Not so very long ago, hospitals were mostly non-profit institutions and advertising in this industry was unthinkable. But many hospitals are now owned by for-profit corporations. Even those institutions that remain non-profit are feeling the revenue squeeze from more competitors, a slow economy, higher expenses and lower reimbursements from insurance companies. One way to remedy the situation is to increase advertising.
On average, hospitals are upping their marketing budgets by 20% in 2011. During the first half of this year, these institutions, including medical centers and clinics, have spent $717.2 million on advertising. This rate would put them on track to shell out over $1.4 billion for the year.
Ad agencies interviewed by New York Times writer Adam Newman are looking to change up the stodgy advertising of the past and infuse a bit of humor in hospital marketing campaigns to grab consumer attention. Campaigns have been particularly aggressive in New York City where health-care institutions have spent $80 million on advertising this year. While consumers may complain that spending money on advertising contributes to higher health care costs, administrators don’t agree. David Feinberg, vice president of marketing at New York-Presbyterian,called his institution’s new TV commercials “a strategic investment.”
Hospitals are often highlighting one feature that makes their institution unique. In this way, they can brand themselves as being expert in a specific area and therefore differentiated from the competition. For some institutions, cardiology is the focus. For others, it’s oncology. In addition, hospitals are boosting the human angle by using more patient success stories. Susana Cascais, managing director of Frank Unlimited, a Seattle agency which represents several medical clinics says her clients ask, “We have really satisfied patients so why not use patient testimonials to tell our story?”
While hospitals are using traditional media such as newspaper, TV and billboards, they’re also employing social media. The social media channel is often seen as less expensive than traditional media. However, marketing experts caution that successful social media programs require significant staffing effort and often means increasing headcount.
Regardless of the strategy being used, it seems hospital administrators are paying more attention to their image these days.[Sources: Newman, Andrew Adam. A Healing Touch From Hospitals. NYTimes.com. 12 Sep. 2011. Web. 26 Sep. 2011; Cheung, Karen. Public questions expensive hospital ads during tough times. Fiercehealthcare.org. 1 Aug. 2011. Web. 28 Sep. 2011]