February 23, 2016

Why Continuous Campaigning is the Best Media Buying Strategy for Hospital Marketers

The challenge with most of our clients and colleagues who market hospitals and health systems is how to grow service line volume with fewer and fewer media dollars.

The traditional approach many hospitals take is to carve out time periods throughout the fiscal year to market service lines. For example, Heart Month gets funding for cardiac promotions and Oncology gets a big push in the fall to be timed with Breast Health month.

It’s a common strategy that has many benefits. It’s simple, it helps the hospital to focus its efforts, and gives the marketer enough runway to plan out her campaigns for the year.

But over time, we’ve noticed that this approach has unintended consequences — namely, losing out on reaching prospective patients during other times of the year when patients may have medical needs.

Another unintended consequence is that if your hospital competes with other systems locally, it’s likely that your competition is on the airwaves during these prime health months.

We wrote about a new trend that benefits hospital marketers in our 2016 Trends Report called Continuous Campaigning. Today I’d like to go more in detail with you about how you can leverage this trend to stretch your media dollars farther and grow new patient volume for your hospital.

Before we look at the Continuous Campaigning model, let’s explore the traditional On/Off media buy. Following a traditional service line campaign media buy, you would block out a 60-90 day window and spend every dollar with online and with traditional media. You then would move to the next service line promotion and spend your investment, say another 60-90 days of on-air time.

Branding campaigns often followed this On/Off cycle, too. You might invest in a big branding push at the start of the year, taper off in spring, and return again in the fall for another media push.

There are many different approaches to Continuous Campaigning, but I’ll share a few to get you started.


In one version of Continuous Campaigning, you would segment your media buy so most of your digital spend would occur after your traditional media buy has ended.

Let’s use a cardiac service line campaign as an example.

You would run a traditional mix of radio, print and television to promote your cardiac service line. This campaign might go for, say, 90 days. Your digital media spend would be very light during this time period. For example, you might run retargeting display ads for audiences who visit your website landing page.

In the Continuous Campaign model, once the traditional media buy ends, the digital buy begins. Over the remainder of the year, you would cycle from a variety of different digital media strategies like Facebook ads, search engine marketing and pre-roll. This approach allows you to reach audiences who might otherwise have missed your brand and service line solutions if they weren’t “in the market” for cardiac services during your traditional media buy.

Because digital media buys can be so highly targeted, you’re able to spread your media dollars throughout the year. In effect, giving you a continuous campaign strategy.


Another approach to Continuous Campaigning is to take a page from how to build a snowman. A proper snowman, you’ll recall, starts with building a big base of snow, followed by two more, smaller circles of snow. The final touches include lumps of coal for eyes, a carrot for the nose, branches for arms and, if you’re going all out, a scarf and top hat.

As you build a Continuous Campaigning model for cardiac care, you might start with a foundation of traditional and digital media — your first big “push” for the service line.

Many marketers view campaigns as “One and done,” but the Snowman Media Build approach is that campaigns get better, bigger and more effective as time goes on.

So after your first big media push — the largest, first base of the snowman — you’ll return to the campaign and add new elements that launch throughout the year. For example, you might add new and expanded content about cardiac care to your website. You might offer a free webinar to your email marketing list on trends in cardiac care later in the year. You might launch a Facebook ad buy — the only form of media running during that time period to promote cardiac services. You might later develop a brand journalism campaign on cardiac services that runs independent of your overall cardiac marketing efforts. You might also create a direct to physician communications program that runs during quiet periods of consumer-driven campaigns.

In other words, after your first big cardiac push, you then build new, smaller campaigns that launch over the year for cardiac services. These new promotions might not be as big as your initial launch, but, taken as a whole, add up to a year long cardiac promotion — completing the Snowman model.


A third way to leverage Continuous Campaigning is to address those smaller service lines that are important to your health system but don’t justify heavy media spends. Two examples might include wound care and sleep disorders.

I call these service lines “long tail” in reference to the theory of large number of products that sell in small quantities, which, ironically, make up the bulk of most purchases. Whereas your hospital may find that cardiac services, oncology and bariatric surgery occupy most of the revenue for the organization, you might also be responsible for driving volume to smaller service lines.

Long tail service lines are aptly suited to a Continuous Campaigning media buying and marketing model. In your marketplace, hundreds of prospective patients may on any given day benefit from learning about your hospital’s long tail service lines. Since it’s likely you don’t have the funding to promote these services with the weight of larger, more profitable service lines, you can use search engine marketing and content marketing (for organic search results) to keep these service lines top-of-mind for interested consumers throughout the year.

For example, you can set a maximum per day search engine marketing spend that is within your budget and run search campaigns every day for sleep disorders or wound care. This way, your service line stakeholders know that your hospital is keeping the word out about the service line 24/7. When a consumer goes to Google for a solution, it’s likely your hospital will appear in search results.

Content marketing works similarly. You can prioritize long tail service lines to get more resources to content — new information on the website, blog posts, videos on YouTube — that help to extend the reach of these service lines to prospective patients. As you build out your content editorial calendar for the year, you can give more weight to these long tail service lines. For many hospitals, the investment is “sweat equity” — producing relevant content on a consistent basis. Each time you post something new, you let Google know you’re adding to the relevant content of this service line. In turn, Google rewards your brand with better indexing on search results.


At Franklin Street, we’re always looking for ways to help our clients and colleagues maximize their marketing resources. We’re excited about the Continuous Campaigning model. It helps hospitals to have visibility all year long for their key service lines.

Let us know your thoughts in the Comments.