Wednesday, 10 June 2009

Partnership Marketing in the NHS

I attended yesterday (9th June 2009) the inaugural NHS Membership Conference presented by NHS Hull.

Reflecting on this, I think it’s fair to say that the event was a success. It was well attended by 70 – 80 senior NHS representatives, mostly from PCTs. The multiple speakers presented a lot of practical advice and ideas that participants could apply, if implementing their own membership scheme.

As a delegate and sponsor of the conference, I listened with interest to find some great examples of marketing at work in the NHS. Given that my company has provided services for NHS Hull’s Membership Scheme and We’re All Ears programme, it would be rather crass to point out projects we’ve been involved in.

So, it was very welcome when I sat in on a workshop presented by Carla Ramsay of Hull & East Yorkshire Hospitals NHS Trust, along with Katie Colrein and Rachel Iveson of Humber Mental Health Teaching NHS Trust. This described a way of working that we’d had no direct input in ourselves.

Here I learnt about an excellent example of partnership marketing in the NHS. Identifying the potential problem of communication overload to the public within Hull and the East Riding, the Trust’s were, along with NHS Hull’s Membership Team, able to pool their resources to develop an effective communications campaign. A campaign that would mean that all participating trusts would go on to smash their individual membership recruitment targets.

In a nutshell, the philosophy was if we are going to sign people up to be members, let’s try to get them for three trusts rather than just one. If this works consistently, we’ll pretty much reduce our recruitment investment for this campaign to a third of what it would if we did them separately. This also benefits the public who aren’t being approached by three times as many NHS organisations wanting them to become members.

By implementing a shared membership recruitment initiative, the trusts were able to benefit from saving time, saving money, avoiding conflicts, e.g. events clashing, share knowledge, events and share information on the goals and challenges of each trust so the right priorities were given to all involved.

There were some great specific benefits too, for example: recruiting members for a mental health trust can be difficult because of the stigmas attached to this area of health. However, by fronting approaches by “care you get from a hospital” it was more acceptable for people to stop on talk with representatives at supermarkets, at special events, etc. and be hooked into mental health as the discussions develop.

The result of this partnership marketing campaign was a recruitment of around 3,000 members per trust. This is pretty impressive considering the targets for all marketing activities were between 2,500 and 5,000.

So, why am I hyping up what might seems so straightforward? Simply because I haven’t seen this before. The campaign is an excellent example of entrepreneurial thinking within huge NHS organisations. The entrepreneur’s approach to marketing typically asks; how can I take who I know, what they want, and then leverage this to my advantage so that we both get what we want?

This approach delivers this and wins for each trust, the NHS members, the Chief Executives seeking Foundation Status or World Class Commissioning, and where savings are made ultimately the taxpayer benefits too.

I’m not suggesting that the NHS is without its entrepreneurial thinkers; there were a couple of others speakers at the event too – I suggest they know who they are. However, it is refreshing to see this adopted by teams at multiple organisations.

At the workshop I attended, the Q&A session moved away from the benefits, and became a little embroiled in NHS politics. Though for what its worth I feel I “got it” and congratulate those involved for an innovative approach to partnership marketing, with a hint of entrepreneurialism!

Notes from the workshop along with other resources from the NHS Membership Conference will be available to download for free at by the end of this week.

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