Heat Up Health-Care Sales

Health care is number one when it comes to capturing promotional products market share. Here are success stories and selling strategies for working with this lucrative sector.

When it comes to selling promotional products, there’s no more fertile market than health care. The industry’s spending accounted for 12.4% of total revenue generated by sellers of advertising specialties in 2013 – a greater percentage than any other single market. While ASI research shows that share was down a percentage point from 2012, a result that’s partly attributable to the uncertainties surrounding federal health reform, the fact remains that if macro trends in health care continue to play out as predicted, the industry may become an even more avid consumer of branded apparel and hard goods in the years ahead.

“Health care is one those industries that’s going to continue to grow,” says Paula Gossett. The senior consultant for Geiger (asi/202900) may be on the money with that assessment. The Office of the Actuary at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services projects that total health-care spending in the United States will grow at an average annual rate of 5.8% through 2022. By that year, the health-care portion of GDP is expected to reach nearly 20% – up from 17.9% in 2011.

The spending surge will be fueled, in part, by the aging baby boomer population and an anticipated rise in the total number of insured persons in the United States. As more people seek care and medical employment grows, ad specialty campaigns that hit the mark can potentially form pillars of initiatives aimed at everything from attracting patients to internal events and programs geared toward employee wellness and retention.

Get Creative With Employee Appreciation

Few in the ad specialty arena have capitalized on the sales potential of the health-care market like John and Sandy Libby. The team that powers HALO Health Promos, part of HALO Branded Solutions (asi/356000), works almost exclusively with health-care clients, executing blockbuster deals that rise into the six-figure range.

Such was the case this spring when the couple’s proactive work resulted in a sale of 14,000 emergency power banks to a hospital group – a project with a dollar tally of approximately $100,000. Bearing the group’s branding, the banks for charging electronic devices were given to nurses at five hospitals within the network as an appreciation gift for National Nurses Week in early May. “Our busiest season is December to May, when we’re working on projects for things like Nurses Week and National Hospital Week,” says John.

The roots of the Nurses Week deal lay several years back, when the Libbys set up as vendors at a function involving the Association of California Nurse Leaders. There the pair met a nurse with buying power who worked for the hospital group – a connection that led them to invite her to an end-user show HALO hosted some months later. Impressed by their expertise and the solutions they could provide, the nurse became a client, and has been partnering with the couple on projects ever since.

For 2014’s Nurses Week campaign, the Libbys worked with this long-standing customer and a committee of nurses. Eager to ensure the hardworking staffers would receive a product they love, the Libbys presented an array of samples. The selection process included having nurse executives at the five hospitals evaluate about a dozen items. From there, the list of products was narrowed down to five: the power bank, a tote bag, lunch bag, blanket and water bottle. The Libbys had logoed samples of these produced, and again provided them to nurse executives, who showed them to select staffers to get a feel for what gift would be most desired. The power bank won out. “We were looking for something new that would get their attention, and this was it,” says Sandy.

A former health-care executive who served on the Board of Directors of the Hospital Association of Southern California, John’s background combines with Sandy’s ad specialty expertise to give the Libbys a distinct advantage in pursuing clients in the medical market. Still, account executives can build sales with health-care buyers through consultative service and strategic marketing, such as the e-mail blasts the Libbys send to specific health-care market segments. These include nurses and hospital HR departments. “The more you understand the hospital environment and the needs of the different buyers, the better you can do,” says John.

Provide Product Packages for Hospital Events

Like John, Karen Hunter worked in the health-care industry before she started excelling in the world of promotional products sales. While the prior professional experience helps the owner of Head of the Hunt [an authorized Kaeser and Blair (asi/238600) dealer] relate, it’s Hunter’s expertise in providing value on every promo campaign that truly keeps buyers loyal.

Such a performance was in evidence recently when she took the reins for a “Take Your Child To Work Day” event, which was being hosted by the corporate office of a large health network with many hospitals.

The campaign had a lot of moving parts. For starters, the age range of the end-users was broad – from preschoolers to 12 year-olds, boys and girls. Plus, products had to correspond to specific activities the children were participating in, and tie into the event theme of encouraging safe and healthy lifestyles. If that wasn’t enough, Hunter had to ensure the colors of various products were precisely coordinated – no easy task when sourcing from multiple suppliers.

Fortunately, she was prepared to present a variety of viable ideas. “When I go to trade shows, I always keep my clients in mind when I get samples,” she says. “Because of that, I was able to show them a lot of stuff firsthand. That hands-on aspect is very important. They like to see it and feel it.”

In all, the client ordered 100 product packages that consisted of seven products, including a pedometer, whistle, mini flashlight, flyer, pencil and a Johnny Applehead bookmark with the slogan “An apple a day.” The items were packaged in a kid-friendly drawstring backpack. All the products featured the health network’s branding. Hunter’s fun package of goodies thrilled the client, thereby enhancing the organization’s already strong sense of loyalty. “The relationship is growing,” she says.

