Balancing Reach Objectives And Community Outreach

Integral to a medical center's success is in its ability to build a relationship with the community/ies it serves. As such, community support is an integral part of the marketing objective. However, along with community-driving efforts, media must first establish awareness in the community. Media objectives must be carefully balanced; alone, neither objective can fully support a medical center. The balance and prioritization has a complex web of factors. This balance must take into account many variables, including:
  • Target media consumption habits
  • Competitive activity, and market share growth goals
  • Creative and brand message
  • Size of market, and footprint of the medical center

Media's involvement in community outreach should be clarified before delving into the variables. Media can serve two distinct functions in supporting a hospital's community objectives: (1) support of PR & Event initiatives, via leveraging media partnerships and dedicated weight communicating initiatives, or (2) media placements in community channels, to align the brand as a pillar in the community. Today's discussion refers to the latter -- when priority is given to media placements in community channels, or to driving awareness within a market.



First and foremost, the media plan should follow your target, to provide opportunity to consume your message. Often in healthcare marketing, channel placement is determined by perceptions of the ideal environment, disregarding quantitative analysis of target consumption. Channels added for relevant environment or content, without analysis of consumer consumption, is wasted spend. An example would be prioritizing a neighborhood paper with a low target concentration/ composition over a regional issue of a national newspaper, with much higher reach and composition numbers.

While most will agree that the target should drive media channel selection, strategies to counter a competitive environment are just as important. And it is far more complicated. If a hospital is top in the market or region, their media strategy could focus on more community involvement, to further imbed itself within the community. However a hospital trying to gain share would need to focus more on increasing reach. Likewise in a competitive market, higher weight levels may be needed to rise above the "noise" of the competition.

As with the competitive market, creative messaging can greatly affect the balance between community and awareness support. With a sustained message, each campaign builds upon a pre-existing foundation of brand awareness. Depending on the other variables, community initiatives can be the primary support with a consistent message. When creative messaging or branding goes through significant change however, that foundation is weakened, and may collapse without increased media weight levels.

High-reach media support can minimize declines in awareness, and should be considered the foundation to successful messaging changes. In one market, a hospital changing its name tripled media spend for two years to keep awareness from free-falling -- no small commitment. Less major changes don't require such drastic media surges, but hospitals should keep in mind the price of losing awareness in the market is often more substantial than the price of increasing the media support. Without a surplus of funds, community initiatives often can't be sustained at previous levels during a rebrand.

And finally, the hospital's footprint may dictate the balance between community support and market-wide reach. In larger markets, a hospital may primarily serve a small part of the community only. Market-wide media support in this situation will have considerable waste and expense, with localized, community support providing more efficient coverage. Because of this, their marketing strategies would inherently focus more on community support, concentrated enough to drive engagement.

One thing that is certain: no two hospitals are alike. The balance between awareness-driving media and community initiatives must be adjusted to fit the situation. And until awareness goals have been met, the focus of media's role should be to drive reach and brand awareness first, community support second.

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