LaSalle General Hospital Designs an Innovative Marketing Strategy

May 2015
Organization: 
National Rural Health Resource Center (The Center)

In the midst of a health care environment where many rural hospitals continue to “tighten up” or “do more with less,” hospitals look for creative ways to better use their available resources. LaSalle General Hospital (LGH), located in Jena, Louisiana, faced the challenge of many hospitals:  how do you reach out to the community and effectively market hospital services to physicians, other hospitals, and the people you serve without a traditional marketing department? LGH used their best resources – their frontline staff – and created a marketing committee! Center staff had the pleasure of speaking recently to this committee and some of the hospital leadership about this creative strategy. The committee currently includes Shellie Cockerham, ASAH, CPhT; J. Todd Fannin, RN, Nursing Supervisor; Kelli Tant, RN, Swing Bed Director & Case Manager; and Samantha Francis, RN, IT Director. By extension, the team includes leadership members: Lana Francis, Interim CEO; Carolyn Francis, RN, Director of Nursing; Jennifer Mason, RN, Director of Clinical Services; and Allyson C. Fannin, CPA, Director of Human Resources.

Q: How did you come up with this the idea for a marketing committee made up of frontline staff?
A: Through a Financial Operational Assessment (FOA) completed in 2011 by Eric Shell with Stroudwater Associates and funded by Rural Hospital Performance Improvement (RHPI) project through a contract with Federal Office of Rural Health Policy (FORHP), one recommendation was for the hospital to increase outreach to the community and tell LGH’s story. At one point LGH employed a single marketing staff member; after this staff member left to pursue other employment, the leadership team realized how invaluable this service was. While brainstorming, the leadership team questioned who among the staff might take on these duties. Someone suggested creating a marketing team composed of frontline staff members who would continue with their regular positions but work together on this project.  A brilliant idea was born!

According to leadership, these staff were invited to be a part of the committee because “they all present well, are not scared to talk, are not afraid of work, and they provide the very care they would be marketing. They’ve done the work so they have so much credibility with doctors and nurses and can better answer any questions.” This team has a variety of skills and while marketing is not their primary profession, they are the kind of staff who says “not sure I can do it but I’m willing to try.” The committee members all agree that they feel loyal to the hospital and believe in what they do; “(we) believe in what we sell.”

Q: How do you make this work?
A: The committee members meet formally weekly and also invite leadership to attend their meetings bi-weekly. In addition, being a smaller hospital, they get to see each other frequently throughout the day. The group is very organized and keeps a calendar of events at least three months in advance.  This is in an effort to meet deadlines and have marketing materials ready for future scheduled events. To get started, the committee met with the marketing representative from a larger local hospital who gave them tips and ideas for getting started. “We then made the tactics our own based on our own priorities and what would work for our smaller hospital.”

Q: What kinds of activities do you handle?
A: Almost anything involving marketing and public relations with doctors, hospitals, and the community goes through this committee. This also includes LGH Facebook posts, hospital-wide email notifications of upcoming events, LGH Website updates, and special community events. One area of focus is outreach to area providers and hospitals. To prepare for this outreach effort, the team created a professional binder that has a section for every department in the hospital. Their intent was not only to make providers aware of their services but also to increase utilization of these services. This includes Cardiopulmonary Services, Swing Bed, Home Health, Laboratory, Nuclear Medicine, Radiology, Speech, Occupational, and Physical Therapies, Pediatrics, Surgery, and Wellness. LGH also has two Rural Health Clinics – LaSalle Family Medicine Clinic & LaSalle Primary Healthcare Clinic – that the team reaches out to and markets the services of. Each section of the binder includes an advertisement page created for each department. Also contained in the binder are lists of every test and service offered by LGH and the clinics, as well as expected turnaround times. The committee solicited help from each hospital department to create the various sections and found it was a morale builder for those departments to be included in the process and be proud of the work they do.

The committee takes the binder as well as a “goody bag” with items bearing the hospital logo as they visit local and distant provider offices. They have found that providers appreciate this group approach because each member can answer questions immediately based on their specialties. This approach also works because the providers develop relationships with team members that are actually involved in patient care. The committee is always aware of the importance of continued marketing to their own local physicians as well as those in outlying communities. It was surprising how often they heard “Gosh, we didn’t know LGH offered that.” This reinforces the importance of a hospital telling its own story and not assuming everyone knows what they do!

The committee reaches out to other hospitals as well. They use this opportunity to share the services they can provide that perhaps other hospitals do not or to assist LGH in planning for patient transition of care as the patient is discharged home. Having this information also helps providers make better decisions for their patients regarding local, convenient, and competent services available to them.

The committee is also very active in community relations. In addition to formal activities such as health fairs, Special Olympics, and Relay for Life, this team has a talent for “going where the people are.” On Dr. Seuss Day, wearing their hospital scrubs, the marketing team visited an area elementary school and read several Dr. Seuss books; to reach out to their town’s new “Splash-pad” park, the members gave out sunscreen and lip balm with the hospital logo to kids and parents. During the local high school homecoming game, they provided T-shirts with the hospital logo (but with the school colors!) to the cheerleaders to throw into the crowd. It’s fun for the committee to see random people in the community wearing the LGH t-shirts. “We want to get our name in their (the community) minds.”

Q: What suggestions do you have for other hospitals wanting to create a marketing committee?
A: The group had lots of advice:

  • You have to be able to get past the secretary in providers’ offices to speak with the doctors, nurse practitioners, and physician assistants, so work on that relationship.  The group takes giveaway items that are useful to receptionists…pens, pencils, pads of paper, all with the hospital logo! On occasion, the group has also given out doughnuts and king cakes with the hospital logo stickered to the boxes;
  • Involve staff members who have a variety of skills. Some on the committee are very creative, some are good writers, some are good with IT, and all are able to speak comfortably;
  • Dress the part when visiting professional offices;
  • If you can get 3 minutes with a doc or other provider, it’s a good visit. Let them know upfront you will only need a few minutes of their time;
  • Good planning! Keep a calendar with deadlines and upcoming events;
  • Divide and conquer when creating marketing collateral and doing background work.
  • Visit provider offices and hospitals as a group. It is surprising how much the provider appreciates being able to get their questions answered immediately by the people who are doing the actual work;
  • Be honest with each other (on the committee) and trust each other. Not every idea will work out so it’s important to stay focused on the common goal and not individual egos.

It’s clear why creating this marketing committee has been an effective way for LGH to tell their own story. The staff involved is committed to what they do. “This isn’t just the hospital, it’s OUR hospital. It’s not just our livelihood but also our life’s work. We want to get that out to the people of our area. We care for people during tragedy and triumph.”

LGH is a comprehensive rural health care facility licensed for 49 acute inpatient beds, skilled nursing care, a broad range of outpatient services, ambulance service, and home health care and physician clinics in both Jena and Jonesville. Our commitment to the residents of LaSalle and surrounding parishes is stronger than ever, and we continue to strive to meet the primary healthcare needs of our entire service area.

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