Don’t look now, but there may be an ad agency in your scanner

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 - Star Valley Medical Center
Star Valley Medical Center, Afton, Wyoming

Today every forward-thinking radiology practice realizes that, in these times of falling reimbursement, rising regulatory oversight and cascading calls for transparency, it’s not enough to be great at what you do. You have to do a little selling too. For that reason, Hitachi Medical Systems America has been expanding its custom marketing services into what it calls its advanced marketing program, or AMP.

The company pioneered post-sale support for its provider partners around 20 years ago. Its initial aim was to help radiology centers and departments explain the appeal of then-new open MRI to their claustrophobic or otherwise skittish patients. With AMP now up and running at full capacity, 2015 finds Hitachi offering an array of professional creative services to rival those found at many an established ad agency.

Now, as at the program’s nascence, these services are available free of charge to every site with an installed Hitachi under warranty or service contract.

Raymond Wtulich, Hitachi’s Manager of Marketing Communications and AMP’s de facto creative director, says one of the best parts of his job is seeing “radiology people” light up when they recognize that marketing is well worth their while—and can be fun, to boot. 

“Many of our clients get their first taste of this through Hitachi’s base-line marketing support, which lays the groundwork for AMP yet is actually quite robust in its own right,” he says.

The basic support to which he refers includes a marketing planner with all sorts of materials geared to the local community, patients, and their doctors. It’s got brochures, press releases, commercial scripts, modality fact sheets and referrer guides. Everything is branded with the radiology practice’s logo and can be further customized by the practice.

“What’s more, we don’t just drop this mountain of materials on the client’s doorstep and then drive away,” says Wtulich. “Our creative specialists work closely with each customer one-to-one, just like ad-agency account managers and creative directors. They help create, conduct and measure successful campaigns.”

A show of brands

AMP takes all of this to a considerably higher level of customization and sophistication, Wtulich explains, adding that the process begins with market research. “We engage the client in an initial consultation during which we set out to understand the customer’s brand and the characteristics of its marketplace,” he says. “With those insights in hand, and further informed by our years of national and international experience, we determine whether the client would do better to build off an existing brand or forge an entirely new one.”

At that point Hitachi AMP begins crafting the finely tuned messaging. How finely tuned? “We’ve done everything from daring Texas cowboys to be ‘tough enough to get an MRI’ to deploying potatoes, one to represent each of the three human body types, to promote a bariatric campaign in New York.”

As for placement, the program’s portfolio includes print-ready billboards, print ads, mailers, website banners, downloads, scripts and B roll for commercials and, crucially, specialty-specific materials aimed at referring physicians.  

“Best of all in the eyes of many of our clients, we send original artwork files with everything we create in AMP,” says Wtulich. “Most ad agencies send clients PDFs but not original artwork, so when the client wants to update or revise a piece, they have to pay the agency to make the change. With the original files in hand, they can update and tweak all they like.”

Winning in Wyoming

One person who vocally appreciates the many facets of AMP is Terry Lemon, radiology director at Star Valley Medical Center in rural Afton, Wyo. In early 2014, the 24-bed critical access hospital installed a Hitachi Oval MRI. Lemon tells ImagingBiz that the program has not only increased business but also built community spirit.

For example, he points out how, a few weeks after the installation, the county held its annual health fair at the high school gymnasium. In advance of the event, Hitachi shipped out a life-size, 3-D Oval display for the hospital’s booth. As Lemon tells it, the visual aid all but stole the show. “People would walk in, see what looked like an actual MRI and walk over to get a good look,” he says. “Everyone found it really eye-catching, and it led to a busy day for our booth and some good questions for our MRI technologist.”

Lemon also has good things to say about a print ad Hitachi AMP put together for the local newspaper—it featured two Wyoming ranchers who liked the MRI’s “wide open spaces”—and a video AMP produced featuring members of Star Valley’s radiology department.

The finished video was necessarily short and to the point, recalls Wtulich, but the staff members were comfortable in front of the camera and AMP was able to give Star Valley many minutes of additional footage.

“Our PR and marketing people were just so excited about both the video and the footage,” adds Lemon. “The cost and professional expertise it takes to do a video like that, and do it right, would have been beyond what a little hospital like us is capable of.”

Asked about results, Lemon says that an extensive feasibility study Star Valley conducted to select a Hitachi Oval for their on-site MRI, the aim being to replace a mobile MRI arrangement, projected a 12% increase in volume the first year.

“When all was said and done, we averaged a 66% increase every month,” says Lemon. “Where we used to do 45 to 48 scans a month, a year later with our new machine we’re doing 115 scans for that same month. It turns out that the doctors aren’t ordering any more MRI scans than before, but now patients are choosing to have it done here rather than wait for the mobile unit or drive two hours to get to the nearest big hospital.”

What seems to delight Lemon most of all is the flourishing partnership. “We were skeptical at first, never having worked with Hitachi before,” he says. “Every radiology vendor talks about teamwork, but very few actually follow through on it. The Hitachi people actually have followed through, including with several onsite visits here. They’ve become an extension of our department.”

Playing the percentages

It’s a cardinal rule of marketing that you need to measure your results. So last year Hitachi conducted a survey of the 150-plus clients for whom they’ve completed custom, multi-part marketing campaigns under the AMP umbrella. According to Wtulich, some 60 different sites responded to the survey, and the split was quite close to 50/50—32 hospitals and 28 outpatient imaging centers, to be exact. The top three initiatives, used by almost all 60 sites, were print ads, referring-physician materials and patient-information brochures, in that order.

Among the most telling measurements:

  • 42% of the respondents said they saw an increase in traffic from referring physicians.  
  • 36% increased their consumer marketing spending, indicating that AMP support propelled them to act.
  • 75% said Hitachi’s AMP provided them with significant cost savings.

That last and biggest figure may be the most telling news of all, says Wtulich. “It showed us that the very aims that led us to launch into custom marketing services, a decision that goes back more than two decades, were spot on,” he says. “We wanted to help our customers succeed and save money at the same time. We wanted to go beyond selling imaging equipment and into forming and sustaining highly fruitful partnerships.”

Hitachi still wants that, says Wtulich, adding that the company plans to continue refining and expanding AMP.