A turnabout in Columbia/HCA Healthcare Corp.'s marketing strategy has resulted in the resignation of a once-powerful company executive and layoffs at a former Columbia acquisition target.
Lindy Richardson, a key architect of Columbia's controversial national branding campaign, resigned last week as senior vice president of marketing and public affairs, company officials said.
Richardson was a loyalist of departed Columbia leader Richard Scott. But new Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Thomas F. Frist Jr., M.D., doesn't think highly of the branding campaign; and Columbia insiders said Richardson's role in the company would have diminished.
"We need to get out of in-your-face branding," Frist said in a July 31 interview at Columbia's Nashville headquarters. "The industry is not ready for that."
Columbia allocated nearly $200 million for advertising in 1995 and 1996, the largest such spending by a healthcare provider ever. Some $90 million was budgeted for advertising this year.
Columbia said it hasn't done recent marketing studies, but the effort improved its standing in some markets. "It clearly did have an impact," said Victor Campbell, Columbia senior vice president.
Spending in 1996 included the $50 million launch of a national branding campaign intended to put Columbia's name in the American lexicon.
Meanwhile, America's Health Network, which was supposed to be acquired by Columbia, has furloughed 161 of its 200 full-time employees following Columbia's decision late last month to terminate its letter of intent (Aug. 4, p. 2). Columbia's proposed acquisition of the 24-hour cable channel was part of its plans to build national name recognition.
"The 11th-hour decision by Columbia really left us in the lurch," AHN spokeswoman Laura Meyers said.
AHN broadcasts from Universal Studios in Orlando, Fla., and is owned by A.H. Belo Corp., Dallas.
Richardson could not be reached for comment on her departure.
The Columbia marketer often took a combative stance with the media and shielded Scott from interviews. For example, CBS news veteran Mike Wallace said he had never encountered such an "orchestrated stonewall" as what his news show "60 Minutes" was put through by Richardson and her subordinates in its attempts to interview Scott (April 14, p. 56).