Rethinking Email

So just as marketers are getting comfortable with consistently bulking up their social media budgets, comes along a McKinsey & Company study reporting that email marketing is delivering superior ROI on virtually every measurable front.

Even as email usage declined 20% between 2008 and 2012 (ground that was captured by social media and instant messaging), the researchers report that email:

  • was 40 times more effective than Facebook and Twitter combined as a means to acquire customers;
  • was three times as effective in triggering purchases;
  • resulted in purchases that were, on average, 17 percent higher.

So maybe email isn’t dead after all?

The takeaways from the McKinsey study are compelling – but they’ll be followed by another intriguing report in a few months, and another new 2.0 platform a few months later, and yet another shift in usage after that.  So what’s a marketer to do?

Stay relevant.  Pay attention to this stuff and understand that not only will your budget need to change every year, so will many of your strategies and tactics. Marketing was never a static science – but it’s increasingly dynamic now.

Understand who you’re reaching and why.  The McKinsey study reminded me of a New York Times piece that looked at how irrelevant email is for college students, who typically prefer 2.0 media for communication.  Point taken.  But with nine out of 10 US consumers using email on a daily basis, we’re still talking about a highly viable medium.  Even if college students consider email for older folks, let’s remember that older folks have great buying power and are more likely to make purchasing decisions – at home and at work.

Have a good message and keep it personal.  The authors make an important qualitative observation that effective marketing emails are 1) personalized to the recipient and 2) connected to a dynamic website.  If you achieve a fantastic open rate – but send recipients to a banal or clunky website that doesn’t compel them to make a purchase or contact a salesperson, your marketing dollar was converted into a diluted branding effort.

Though the McKinsey researchers do not specifically reference it, the report certainly brings like to social media’s naggingly consistent shortcoming in regards to ROI – not just in actual return, but even in the measurement of it.  That reality certainly hasn’t hindered social media’s meteoric rise – and rightful relevance – in the marketer’s toolbox, but nor has it hammered nails in the coffin of email marketing.

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Transparency Making Headway in Healthcare

Poor communication can hinder collaboration and success in business and in relationships. I recently read an article about how Hewlett-Packard CEO Meg Whitman turned around their company by implementing more effective communication strategies.  She contends that, for a company to be successful, everyone from stakeholders to employees to customers must have a clear line of sight, thus a more transparent view, into the company’s strategy and performance, whether it is good or bad. She suggests that if you acknowledge your problems and issues in addition to your successes, people are more likely to build trust in your brand.

Most industries, especially retail, have caught on to the idea of transparent communication, whether that’s via social media or price transparency. One industry, however, is lagging behind this trend— the healthcare industry. It is considered a complex and misunderstood industry, and some healthcare practitioners still have difficulty in their efforts to be more transparent with their patients.

Modern Healthcare recently published an article encouraging healthcare consumers to demand price transparency. They equated it to being as simple as receiving a receipt for the services performed. They referenced that we, as customers, can go into a Dunkin Donuts and see all the prices laid out; if you don’t receive a receipt, your order is free. Now, the healthcare industry has a lot more moving parts than your decision about what to eat for breakfast, but, according to Modern Healthcare, this year employers and their workers will pay close to $900 billion for insurance coverage, making it reasonable for consumers to expect some upfront accountability.

According to Forbes, Dan Munro, pricing transparency is the healthcare story of the year.

In May, the Washington Post announced that the federal government would release the prices hospitals charge for the 100 most common inpatient procedures. When The Post reviewed what some hospitals charge, there were vast differences in price. According to the article, “Experts attribute the disparities to a health system that can set prices with impunity because consumers rarely see them — and rarely shop for discounts.” If I had to guess, I would say that 2014 will be filled with consumers demanding more information like the government’s reports to see what they are really paying for, causing hospitals to do more research on their end for the “best prices.”

Transparency in other industries has become so natural and expected; I think it will only be a matter of time before consumers demand more transparency in healthcare. They want to know what they are paying and for what services…. in advance.