Help Pump-Up Their Patient Numbers

For six months, Think Promotional Products (asi/242801) persisted in wooing a health-care corporation with 20 medical clinics across Texas. When the Think team finally got its chance to prove what it could do, the promo pros made the most of the opportunity with a promotion that generated return on investment that had the client raving – and ready to work with Think time and again.

Taking a consultative approach, Think learned that the company aimed to increase its pediatric patient numbers, particularly by encouraging mothers to come in at recommended intervals to have their children immunized. Through discussions with decision-makers, Think ascertained the client’s current marketing – direct mail – was failing to lasso the necessary number of patients. Instead of trying to revive the ineffective snail mail initiative, Think took a more creative track. “We decided to focus on patient retention,” says Darlene Kirk, CEO of Kirk’s Global Compass, a management organization that oversees a portfolio of marketing companies, including Think.

Ingenious in its simplicity, the retention effort centered on digital appointment timers that Think sourced directly from overseas. As mothers brought children in for shots, doctors provided them with a timer that would count down the number of days until the next scheduled immunization. Featuring a magnet, the timers could easily be stuck to items like refrigerators, which helped keep them in front of moms. The timers bore the clinic network’s logo and a customer service number that could be called to schedule an appointment.

Ultimately, the client ordered 15,000 timers and distributed them at 12 of its clinics. The result? A 12% annual increase in pediatric patient numbers. Think was able to verify the rise by working with the client to establish patient numbers before and after the campaign – a brilliant move that enabled the ad specialty firm to quantify its positive impact in no-nonsense, bottom-line fashion.

Excited by the results, the client decided to roll out the appointment timers program to all 20 of its clinics. As of press time, the buyer was readying to order another 30,000 timers. “They’re doing about $300,000 annually with us,” says Kirk.

Promote Illness-Prevention Campaigns

Flu season was poised to begin in earnest. A national chain of urgent care/occupational medicine centers was stockpiled with vaccine, ready to administer shots to the public – they just needed a way to promote their virus-battling preparedness.

Enter Paula Gossett.

The senior consultant for Geiger (asi/202900) engineered a campaign that drew people in droves to 150 of the chain’s centers across the U.S. Not only did the approximately $23,000 sale earn Gossett a nice pay day, it also laid the foundation for her to become a valued partner for the client – one who provides a multitude of solutions that are beneficial for the company and lucrative for the sales ace.

Through a referral, Gossett first connected with a person in the purchasing department at the chain’s corporate headquarters. From there, she worked her way into the flu shot campaign opportunity. “They were seeking to get more walk-in flu shot business and to let patients already at the centers for something else know that they could get the shot while they were there,” she says.

To start, Gossett determined to deliver eye-catching external signage. The initiative was complicated, however, by the fact that the centers were located in different settings, from storefronts to office buildings to industrial parks. To sufficiently meet the needs of each, Gossett provided a variety of options that included vinyl banners and corrugated plastic signs that can be stuck in the ground. Signage featured the chain’s logo, a graphic of a physician and text that read “FLU SHOTS NOW.”

To interest patients already at the centers in vaccination, Gossett delivered posters promoting the shots. These were put in waiting rooms. She also outfitted staffers in celluloid buttons that said “Ask me about flu shots.” Additionally, shot recipients were given stickers that said the center where they’d received their vaccination. Custom-printed Band-Aids formed a part of the promotional ensemble, too. “On the consumables like the Band-Aids and stickers, we had reorders through the season,” she says.

So immense was the promo campaign’s success that the client was also compelled to twice reorder its stock of flu vaccine to meet demand. Given that ROI, the chain enlisted Gossett to orchestrate similar promotions for allergy shots and back-to-school physicals. “Once we proved what we could do,” she says, “the door opened wide for us.”

Build Brand Recognition At Events

At Diversified Marketing Strategies (asi/181308), executive Andrea Pearman is known as creative commander. The unique campaigns she has conceived for clients in the health-care industry show she’s more than worthy of the title.

For sure, it’s the spark of promotional ingenuity Pearman and her team provide that has encouraged one fast-growing health-care system to remain Diversified’s client for a decade. “We bring creativity that helps them stand out,” she says, “and we always protect their budget.”

For the coveted customer, Diversified has constructed campaigns that enable it to attract attention at community events. Recently, Pearman and company pitched the idea of theming the health-care provider’s presence at events around a 1970s concept. Enamored with the outside-the-box proposal, the client invested in a pop-up tie-dye tent that bore the system’s logo and a smiley face. Inside the tent, the customer featured logoed products that played on the ‘70s theme, including tie-dye apparel, walking spring toys, play putty and more. The branded items – some 20,000 were ordered – were given away to event audiences. Says Pearman: “They wanted to give away memorable pieces that would be taken home and used – if not by the end-users themselves, then by their children.”

Significantly, the client was impressed that Diversified found perfect products at stellar prices. “We really take advantage of close-outs and specials,” she says. “We concentrate on making the most of our clients’ dollars.”

By combining that cost-consciousness with creativity, industry sales reps can realize similar success with health-care prospects everywhere.