The American Medical Association is betting that a stylish new logo and a $60 million national advertising campaign will help reverse five straight years of slumping membership.
In the latest in a series of costly efforts to halt its membership slide, the Chicago-based AMA launched an ad campaign that will stretch over three years and carry a simple theme: "Together we are stronger."
The promotional push features a bright new purple logo and flashy television commercials aimed at promoting the medical profession's "human side" on such key AMA priorities as medical liability reform and Medicare payments.
"This is not another little thing" to boost membership, said AMA President John Nelson, a Salt Lake City-based OB/GYN. "This is something serious and deep that we feel very strongly about."
Michael Maves, the AMA's executive vice president and chief executive officer, called the campaign the culmination of a long-term marketing initiative. Since 2000, AMA membership has dropped by about 46,000, or 15.8%, to 244,530 at the end of 2004. Since 1993 membership is down 17.6%, sinking consistently from the all-time high of 296,627.
Maves said all of the AMA's annual marketing budget of about $20 million will go into the campaign, which kicks off with a back cover ad in USA Weekend, a weekly newspaper insert. TV and radio ads scheduled to debut this fall will feature AMA members as "everyday heroes."
The AMA has focused on boosting its membership for years, mounting similar but less-extensive campaigns that have failed to deliver. The organization spent millions, including at least $1.4 million to consultancy McKinsey & Co. in an attempt to find a way to connect with a new wave of physicians more inclined to join their state or specialty societies than the AMA.
Maves, who said AMA membership now represents about 28% of U.S. doctors, expects the latest effort to increase membership by about 1 percentage point in 2005. But many doctors now view the 154-year-old organization as hidebound and irrelevant, and focused too much on pocketbook issues like liability reform and Medicare payments at the expense of societal concerns.
"The AMA has been seen by many physicians as acting more like a guild that supports its members' financial best interests rather than the best interests of the public," said Jerome Kassirer, a physician, former editor of the New England Journal of Medicine and now a distinguished professor of medicine at Tufts University School of Medicine in Boston.
Leana Wen, a medical student at Washington University in St. Louis and president of the 50,000-member American Medical Student Association, said, "The reason the AMA has been sinking is because it's focused mainly on self-serving issues. I wish there was another organization out there to represent the voice of physicians that has patient advocacy as a primary goal."
Despite membership woes, the AMA announced a record operating profit of $39.8 million last year, almost double that in 2003.