By Susan Saldibar

The havoc wreaked by COVID-19 has not only been exhausting to navigate for senior living operators, it’s made it that much harder to get back a sense of equilibrium. Extreme focus has been on how to keep residents safe, how to retain nervous staff, and how to assure families that you are doing everything possible to stay COVID 19-free. And, now you are expected to begin to open up doors and fill rooms again. Just like that.

I spoke recently with Sean Ochester, Executive Vice President of Digital, Integrated Marketing and Technology for Sage Age Strategies (a Senior Living Foresight partner). Sean has been working with senior living marketers who have seen their carefully calibrated campaigns slip off the grid after COVID-19 hit. And he told me something I found interesting; that this is the best time to turn to an experienced external agency for help.

Great Agencies Have Developed Great Playbooks

At first, I wondered how a move like this might feel for communities already struggling with occupancy issues and trying to get their goals back on track. Then he mentioned their “playbook” and that got my attention. “Our playbook was developed over 35 years,” Sean says. And it’s gone through many changes. “Even more changes just in the last few months, since COVID-19 changed the way we market and sell,” he adds. 

As a marketer, I know all about playbooks and how valuable they can be in terms of quickly moving out of a slump towards healthy lead generation. So this makes sense.

But a good playbook is just part of the equation, according to Sean. There are plenty more reasons, especially now, that senior living communities should be looking at retaining an agency. I asked Sean what an operator should look for in an agency to help them climb out from the pandemic and get back in gear again. Here are his thoughts: 

  • Pure play senior living. This is not a good time to bring a generalist on board, Sean tells me. COVID-19 has had a profound impact on senior living and you need an agency that has an organic understanding of the marketing challenges. “Don’t waste time with an agency that doesn’t know your industry inside and out,” Sean says. “Now, more than ever, you need 100% focus and experience.” 
  • Agility to respond and adjust quickly. The ability to turn on a dime and adjust media and messaging is more important now than ever. That’s where Sean feels that experience really can benefit a community. “Our playbook reflects years of experiences and allows us to quickly identify emerging trends and adapt to meet them,” Sean says.
  • Integration across all media. “What you’re doing with social media has to connect with what you’re doing with your pay-per-click and other digital marketing campaigns,” Sean says. “Otherwise your efforts are diluted and will get you fewer leads in the long run,” he adds.
  • Geo-savvy, area expertise. “Make sure your agency knows your area. Every city and community is unique. And they have been impacted by the pandemic differently. If an agency doesn’t have clients there, the campaigns they design will be less effective.”
  • Keyword and hashtag savvy. Don’t assume you have your keywords and hashtags nailed. COVID-19 has even changed hashtags! A good agency knows how to formulate crisp, relevant messaging that drives SEO and the keywords and hashtags to amplify that messaging.

What About Control? What About Expense?

I asked Sean what he would say to those who fear a loss of control by assigning their social media and marketing to an agency. “It’s important for an agency to work closely with the inside team at the community and to explain what they’re doing and why,” Sean says. “What our clients have found is that working with us increases their own knowledge of marketing which helps to formulate better strategy questions.”

The other push back is often on expense. But Sean says that’s because people aren’t putting the costs together properly. “Often people get sticker shock when they look at an agency proposal for a pay-per-click campaign,” Sean explains. “But they need to separate out the actual keyword costs or ad spend, which can be a large chunk of the pricing.”

And don’t forget the value of the playbook. Agencies with years under their belts of fine-tuning their playbooks bring an added dimension of value. That’s where Sean feels Sage Age’s 35+ years of experience pay off. “Your agency needs to be able to track trends and adjust to them instantly,” Sean says. “Our playbook enables us to do that. And more.”

For more information about Sage Age Strategies, please visit their website.