Make it Easy for Customers to Choose YOU

We are in the midst of strategic planning with a couple of our healthcare clients. It’s easy at this stage to get lost in the process details. That’s especially true for us because we are all about the process and the facilitation. Our role is help craft a process and then support the client to conclusion. We tell our clients, “We don’t this to you. We come along aside on the journey,” providing guidance and tools to make it efficient, directional and productive. The visual below outlines our six-step planning process.

strategic planning visual

As I was sitting in my office the other night working on the details of the process, I thought it was a good time to step back and reflect on a big picture question or two. I recalled a discussion during a recent planning session about the differences between a patient and a customer. Patients come to us to have things done to them. Customers make choices about what, when, where and how they get stuff. As you might imagine, it was interesting dialogue between the clinicians and the marketing director.

In today’s increasingly consumer-driven healthcare space, how do you encourage the customer to choose you? What is it that makes for loyal customers?

In healthcare, there are eight steps any effective system can take to engender customer loyalty: Make it easy for me to…

  1. Find your providers with locations that are convenient and have the same look and feel
  2. Get in the door so it’s important to work on access, both physical and virtual
  3. Find what I need once I get in the door by guiding me along the way
  4. Understand the why, what, when where and how I go about getting what I need
  5. Know what it will cost me for what I’m getting, not just one or two parts
  6. Know what I need to do to ensure a good outcome because I assume you provide only high quality care
  7. Pay for what I got, not just one or two parts of it 30 to 60 days after the fact
  8. Get and provide feedback on my experience so I know what to do next and you know how I feel about the whole thing

Maybe that’s what the strategic plan should focus on: making sure we have the talent and resources to execute flawlessly on these eight steps. It’s hard to have loyal customers if you don’t make it easy for them to be your customers. Just like culture trumps strategy any day, ease trumps loyalty.

How easy do you make it for customers to choose and do business with you? 

Mission Critical – 5 Steps to Help Your Company Get Back on its Feet

So, your company’s experiencing a crisis. All eyes are turned to you. What are you going to do about it? Good communications and crisis management can help your company get back on its feet.

Assessment and Planning: The Value of a Matrix
One of the most helpful assessment tools is a crisis matrix, which organizes potential crises according to their 1) likelihood and 2) potential damage. No one can create a crisis plan to deal with every eventuality. The matrix helps you focus on the most-likely, most-damaging scenarios, and allocate resources accordingly.

Drills and Exercises: Don’t Get Rusty
Many companies put a plan on paper, but never actually practice it. Savvy PR practitioners develop “Crisis Toolkit” templates in advance, which might include a corporate statement or news release, internal and external talking points, Q&As and phone protocols for employees.

Crisis management experts, meanwhile, guide the company in drills and mock scenarios that help clarify roles and responsibilities. We often compare this to fire drills — you want to become familiar with what to do when there is no fire, so you can respond via muscle memory if a fire occurs.

Developing the Message
Most people want three things from communications professionals during a crisis: 1) Acknowledgement of what’s happened, 2) An explanation of what’s being done to address the situation, and 3) A means to provide feedback and ask questions.

Messaging is a great example of why PR and crisis management must work together. While PR is responsible for creating the messages, counselors and crisis responders also use that messaging on the phone or on the ground.

Getting the Message Out
Your company has developed fantastic messages, but how do you get them out? And how do you handle the influx of questions that’s sure to follow?

It’s important to ask who’s going to be the best at delivering a message. Typically, PR people are in the best position to communicate with the media, industry regulators and other internal or external stakeholders, while crisis management teams are better suited to communicate directly with the employees and families involved. Crisis response counselors are trained in how to deliver bad news to families and how to deal with the reaction. That expertise takes the burden off the company.

Dealing with the Aftermath
Sometimes PR professionals make the mistake of thinking their job is done once the crisis has been communicated, but it’s a smart idea to sit down, re-evaluate how the plan worked—or didn’t—and identify the next shoe drops or communication opportunities. It’s also a good way to ensure that support for your customers and employees doesn’t disappear now that the crisis is over.

