Home Google+View Julie Ford's LinkedIn profile

Corporate Positioning

Client: Healthcare Association of Hawaii

An Award Winning Project

Client Background
HAH is Hawaii's only hospital association. It is comprised of 125 Hawaii facilities including the following:

  • All acute care hospitals
  • All home health agencies
  • The majority of the long term care facilities and hospice programs
  • The majority of the durable medical equipment and home infusion suppliers
  • Many other health care providers such as air and ground ambulances, blood banks, and respiratory therapy facilities
HAH's works focuses on achieving an equitable, sustainable Hawaii health care system in collaboration with its partners and stakeholders.

Despite nearly 75 years of history in Hawaii, the Healthcare Association of Hawaii had flown under the radar of most people in Hawaii - including those in the medical sector. The HAH Board of Directors opted to commission a written survey, as part of its strategic plan, to explore what its members thought about its name recognition, branding, and corporate voice.

The survey gauged sentiment from HAH's three main audiences: 1) acute care hospitals 2) long term care organizations and 3) home care and hospice organizations. The results showed that HAH's members felt the organization needed to boost its branding. As a result, the Board sought to "elevate the association's profile, and increase public confidence in and knowledge about healthcare ."

Why was this important? Three reasons were identified:

  1. Community leaders, media, lawmakers, and the public-at-large seemed unaware or unclear about the true costs of health care. This gap in knowledge could lead to poor public opinion and/or poor public policy surrounding health care.

  2. Without a strong corporate voice and message, misperceptions about Hawaii's hospitals and health care organizations could take root and potentially lead to mistrust of Hawaii's health care continuum.

  3. HAH was in a unique and advantageous position to objectively explain the challenges its member facilities face. This was primarily due to the fact that HAH does not directly provide health care services and is one step removed, which allows it to be viewed as a more objective voice. This asset could be extremely useful to its members when countering misinformation or misperceptions as well as when framing public dialogue on health-related issues.

Schweitzer Consulting worked with the HAH communication team to identify just the right moment to thrust HAH onto the public stage. With the pending Supreme Court (SCOTUS) ruling on the Affordable Care Act (ACA, also known as Obamacare), we reasoned that this ruling would be the very hour when the media would be searching out health care experts. In the hours and days immediately following the announcement, HAH could step in to fill the role of a needed policy expert on the future of health care. HAH could comfortably speak in depth on the topic because it already possessed a great wealth of knowledge, having closely followed the legislation for many years.

We reasoned that very few - if any - local organizations were prepared to speak about it and that HAH could step out on behalf of its membership to inform the public, help frame the issues, and portray Hawaii's health care continuum in a positive light. To validate this assumption, HAH conducted a "logic check" with key leadership and members. HAH shared our intended strategy to ensure that the member organizations were not planning a similar media blitz. The last thing we wanted was compete with HAH's own members.

To the best of our ability, we determined that HAH members were not planning media efforts immediately following the SCOTUS ruling. In fact, several members requested our speaking points to review as they prepared their communication pieces for their own staff, patients, and constituencies.

During this process, we did identify one hospital CEO who was open to doing an interview, but needed a full day after the announcement to study the ruling. We teamed up with this organization's communication team and helped to book this CEO on the top morning news show on the day following the ruling. As for the morning of the ruling itself, HAH's CEO was on the air within an hour of the announced ruling.

In the overall plan, ACA was very important, but it was only the launching pad. We believed that if HAH was successful with this effort, we could then pivot to other health care issues, leverage additional media, and ensure HAH's members were portrayed positively.

Phase I: Gear up. We created and ranked our SCOTUS pitch list and speaking points. We had to foresee and anticipate the speaking points which would be needed in the various outcomes that could be announced. We also prepared the HAH website to solicit names/e-mails for the public to opt-in to news blasts on the implementation of ACA. As a multi-audience campaign, we sought to reach the following groups:
  1. The health-aware public (defined as men and women - but primarily women - aged 35+, who are the decision makers for their households on health care choices).
  2. Public officials, legislators, and community leaders.
  3. HAH members and Hawaii's health care community.
Phase II: Pitch Early.
In the weeks leading up to the ruling, we went behind the scenes to contact key reporters. We offered HAH as a resource and noted that HAH could be available within a moment's notice. We made a special effort to secure an Editorial Board Meeting with Hawaii's only daily paper, the Honolulu Star-Advertiser. When the editors agreed that this topic deserved attention - and began to suggest possible dates for the interview - we suggested adding three additional voices to join HAH. This included the Governor's Health Care Coordinator, an attorney who specializes in Supreme Court cases, and an HAH member who heads the Community Health Centers. This suggestion was made to broaden the discussion while building goodwill among the those at the table.

Phase III: Communicate inward.
The sheer magnitude of ACA created another significant leadership opportunity among HAH members and the public - ongoing updates. We sent a weekly e-blast to provide members (and subscribers who opted in) with information and resources on ACA and other pertinent health care information (as well as a compilation of all local and national health news.) The HAH Update continues to be distributed to approximately 800 recipients each Friday.

Phase IV: Leverage previous success.
The momentum from ACA was used as a springboard to enter the larger, collective conversation on health care. After the initial media blitz, we built on reporter relationships by providing continued updates throughout the many twists and turns of ACA's implementation. This earned additional media coverage and allowed us to speak out about topics such as HAH's role in the Hurricane Sandy clean-up (resulting in local and national coverage), Hawaii's ranking in national health care quality, HAH's leadership role in the United States RIMPAC military exercises, and more. It also enabled us to vigorously counter a nationally compiled health care report which ranked several Hawaii health care facilities as average or below average.

Phase V: Stay in front.
In order to stay fresh and relevant on the ACA front, we slated two health care summits for the remainder of 2012. HAH teamed up with collaborators such as the Hawaii State Center for Nursing and AARP to host recognized experts on the topics. The summits attracted nearly 200 constituents including state legislators, hospital CEOs, insurance carriers, health consumers, medical students, and many others.

HAH has continued to promote its members and has remained well positioned through special events (health care awards dinner, emergency training exercises, health care summits, etc.), media (radio, television, print, and electronic coverage, including support of the Hawaii Public Radio share-a-thon), face-to-face interactions (speaking engagements, media briefings for background information), social media (Facebook and Twitter accounts), a website redesign, and ongoing constituency building with member facilities.

When the ACA ruling broke, HAH was front/center. This propelled HAH to greater success. The overarching goal we sought to achieve, to "elevate the association's profile, and increase public confidence in and knowledge about healthcare," seems to have been reach, but we will scientifically measure this in a statewide telephone survey in 2014.

Other key PR measurements follows:
  • Earned Media: During 2012, nearly 50 media placements (including the Wall Street Journal) were measured, equating to tens of thousands of dollars in publicity value (see links below).

  • Events/Education: Two health care summits built goodwill and attracted nearly 200 attendees.

  • Member Communications: The weekly e-blast "HAH Update," sent to almost 800 recipients, has an average read rate of 25% - 30%.

Not to be reproduced in whole or in part without the prior written approval of Schweitzer Consulting, LLC.


"Julie Ford isn't just the best PR person I've worked with at Sunetric, she's the best PR person I've worked with in my career..."

~ Alex Tiller CEO, Sunetric

>> More Testimonials


Hawaii's Better Business Bureau:
Schweitzer Consulting - 2012 Torch Award

>> More Awards