To market with aged care.

Rhod Ellis-Jones offers five strategies to encourage families, employees and local communities to become advocates for residential aged care providers in 2010.

In a situation quite unique to aged care, marketing and communication is often not treated as a critical business function. Considering the risk to reputation and increasing competition in the sector, it’s perplexing. In most other industries and governments, marketing is viewed as a valuable source of guidance, directly linked to a business strategy.

While managing day-to-day tasks, marketers also research key market segments, develop strategies to solve business problems and advise the Board and executive team.

Throughout the industry, there are a number of common factors that require strategic marketing and communication planning. They include: employee retention, occupancy, safety, non-government revenue development and accreditation.

So as New Year approaches, here are a few strategies to strengthen your image in the local communities you serve.

1. Go local.
You’re opening a new facility. It’s the bee’s knees. It’s the perfect story for the front cover of The Australian. Why don’t they agree? Here’s some news. It doesn’t matter.

Although mass market awareness is important, aged care facilities generally have a local audience, well-defined socio demographically and geographically. Fairfax Community News estimates the majority of community newspaper readers are above 50. Whether it’s celebrating a 100th birthday or a Nintendo Wii tournament, update your local newspaper on the good work you’re doing. It raises awareness of the valuable service you provide in the local neighbourhood. If you go local, you’ll reap the rewards.

2. Venture digitally.
Older Australians are becoming increasingly web-savvy. According to a survey by the Australian Communications and Media Authority in March, 88% of Australians in the 45-54 aged group are internet users. This group includes a large number of boomers and when they are looking for a place for Mum or Dad, they’re going online in ever increasing numbers.

Whether you have one facility or 50, a website is a core marketing tool. Include an e-newsletter sign-up field and link it to an automated subscriber database so you can migrate to cheaper, faster communication that can be tracked and quantified. Search engine advertising is targeted and cost effective. The model is based on keywords, so it’s simple to assign words like ‘dementia care hawthorn’ if you need to fill beds fast. Be bold. Venture digitally.

3. Celebrate staff.
With turnover rates hovering at 40% and the cost of staff replacement at 150% of an annual salary, investing in employee motivation makes sense. Staff members often live locally and get involved in social activities. Handled with love and care, they’ll advocate the business. This year, create an employee communication system comprising newsletters, social events and reward programs. Celebrate achievements; make sure the nursing, ageing and employment media know about it.

In June this year, aged care provider, Benetas, ran the inaugural Benetas Aged Care Nurses Appreciation Awards in partnership with 3AW radio. Over a two week period 3AW asked the community to vote on-line for deserving aged care nurses. Over 80 nominations were received and four nurses got the kudos they deserve, at a critical time during industry debate.

Deputy Chief Executive, Sharon McGowan, says the awards achieve a number of outcomes, “We build our employer brand, attract the best staff, and give aged care nurses the recognition they deserve.”

4. Make families advocates.
Nothing beats word-of-mouth endorsement. Give families and residents the tools to promote your business. Look at the register of residents, there’s often a connection to a local identity who’d be only too happy to act as an advocate. Why not be a little bit audacious and ask families straight out if they’ll get involved in your marketing. There are some passionate believers right within your walls.

5. Think global.
By 2011, the Australian Polish Community Services has reported that a quarter of the aged population will be from non-Anglo ethnic backgrounds, with specific cultural and linguistic needs. Take a leaf out of Doutta Galla’s book. The Victorian provider conducts yearly multicultural audits to profile the ethnicity of residents and staff. Matching staff to residents improves communication, reduces risk and saves money as training requirements are reduced. Focusing on certain cultural segments makes marketing easier and more effective.

As CEO Mark Anderson says, “You don’t go to a pizzeria for sushi. We’re making sure our people know the culture and speak the language of our residents!”

This article was first published in the Australian Ageing Agenda November/December 2009 edition.