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Brushing Up Nursing Homes' Image.

It is one of those problems that just won't go away. The image of long-term care providers remains a major issue for all providers, affecting consumer perceptions and employee recruitment and retention, as well as promoting negative legislative and regulatory initiatives at all levels of government. Over the last decade, both the American Association of Homes and Services for the Aging (AAHSA) and the American Health Care Association (AHCA) have tried to involve state affiliates and members in national campaigns, but neither has been able to mobilize the funding or support to implement effective efforts.

This year, however, the Kansas Association of Homes and Services for the Aging (KAHSA) leadership developed and implemented a statewide image campaign that could be replicated by other associations nationally. Using the slogan, "Celebrate a New Season of Life," the campaign began this May. It is concluding this fall and, by its end, 90 newspaper and 390 television advertisements will have run statewide, according to KAHSA Director of Communications Janie Rutherford. The media schedule will allow Kansans to see the ad an average of four times per person. The hope is to keep the campaign rolling in 2001 and beyond.

"KAHSA is thinking long term; this is not just a one-year shot," said Jill Sittenauer, media and administrative director of Jones, Seel and Huyett, the Topeka-based advertising, marketing and public relations firm that implemented the campaign for the association. "You can't change consumers' perceptions in one year's time when they've had these perceptions for years.

"For people who work in long-term care, this is fantastic," said Debbi Elmore, director of public relations and communications for the Presbyterian Manors of MidAmerica and chair of the KAHSA Public Relations Committee. "The renewed sense of pride is wonderful. If we do something about image, all else will follow."

The slogan, which was pretested with marketing and advertising professionals, is designed to dispel myths about aging. The TV advertisement uses a photo album concept of elders and family and includes audio of an original poem celebrating aging. The spot ends with a slide containing a toll-free number and KAHSA's name. Newspaper advertising uses the same slogan and creative approach. An individual facility, however, can place the ads locally, adding its own name and logo in place of the state association's.

About three years ago, Elmore said, the KAHSA Public Relations Committee was helping to implement "little projects" such as an 'art for the ages' program, but it was not enough. "The committee knew it needed to do more to address the negative image of aging and our field," she said. They developed two goals: (1) to improve the public's perception about long-term care for older adults and (2) by improving that perception, to encourage more people to work in long-term care facilities.

With a small budget raised by a voluntary special assessment, the association needed to leverage what it had and get as much for its money as possible. The Jones, Seel and Huyett advertising agency developed the theme, scripts and other materials without charge, but asked KAHSA to pay production and placement costs for advertisements. Sittenauer said that their agency, which does pro bono work for charities or nonprofit organizations every year, saw this as an opportunity to get more exposure with a growing client base. Since they had done work for KAHSA in the past and had also served some Kansas retirement communities, "we really felt we had the expertise and believed in the cause."

The two national organizations, AAHSA and AHCA, have tried to involve states in national campaigns but have seen minimal involvement in spite of continued identification of image as a number one issue in the minds of members. "Our states differ in membership makeup and it's been very difficult to find one slogan to rally around," said Robert Greenwood, AAHSA associate director of public affairs. Several of AAHSA's state affiliates have done their own campaigns similar to KAHSA's, but few have participated in campaigns initiated by the national association.

According to AHCA's Tom Burke, senior director of public relations, his organization has had similar experiences in developing advertising or public relations materials for its states to use. "A lot will do their own program and then others will do nothing," he explained. "What we don't have is a national campaign with consistent messaging." One big problem, Burke added, is the cost of running an effective, national image campaign, with cost estimates ranging from $10 to $25 million if the long-term care industry wants to make a significant impact.

In the meantime, state initiatives like KAHSA's will have to carry the day.

Scott L. Parkin, principal of AgeComm, a communications and public relations firm in Reston, Virginia, is former director of communications at AAHSA.
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Article Details
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Author:Parkin, Scott L.
Publication:Nursing Homes
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Oct 1, 2000
Words:790
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