I was reading “Advertiser, Beware” in the 4/22 issue of H&HN Daily when I was surprised by the very hyperbolic and negative comments on, amongst other things, hospital advertising via traditional or mass media. It was referred to bluntly as “a waste of money.”

My surprise became concern when I read further only to find that these comments appear to be unfounded and lacking any basis in research or fact.

I have spent over 40 years in strategic media planning and buying of all forms of traditional and digital media at major, midsize and small agencies, media management services and consultancies. I have worked on local to multi-national clients across a multitude of categories, including healthcare. As a result, I know well the concepts and learning underlying the establishment of business-driven objectives in the creation of an integrated marketing campaign. That holistic approach is the foundation of the numerous successful “TraDigital” campaigns I have created and executed over time. We do the same for our hospital clients at SPM.

So these comments cannot go unchallenged.

While there are mixed comments about marketing, creative and media planning strategies and tactics, I will only address the media planning related issues (my area of expertise).

Issue 1: “At least half of all mass advertising by hospitals is spurred by political pressure internally rather than established marketing strategy.”

This “50% rule” must be based on subjective experience. In my experience, there have been occasions when a Brand Manager, Division VP or Head Physician/Specialist offered their strong opinion on a media placement. But I can tell you, without hesitation, that this amounted to less than 1% of all the placements (I have kept some great notes over the years!) and none ever contradicted or jeopardized the marketing or advertising strategies. Nor did the management personnel who suggested these changes ever challenge the agreed-upon strategies.

Issue 2: ” ‘In fact,’ declares Bevolo, ‘the business case for hospital advertising—especially mass advertising—is extraordinarily poor. It’s notoriously difficult to measure the impact of the ubiquitous “brand campaigns” that are all about awareness and perception building and have no freaking call-to-action.’ ”

The case for hospital advertising, “especially mass advertising,” is strong at SPM. And the reason is because the first thing we typically do with our clients is to define, in detail, the metrics that will be used to determine success, what business objectives of which they will be measuring the success, how the campaign is supposed to impact those metrics, and how and when those metrics will be measured. To achieve these results, all SPM campaigns have very strong “freaking” calls-to-action. That’s a critical element of our creative process.

How does SPM’s media team contribute to the success of any campaign?

Most agencies define their role in or impact on this process in terms of media metrics (ex. Reach, Frequency, Gross Rating Points). But these metrics are static, and there are no factors applied to adapt them to different categories. Ask what the “best reach” is for healthcare, automotive or dog food and you’ll be told it’s the same.

At SPM, the media team’s role in the planning and execution of the campaign is twofold:

  • Ensure the placement of the right messages in front of the right person at the most opportune time for engagement.
  • Make sure enough of the right people engage with the message enough times for it to drive them to respond to the call-to-action.

Based on extensive research into healthcare behavior, media usage for healthcare information gathering and learning theory, SPM created a set of proprietary, healthcare specific parameters or best practices. This allows us to maximize engagement and response when people are in need of, or actively seeking, healthcare information for themselves, family or friends. This research allows us to plan and place a customized media program for a particular service line, event or other healthcare specific message. We refer to our approach as SPM “Aches & Anxieties” media planning.

I’ll share the results of one very interesting campaign example because it produced quantifiable results (based on a very specific call-to-action) that were directly attributed to a new way of using traditional media:

We recently took over all creative and media responsibilities for a hospital that had been using a heavy traditional media mix (broadcast TV/radio, newspapers and magazines) over an extended period of time. While results had been acceptable, they remained within a very narrow, constant range.

At the onset, we did a thorough analysis of the media mix, weight levels and scheduling strategy, and recommended the following changes:

  • Media Mix: Emphasize more response-driving placements.
  • Broadcast TV: Redistribute the daypart mix and weight levels to include more high-profile programming and buzz-driving placements.
  • Scheduling Strategy: Switch from flights separated by long hiatuses to continuity. (Illness is a 24/7 reality so we needed to keep our messaging top of mind.)

Within four weeks of launching the new campaign, referrals (the hard metric chosen for measuring the impact of this portion of the campaign) were double or triple those of the preceding months. The client specifically noted that the dramatic changes in media strategy and tactics had a direct impact and contribution on the two- to three-fold increases in referrals.

Issue 3: “But the effectiveness of mass advertising from a cost-benefit perspective pales in comparison to more targeted efforts, such as search advertising, direct mail, community seminars and more. Yes, some of that is advertising, but it’s the mass advertising that’s getting us in trouble.”

Forget the fact that the statement that “it’s the mass advertising that’s getting us in trouble” is totally unsubstantiated by any research or facts. It’s also placing the blame in the wrong place.

As our Red Paper “Is the Sky Really Falling on Traditional Media?” clearly lays out, the facts are that the primary target audiences of healthcare (Baby Boomers) are users of, and believers in, the traditional/mass media forms. In fact, TV and other mass media forms are still the best and most trusted sources of news and healthcare information for patients, caretakers and influentials (family as well as thought leaders).

Secondly, as evidenced by the results of SPM’s “Aches & Anxieties” media planning approach, if you target behavior and know what your success metric is, you can plan and execute a very effective and measurable media campaign.

So, I hope in addressing these wild claims against mass advertising that I have set the record straight. It is not the media or “mass advertising” that is “getting us in trouble.” It is the media-centric, often times dated approach that too many agencies take when planning and buying healthcare media the same way they would for hot dogs or hair care. Add that with the misinformation coming from the popular press and several self-appointed media pundits, and that’s where the trouble lies.

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Mike Lynn

Mike Lynn

Vice President, Director of Integrated Media at SPM Marketing & Communications
Mike shares in the oversight, management, and training of SPM’s media planning and buying team. He’s driven by what makes the consumer “tick” when it comes to their use of media to make healthcare decisions. Prior to joining SPM, Mike spent over 25 years at agencies just as JWT and FCB, developing strategic media planning campaigns for big brands such as Gerber Foods, Oscar Mayer, Kellog’s, and Jovan.
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