Readying for “Repeal & Replace” in Healthcare Communications

Recent moves from the Trump Administration underscore the importance and volatility of the ACA debate for healthcare leaders and consumers alike. What’s less clear are the potential scenarios for “repeal and replace,” and how and when they might become reality. To help your team stay prepared, we put together the below infographic that visually captures a few possible paths the president and Congress might take—and a few they likely won’t.

Whatever the outcome, good communications strategy will help ease the transition for patients, providers and insurers. At Bottom Line, healthcare’s our business. We helped systems navigate the widespread communications needs when the ACA first passed, including advice on:

  • Making information visual and easy to understand for healthcare consumers
  • Personalizing the impact by using avatar stories to share examples for various consumer ages and audiences
  • Proactively gathering common questions and resources to share with consumers

Now, we stand ready to help communicate whatever the next wave of changes brings.

ACA Repeal & Replace

Practicing What We Preach in a Crisis

Last month, we experienced something we often help our clients navigate – a crisis. A water heater pipe burst in the office above us and water poured into the Bottom Line space, soaking our carpets and damaging our ceilings, walls and equipment.

office after flood

office cieling after flood








Luckily, our expertise in communications and crisis management helped Bottom Line get back on its feet in no time. In just two days after discovering our flooded office, we’d successfully moved into a temporary office, showing no change in our client interactions and project execution.

temporary office

Here are the five key rules we followed to make it happen—the same five rules we use when helping clients deal with a crisis situation:

  1. Acknowledge what has happened. After our President and CEO Jeffrey Remsik discovered the flood, he avoided the freeze, flight or fight reaction that often occurs in times of crisis, and instead took immediate, well-planned next step. He contacted the building owners, got the facts of the situation and outlined an action plan.
  2. Communicate immediate next steps. Actions speak louder than words—that is why we made sure we had potential temporary office locations when we told employees and clients about the problem.
  3. Communicate consistently and demonstrate action. All along the way, we kept employees informed of next steps and the timeline for returning back to our office. It was clear our top priority was to protect the health, safety and welfare of our employees.
  4. Provide multiple opportunities and channels to capture feedback. For two weeks after the flood, we facilitated daily check-ins with employees for them to ask questions, and to ensure the temporary office was working well and that they had everything they needed to meet client expectations. 
  5. Ask for help. The key to survival in a crisis is knowing where to go for the right kind of help – the earlier, the better. We were sure to reach out to our attorney, the building’s maintenance staff and the building owners to ensure a smoother, faster return to normalcy.

Click here to learn about another crisis we’ve managed. 

Happy Holidays!

In the spirit of the holidays, we appreciate you! We also appreciate good food and figure you do too, so we’ve compiled our favorite holiday recipes into a “12 Days of PR Holiday Recipe Book.” We hope you enjoy it, and that it inspires you to try your own. Tweet us your favorites at @blmprmke! 

Download a PDF of the recipe book here.


Happy Holidays

Marketing Guru Meet Public Policy Geek

Here at Bottom Line, we recently had the opportunity to be a part of the 2016 Annual meeting of the Society for Healthcare Strategy and Market Development (SHSMD) in Chicago and the Wisconsin Public Relations and Marketing Society’s (WHPRMS) 2016 annual meeting in Madison, WI.

Nicole Singer, our director of client services, facilitated a luncheon round table discussion of strategic planning at SHSMD, and I presented a session on the intersection of healthcare public policy and marketing at WHPRMS. The similarities in the responses at both were striking.

As Nicole guided the round table discussion, she asked how many of the participants were aware of MACRA (Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act of 2015) and recent changes in HOPD (hospital outpatient department) reimbursements. Half had never heard of these policy issues, and the other half said they had heard about it, but did know much. I did the same in Madison, and only one person said he was aware. How about you? Do you know what MACRA is and how it affects your hospital?

The responses underscored the points we made in our WHPRMS presentation: WHPRMS Policy Geek Meets Marketing Maven. Think about it. Marketing tends to focus on consumers and purchasers. The public affairs people tend to focus on politicians and policymakers. Yet they talk to and influence one another. Public concerns and unrest create pressure for Congress to act, while politicians often use strident language that defines “reform” as “death panels” or an “end to Medicare as we know it.”

