Success Story: It’s Personal — Winning Over a Community

THE CHALLENGE

An investor-owned hospital company was the lead contender to buy a religiously affiliated, not-for-profit healthcare system steeped in an 80-plus-year history with hospitals across five counties.

This purchase would mark the company’s largest, most diverse acquisition to date. It represented both a great opportunity and a sweeping communications challenge.

For starters, the company didn’t have a track record with multi-hospital health systems. Instead, they were known for their work with standalone community hospitals. They needed to convince the local board of community leaders of their ability to handle something of this size and complexity, all in a competitive market. What’s more, they needed to prove they would honor the hospital’s faith heritage and the traditional culture of the community.

But that was just the beginning. In a town with few for-profit hospital success stories, gaining the trust of employees, physicians and the community was a tall order. Leaders recognized, however, that it was an essential requirement for success.

THE SOLUTION

With only three months to field a campaign and five counties to cover, a comprehensive plan was in order. We worked with the system to develop and implement a strategic communications and outreach program unique to the situation’s needs.

The plan called for:

  • A message platform to introduce the company, while respecting the local hospital’s mission, culture and heritage.
  • A tailor-made website for sharing vital information and updates. Given geographic challenges, this website emerged as the preferred communications vehicle. It proved the best source of information, provided a venue for questions and answers and allowed breaking developments to be shared in a timely way.
  • A one-on-one outreach campaign – because personal interaction is immensely powerful in this age of electronic communications. People trust people, not websites and emails. It’s easy to demonize unseen out-of-towners; harder to stereotype someone who has shaken your hand. At every key milestone of the acquisition, top leadership of the acquiring company led simultaneous events at each hospital. Regardless of location, each hospital felt equally important and received information at the same time.
  • A deliberate employee integration program, including in-person and online workshops, conducted well before the purchase was completed.
  • A steady drumbeat of communications, such as employee and physician-specific meetings and events, rounding on the floors, face-to-face meetings, regular updates through email and newsletters and the creation of strong news media relationships.

THE RESULTS

This acquisition was completed on time with no regulatory, legal, financial or cultural “red flags.”

Through a foundation of thoughtful and strategic communications during the transition, the company was widely perceived as a true partner who appreciated the hospital’s historical role in their community and who could be trusted to move it forward.

Less than three years later, the system is prospering and plans for expanded and new healthcare are under way. The system continues to be viewed as an essential provider of care.