"Columbia" soon may become embedded in the minds of consumers who previously hadn't recognized the name of the nation's largest healthcare provider.
Last week, Columbia/HCA Healthcare Corp. tapped the Martin Agency, Richmond, Va., to handle its multimillion-dollar national name-recognition account. Although published reports have estimated the campaign's worth at more than $10 million, Columbia spokeswoman Eve Hutcherson said it's too early to say how much the campaign will cost.
Although the Nashville, Tenn.-based company is the nation's largest healthcare provider and 10th-largest employer, it has little name recognition because nearly all its hospitals have different names. That will change by mid-year, when the names of its 335 hospitals will be changed to contain the word "Columbia," Hutcherson said. In some markets, such as Dallas/Fort Worth, the transition is already under way.
"This is an opportunity for Columbia to be the first in the healthcare business to create a national brand name," said John Adams, Martin's chairman and president.
Columbia's only previous push to gain national name recognition was about a year ago when the company ran a 30-second television spot that featured Columbia's president and chief executive officer, Richard Scott. When asked whether Scott would play a similar role in the branding campaign, Adams said there had been "preliminary conversation" about it, but that a decision had not yet been made.
Because healthcare is perceived to be a market-by-market business, efforts to create national brand names have been limited in the past. In the late 1980s, Humana promoted its name as a national brand and put it on all its hospitals. The difference is that Humana was only one-third the size of Columbia.
VHA, an Irving, Texas-based alliance of more than 1,000 not-for-profit hospitals, also did some brand advertising in a limited way in the late 1980s.
Martin said his agency recognizes that healthcare is a local business, but will try to leverage the benefits of Columbia's national scope. He said Columbia will push the message that it brings lower healthcare costs, which can contribute to quality improvements.
"Our job is to bring that essentially revolutionary message to the constituencies of Columbia," Adams said.
The brand-name campaign will couple with other Columbia efforts to gain consumer recognition. The chain publishes a quarterly magazine, OneSource, that goes to more than 3 million households. It also has a World Wide Web home page and a "Physician Chat" service on America Online, the largest on-line computer service.
Last week, Columbia expanded its on-line "chat" service from one to two nights a week. The service allows consumers to query physicians on specific topics, such as heartburn and AIDS.
Selection of the Martin agency culminated a review of more than a dozen advertising agencies. Healthcare clients of Martin, which had $275 million in 1995 billings, included Trigon Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Virginia, Richmond, and Amgen, a Thousand Oaks, Calif.-based biotechnology firm.
Continued on p 12