Senior Living Marketing: In-House Versus Agency

Senior living marketing: In-house versus agency

In a competitive senior living environment, marketing an organization’s unique story and capabilities is essential. Whether you operate an independent or assisted living community, a PACE program, skilled nursing facility or memory care program, you compete locally for the attention of those who need — or know someone who needs — your services.

In today’s media-saturated landscape, catching the attention of prospective residents, family members or other influencers is challenging. The question is not whether you need to apply time and money to market your services but rather who should do the marketing work: an in-house team or a marketing agency?

All operators have basic marketing needs, such as a website that can function on all platforms, including mobile. You need a defined brand, with a logo, graphic standards and collateral, including a business system (letterhead, business cards, etc.) and marketing literature. This might include a pocket folder, sell sheets, applications, brochures and more. These basics are the easy part.

To bridge to the next level and reach prospects wherever they get trusted information, operators should consider inbound marketing tools that help convert strangers to visitors who will then become leads and hopefully customers. Then you’ll want those customers to spread the good word to their network.

Reaching this level requires marketing tools such as good content marketing (a blog, press outreach), email marketing, gated content on your website, good calls to action, landing pages and thank-you pages on your website to capture lead information, and varying levels of traditional and digital advertising, including Google Adwords and Facebook ads.

To get here, evaluate your in-house staff expertise and weigh that against what it will cost to outsource these vital technical services needed to gain leads. It is also important to consider what you really want your in-house marketing people — typically hired to build community relationships, give great tours, and manage and close leads — doing with their time. Is it wise to have them fielding calls from media ad reps, planning and conducting direct mail campaigns, or ensuring your website is built and maintained on a platform that is search engine optimized, mobile and secure? In many cases, expecting in-house staff to have this knowledge and skill is unrealistic.

Yet, some organizations favor in-house marketing staff because management feels they can save money, maintain control, and achieve continuity and convenience. However, these considerations are actually myths. Consider the following eight reasons why an agency can accelerate your lead-generating efforts:

  1. People — Rather than hiring marketing personnel to do everything, hire them to do what you most need: Be effective relationship builders and closers who can build occupancy levels. Agencies know they must constantly achieve results or they can be replaced. Therefore, they attract competitive staff who are constantly testing new tactics, expanding their knowledge in marketing and pushing for an edge. And agencies are constantly lobbed curves, so they know how to juggle, problem solve and meet deadlines. They like the diversity of their work, and, therefore, like to present new ideas for how you can achieve your goals.
  2. Accountability — While agencies are like all organizations —they want to succeed —they also know they will always be asked “What have you done for me lately”? It’s harsh, but true. If you have clear goals, such as number of leads you’d like in a month or occupancy levels, your agency should be held accountable for results. Having one partner, in particular, allows an organization to know with certainty if your expectations are being met.
  3. Objectivity — If they are worth their salt, an outside firm should give you honest feedback and not be afraid to say “No.” We spend a fair amount of time exploring marketing tactics for clients, but we don’t hesitate to recommend against a campaign or expenditure if we feel it will not produce the intended return on investment.
  4. Experience — While in-house staff can be great, it’s hard to replace the value of an agency with a team of experts in email marketing, design, web, media relations, copywriting and advertising. Having a full bench helps you get the right help at the right time to keep your activities consistent and fresh.
  5. Creativity — Agencies thrive on being creative. While the month-in and month-out activities are essential, there is nothing more invigorating than brainstorming and testing new campaigns. Good agencies will involve current residents and staff to truly understand and articulate what makes your community unique.
  6. Convenience — Contrary to some thinking that it is more convenient to keep marketing activities in-house, it can be more convenient to outsource the work to professionals who will drive the work forward while your team keeps current residents satisfied and nurtures leads in the queue.
  7. Continuity — It would seem that having in-house marketing staff would help maintain continuity in your marketing outreach. However, we have worked with communities that have had multiple marketing staff retire, be promoted or, worse, let go. In many cases we are the longest standing marketing team member.
  8. Partnership — A good marketing partner is just that — a partner. They will constantly assess what is right for your organization and have candid conversations about what you should be doing to stay top of mind in your market.

While every senior living organization will have unique needs and market variables, in many cases partnering with an outside agency offers a continual spark and hustle that complements the good work of your in-house marketing and leasing team.

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