What do you think about transparency?  Will the healthcare community be able to provide it? Where do you see this heading?

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Metro World Child visits Fox News

On Dec. 7, Lovell Communications and our client, Metro World Child, visited the Fox News studio in Washington, D.C., to talk about Operation Holiday Hope, the nonprofit organization’s annual campaign to provide Christmas gifts to inner-city children living in poverty.

Sitting down with anchor Uma Pemmaraju, Metro World Child founder Pastor Bill Wilson discussed how, after being abandoned by his mother at the age of 12, he chose to devote his life to helping children in need. Today, Metro World Child works with 100,000 children around the globe each week. And this year its Operation Holiday Hope program will provide Christmas gifts to 150,000 children in need.

Please take a minute to check out the interview.



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“Struck by Orca” A Humorous Look at ICD-10 and the Importance of Unique Healthcare Communications

Looking to buy a last minute gift for that hard-to-please medical coder, or just want to bring a little holiday humor to the hospital or clinic billing office? Well, look no further. “Struck by Orca,” a book of 32 color and black and white images illustrating some of the most unusual new ICD-10 codes, just launched its first print run.

Highlighted recently in Modern Healthcare’s business blog, the idea emerged after a group of friends began amusing themselves by looking up odd codes like W56.22xA, “struck by orca, initial encounter,” and V91.07xD, “burn due to water-skis on fire, subsequent encounter.”

While the concept may sound funny or dismissive to those in the industry given the amount of time and stress spent preparing for ICD-10 implementation Oct. 1, 2014, the release of “Struck by Orca” illustrates a very important point that is often overlooked in healthcare these days – finding creative ways to communicate changes that are, well, not so fun.

As professional communicators, we are often assigned the task of developing tools to deliver a message to diverse groups of stakeholders that can break through the noise. Often, that message may be complicated and we may fall back to tried and true tactics, like newsletters and brochures. The ICD-10 implementation, which increases the number of medical diagnoses codes from more than 14,000 to more than 68,000, is daunting, and a tool like “Struck by Orca” can bring some much-needed lightness among the sea of newsletters, brochures, emails, intranet posts, break room flyers and small-group huddles.

A book of humorous illustrations is not the end-all-be-all answer to internal communications, but it is a good awakening to the possibilities that exist when we think creatively. Oh, and the publishers are thinking about producing a countdown calendar for next year. Be on the lookout!

Looking for creative ways to communicate not-so-fun topics? Learn the 6 Secrets of Effective Hospital Internal Communication or share your thoughts and best practices in the comments

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Preparing for Successful Communications During an IPO

The U.S. IPO market is building momentum, and listings through the third quarter of 2013 have already outpaced the total number of IPOs for all of 2012.  Healthcare is leading this trend.  Based on the EY Global Trends Report Q3 2013, North America reported 36 healthcare IPOs during the first nine months of 2013 compared with 22 in real estate and 20 in technology, the next two most active sectors.  The largest IPO in the third quarter of 2013 was a healthcare company – Envision Healthcare Holdings Inc., raising $1.1 billion with its listing on the New York Stock Exchange.  At 9.3 percent, the median first-day return from healthcare companies outperforms the median return for all U.S. IPOs of 5 percent.  This strong market performance is expected to continue into 2014. 

A strong industry profile helps a company achieve a successful IPO.  Given SEC regulations and quiet period restrictions, companies planning to go public need to consider their communications strategies well in advance of an IPO.  Once a company announces its intention to go public and files a registration statement with the SEC, management will need to review its communications policies and procedures.  The SEC generally allows companies to continue their established communications protocols to support standard business activity.

Ongoing communications for healthcare companies is particularly crucial.  Corporate communications departments have important audiences to consider beyond the investor and analyst communities – physicians and medical staff, referrers, employees, patients, B2B partners, regulators, and the general public.  Companies with well-established communications procedures have a better chance of maintaining those policies and tactics for a more consistent flow of routine company news during the IPO process.

