Getting Your Message Out


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.

Whether it’s flowers in the room, candy on the pillow, a handwritten note from a staff member, a greeting card, welcoming banners, or that phone call from the CEO, these small gestures can be important in building a comfort zone in this new environment and can generate valuable word-of-mouth publicity by differentiating you from your competitors. In fact, you could carry these gestures through the first week or two and then continue doing something special monthly or quarterly.

Advertising. When it comes to advertising, your efforts should focus on the same theme and message as your public relations activities. For the greatest impact, you’ll want to target a variety of advertising venues and try to maintain a continuous presence. Again, your target audience typically will be baby boomers who are either looking at care facilities for their parents or looking to the future for themselves, so you’ll need to advertise in places reflecting their interests. If you take the time to compare demographics and rates for local newspapers, billboard companies, and radio/TV stations, you can ensure that the dollars you spend are used effectively. Some advertising vehicles to consider are:

Print ads. A creative ad in your local or regional newspaper, community magazine, or a publication for seniors lets you showcase the image you want to present to your audience. Featuring a resident or family testimonial in your ad can be very powerful. The focus should be more “touchy-feely” and empathetic than a radio commercial.

Radio. A clear, professionally created radio spot can reinforce your print ads and bring your message to a new audience. Remember to highlight the personal angle in your spots, rather than only stressing the amenities you offer. The first, 60-second, spot should focus on educating the audience about the facility. Four to six weeks later, a 30-second follow-up spot should be done that focuses on the facility’s commitment to bringing the community to the resident.

Billboards. Strategically located billboards with a clear, attention-getting presentation of your key points will create a memorable impression and keep your name in front of the community. Two costs are associated with billboard advertising: artwork/creation of the board and placement fees. They are generally quite affordable. In most cases, however, billboards should only be used in conjunction with radio spots, because the two media complement each other.

The Internet. Today the World Wide Web is frequently used by people searching for assisted living and long-term care facilities. Many of today’s seniors and their boomer-age children are often computer savvy. They can visit many Web sites via the Internet in a fraction of the time it would take to visit in person. But facilities’ Web sites are not always effective marketing tools. A good site is easy to navigate and offers frequently updated, accurate, interesting information. Pictures and testimonials can be especially effective. An interactive site with a virtual tour offers a view of your homey, comfortable environment and shows the interaction between your staff and residents, providing a clear focus on quality of life.

Direct Mail Marketing. Marketing via direct mail can be an excellent, affordable way to update families and the community regarding events and quality-of-life issues. It’s a great way to share what you are doing with and for the community, and it can also be useful for reaching referral sources.

For cost-effective direct mail, you’ll need to have an accurate, updated mailing list to ensure that you are reaching your target market. Updated lists can be purchased through a PR/advertising agency or a “mailhouse.” Once a list is purchased, you’ll need to decide how to capture the recipient’s attention. For example, dimensional mail, premium items, or a brightly colored envelope or box commands more attention than a plain envelope.

Providing Rolodex« cards with your facility’s name, contact information, and specialties can be effective for a direct mail campaign. Dimensional mail is a more elaborate form of direct mail and is meant to make a lasting impression on the recipient. It typically comes in a box and can be used to introduce grand openings, special events, etc. For example, a long-term care facility trying to establish relationships with referring physicians sent them promotional binoculars with a brochure inviting them to “take a look at our facility.”

When to Call in an Expert
If you and your staff members don’t have the time or resources to handle your marketing, what should you do? The solution is to bring in an experienced consultant or marketing/public relations firm that specializes in healthcare facilities.

When selecting an outside agency or expert, it is important to hire one that understands your target audience and is well versed in the assisted living and long-term care industries from a marketing, budget, and operations standpoint. Not only will this make your relationship more efficient, it will also be more cost-effective.

Remember, an agency should provide you with good creative concepts, solid execution, and strategic advice and be able to work within your budget. You also should review agencies’ or consultants’ writing samples to make sure they are experienced in producing materials for your target audience.

The benefits of working with a third-party resource can be substantial. An outside firm brings objectivity to your marketing and PR plan. Its expertise in specific situations eliminates the trial and error you might go through on your own, allowing you and your staff to concentrate on your residents and their needs. And third-party firms generally are more affordable than you might expect and will be happy to work within your budget or on an as-needed basis to keep your costs down.

Keep Your Focus
Whether you work with a third-party expert or decide to handle advertising and PR on your own, it’s crucial to be consistent. Assisted living and long-term care facilities should strive to provide an image of an environment and a staff that are dedicated to the well-being of their residents. Moving into an assisted living or long-term care setting is a major decision, and often an emotional and costly one. If your philosophy and policies focus on quality of life and your advertising and public relations accurately reflect that, you can distinguish your facility as one that is making a positive impact on the lives of those in your care.

Brent Campbell, Senior Account Executive at Seroka Healthcare Marketing, has more than 15 years of healthcare experience in a variety of capacities, including several senior positions within the assisted living industry. Seroka Healthcare Marketing ( is a full-service advertising, public relations, and market research division of Seroka & Associates, Inc., located in Wisconsin. For more information, phone (262) 523-3740, fax (262) 523-3760, or e-mail To comment on this article, please send e-mail to For reprints in quantities of 100 or more, call (866) 377-6454.

Topics: Articles , Facility management