Metro Health On Message

October 19, 2007
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WYOMING — Metro Health Hospital’s recent move from Grand Rapids to Wyoming prompted the biggest marketing, public relations and advertising campaigns in the history of the 65-year-old organization.

The Image Group of Holland partnered with Metro Health to develop everything from a new logo to refrigerator magnets to an infomercial to yard signs to a revamped Web site, all aimed at making sure that everyone knew the hospital was “transplanting the passion” to Byron Center Avenue and M-6.

Motorists can’t miss the electronic sign towering over M-6 near the Byron Center interchange. The infomercial has been seen 14 times on WOOD-TV 8, WOTV-4, WZZM-13, WXMI-FOX 17 and Comcast Channel 12.

Internal communications was a major focus long before the hospital moved on Sept. 30, said Mark Tanis, Image Group president.

“There was a lot of internal communication that had to take place first,” Tanis said. “There were a lot of identities all over the place, different logos and things, that we had to pull into a common identity and a common message.”

“We spent a lot of time thinking about internal communications, culture, things like aligning the message with who we really are and aligning the goals with who we really are,” added Jim Childress, Metro Health’s vice president for marketing.

As part of rebuilding the Metro Health brand along with building a new hospital, Tanis helped the organization winnow down its corporate goals from nine to four: “best experiences” for patients; employees; physicians; and the community, a combination dubbed “The Metro Way.”

The Image Group then crafted a new logo, simplifying the previous multi-dot cross into one with four circles to reflect the refined goals and one in the middle for their title, Tanis said. The name was changed from Metropolitan Hospital to Metro Health to unite the hospital with its 10 outpatient centers and the 170-acre Metro Health Village development surrounding the new facility.

The first foray into bolstering the Metro Health brand began while the Wyoming facility was still under construction. The 24-employee Image Group and Childress’ six-person marketing team worked together to tout services such as same-day physician appointments and an average 18-minute wait time in the emergency room.

“We know from market research that we needed to be better known and more respected,” Childress said. “When you have a 12-percent market share, you’re just not as well known.”

Metro Health’s strongest penetration is Cedar Springs, followed by Lowell and Saranac, communities that are across town from the hospital’s new southwestern Kent County location, Childress said. So Metro Health set about convincing those patients that, thanks to the new hospital’s proximity to Kent County’s newest freeway, M-6, it doesn’t take any longer to drive there than it did to reach the city-bound old hospital.

Metro Health also is banking on the idea that the new location will open new markets, such as Allegan County, Childress said.

“If you look at the two major expressway spines that head south from here, (Interstate) 196 and (U.S.) 131, we think that’s probably the area that needs to be redefined as an area where people are going to consider coming to us for care,” he said.

“The time it takes to get here from Rockford, compared to the time it took to get to our (old) hospital from Rockford, is about the same: It’s about a half hour. But that’s also how long it takes to get here from Plainwell. Nobody in Plainwell ever considered Metro Health as a place to get their health care before, but if they’re willing to drive a half hour, they can now.”

To that end, The Image Group crafted and placed billboards, each with a message tailored to the location. “If you go to Wayland, you’ll see a different billboard than you’ll see in Rockford,” Childress explained.

The most generic version uses the slogan, “We’re closer than you think.” A billboard near the hospital reads, “Close to you, far from ordinary.” A billboard in Wayland says, “You’re only 15 minutes away.” Yet another, located near U.S. 131’s S-curve in Grand Rapids, proclaims “Nine minutes from downtown.”

“We actually had somebody make sure we were accurate on all of the drive times, and developed the message accordingly,” Tanis added.

Childress worked from a 14-project list that covered everything from newspaper and TV advertising to video production to signage and street naming, tours for VIPS, doctors and donors, employee orientation and special events.

Picnics at the 10 outpatient centers drew about 350 people apiece. Special bottles of wine, etched with the Metro Health logo, were handed out to physicians. Production crews worked into the wee hours of the morning in the empty hospital to create television ads. Tours conducted over three days in September drew 25,000 people. A retired hospital executive wrote a history of Metro Health, which was self published as a hardcover book.

Metro Health enlisted about 2,000 employees and hospital associates to spread the word, as well. Childress said with high media interest in Metro Health’s move, employees were fielding questions from family, friends and neighbors. To keep the staff on message, Childress’ staff created a packet handed out at orientation sessions which occurred during the six weeks prior to the move. Among the contents were yard signs which employees were encouraged to place at their homes. As they traveled around town, communications staff members randomly stopped and presented $5 and $10 retail gift cards to employees who posted the signs.

Childress said he was unable to compile a dollar figure for the marketing and communications effort.

Among the millions of words printed, broadcast and beamed in the Grand Rapids area about the Metro Health move, one remained in the background: osteopathic. Metro Health was founded in 1942 as Grand Rapids Osteopathic Hospital.

“Today, our physician mix is about 50-50 (osteopathic and allopathic),” said Ellen Bristol, communications manager, noting that Metro Health is a teaching hospital for the Michigan State University College of Osteopathic Medicine.

“One of the things you find out in market research: Joe Public doesn’t know what the difference is. It’s certainly not anything we shy away from, but it’s a whole ‘nother level of education we’d have to give to the public.”

From June 2004 to April 2005, the steel skeleton of the $150 million construction project sat idle in the middle of an empty, muddy field while Metro Health reworked the financing. 

“It was difficult to look everybody in the eye and tell them it was still going to work,” Childress said. “It took a leap of faith and trust at that low point that this was all going to come to pass. But those of us who were closest to it felt real conviction that we could say with integrity and honesty that we felt strongly in our hearts that it would happen. We tried to be very blunt and upfront and as honest as we could be.”

Tanis said the real disaster would loom with poor communications during a change as major as this one. “You can invest in a lot of equipment, software and different things that are part of the health care. Communication is as critical to the whole success of the move as anything,” Tanis said. “If you don’t invest in appropriate communications so that everybody’s on the same page, it could be a mess. It’s very, very important.”

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