You’re an aspiring model dispatched to a Red Sox game to ask good citizens to step up and save the life of a child. Your clothes? Short skirts, lab coat, and purple hair. You get $75 per hour and exposure at a premium sports marketing event. The sponsor gets access to a population of potential bone marrow donors that wouldn’t set foot inside of a hospital.
Gimmicky? Sure. But sports marketing is rife with such gimmicks. This is tame by many other standards.
It’s an idea that, by all accounts, worked well for UMass Memorial for over a year. It is also an idea, unfortunately, that has garnered the attention of the New Hampshire and Massachusetts State Attorney General Offices and has forced the UMass Memorial CEO to denounce the practice in the Boston Globe.
The pricing of the donor tests, to be sure, was understated and problematic, but what caught my eye was the statement by CEO John O’Brien:
“Let me say right from the start that the use of professional models for marketing purposes here was not appropriate for an academic health care organization like ours, which holds itself to the highest standards.”
What I thought was interesting was how quickly Mr. O’Brien distanced himself from this program, rather than defending it. Presumably it worked and it worked well – however crass it seems in the light of day, the idea was green lighted by someone there.
While Mr. O’Brien seems to be scapegoating marketing here, I think that’s a red herring. If UMass had a strong brand manual, a strong sense of standards, and a rigorous application of the brand identity, it would never have undertaken marketing that was so antithetical to its standards. It is my guess that instead of marketing being the problem, it was the novelty of the concept that sold it and persuaded UMass to give it a try. That it continued was because it was successful. That they are embarrassed about it is their own fault.
I don’t think you can have it both ways: either play it safe from the start or go for it and defend the program saying, “We understand some people may not like this, but the fact is we had a 200% increase [made-up number] in bone marrow registrants which we expect will save 10 [made up number again] lives in the next 2 years. We’re sorry some people don’t like it, but we’re doing it for those 10 families who will continue to be families because of the decisions we made with this program.”
That would be preferable to the duck and cover strategy which, let’s face it, never serves hospitals well.
Update: It is unclear who did the work – one article posits a Boston agency – but Candance Quinn defends the bone marrow program on Health Leaders.