High Stakes

After M&A, Don’t Yank Your Marketing People Out of the Field

At risk: hospital fundraising, internal communications and community relations.

Dear hospital acquirers: Please resist the urge to axe your local communicator in favor of a home office messenger.

As jumbo healthcare systems are rapidly forming and centralizing operations, it’s more important than ever for their boots-on-the-ground employees to feel connected to their own hospital within the larger system – and for the community to stay connected with the faces they’ve grown to know.

When employees lose their point of contact for the larger system, they feel uncertain. And when they feel uncertain, they feel less engaged. When they feel less engaged, the hospital suffers.

That’s why leaders need to keep their strong, local communicators in place – even when the benefit may not be immediately clear in next quarter’s P&L. We’ve all heard the rationale for mergers, acquisitions and partnerships. Health systems say that hospitals benefit from economies of scale, that size is important to survive in today’s competitive landscape and that building a bigger system is necessary to brace against industry pressures still to come.

This is often true. But consolidating and streamlining alone isn’t a recipe for success. In fact, the healthcare landscape is so competitive that systems must simultaneously compete on a national level while maintaining a strong local reputation. Despite industry chaos, healthcare is still primarily delivered close to home.

Leaders understand this phenomenon when it comes to delivery. But just as people want to go to their trusted provider for check-ups and procedures, community members and other stakeholders are used to working with other visible folks at their local hospitals.

Communications isn’t the only function of a health system that leaders should be careful about consolidating. Earlier this March, Modern Healthcare published a piece about the difficulty of streamlining fundraising departments. The story points out that, not only does a large system absorbing smaller facilities’ fundraising foundations create legal hurdles, but it also risks jeopardizing relationships with board members and other donors.

In general, people don’t want to donate money to a health system. They want to donate to the hospital where they delivered their baby or recovered from cancer. They want to give back to the doctors, nurses and other staff who helped them. An umbrella organization seems faceless, and therefore less appealing.

The same goes for the marketing and communications departments. Often, these professionals at hospitals are the liaison between the organization and the communities they serve. They know the local events that matter and have, often, over years, developed relationships necessary to support the organization during good times and mobilize advocates during crises or challenges. They are also, in the best of circumstances, deeply knowledgeable about the tone, style and communications process that work the best for their market. They have a read on their employees and know the communications channels that work for each hospital’s unique culture.

We understand that systems want to create consistency in their messaging. And we know that’s difficult to do when there are more voices out in the field to corral. But we also know it’s possible to provide consistent messaging without threatening the relationships built by local communicators.

Consider:

  • Use your local communicators as sources of information about the vital relationships in local markets that are critical to the hospital’s success.
  • Learn from their unique communication strategies – internal and external – and leverage the best ones across the entire system.
  • Establish a clear infrastructure for communicators in local markets to report to the corporate communications professional who is responsible for the entire system.

 

Have Our Thinking Delivered to Your Inbox »