By NICOLE KLEINPETER

If you build a healthcare facility, will they really come? The secret lies in understanding who “they” are and knowing how to engage them.

Striking Out

About 10 years ago, a hospital located in the deep South embarked on a new construction plan to advance its inpatient and outpatient cardiovascular services. The goal was to gain market share. Three physician leaders championed a highly innovative clinical plan with full operational support from the system’s board and administration. The pro forma looked strong and finance was onboard, but after 12 months of unsustainably low volumes, facility leaders began to abandon operational plans and set a new direction for the service line.

In retrospect, though the organization’s pro forma seemed to support their clinical plans, the market clearly did not. Key physicians were reluctant to refer; consumer demand was absent.

In an after-action review of the organization’s planning process, a few activities seemed to be missing during pre-construction:

  • Stakeholder analysis
  • Market research
  • Data-driven marketing and communications plan

Without intelligence gained from these planning steps, how could the hospital reliably attract, nurture and retain the relationships needed to sustain the facility and its business model? How could they have gotten heads to nod and people to talk about their new building and services in a positive way? How could the hospital ensure “they” (meaning consumers, employees, physicians, the media, etc.) would come?

Picking the Team 

Part of the answer may lie in the makeup of the team. Building a patient care facility is a monumental project that requires intense planning, resources and collaboration. Marketing shouldn’t be an afterthought.

In today’s digital world, it only takes a couple of seconds to get a reader, viewer or listener’s attention, and eight to lose it.  Consumers are bombarded with more than 3,000 marketing communications messages daily, but only 12 of them make a true impression.

That’s a ton of noise to break through.

Healthcare construction projects have a better chance of getting noticed when marketing and communications experts are working in concert with the operations, legal, regulatory and finance folks from the get-go.

Four Truths

Once your team is in place, remember these four truths when shaping marketing strategy:

  • It’s about them, not you.

In short, stop talking to yourselves! Marketing and communicating about healthcare design and construction projects include first understanding the provider’s own stakeholder audience: what motivates them, what do they value, and why do they care? Healthcare marketers conduct formal and/or informal market research with a variety of groups, such as consumers, patients, employees, physicians, payors, business and civic leaders, and the media. Gaining quantitative and qualitative insights into these audiences allows leaders to develop critical intelligence that can shape plans and operations. Meanwhile the communications team gains perspective for segmenting and crafting messages that will resonate with each audience. Their goal is to inspire, educate and persuade – thereby grabbing attention and, ultimately, moving market share.

  • There’s no one hit wonder (channel) in healthcare marketing communications.

Communications tools and tactics – traditional and digital advertising, search engine optimization and marketing, social media, events, testimonial storytelling, video and animation, media relations, email marketing – are most powerful when deployed and measured in parallel.  No one method prevails. Successful multichannel marketing communications consists of selecting mediums wisely according to research, budgets and business goals.

  • If you can’t measure it, don’t do it.

When investing in any tactic, it’s important to know what’s working (and do more of it), and conversely, what’s not working (and change it). Furthermore, customer relationship management (CRM) and automation platforms provide marketers the intelligence to continuously measure multichannel campaign effectiveness. These dashboards can easily roll up to project or health system score cards, helping to hold marketing and communications teams and budget dollars accountable.

  • Bricks and mortar aren’t newsworthy enough.

Writing a press release or tweeting about your groundbreaking won’t cut it. Reporters get a gazillion email pitches and have difficult deadlines. They, too, are stakeholders, so give them something newsworthy that has interest and value to their readers, listeners and viewers. To build excitement, consider “counting down” publicly with clever milestone messages in multichannel formats. Provide packaged support materials such as market study infographics, needs assessments or population health analytics that make the case for the project.  And include graphic elements such as renderings, master plan drawings, video tours or time-lapse photography to increase the likelihood of securing airtime and hold the attention of viewers, website visitors, etc.

So, if you build it, will they come?

To build your field of dreams, invite a marketing communications expert to pull up a chair to the planning table. When embedded in the process, a real pro can develop a winning strategy to build awareness and, more importantly, long-term success before the season even begins.


Nicole Kleinpeter is a vice president with Lovell Communications – a strategic public relations, marketing and crisis communications firm specializing in healthcare. Nicole has deep experience developing robust, data-driven approaches to marketing, public relations and advertising. Prior to joining the agency, she worked in marketing and communications for a large health system in Louisiana. Nicole was also the recipient of the Rising Star Award from the American Hospital Association’s Society for Healthcare Strategy (SHSMD) and Market Development in 2015. For more information on Lovell Communications – which has offices in Nashville, Louisville and Baton Rouge – go online to lovell.com