The head of communications for a pre-IPO company needs to demonstrate a solid track record of press release protocols, industry event participation, marketing and adverting strategies, and social media activity.  And because healthcare companies often face outlier challenges – such as negative patient events, poor regulatory surveys, medical malpractice claims and above average union interest – having a solid and proactive communications strategy will help prepare the company to weather those storms.

After a company files its registration statement with the SEC, even basic PR initiatives that were not previously part of a company’s regular communications plan can pose challenges.  The quiet period during an IPO does not necessarily mean NO communications, but companies need to approach their communications strategies thoughtfully long before they consider their IPO.

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Rock Star Healthcare C-Suite Panel at Becker’s Names 10 Top-of-Mind Thoughts for 2014

After a lively discussion on the financial and cultural impact of hospitals employing physicians, panelists at the Becker’s Hospital CEO Roundtable in Chicago last week were asked by healthcare publishing veteran Chuck Lauer what was foremost on their minds today about healthcare.  They had only 30 seconds to respond; here is a summary of their comments.

  1. Data collection.  It will be at the center of quality outcomes and financial reimbursement.
  2. Evidenced-based medicine.  Physicians won’t get “aligned” unless you show them the data.  They are scientists.
  3. Cost control has never added any value to patients
  4. We need payment reform and we need it fast.
  5. 90 percent of all the scientists who have ever lived are alive today.  Change will escalate.
  6. Patients need more skin in the game.  Providers need to better educate patients so they can more actively participate in their own care.
  7. “The changes we dread most may contain our salvation.”  With credit to Barbara Kingsglover.
  8. Providers need to be encouraging patients to have advanced directives.  It will save an enormous amount of money.
  9. We don’t have any choice:  If we don’t’ collaborate, we won’t make progress.
  10. We’re still excited about healthcare.

Looking forward to the next annual Becker’s Hospital Conference May 15-17 in Chicago.


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Talking About Hospital Quality

Good news, hospital marketing directors! The government shutdown message on the CMS Hospital Compare website has been updated and it looks like we’re back on track for a December 12 data refresh.

If the prospect of explaining your hospital’s quality performance (again) makes you feel like calling in sick, you’re not alone.  From our earliest years in school we learn that talking about report cards is no fun – particularly if a sibling or neighbor down the street has something to crow about.

But the reality is that hospital quality, in general, continues to improve. According to The Joint Commission, their accredited hospitals in 2012 achieved 97.6 percent composite accountability on core measures – an improvement of 15.8 percentage points since 2002.  So even if your hospital doesn’t score quite as well as a competitor in your market, you may be able to share a few positive sound bites with stakeholders and reporters to help bring balance their analysis.

  • Be sure to review all of your hospital’s scores and understand how the organization has performed over time. If your hospital is following The Joint Commission’s trend, odds are good you’ve consistently improved year over year. So if your scores went up in 24 of 28 measures last year, for instance, you’ve got positive news – even if a nearby competitor outperformed you on individual comparisons.
  • To bring context to the full data set, analyze your scores not only against your competitors, but against state and national averages as well. Telling an inquiring reporter that your hospital meets or exceeds state and national averages in 60% of measurement areas increases the likelihood they’ll look beyond the initial “who scored best” perspective.
  • Don’t forget to consider your hospital’s readmission and mortality rates.  Though many hospitals have gotten good at “taking the test” and performing well on core measures, mortality and readmission can pose a different kind of challenge.  Some popular analysis efforts, including Leapfrog and Consumer Reports, place greater emphasis on these measurements and can seemingly contradict strong core measure results.

In addition to Hospital Compare, healthcare providers and consumers (as well as reporters) can access, a transparency effort of the Commonwealth Fund that produces side-by-side comparisons of 4,500 hospitals nationwide, tracks performance over time and provides numerous benchmarks.  Unlike the CMS site, which provides somewhat clunky, measure-by-measure graphs among up to three hospitals, WhyNotTheBest has a nimble, intuitive interface that provides a numbered ranking in a visual format.  If your hospital performs well in their analysis (which includes core measure data, but also factors in information from the CDC, AHRQ and other sources), this website can be a real boon in your tool kit for educating stakeholders and the media.