In our Madison presentation, we covered how to protect and enhance your brand by creating stronger links between your marketing communications and public affairs strategies, and how to strategically connect with public officials around key emerging issues. We also talked with participants about how to translate complex concepts about healthcare reform, reimbursement, quality and transparency into useful and meaningful messages that resonate with clinicians, employees, public officials, and most importantly, patients.

Looking forward, federal healthcare policies include shifting to new payment models, including bundling payments for related services. Federal savings would occur only if providers were paid less in total than under current law, either because they would be delivering fewer and less complex services or because they would be receiving less money per service. Making larger structural changes to health care programs could help the federal budget, but would have a range of effects on providers and beneficiaries. Will this  potential conflict creates a downstream conflict between providers and patients?

As the “repeal and replace” debate plays out over the next several months, healthcare customers are likely to become more aware of the challenges the system is facing, and feel some of the ultimate burdens of the policy changes. How you communicate could be the difference between these two divergent perceptions:

  • The health system is driving us broke – and my doctor and hospital are part of the problem.
  • My doctor and hospital are part of the solution to a broken system.

Which perception are you likely to create with your hospital’s marketing and public policy efforts?

- Jeffrey Remsik, Bottom Line president and CEO

Add Another Feather to Your PR Hat This Thanksgiving

As we’re thawing the turkey and prepping the stuffing, we pause to honor the PR spirit of Thanksgiving! (We’re pretty sure community relations and a savvy dash of crisis management had a hand in that first feast.)

So we’re continuing the tradition with our Top 5 Media Relations Tips Inspired by Turkey Day.

turkey-1460850_12801. Build relationships: Whether around the New World campfires or Mom’s dinner table, Thanksgiving celebrates people coming together, sharing needs and gifts, and seeking new relationships. The same holds true for media relations. Connect with reporters and editors in a way that engages them for the long-run.

2. Get creative: The first settlers thought on their feet to survive. They looked for new opportunities and new ways of doing things–just like media relations pros do when crafting story ideas and pitches. 

3. Deliver delicious morsels: Reporters want the marshmallow-covered sweet potato dish … not the green bean casserole. Serve your stories with an extra helping of relevance, timeliness and local customization, and you’ll whet their appetite for more.

4. Think in courses: Placing one great story is like that first bite of cranberry sauce; you know there’s a lot more feast to come! Instead of petering out early, think like Grandma and plan several courses of outreach.

5. Never nap! While napping after too much turkey is a time-honored tradition (one we wholeheartedly support!), media pitching is another story. News doesn’t stop for tryptophan, and neither should your story ideas. Watch for ways to refresh and renew your media relations so it doesn’t grow tired.

Wishing you and yours a very Happy Thanksgiving!

And if you need a media relations partner for the other 364 days of the year, we’re your pumpkin pie!

Making Employees Feel Appreciated

What do employees want from their employer? Sure, a decent paycheck, health insurance and vacation days are important. But the ABC Company provides these benefits, and so does the 123 Company. So what makes one company more appealing to employees than the other? It’s the little things that show employees they’re appreciated. When comparing one company to another, the company with a culture of appreciation usually wins.

There are many ways to show appreciation that don’t require much time, money or effort. Take for example a simple verbal acknowledgement for a job well done. As the CEO or manager, taking a moment to speak directly with your employee to acknowledge his or her work can make a huge impression on that employee. It shows him or her that you’ve taken notice of the employee’s work. Employees, especially millennials, want verbal acknowledgement and feedback, and this is one of the best ways to show appreciation.

A handwritten note or an email is also effective if you make it personal to the employee. “I really appreciate the work you did to clean up the database. It’s not a fun job, but our next mailing will be more efficient thanks to your efforts.”

Other ways to show your employees you appreciate them include:

  • Unexpected time off. Consider giving an employee or the whole office a few hours off once in a while. For example, the first nice warm weather day or an afternoon in December to do some holiday shopping.
  • Bringing in treats, coffee or lunch. Food is always a hit, especially in our own office.
  • Inviting employees to sit in on planning sessions.
  • Holding frequent state-of-the-company meetings to keep all employees appraised of what’s going on in the workplace.

