose events that will attract your target audience, generally baby boomers and/or their parents.

Resident events. Social and recreational events, especially those that include family members, can provide ongoing camaraderie and positive feelings, and can result in great word-of-mouth publicity. Events can be as simple as weekly card games or musical entertainment, or off-site activities such as field trips to shopping malls, restaurants, or plays.

Personal calls and notes. When someone goes out of his or her way to make you feel welcome, you remember it. A personal call from the CEO or president of an assisted living or long-term care company is one way to provide that kind of attention to detail and help new residents and family members feel welcomed into the community.