If the data refresh still makes you feel like the flu is coming on, remember: transparency sites are useful tools, but they only tell a part of a hospital’s story, and even “refreshed” data is inherently dated.  Patients making decisions about hospital care should speak with their physicians, talk to family members and friends about personal experiences, and arrange to visit their local hospitals to be truly informed consumers.


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Smartphones: The Key to the Engaged Patient’s Heart

It’s official. I’ve joined the ranks of those device-addled people for whom one form of media is simply not enough. I came to this realization one evening as I toggled between email on my phone, shopping on my iPad and catching up on Netflix  – all while sitting next to my husband as he did the same thing. Though I may find this sudden inability to unplug troubling, new research shows I’m not alone. In today’s multi-screen world, our devices accompany us everywhere – acting as both companion and advisor. And while this brave new digital world may be eroding the art of conversation, new evidence suggests it’s making us better consumers – and patients.

For example, a recent Digitas Health survey found that patients who use smartphones in their doctor’s office are 80 percent more likely to switch medications and twice as likely to ask for a brand name. A separate study reveals that 38 percent of smartphone users say their device is “essential” for finding health and medical information.

Patients aren’t just getting their information from websites either. According to Digitas, nine out of 10 patients would use an app recommended by a physician. And “power users” – those with both a smartphone and a tablet – are 30 percent more likely to talk to a doctor about a mobile site or app and twice as likely to switch medications.

So what does all of this mean for health care marketers? Here are three key takeaways whether you’re selling prescription drugs or surgical services:

  • Go mobile. Now. Having a responsive websites and a strong social media presence is simply a must in today’s digital world. With the rise of HCAHPS, Meaningful Use 2 and readmission penalties, engaged patients are the holy grail for hospitals. The best way to reach those patients is to  meet them where they are already spending time: online.
  • Give them what they’re searching for. Patients are hungry for information and – increasingly – using their smartphones and mobile devices to access it. Make it easy for them by providing useful content through a website, blog, or social media channels – or better yet, all three. Be sure to search engine optimize your content to ensure it’s easy to find.
  • Build it and they will come. Don’t rule out building or buying consumer-friendly apps designed to engage and empower patients with information – before, during and after admission. InQuicker and iTriage are just two examples of apps many hospitals are using to allow patients to check symptoms, find the nearest ER or urgent care center and pre-register for care. Other apps provide patients with wayfinding maps, personal health records, medication trackers and even a way to record discharge instructions.
  • Let them connect to you – and to each other.  Patient communities, such as PatientsLikeMe or BensFriends, allow individuals with certain illnesses or conditions to connect with other patients experiencing the same condition.  Creating service-line-specific groups – for groups such as expectant mothers, bariatric patients or cancer patients – can help a provider promote specialists, increase awareness about services and build loyalty among affinity groups.

Today’s patient isn’t just searching for information – they’re searching for a reason to act. What are you doing to give them one?


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Three Reasons to Join the Mobile Marketing Mayhem

We love our phones and depend on them to talk, shop, navigate, connect, photograph and research. Most of us would be lost without our beloved technology sidekick.

It’s not shocking that findings from a recent survey reported 68 percent of people sleep by their phone and 66 percent would choose taking their phone to work over their lunch. Our phones are with us all day, every day which is why they are such effective marketing tools for businesses.

Have you considered a mobile marketing campaign? Is your company web site built appropriately for mobile use? If you answered no, here are three reasons why you should sharpen your mobile marketing skills.

