Creating a Smart—and Grand—Opening

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Opening a new imaging center, or planning a grand reopening, involves details far beyond the technology and construction concerns, the most important of which may be the center’s marketing plan. After all, without patients, there is no business. Even if your marketing consists of just one invitation to one grand-opening party, that must be executed almost perfectly in order to succeed. Today, a grand opening must live up to its billing. Thanks to increased competition and the need for a sharper accounting pencil, the grand opening needs to be an event that attracts both attention and referrals. In many cases, the grand opening is the start of the process of changing the referral patterns of some offices, so strategic thinking is in order. Fred Gaschen is executive vice president of Radiological Associates of Sacramento, a diagnostic imaging enterprise with 17 locations in Northern California. Gaschen is a grand-opening veteran with unique input on the process, which starts long before the first bulldozer arrives. “We’re opening a new center in June, and the first thing we did was go to the referring community—some of whom referred to us and some who didn’t—and host a dinner meeting to ask them ‘What would you like to see in a new center?’ Then we incorporated that input into the design and development of the center,” Gaschen says. “Once you make the decision to open an imaging center, you need to start planning your marketing at that stage,” he adds. “In order to open an imaging center, there are so many components you need to consider, as far as marketing is concerned; if you are going to open, you need to pull all of those elements together.” One of Gaschen’s unique keys to a successful start is to combine two seemingly incompatible departments together for the greater good. “You have to have your marketing people involved from day one,” he says. “In fact, our marketing manager sits in on the diagnostic manager’s weekly meeting because marketing is an integral part of operations. It wasn’t always this way here. This is something I instituted about five years ago. Marketing has to be part of the plan for the opening because they know the medical community a little bit better than everyone else.” Gaschen continues, “Realizing that, opening a new center is not just having a party and that’s it. It involves attracting the right referring physicians and developing the collateral material, among other things.” Properly executed, a successful grand opening starts with a marketing plan. In that plan, a list of projects is created, tasks are assigned, and timelines are developed. The marketing responsibilities may overlap, however, and everyone should understand that, in this event, all staff and physicians may need to wear multiple hats. Assignments include working with a caterer, developing an invitation, writing press releases, providing center physicians with lists of referring offices for personal invitations, writing and creating a brochure and personalized prescription pads, and more. Creating a Budget No marketing plan is complete without a budget and there two common ways to determine how much to invest. One method is to make a list of the individual projects, assign investment values, and voilà: there’s the budget. A second method is to assign the budget figure first and then work to fit the appropriate projects into the mix without going over budget. There are benefits to each method. Listing projects first creates a tendency to develop a more complete grand-opening marketing program. The project-based process is not a blank check, but rather a way to look at the challenge with the question, “If results, not saving money, were the focus of our efforts, what would we do for this grand opening?” As for who should attend a grand opening, Gaschen has carved out two categories of attendees. “You’ve got two distinct target audiences: the referring physician and the referring physician’s staff. If you’ve done your homework, you know that a significant percentage of the referrals come from the referring physician’s staff, not from the referring physician,” he says. Gaschen’s pre–grand-opening events include at least one preview opportunity for his target audiences. “On May 9th, we are having a hard-hat party. The center will not be finished, but the walls will be up, and this is an opportunity for people, mostly the office staff, to come in and see the layout and the size. When you have a 13,000–square-foot imaging center with walls, but without any equipment in it, it seems a lot roomier,” he says. “When the facility is open, we will actually have two grand openings,” Gaschen adds. “One will be for the referring community and one will be for our own staff. We have 1,000 employees, and we want the opportunity for everyone to see what we’ve done.” The value of a private grand-opening party for staff should not be underestimated. At a time when many staff members feel pressured by the effects of the Deficit Reduction Act, a staff grand-opening party—or grand-reopening party—can have a unifying effect that could translate into better patient service. About that grand reopening: A brand-new center is not the only reason to invite the referring community. When there is a significant change in the center, such as the addition of a 3T MRI unit or a physical expansion to include a women’s center, there is also a marketing opportunity. The rules for planning the grand reopening are the same as those for the grand opening. It is true that we get only one chance to make a good first impression. In order to increase the chances of making that good first impression, a soft opening should be considered. The soft opening is a time—usually lasting about a week—during which patients are accepted or referred there internally through the schedulers, but there is no official opening event or announcement. The soft opening allows the staff and physicians to resolve any IT or other challenges so that everything is ready when the referring community is made aware that the new location is ready to accept patients. Whether the occasion is remodeling or a new model, the watchword for the grand opening is planning.