The VALUE in Combined Activity & Marketing Events

By: Art Carr

A hallmark of my considerable success in directing fill-ups of new senior living properties and turn-arounds of under-performing communities has been a focus on enhanced resident lifestyles as the foundation for effective marketing campaigns.  Energizing and elevating the level of activity programming makes meaningful interaction between prospects and current residents possible.

 

This contrasts with traditional industry marketing principles that emphasize large socially-oriented events.  Under the WOW theory, an over-whelming impression is made on the prospective residents (and/or their adult children) once they are persuaded to get through the doors.  With the money invested by ownership in upscale furnishings, etc., this has been somewhat and sometimes effective in helping evolve the “rest home” perception for many of the “Greatest Generation”.

 

This type of social event often revolves around FOOD and maybe some entertainment, but is effectively passive in nature, with the prospects more of a spectator than a participant.  Conversely, a combined Progressive Retirement Lifestyles (“PRL”) Activity and Marketing Event is designed to engage the visitors and integrate them into on-going daily activities of the senior living community.  This establishes an important level of normalcy to the process, encourages the formation of relationships with current residents and staff and minimizes barriers to the move-in process.  We have also found this to be somewhat more appealing to the newer, more demanding generations of prospects than the older “Greatest Generation”.[i]

 

To illustrate the difference between these concepts, two examples of marketing events are described below:  a) traditional Dessert Extravaganza and b) a combined marketing and activity program such as the “Older Adults Mind, Body & Spirit Olympics”.  You decide which approach stimulates the greater likelihood of a move-in.

 

Dessert Extravaganza

This type of event is organized under the “shotgun” approach” with the expectation that enough invitations mailed out to prospects (regardless of their defined interests, etc.) will lead to enough attendance with enough prospects being “WOWED” to lead to move-ins.  Therefore, invitations are typically issued to everyone on the prospect list.  A substantial number of guests (25 or more) are expected to gather for a special 2 o’clock Saturday afternoon affair.

Dessert Extravaganza

This type of event requires a fair amount of time and money for planning and preparation (or purchase) of a variety of baked goods, confectionary treats and other “finger foods” such as petit fours, tarts, cookies, mini-cheesecakes, eclairs, cupcakes, macarons and other pastries.  It does give the Community an opportunity to showcase their “Executive Chef”, especially if s/he has talents as a baker.

 

Each visitor registers (to qualify for door prizes – as well as for follow-up) and is encouraged to “take a tour” on a standard tour route and to view a decorated model apartment.  Afterwards, they partake of the dessert buffet and then sit and (maybe) listen to a pianist or keyboard singer for a couple of hours.  After that, the guests leave and the residents are served their dinner for the day.

 

Does this scenario sound very familiar to events you’ve sponsored or attended?

 

Of course, the $64,000 Question at this type of event is when a guest meets a current resident and says “This was really nice; how often do you have this type of dessert event?”  Typically, the answer is something like “whenever the census gets too low and the marketing department is willing to pay for another party!”

 

The point is that this is perceived as a special event for new prospects and not something that is designed to benefit / improve the lifestyle of the current residents.

 

 

 

 

Older Adult Mind, Body & Spirit Olympics

The PRL Olympics and similar campaigns combine exOlder Adult Olympicsisting activity programs with new initiatives to boost the quantity and quality of activities and resident lifestyles.  Prospects are encouraged to come in, join a TEAM and participate in events with 3 – 4 current residents.

 

This gives immediate satisfaction of their needs for socialization while the opportunity to compete promotes a sense of accomplishment and ego satisfaction.[ii]

 

Our plan is to acquaint prospective residents with rewarding and meaningful daily activities that they can expect to continue on a routine basis after they move-in.  We strive to promote their level of independence while introducing them to new experiences and lifelong learning opportunities.

 

These are actually provided during the event(s) – not just “promised” for some time in the future.

 

PRL takes a holistic approach to our combined activity / marketing events by challenging the participants’ mind and body while improving their spirits through socialization and fostering of new relationships with other prospects and current residents.  This also induces a certain degree of peer pressure that is beneficial in encouraging the prospect to move in.

 

Consider the following PARTICIPATION by a prospect over a several day event:

 

Day 1 – Morning

  • The prospect (“Mary Jones”) arrives and registers. She is greeted by Sally, John and Mabel from the Community.  Along with one more prospect or resident, this will make up an Olympic TEAM.
  • The TEAM will find a seat and be asked to complete a 10-Question Quiz about Brazil and the Summer Olympics. The answer booklets serve as the registration for prizes for correct answers and door prizes.
  • The Opening Ceremony will include an overview of the games with basic rules and a LifeLong Learning Seminar re. Rio de Janiero, Brazil and the Olympics.
  • Next, the TEAM will participate in a seated Beachball Volleyball Tournament.
  • Mary will have lunch with her teammates.