1.       Mobile Web Use May Surpass Desktops by 2015

According to Morgan Stanley analysts, there will be a dramatic shift towards mobile web use in the next few years. So much so that Google just launched a new algorithm called Hummingbird that, according to Forbes Magazine, will help Google better perform as it provides users with mobile web search results. What does that mean for companies? You must have a mobile friendly site that includes a strategy for providing users with easy to view content. As Forbes mentions, think large fonts, eye-catching images, responsive design, videos and concise, actionable content. Reaching your customers via their phone is going to increase in popularity, so get on board.

2.       Mobile Marketing Budgets Have Increased by 142% since 2011

The Interactive Advertising Bureau conducted a mobile marketing study in 2011 and bench marked it against a similar study conducted this year and found that companies surveyed had significantly increased their mobile marketing spend over the last two years. In fact, the trend looks to continue as one in five marketing executives surveyed said they expect to increase their budget by another 50 percent by 2015. Companies understand the importance of mobile marketing and are making the investment.

3.       80 Percent of Smartphone Users Want Consumer Driven Text Messages reports that mobile messaging company mBlox conducted a study among smartphone users and found the majority surveyed were incredibly receptive to receiving text messages that pertained to coupons or deals…as long as they have opted in to receiving the messages. So, are the days of searching the newspaper for the weekly coupons nearing extinction? Stacy Adams, vice president of marketing for mBlox said, “We see SMS and push as a missed opportunity for marketers. So when you look at that, combined with the fact that 4 billion people in the world have mobile phones and thus have access to SMS and text messages, that means SMS has more users than Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn combined.” Again, we basically sleep with our phones so notifying your customers of important information via texts is an effective approach.

So, put your phone down and give mobile marketing some thought.


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Communicating for the C-Suite: How to write for the CEO

Want to write something fresh for the CEO? Scratching your head over how to make the CFO seem more multi-dimensional?  Tired of having legal eviscerate your press releases?

Communicating for the C-suite can be challenging.  Corner offices tend to be populated by strong minded, fast thinking, hard driving professionals who don’t have a lot of time for rewrites or coming up with just the right word.

That’s our jobs as professional communicators.  But it doesn’t take many emails from the C-suite to realize there is a big difference between writing well and writing well for a particular person.

I hope to do several posts in the coming weeks looking at how to communicate for the C-suite, which can be a place of very varied personalities and tastes.  We’ll start with the CEO.

First, it’s important to consider the person in the corner office – and the character as well. Typically, chief executives are the visionary of the organization: proactive thinkers and, often, charismatic entrepreneurs.  Consider what your CEO is like as a person and a professional, and seek to understand his or her voice and priorities.

Next, think about their main audiences.  This can be tricky, because chief executives are often the face of the organization and the lead spokesperson to many – if not most – stakeholders. Focusing on a CEO’s main external audiences, you’ll likely want to consider customers (not necessarily end users), investors, competitors and media on the list; for CEOs of publicly traded companies, add analysts, shareholders, regulators and the financial media.

Lastly, consider the primary concerns for a chief executive and you’ll have the topics about which he or she will most need to communicate.  (And if a topic is not a primary concern, consider if the CEO should speak to it all: CEOs are strategists, so keep their communications well above mundane tactical matters). Company heads are generally focused on “big picture” matters like growth, strategic opportunity and performance. And more so than others in the executive suite, they are sensitive to reputation and perception issues, and often more attentive to the company’s relationships and strategic partners.

On the quirky side, that focus on relationships can sometimes make CEOs the more emotional members of the executive team.  Unlike the uber-analytical CFO or legalistic general counsel, CEOs often approach their jobs more personally and can be sensitive to criticism.  They are prone to middle of the night revelations (and emails) and are more likely to be hurt (or infuriated) by a headline they find disagreeable.

So if the phone rings at 5:30am with a last minute edit to a press release, just remember: writing for a chief executive is an honor.  It provides the professional communicator an opportunity to see into the mastermind behind a company, and it allows you to contribute at a very high level. But never try to make them fit your style or voice.  Approach your writing assignment for a CEO with his or her personality, concerns and audiences in mind, and you’ll find yourself on the way to a fantastic final piece.



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