When patients walk into one of the 127 hospitals in Tenet Healthcare Corp., chances are they probably won't notice who owns it.
In stark contrast to its fellow for-profit Columbia/HCA Healthcare Corp., Tenet isn't committed to making its name part of the American lexicon. Generally, Tenet doesn't put its name before its hospitals' names. Instead, it adds a signature line identifying the hospital as a member of the Tenet system.
"In some markets we don't talk about Tenet much at all," says David McAdam, vice president of communications for Santa Barbara, Calif.-based Tenet. "Healthcare is delivered locally. The hospitals had already built up equity in the name of their facilities before they were owned by Tenet. (In these cases) Tenet should never be a primary brand."
The difference reflects Columbia's determination to take advantage of its size and Tenet's intent to cultivate flexibility in each of its markets.
The two companies' divergent strategies are "not national vs. local, but corporate vs. local," says Terrence Rynne, president of Evanston, Ill.-based Rynne Marketing Group.
In Tenet's case, company executives quickly point out they aren't driving marketing from headquarters, except for early seed money for the local operations. They want Tenet to be known as a system that allows decisions to be made on a local level.
Tenet executives wouldn't disclose marketing and advertising budgets, but they say the system's figures don't come near to Columbia's spending, which is budgeted at $90 million for this year (March 10, p. 2). Much of that is targeted to a national audience. Columbia advertisements routinely run in such venues as the Wall Street Journal and Prevention magazine.
Columbia, based in Nashville, is in the 11th month of its national branding campaign.
All told, Columbia allocated nearly $200 million for ad vertising in 1995 and 1996, which industry observers believe is the largest such spending by a healthcare provider ever. Some $50 million of that budget went to its opening bid at branding last year, which featured full-page advert isements in major newspapers and prime-time television commercials.
Instead of concentrating on national marketing, Tenet focuses on what it calls "coordinated marketing areas."
"We do not see an imperative to develop a national marketing presence," McAdam says. "We are looking at each individual market. We want to be consistent with our business strategy, which is not to be everywhere and do everything."
Tenet uses its name sparingly in most markets. "We try to let the individual hospital speak in its own voice with its own name," McAdam says.
In some markets, however, playing up the Tenet name seems to make sense. For example, shortly after its March 1, 1995, formation through the merger of American Medical International and National Medical Enterprises, Tenet started a gentle branding campaign in South Florida.
The area is its most mature market outside California, and Columbia represents one of its fierc est competitors there.
Tenet calls its system of 12 acute-care and two specialty hospitals in the area Tenet South Florida HealthSystem. The facilities are concentrated in Broward, Dade and Palm Beach counties.
Here and in other area s where Tenet does brand, the hospital's name is retained on all marketing materials as an endorsement line in smaller type.
Tenet executives hope this approach represents the best of both worlds.
"What that says is this is still the local good healthcare provider where my children were born," McAdam says. "But what has changed in this roiling healthcare environment is my local hospital has access to resources it didn't have before. The hospital is not alone."
In South Florida, the branding campaign occurred in stages, says Trish Brainerd, director of communications for the company's Florida region, which includes the South Florida system.
Direct mail and medical journal advertisements to a focused market of physicians and payers accelerated into a full consumer media blitz by May 1996.
Consumer marketing continues today. It typically features a monthly theme tied to a national issue, such as heart disease or breast cancer. For example, during National Heart Month this February, Tenet offered free cardiac risk assessments and cholesterol screenings in South Florida.
Its effort included half- to three-quarter-page newspaper advertisements each Sunday during February in three daily newspapers. Advertisements also ran in neighborhood newspapers to reach niche communities and Hispanic neighborhoods.
By the end of April, Tenet says it had seen a dramatic increase in the use of its cardiac services.
Production and ad placements cost $64,000, but the campaign generated $2.1 million in cardiac procedures ranging from stress tests to bypass operations, Tenet says. The impact of the ad campaign was measured by calls to a toll-free telephone number published in the ads and sub-sequentreferrals to Tenet hospitals.
By the end of this May, which marked the close of Tenet's fiscal 1996, the system was getting a return of $3 for ever y $1 it spent on marketing in South Florida.
Brainerd says tracking the impact of the marketing dollars proves her department's value to cost-conscious executives higher up Tenet's management ladder. "Marketing is one of those things that the hospital will cut at the top of the list," Brainerd says. "It's viewed as a nice thing to have and not a must."