 

She can take a tour whenever she has down time between events – at her convenience!

 

Day 1 – Afternoon

  • Mary will be taught how to win at Sudoku and her team will play Tournament Sudoku utilizing the special PRL Magnetic Board.
  • Next, the Team will participate in the seated basketball H-O-R-S-E contest.
  • Finally, Mary and her Team will join in the special Steeplechase Horse Racing challenge before dinner.

Steeplechase -a

Day 2 – Morning

  • Each member of the Olympic TEAM will complete in the events of the Older Adults Pentathlon:
    • Bicycle: How long will it take to pedal a mile on a stationary recumbent bike or Nu-Step machine?
    • Then “Power-walk” a course through the building’s corridors.
    • Target Shooting: Use a Nerf Gun to shoot 5 targets.
    • Balance Beam & Agility Drill: Staying on the ground (unlike the Women’s Gymnastics), they will walk the “balance beam” and navigate an agility course between orange cones.
    • Big Board Scrabble: Mary will challenge her vocabulary skills in the TEAM Scrabble tournament.

 

Day 2 – Afternoon

  • Olympic Golf will be the focus after lunch. Mary will compete on a 9-hole course that is comprised of part Wii Golf holes and part different putting games.
  • Then she will be taught (if necessary) how to use a computer mouse to compete in solving jigsaw puzzles on a timed basis.

 

Day 3 – Morning

  • “Track & Field” Events will be held outside in the early morning before it becomes too hot:
    • Discus: A Frisbee is used to sail for distance to emulate this event.
    • Shot Put: A softball will be “put” from a seated position with maximum distance measured.
  • The last TEAM events for Mary will be the simulated “100M Dash” and the “5x100M Relay”. These are set up similar to the horse racing game with movements and winners determined by roll of the dice.

 

Day 3 – Afternoon

  • Award Certificates will be presented in a ceremony during lunch.
  • Afterwards, guests are invited for a “formal” tour of the Community.

 

Whether the event is held for 1 day or 3 days (as in this example), the prospects will begin a process of integration into the daily living of the Community that should soften the “transition trauma” of a future move-in.  The visitors will have received a casual tour of the Community as they participated in various events in different Winner - Lady w Trophyparts of the building.  They will have built new relationships with their future neighbors, enjoyed several meals similar to what they can expect in the future, have learned new skills and information and had FUN with an enjoyable and positive experience.

 

Most importantly, the event has gone a long way towards dispelling fears about living in a senior living community.  The prospect is given insight into the interactive lifestyle that allows them to continue to maintain their independence and dignity as they LIVE in their new prospective home.

 

We believe this will encourage positive feedback and receptivity to follow-up by the sales & marketing staff.

 

If you would like to learn more about how you can implement the innovative and contemporary “Older Adults Mind, Body & Spirit Olympics” for your senior living community, please contact Art Carr directly at art@progressiveretirement.com or 615-414-5217.

 

[i] The Greatest Generation has been the predominant driving force in the evolution of senior care / living facilities from skilled nursing to independent retirement centers over the past 30 – 40 years.  As the World War II era population dies away, smart operators must evolve their methods to remain relevant to newer generations.

[ii] According to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, people of all ages will continually seek satisfaction of these higher level needs.

March Madness!

Throughout the country, normally sane men and women, boys and girls go crazy over NCAA basketball in March each year.  65 men’s and 64 women’s teams compete in the annual tournaments to crown the year’s champions with millions of fans who haven’t attended a game all year tuned  to their TV sets.  “Bracketology” is THE buzzwordFinal Four 2013 for several weeks with folks who would never consider going to Las Vegas joining their local pools at work, in neighborhoods – even at church – to pick the winners at each level and cash in on the “big prize”.  EXCITEMENT abounds!

Yet, what about our senior citizens?  Did they retire from all this “hoopla” when they moved into a senior living community?  As a regional director for over 20 retirement centers, I learned that none of these buildings scheduled anything on their activities calendars related to these events.  Several factors potentially contribute to this omission:

  • Some senior living properties become so focused on providing for ALL of the needs of their residents internally, they tend to overlook the importance of keeping the residents aware of and involved in the mainstream activities of the broader community.
  • Some buildings still hold a “rest home” mentality with activity programs limited to the 3B’s:  Bible, Bingo and Birthday.
  • Many activity directors  consider sports related programming as only male-oriented activities and believe that they would not be well received by the majority of residents who are women.[1]
  • Finally, some may simply look at the tournament as something the individual can watch in their own apartment, overlooking the value of socialization in watching the game  with  friends.  It’s strange that we see the value in weekly movies in the TV rooms but don’t consider the benefit of watching and discussing other TV programs in a common setting.

