If you are a nurse leader or other clinical staff member at a long-term and post-acute care community, marketing and public relations are probably not top of mind for you. In today’s healthcare landscape, however, there should be a bright line connecting clinical care and marketing and public relations practices.

One reason for the connection is the fact that quality outcomes are critical to today’s healthcare business strategy: Consumers, referral sources, and payers all expect quality outcomes from LTPAC providers, and effective nurse leaders play a critical role in driving quality outcomes and performance.

What’s more, consumers today have wider access to performance information, such as Nursing Home Compare and the Five-Star Quality Rating System, which enables them to make informed decisions.

The advent of value-based purchasing models, which use measures and outcomes to reward excellence in healthcare delivery, have incentivized referral sources to be more selective of their post-acute partners, thus narrowing their networks of providers. Nurse leaders have a role to play here as well.

In order to fully understand the critical role that nurse leaders play in marketing and public relations, it is important to have an understanding of each process. That said, here is a quick rundown of the principle functions of marketing and public relations within LTPAC organizations:

  • Marketing: Not Just Advertising. According to the American Marketing Association, marketing is “the activity, set of institutions, and processes for creating, communicating, delivering, and exchanging offerings that have value for customers, clients, partners, and society at large.” In short, marketing can be described as the process that moves goods and services from concept to customer.

It’s important to remember that marketing is not the same as sales, nor is it synonymous with advertising. Selling is focused on the process of converting prospects to paying customers, using techniques to get people to exchange their cash for your product, such as converting a tour into an admission to the center.

Marketing, on the other hand, is non-transactional in nature. Advertising is one type of marketing activity but marketing also encompasses developing demand for a product and fulfilling customer needs. In this domain, the nurse leader role may include reviewing the organization’s clinical data, benchmarking performance, and having meaningful conversations with the clinical lead of an acute-care referral partner to better position the organization within a preferred partner network, for instance.

  • Public Relations: Beyond the Press Release. Defined by the Public Relations Society of America as a “strategic communication process that builds mutually beneficial relationships between organizations and their publics,” public relations involves anticipating, analyzing, and interpreting public opinion that might impact the organization’s plans and operations.

Effective public relations management also encompasses counseling organization leaders on the public ramifications of corporate decisions, courses of action, and communication. For the LTPAC organization, public relations goes well beyond the press release, often including such domains as community/government relations, special events, fundraising, and conflict- or crisis-communication management.

Nurse leaders, as well as the entire clinical team, lead to success in many public relations activities. For example, a special event held within the center where the staff ‘s customer-centric approach is on full display is an excellent way for the nursing team to illustrate how their community translates its mission into action.

Marketing methods

Traditional marketing practices for LTPAC communities, such as advertising, direct mail, and community relations, continue to be part of most providers’ marketing plans. More and more, however, digital marketing is complementing traditional marketing. With 67% of the buyer’s journey happening digitally, there is significant attention being paid to digital channels, such as websites and social media.

Closely related to website marketing are inbound marketing and outbound marketing. Inbound marketing draws prospects into the website by producing interesting content, while outbound marketing (sometimes known as push marketing) reaches out to audiences with methods such as email, direct mail, telephone, event marketing, and the like.

A buyer’s journey

Since the clinical team plays an increasingly crucial role at each phase of the buyer’s journey, it is helpful for nurse leaders to have a basic understanding of the process. Marketing professionals generally view the buyer’s journey in three phases: Awareness (or discovery), consideration, and decision (or purchase). They represent the three basic steps customers take that result in a purchase. For LTPAC providers, there are two additional—and crucial—phases: retention and advocacy.

Here is a quick review of these phases:

  • Awareness: In this phase, potential customers (or prospects) are discovering that they may have a problem or issue. For example, a consumer may wonder whether his aunt’s memory issues should be of concern, or whether it’s a normal part of the aging process. A web search brings him to an information sheet on dementia symptoms located on your website. At this juncture, a prospect may have identified an issue and committed to changing his status quo.

  • Consideration: During this phase, possible solutions are explored, and a specific type of solution is identified. The consumer, having determined that his aunt’s memory issue is of concern, is now seeking the most suitable solution.

  • Decision: This phase comes when the prospect has identified the type of solution desired and has narrowed the search to a short list of finalists. There is still important marketing to be done once the decision (to purchase) has been made by a prospect, particularly in LTPAC, which brings us to the final two phases.

  • Retention: A decision of this magnitude requires decision reinforcement, which is where this phase comes in. At this point, the care team’s role in that confirmation cannot be overstated. The nurse leader is vital in ensuring that the clinical team provides top-quality care as well as a positive customer experience for the resident and for the family.

  • Advocacy: By far, the most powerful marketing message an organization has is the recommendation of satisfied customers, which is where the advocacy phase begins. By managing the customer experience well, brand advocates are created.

Quality clinical care, outcomes, and customer satisfaction are required in order to effectively market an LTPAC center to virtually any target audience — whether they are consumer, referral sources, conveners, or insurance executives.

At every turn, the clinical team, among others, to be sure, has a direct impact on quality, the currency of our new healthcare economy.

Nurse leaders interested in the connection between clinical care and marketing may wish to check out the marketing chapter of AADNS’ new resource, Essential Business Skills for the Nurse Leader.

CC Andrews is the president and chief strategist of Quantum Age Collaborative.