DM Effort Helps Ailing Nursing Industry

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Nursing placement firm Onward Healthcare got better-than-expected results from a direct marketing campaign to sign up nurses for work assignments throughout the United States and Canada.


"There is a critical nursing shortage in the United States right now that currently totals 100,000 nurse openings that are not being filled," said Kevin Clark, Onward Healthcare's founder, chairman and CEO. His company "helps the hospital keep its beds open by finding qualified candidates that are willing to travel to one part of the country or another to work."


Central to the campaign developed by DM agency GrayGraham, Westport, CT, is an incentive program called OH Founders that offered inducements to nurses who signed up with Onward Healthcare by the end of the year.


"The OH Founders was very important to us," Clark said. "It offered a subtle membership concept that we wanted to have permeate throughout the material."


Direct mail and print ads explained that through the OH Founders program, prospects could receive benefits such as a $1,000 signing bonus, free private housing, first choice of job assignments and reimbursement for cell-phone use. It also offered $1,000 refer-a-friend bonuses.


Though Clark would not offer specifics, he said the programs "exceeded our original expectations by more than 25 percent."


Postcards went in three waves: to 150,000 nurses in August, a follow-up to 10,000 of the nurses in September and a final re-mail to 5,000 of the original recipients in October.


"Most everyone received one mail piece, some received two pieces and some received three pieces," GrayGraham president Jeff Gray said.


Prospect names and addresses came primarily from nursing and healthcare trade publications and compiled lists. A full-page, four-color ad appeared in publications such as Healthcare Traveler, RN and American Journal of Nursing from August to November.


"The print ads feature Onward Healthcare nurses engaged in lifestyle-enhancing situations such as surfing, hiking and skydiving, underscoring the added freedom and flexibility that OH membership affords them," Gray said.


Two images were used on the postcards. One promoted a $5,000 sweepstakes to win a dream vacation, and the other promoted the $1,000 signing bonus.


The postcards and trade ads directed prospects to a toll-free number or the company's Web site, onwardhealthcare.com, to join the program. Selected publications used a bind-in card with a business reply card inviting readers to enter the sweepstakes.


"Our goal was to trigger response by incorporating a call to action that would motivate nurses to sign up," Gray said. "While the principles of Onward have been in this business a long time, there was no name recognition, and there are over 30 companies in the category, so it is very competitive. As a result, instead of just creating awareness, we tried to create things that were actionable."


Gray also said that "another goal of the campaign was to try and stay in front of people as much as possible in an effort to lift response rates even more."


A sales kit was created to reach nurses at hospitals and to sell the company's service to hospitals. Some of these kits were sent through the mail.


Clark said Onward chose direct marketing over other types of marketing because "it is overlooked ... we felt that direct marketing is actually a stealth way to reach out to the marketplace, and we are very pleased with the results."


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