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February 12, 2010

Hospital Communications

FF The Shelf

Welcome to Off the Shelf, an e-newsletter from Soyring Consulting. Full of quick tips you can put into practice right away, Off the Shelf focuses on improving hospital operations and in turn boosting your bottom line. Each edition will focus on a different issue area with the goal of helping you take management theories and strategic plans “off the shelf” and put them into action.

 We hope you enjoy this first edition: Hospital Communications.

Press Releases, Health Fairs and Advertising—Oh My! Moving Beyond Communications Basics

A quick word association: When your hospital leadership hears the term “communications,” what’s the first idea that comes to mind — perhaps the advertising campaign promoting the hospital’s practice du jour, or the local health fair the hospital is spearheading? It makes sense that these would be top of mind: large (and often costly) outreach efforts usually take center stage when we think of “hospital communications”—but they’re not the whole story.

Hospital communications are not limited to direct-to-consumer advertising or local community events. In healthcare, more than any other industry, it is important to focus efforts on other stakeholders in addition to your end-users (patients).

To that end, kick off 2010 with these three planning steps to reach your key audiences more effectively and thoughtfully:

Target key areas for growth

Identify important audiences

Execute a targeted communications plan for those audiences

 Research, Research, Research

To find the areas ripe for a growth spurt via a communications plan, the best place to start is with research. It is easy to focus on what is “new and shiny” in our hospitals, not realizing the potential for growth in other service areas. Instead, take a step back and consider these steps: 

1. Identify service areas that are either under-discussed and/or highly profitable. By taking a step back and discovering which areas of the hospital give you the most financial return as well as the underutilized service areas that don’t currently get a lot of airtime, you’ll be singling out key winning opportunities. 

2. Crunch the numbers. Now’s the time to determine how much money you’re willing to invest in a communications plan, keeping in mind the potential ROI once that service area increases its volume (and profit margin!). 

3. Set your priorities. With key areas identified and numbers sufficiently hashed out, prioritize which areas you’ll hone in on first, based on profitability and the turnaround time expected for a communications plan to make an effect.

 Choosing Your Audience (and Understanding What They Think of You)

Now that you’re ready and raring to make an impact on the service area(s) you’ve identified, it’s time to establish to whom you’ll be communicating. (And, no, “the general public” does not count as a reasonable target audience!)

Here are a few potential groups to get your wheels turning:

• Patients. Recognize that while patients are the most important factor in your operations they may not necessarily be the most important audience for your outreach efforts.

• Internal and external staffers. What other audiences influence the practice or area on which you’re focusing your efforts? In the ED, for example, you might consider EMS. Other possibilities include:

- Referring physicians

- Referring facilities

- Staff Members, particularly as it relates to productivity

- Other departments within your organization (very important for lab/diagnostic services)

 How do these various audiences perceive your facility? A page out of a marketing 101 book will remind you that logos, colors and tagline don’t dictate your brand. Instead, what other people think of you is your true brand:

• General audience perception
 • Knowledge of service offerings
 • Thoughts on competency (is your staff the best at what they do?)
 • Thoughts on approachability (is your staff easy to deal with?)

 Make It Happen: Kick Off Your Communications Effort

Good news: You’ve already done the hard part by identifying what you want to promote, to whom you’re promoting and what they think of your “product.” Now’s it just a matter of dispelling the negative impressions and reinforcing the positive ones

• Adjust your brand. Give your facility a face by sharing first-person examples, service line commitments and staff testimonials. People relate to people more than anything else, so while including statistics will be important (satisfaction survey results and so on), be sure to make your communications relatable. 

• Form strategic partnerships. Reach out to key physician groups and external facilities. Develop win-win ideas for corporate vendors to fund your communications efforts. Align yourself with associations and nonprofits to improve and support your brand. 

• Get everyone on the same page. Bring your key audience(s), and perhaps even your internal staff, up to speed on what separates your offerings from that of competing facilities. Impart what makes your facility shine.

Bonus Tip: Make Your Messaging Sing

Not sure where to start or need help keeping your initiatives going? Soyring Consulting offers a full range of communication services including research assistance, audience analysis, strategic planning and campaign execution (including creative needs and technical assistance).

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