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Jul 09, 2009
Case Study

Combine PR, Branding, and Lead-Gen to Market Through the Recession: 6 Steps

SUMMARY: Marketing budgets are often the first to get cut when a recession hits. But if you’re marketing high-end products with long sales cycles, pulling back during the downturn can put you behind the pack when the economy turns around and buyers are ready to spend again.

See how a health care IT marketer bucked the urge to hold back and instead launched a coordinated PR, branding and lead-generation campaign. Using well-placed thought-leadership articles, direct mail, and targeted emails customized for each prospects' very specific pain point, they’re filling their pipeline with warm leads at a time when others are holding back....

Matt Barker, Director Marketing, TeleHealth Services, knew 2009 was going to be a difficult year. His company sells interactive television and patient education systems for hospitals, and industry reports said that IT spending by health care companies was down.

At the same time, he felt that cutting marketing during the recession could put his company at a disadvantage when the economy turned around. With sales cycles of up to 6 months, he needed to keep potential buyers aware of his products even if they didn’t have a budget in place right now.

"Health care IT spending is down, and we’ve got a fairly high-end product, but what do we do to really make sure we’re out in marketplace, still take what we can out of marketplace, increase our market share, and establish our brand?"


Barker and his team adopted a strategy they call "canopy marketing," that, like the canopy in a jungle, has several layers with different functions. The top layer, like the canopy’s leaves, provides broad brand coverage, while the lowest level -- targeted lead generation campaigns -- occupies the roots and ground level.

They applied that strategy to a multi-channel marketing campaign for one of the company’s patient education products, the TIGR Education System. The plan included:
- A PR effort to establish his company as a thought leader
- A multi-channel branding campaign
- Targeted email and sales team follow-up to generate warm leads

Here are six steps they took to put their canopy marketing strategy into action:

Step #1. Enlist sales team to record recent sales

Barker and his team needed a clear accounting of where their products were making a difference in the marketplace. That information would help them create a PR strategy.

They established a "win form" for the sales team, which recorded recent deals, the pain-points hospitals were experiencing, and how the company’s products alleviated those pains.

The win form was a one-page Word document that asked sales representatives to record:
o Name of client
o Contacts at hospital
o Products they chose
o Specific pain points
o How the client envisions our products remedying pains

Each time a sales representative closed a deal, they emailed a completed win form to Barker’s team to form the basis of a new press release (see Step #2).

"It started off slowly, but once they started seeing their name in lights, so to speak, it really caught on, and the sales team enjoyed it."

Step #2. Send press releases documenting recent sales

Barker’s team used win forms to write press releases highlighting the company’s recent sales. The press releases described the product they chose, the challenges the hospital was facing, and featured quotes from the customer describing why they chose TeleHealth services.

Barker’s team distributed press releases through newswire services, such as PR Newswire, but also used Google Alerts to find relevant health care industry trade publications.

- When an article on subjects like "health care IT" appeared in their alert, the team went to the publication’s website to find contact information for an editor.

- They added that editor’s name and address to their list of media outlets for press release distribution.

- They also gave press releases to the sales team to use for sales support.

"If a prospect says, ‘This is my pain, do you have any other customers like that?’ they have a press release to hand back to new prospect showing exactly the same pain, and how we can help."

Step #3. Write thought-leadership articles and land executive interviews in trade publications

Getting customer sign-off on a press release can be a slow process in the health care industry. For example, it took Barker and his team about six months to get one press release approved by a hospital customer.

As a result, the team needed additional media coverage to fill in the gaps between press releases.

During the process of collecting win forms and creating press releases, the team noticed several common pains among clients. Based on those common pains, they wrote a series of articles that described how the company’s products addressed major hospital concerns, such as:

- The current nursing shortage, and how the TIGR system automates certain tasks and frees nurses to focus on patient care.

- How patient information systems can improve patient satisfaction scores, which play a role in a hospital’s accreditation process.

Barker pitched these bylined articles to publications in his media database. He also offered company executives as interview subjects on patient education or health care IT topics.

"When the economy does turn around, in most cases in the health care setting, a hospital is going to get three bids regardless," says Barker. "You’re not going to be the only player in the game, so by establishing your thought leadership, prospects will see you as a leader in that space."

Step #4. High-level branding campaign

With the PR effort well underway, the team launched a branding campaign for the TIGR Education System. The campaign used online and print advertisements in trade publications, alongside direct mail pieces, to provide a broad overview of the product’s features and benefits.