For some employers, it’s a big deal if their employees simply show up each day, dressed appropriately and use the tools they have to connect with customers. Appreciating your employees for being part of the team is also worthy of an acknowledgement.

We recently helped a banking client develop and execute a brand recognition campaign. As the new brand was rolled out over a six-month period, so too were small, but impactful, ways to acknowledge and recognize employees. One month employees received pins to wear at work. The pin had the new slogan on it, and if a customer asked the employee what it meant, it gave the employee the opportunity to explain the new brand and interact with the customer. Another month, each employee received a branded pen. The next month each employee received recruiting cards he or she could personalize with their name and hand to prospective employees. Employees loved the cards and felt empowered to help find the next great job candidate. These cards were tied to a refreshed employee referral bonus. Employees were rewarded with candy bars in November with a message that said the company was “thankful” for them.

The immediate impact of this overall campaign resulted in a lower employee turnover rate. Employees felt like they had ownership in the company and knew they were appreciated. It was a win-win.

If you’re not already acknowledging your employees, consider putting together a small internal focus group to solicit input on ways to start recognizing employees. A little effort goes a long way to differentiate your company from the competitor, helping you recruit and retain the best employees. 

If you were CEO for the day, what would you do to show appreciation?

Changes along the Career Track

Most PR pros thrive on variety, new challenges, and the opportunity to learn and grow. Life at an agency (or corporate position) is rarely dull! And with that fast pace and constant change comes plenty of chances to move or shift positions.

Landing in a new role can be intimidating and exciting all at once. Here are some lessons I’ve picked up over the years:

Intern Level

  • Ask questions. A lot of them! Don’t assume you understand something fully, and don’t write based on those assumptions.
  • Pay attention to how the agency works in addition to how each client account works. This will help you develop a good eye for business and strategy along with PR.
  • Try everything! This is your chance to get a wide variety of experiences. Never done media relations? Go for it. Afraid of crisis communications? Seek out opportunities to assist the team anyway. You’ll find out what you like and don’t like, and develop a broad skillset to apply later on.
  • Nail the details. Remember those AP style and grammar rules from school? Those standard PR formats? Apply them and perfect them during your internships so they become second nature as you advance.

Entry Level

  • Find your time management solution. Yay, you’re official! For many, that means managing a full-time workload for the first time in their lives. Pay attention to time management and find the best solution that works for YOU to juggle your new tasks. Learning it now will serve you well into the future.
  • Seek out new projects. Let your team know you’re ready, willing and able to support new work or projects beyond your current scope. You’ll grow your skillset AND prove that you’re ready to take on more.

Account Management/Account Leader Level

  • Learn your team. Congrats! Chances are you’re now responsible for at least a couple other team members. That also means it’s your responsibility to mentor their development. Take time to understand the strengths, weaknesses and interest areas of each team member so you can delegate tasks appropriately and foster a great team dynamic!
  • Master communications subtleties. Now that you’re in the lead on a project or account, it’s even more important to make wise choices about HOW you communicate with clients and partners and WHEN. Each likely has his or her own unique communication preferences. It’s your job to learn them inside and out. It’s also a good time to grow in your ability to handle tricky situations, whether it be a crisis or a challenging budget conversation—watch how those more senior than you handle them and apply those lessons to your own approach.
  • Listen. By this point in your career, you know the basics. Some of your best learning will now come from listening to others—co-workers, clients, partners, competitors. See what they do, take notes, and apply it to your own daily work.

Senior Leadership Level

  • Become a strategy guru. Strategy gives you the ability to think one step ahead (or five!). It helps you connect each individual tactic to a larger business objective, anticipate curve balls, and guide your clients away from upcoming cliffs and toward opportunities. As a senior leader, you will differentiate yourself most on your ability to strategize. Learn from others, learn from books, learn by doing.
  • Try your hand at business development. At this level, there’s a good chance you’ll have a hand in the company’s growth strategy and its ability to seek new work. Be creative and strategic about suggesting new areas to pursue, and engage in efforts to expand the business’s visibility.
  • Grow your personal network. Beyond focusing on your company, focus on your role and skills in the industry or in the community. Make connections, seek board opportunities, or invest in a cause you love. This is a great time to focus on your personal brand as well as your career brand.