     ACTIVITY CALENDAR TIP:

Because of the number of games in all time zones, there is an opportunity to schedule WEEKEND and EVENING events around the broadcast of these games on numerous days!

In keeping with the philosophy of enhancing marketability by improving the resident experience[2], I directed that March Madness be treated as a current event.

MARKETING TIP:

Identify “prospects” who are currently living alone and might be interested in seeing games.  Invite those individuals to watch a game on your big screen TV with your in-house residents.  Sell camaraderie and the value of their access to the large (and high definition if you have one) TV.

The following game was one of several activities initiated in my buildings.  [Please contact me directly to discuss other activity and marketing ideas that may be built around the March Madness concept.]

March Madness

(Seated Basketball Game)

OVERVIEW:

This is a TEAM sport with two 5-member teams.  This is an age-adapted, adult program designed as a low-impact physical activity suitable for all residents.  The game is played from a seated position to neutralize any height advantage and eliminate restrictions based on

Seated Basketball

Seated
Basketball

the ability to stand and/or walk without assistance.

It is based on the shoot-around game of “HORSE” with 5 chairs placed in front of the basket.  Each participant on each team will shoot from every seat with points scored for made baskets.

ACTIVITY OBJECTIVES:

  1. Promote independence in body and spirit.
  2. Help residents fulfill social & ego needs.  Several residents may achieve self-actualization by participating in their First basketball “game”.
  3. Create new Precious Memories as seniors get the opportunity to showcase their abilities to their families.

EQUIPMENT REQUIRED:

  1. An adjustable height basketball backboard and goal.    The goal works best at 6 feet for an 8 ft. or higher ceiling.  The model shown is manufactured by Little Tykes and may be purchased at Toys-R-Us for about $45.  Remove or cover any reference to the Little Tykes name, age group, etc. (e.g. Use a sticker with the community’s name or logo) to insure that the equipment does NOT convey a “juvenile” nature to the activity.

The manufacturer recommends that the base be filled with sand, but a) a staff member can hold the backboard with a foot on the base or b)  fill with water to make it easier to move / store when not in use.

2.  The set comes with a ball, but these are usually light weight and more of a playground ball than a true basketball.  More realism will be gained by purchasing several mini-basketballs which fit these goals.  These can usually be found on-line or at stores such as Dick’s Sporting Goods.

Several buildings found mini-basketballs with local school logos and purchased balls for competing schools (e.g. Florida & Florida State, or Tennessee, Kentucky & Vanderbilt).  They found that allowing their resident teams to use these balls gave their teams identity and heightened competition.  Ideally, the facility should have at least 3 balls for each team to speed up the game.

3.  Five straight-back chairs placed in a semi-circle in front of the goal, plus 10 chairs for the “bench” (players not currently shooting) and chairs for spectators.  The spread of the arc can be adjusted to fit the dimensions of the room, but the center seat should generally be placed no less than 5, nor more than 8, feet from the goal, with the others spread to the side accordingly.  At least initially, the “court” should be designed to facilitate scoring.  Creating a sense of accomplishment for the first contestants will encourage greater future participation.

4.  A flip chart on an easel with marker to keep score.  Both individual and team scores will need to be maintained.  A volunteer will be needed to serve as the Scorekeeper.

NOTE:  Tech-savvy communities may find it advantageous to use a laptop and flat-screen TV for keeping SCORE!

Preparation:

Set-up can be accomplished in about 15 minutes once the goal has been assembled.  The activity is suitable for on-going competition throughout the year, but initiating the program during the NCAA tournament adds the additional “spice” to encourage greater participation, selection of TEAM names, etc.  Some buildings may want to encourage residents to purchase TEAM t-shirts/jerseys for additional authenticity to the competition.

Tournament Play:

The style of the tournament will depend on the number of teams involved, recognizing that the principal objective is to generate as much resident participation as possible.  The following options may generate activity programming over several days and/or weeks:

  • Two Teams: Direct head-to-head competition.  This can follow the simple one-and-done philosophy of the NCAA OR utilize the series approach with the best out of 3 or 5 declared the overall winner.
  • Three Teams: Round-Robin competition with each team playing each other team.  If one team beats both the other teams, they will be declared the winner with the team winning the other game as the runner-up.  If each team wins one game, a final round will be held.  If there is no champion determined after that round, the three teams will compete in a sudden death Tie Breaker as outlined below.
  • Four or more Teams: Olympic style competition. Each team will play every other team in a preliminary round.  Then the two teams with the best records will play in a championship round for gold and silver medals.  If desired, the 3rd and 4th placed teams may play in a consolation round for a bronze medal.

