Bayshore Community Hospital
In early 1997, Bayshore Community Hospital had a successful communications program in place. However, the hospital's public relations and marketing team felt the newsletter they were using in their program could be more directed to the needs and interests of an increasingly younger, more affluent audience.

"We recommended redesigning the publication and upgrading from three-over-two ink colors to four-color process," recalls First Marketing Account Manager Maggie Smith. "Based on our research, we were confident that this change, combined with the existing tabloid size, would deliver higher recall and response rates."

The Bayshore team took that idea one step further and suggested to its administration that the cost of upgrading the format could be justified by increased usage of the newsletter. They received approval for a one-year test of the upgraded format and began by evaluating readership of the existing program.

The benchmark study
The top-line results of the benchmark readership study were exceptionally high — above-average recall, readership and response rates left little room for improvement. However, in evaluating the data in more detail, gaps in the personal "usefulness" of the newsletter content became apparent. Specifically, retention of past issues, pass along and the percentage of readers who took action regarding their health were lower than desired for a publication designed to be a community resource as well as an image-booster. As a result, the Bayshore public relations and marketing team committed to achieving a 10 percent increase over the benchmark in each "usefulness" score.

The action plan
Bayshore's newsletter editor Patricia M. Hansen, Director of Public Relations, worked with her First Marketing creative team to launch the redesign and reposition the editorial content and layout to accomplish this goal.

"We had been devoting full pages to key hospital services," Patty explains. "We kept this as a primary focus, but complemented it with useful information readers could apply immediately."

Safety checklists, self-evaluation techniques, risk-factor tests and preventive healthcare measures were featured to provide a more personal perspective. Full-page features were broken into core articles with secondary sidebars to make the issues easier to scan. And the four-color format allowed Bayshore to include more lifestyle photography and break up gray copy blocks with colorful bullets, screened art and subheads.

The follow-up
The follow-up survey was conducted in January 1998, after four issues reflecting the new strategy had been distributed. The results were even better than expected: In addition to exceeding the goal in all four targeted categories, recall also improved significantly (from 78.3 percent to 85 percent).

"The phrase, 'the power of the printed word' is often discussed, but our readership survey allowed us to measure it at an astounding 85 percent," Patty states. "Our administrative team was extremely pleased with the results and we have continued the new design and format."

A second follow-up conducted in 2001 yielded equally positive results.

Using Benchmarking For More Effective Creative Planning
The Effectiveness Research Project is a self-administered questionnaire distributed by mail to a random sample of newsletter recipients. The study is administered and validated by Sparks and Associates, an independent research firm. Every First Marketing client is eligible to participate. The results provide our clients with a qualitative foundation to develop more effective creative plans for their ongoing customer communications programs. If you would like to discuss how you can use benchmarking research to improve your program, Contact Us.

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