Hospitals’ Dallas-Fort Worth ad spending in good shape


08:19 AM CDT on Wednesday, August 4, 2010


By JASON ROBERSON / The Dallas Morning News

The weak economy has siphoned money from advertising budgets in most major industries, but local hospital advertising has remained steady, thanks to one company.

Texas Health Resources, the largest hospital system in North Texas, accounted for about half of not-for-profit advertising spending last year.

Texas Health declined to discuss its specific figures, citing competitive reasons. But the Arlington-based hospital system tripled its advertising spending from 2008 to 2009 with the launch of its rebranding campaign, said Steve Hanson, senior vice president for growth and development at Texas Health.

Last year, local hospitals spent $20.4 million on advertising in Dallas-Fort Worth, up 5 percent from $19.3 million in 2008, according to VMS, a New York-based media intelligence company.

In the hospital sector, not-for-profit hospitals have been the big spenders, accounting for 58 percent of locally placed media dollars in the hospital category last year, according to VMS.

Texas Health sought a brand overhaul because the hospital system is a decade-old byproduct of mergers and acquisitions of several independent hospitals.

Their research found that some in the community thought the name “Texas Health Resources” sounded like a branch of state government, Hanson said.

“The general public didn’t know that name,” Hanson said. “We wanted it known as much to the person on the street as it was to the news media and business community.”

Texas Health spent $1.3 million to prepare for the change, on things such as updating its website, paying legal fees and changing graphic designs on business materials. Through 2011, Texas Health will have spent an additional $17 million to change the signs as well as to add more signs on several campuses.

From 2008 to 2009, Texas Health’s media spending grew by about 145 percent, causing its share-of-voice, a measurement of advertising activity in a fixed time period, to jump from 12 percent to 29 percent.

Baylor Health Care System, the second-largest system in North Texas, saw a 24 percent drop in spending between 2008 and 2009, causing its share-of-voice to drop from 24 percent to 18 percent, according to VMS data.

“I get a flat budget every year,” said Jennifer Coleman, who has been responsible for Baylor’s advertising since 1997. “If I want to go over it, then it’s a negotiation with the chiefs of other [Baylor business] services.”

Measuring advertising and marketing across the board for various hospital systems is tricky because each company breaks out numbers differently. However the numbers are sliced, two advertising market research groups show Texas Health as the biggest spender.

Competition for patients is a driving force behind the advertising.

As Dallas-Fort Worth gains ground on Chicago to become the nation’s third-largest region by population, hospitals are positioning their brands to capitalize on the growth.

It’s a challenge to drive more than a mile on North Central Expressway without seeing a billboard of a content-looking patient who just underwent a successful heart surgery or cancer treatment.

“Their spending has buoyed us for the past couple of years,” said Mike Collins, vice president and general manager of the Dallas office at Titan Outdoor, which handles bus advertisements for Dallas Area Rapid Transit.

Consumer-driven health care also is a trend forcing hospitals to be more transparent with their prices and quality. The federal government and some private research outfits have begun ranking hospitals on price and quality, intensifying the hospitals’ competition.

The data also shows how popular the Dallas market has become to hospitals based elsewhere. Over the past three years, 126 hospitals have advertised in the Dallas market, up from 92 hospitals in 2005.

“Unless there were more than 30 new hospitals built since then, it shows that hospitals outside of the market are spending media dollars in Dallas,” said Pat Harrington, director of client services for the VoiceTrak report from VMS.