- The campaign’s theme focused on three key pain-points identified from recent sales:
o Improving the patient experience
o Improving patient education
o Improving patient outcomes, such as reduced readmission rate

- The team initially targeted its online ads and direct mail pieces at key decision makers and influencers in the health care buying committee, including:
o Chief Nursing Officers
o VPs of patient care services
o Patient educators

After the first mailing, they expanded that focus to include additional members of the committee, including:
o CIOs
o Patient safety and quality management personnel
o Compliance officers

- They created three direct mail pieces designed to resemble tools that nurses and other hospital personnel used every day, such as:
o A nurse’s clipboard
o A patient’s file
o A prescription pad

- The first mailer was sent to about 8,000 people at 6,000 hospitals. By the second mailer, when they expanded target audience, that number grew to about 15,000 people.

- Direct mail pieces were sent about one to two-months apart, to coincide with the time that a corresponding ad was running in trade publications or online.

- Because the mail copy was focused on product features and benefits, the call-to-action was minimized. They provided an 800 number and customized email address, and urged prospects to contact the company to learn more about the TIGR system.

Step #5. Mid-level lead generation campaign

After launching the branding campaign, the team began a more targeted, lead-generation effort that involved email and telephone follow-ups from the sales team.

They narrowed their list of 6,000 targeted hospitals to 1,500 top organizations, based on:
o Sales team input about their most desired potential accounts
o Institutions with a high private pay rate, as opposed to high Medicare payment rate, which were more likely to have cash on hand for investments
o Likelihood of having a need and budget for new IT investments, such as hospitals expanding or building new facilities

Then, they created an email message to encourage prospects to arrange meetings with a sales representative:

- The first email provided an introduction to the TIGR system, placing the value of patient education systems in the context of the current health care market and offering bullet points on the system’s primary benefits.

- The message included a stronger call-to-action, inviting prospects to contact a sales representative at their direct telephone number.

- They also included a link to a recently published trade article on the value of improving patient outcomes, which was generated by their PR campaign.

Sales representatives were instructed to follow-up by phone with prospects one week after receiving the email.

- Prospects who did not respond to the follow-up call received a reminder email one week later.

- Prospects who still had not responded received a second follow-up call another week later.

- They staggered initial mailings to groups of prospects on a weekly basis. For example, each sales representative sent the introductory email to the first 10 accounts on their list. The next week, when they began placing follow-up calls to the first group, they also delivered an introductory email to prospects 11-20 on their list, and so on.

Step #6. Targeted lead-generation with customized message

The team designed a third email campaign for prospects who did not respond to the mid-level lead generation campaign. This message was customized for each prospect, based on data about their specific institution:

- The team based its message on hospital scores reported by the Joint Commission on core measures, which provides information on institutions’ performance in key areas, such as treatment of heart failure and patient satisfaction ratings.

- Looking closely at this data, the team identified areas of improvement that could raise a hospital’s score, such as delivering smoking cessation assistance to patients with heart disease.

- They wrote what Barker calls "more aggressively worded" emails that targeted the institution’s primary pain point, such as:
o Raising satisfaction scores by empowering patients
o Improving patient outcomes with smoking cessation

Members of the sales team delivered this email roughly two weeks after their final contact with prospects during the mid-level lead generation campaign. As with that campaign, the email was followed with a phone call a week later.


Although the final phase of the lead-generation campaign is still ongoing, the response so far makes Barker confident that they made the right decision to market through the recession.

"It’s actually going very well at this point. I knew it was going to take multiple touches from all the levels to produce results," says Barker.

- The strategy has already generated 20 warm leads for the sales team, which Barker defines as institutions that are actively looking for a system and have a budget in place.

- They have another 30-35 leads in the pipeline that are being warmed with further details about the product’s benefits and value.

- One of those warm leads is "about 70%-75%" through the sales process and is likely to close. That one deal alone would pay for all three of the branding and lead-generation campaigns.

"Our budget for 2010 is coming up in a couple months, and it would be nice to be able to say, ‘We spent this amount of money, and we’ve already had 100% ROI, and we’ve got this, this, and this in the pipeline," says Barker. "It’s going to make [the budgeting process] that much easier."

As expected, the response rate to email campaigns has improved as the message has become more customized and targeted.
o The TIGR introductory email with the link to the published article generated a 12.5% open rate
o The customized email highlighting an institution’s specific pain point has generated an average 15% open rate
o Conversion rates for the two emails follow a similar track, with the customized email delivering a higher conversion rate

The team’s PR campaign was also a success. All seven of the articles Barker’s team has written have been picked up by a trade publication. And by developing their own press releases and thought-leadership articles in-house, they’ve been able to minimize the use of an external PR agency, saving 60% in their PR budget.

Useful links related to this article:

Creative Samples from TeleHealth Services’ branding and lead gen campaigns

PR Newswire

Google Alerts

The Joint Commission

TeleHealth Services

See Also:

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