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Selling health care: Arkansas hospitals realizing marketing is more than just advertising.

Hospital marketing is growing up in Arkansas.

"There was a big swing toward advertising in the beginning because so many people |associated~ the marketing function with advertising," says Nelda Bromberg.

Bromberg has an advertising agency in Little Rock. She once served as marketing director for Baptist Medical System.

"Now, most health-care marketing people are more sophisticated," she says. "They realize the marketing function is more than just advertising."

In 1982, Bromberg helped Baptist set up its marketing department, one of the first of its kind in Arkansas.

It has only been in the past decade hospitals have focused on external marketing.

Bromberg says there is a misconception that marketing equals advertising. That has led to negative perceptions.

"I don't think marketing has a real good reputation in health care," says Gordon W. Hawthorne, senior vice president for corporate services at Baptist. "It has been tainted by advertising."

Hawthorne, like Bromberg, says hospitals began marketing without a clear understanding of what to do.

Hospitals have matured. Their marketers present total packages of education, information and services to doctors and potential patients.

Although the patient is the customer, a hospital usually doesn't receive a patient without a doctor's referral. Therefore, the doctor is, in a way, the marketing target.

There are several marketing approaches.

The amount of money Arkansas hospitals spend on marketing varies widely, but every major hospital has a plan.

The Campaigns

"If you don't get help at Charter, please get help somewhere."

Even without the "hospital" in the ad, chances are most people would recognize where this signature line comes from.

The administrators of Charter Hospital of Little Rock choose which of the hospital's national television spots they want to use in Arkansas. The hospital recently became associated with the Little Rock agency Fowler Martin & Associates Advertising Inc.

Charter, which opened in the spring of 1990, is more dependent on the media than some other psychiatric hospitals.

Jim Linsky, Charter's director of marketing, says, "We still consider ourselves a start-up hospital."

Meanwhile, the 9-year-old North Little Rock psychiatric hospital The BridgeWay spends an average of $15,000 per month on advertising.

That's low by central Arkansas standards.

Abby Johnson, director of marketing, says The BridgeWay spends about a quarter of what other hospitals allocate for marketing.

Next to informational television spots, the only other advertising the BridgeWay does is with Southwestern Bell Yellow Pages Inc.

The BridgeWay's advertising only creates about two new patients per month, according to Johnson. Referrals keep the BridgeWay's occupancy rates at 75 to 80 percent. Some similar hospitals that do more advertising have 25 to 30 percent occupancy rates.

Doctors Hospital of Little Rock has one of the most recognizable advertising campaigns. The hospital employs the Little Rock advertising agency Stone & Ward, which has produced several billboards for Doctors.

Lynne Matthews, the hospital's director of public relations and marketing, says there are never more than three billboards up at once, and usually there's only one.

But they seem to be everywhere.

Catchy ads such as "Operators Standing By," showing a surgeon's covered feet, and "Growing Pains," showing a child slipping from a skateboard, are used.

"It's the creativity and the impact of those boards that give us the impression |that the ads are everywhere~," says Matthews, who was has been at Doctors more than 11 years.

Matthews once was the only person in her department. Now, there are six people in marketing, and they're producing more than just advertising.

The hospital sponsors an informational "Health Break" segment on the news telecasts of Little Rock station KARK-TV, Channel 4.

But Judy Williams, assistant director of marketing and public relations at Doctors, says, "At some point, you begin riding on reputation."

When a baby was kidnapped from the hospital in the late 1980s, Matthews says Doctors didn't develop a new marketing plan to combat the negative publicity.

"We continued doing the good things we had always done," she says.

The hospital felt victimized along with the family of the child, who eventually got the baby back.

The strategy worked.

Doctors now is recognized as a leader in delivering babies, although Matthews says it markets other services such as its emergency room.

The Alternatives

"A few years ago, I would have said, 'You bet I'm going to get in there and compete head to head in advertising,'" says Baptist's Hawthorne.

Hawthorne and Baptist have taken a new approach, having combined marketing, communications and planning under one umbrella 15 months ago.

"I wanted to get more coordination between those three disciplines," Hawthorne says.

He is opposed to health-care marketing designed to create needs. Still, Baptist does product-specific advertising of programs such as outpatient and women's services.

Arkansas Children's Hospital of Little Rock is similar to Baptist in that marketing is combined with other services.

Paul Fitzgerald is director of strategic planning and administrator of outpatient services. He says the hospital's emphasis is on letting physicians know what services are available. His dual role allows him to do that effectively.

There are some institutions such as the Central Arkansas Radiation Therapy Institute of Little Rock that market themselves successfully through events.

The annual Festival of Trees, which has become a December tradition for many central Arkansas families, makes CARTI a familiar name.

CARTI does little additional marketing except to promote screenings and offer information.

Hospitals now are picking and choosing what they advertise, while concentrating more on developing total marketing plans.

The hospitals have matured.

Yet with almost constant changes in the marketplace, it is difficult to tell if they've reached adulthood from a marketing standpoint.
COPYRIGHT 1991 Journal Publishing, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1991 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Rengers, Carrie
Publication:Arkansas Business
Date:Nov 25, 1991
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