ICE-BREAKER IDEA

Demonstration Event

5 Resident Volunteers

vs

THE STAFF

Beginning Play:

Each team will choose a Captain who will also be the first shooter.  After the ceremonial coin toss, the winner will take the middle seat and the first half will commence.

Play:

  1. The first player will shoot 3 balls from the center seat with 2 points scored for each basket made.
  2. The player will then move to the next seat to the right of the basket and the first player from the opposing team will take his/her place in the first seat.
  3. That player will take their 3 shots and then move to the next seat to the left of the basket.
  4. Play then returns to the first player who shoots 3 times and then moves to the chair on the far right.
  5. The first player from the opposing team does the same to the left of the basket.
  6. Then, the 2nd player from the first team moves to the center seat and takes their 3 shots.
  7. As they move to the second seat, the opposing team’s 2nd player takes over the center seat.
  8. Next, the 1st players take their shots from the far seats and then return to the Bench.
  9. This process continues until all 5 players from each TEAM have completed their 9 shots and the FIRST HALF concludes.
  10. After an intermission, the SECOND HALF continues in the same process, except that the first team moves to the left of the basket and the other team moves to the right.  At the end of the SECOND HALF, each player will have attempted 6 shots from the center seat and 3 from each of the other seats.
  11. At the end of the game, the TEAM with the most points (made baskets) is declared the winner.

Tie-Breaker:

In the event of a tie, the player from each TEAM with the highest personal score will be involved in a tie-breaker.  If more than one player on the same team has the same score, the team will choose which one will participate in the tie-breaker.

Beginning with the losing team of the original Coin Toss, the player will sit in the center seat (the “foul shot” position) and continue shooting until they miss.  The opposing team player must then beat the number of shots made by the first player to be declared the winner.

In the event of another tie, play will move to the 2nd highest scorer for each team and continue until a) a winner is chosen or b) all players have participated.

Should that happen, the foul shot line will be moved backwards in 1 foot increments until a winner is determined.

Advanced Play Options:

  1. A more complex scoring option is to record 1 point for baskets from the center seat (equating to a foul shot), 2 points from the middle seat and 3 points from the furthest chair.  It is generally best to begin with the simpler form of scoring until the participants become acquainted with the game and it becomes advantageous to increase the level of competition.
  2. Seats can be placed further away from the goal.
  3. Schedule an on-going competition or tournament with one or more nearby facilities.

    MARKETING TIP:

    • Contact a Senior Citizens Center, Church Group or other Seniors’ Organization and invite them to put together a team to challenge your in-house CHAMPS!

    • Add a social event, door prizes, etc. to tie in with the tournament and add participants and observers to your prospect list.

    Set up a home-and-away schedule with residents traveling to the opposing teams’ home court and vice versa.  Note: this is a great option when the same company has more than one property in the same geographical area – but may, in some instances, be also possible with competitor locations.


[1] These individuals should check out the popularity of women’s college basketball and Tennessee coach Pat Summitt who leads ALL COACHES in total career wins.

[2] Check out “Turning Residents into our Best Marketers” in the CATEGORIES drop-down box for additional thoughts on this philosophy.

Please leave a comment and share the March Madness activities you have implemented successfully in your building.

Building the Foundation

House on Sand

A house built on sand will not stand”.     Similarly, a marketing campaign must be built on a solid foundation of satisfied residents to be successful.

Management’s efficiency is often measured on its ability to turn its resources into assets. The existing residents, who I often present as “our most precious resources” when conducting training sessions, are a great resource for the senior living industry  Successful senior living centers go to great lengths to ensure that, like the country’s natural resources, these assets are protected and nurtured, and not allowed to become a liability when marketing the project.

Every available means must be utilized to attract prospective residents and convince them to move in, especially in these challenging times.  The existing residents can become the best marketers for the community, but first a solid foundation of resident satisfaction and support must be built.

Word-of-mouth is still the best advertising for the senior living business. A customer who has a good experience will tell 3 people; BUT will tell 10 people if their experience was bad!  And then those 10 people will tell 10 people, etc. etc. Therefore, the first step is to make sure that the resident experience is perceived positively by those living in the community and that it adds positive value to their lives.

So, what can we do to insure that our residents are reporting positive experiences to their family and friends?  My most successful properties – those that ran consistently at 100% occupancy – were those in which the managers became extended family for the residents.  I would tell new manager applicants during the recruiting process that there were just two basic rules regarding the treatment of residents: 1) always treat them with the utmost dignity and respect, and 2) treat them as you would treat your own mother or grandmother.

Dignity and respect are terms that are used in various settings across the spectrum of senior living and health care, including the confidentiality of medical information under HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) and proper handling of the notorious medical gown.  I have added the term UTMOST to encourage management and staff to think first and foremost of the resident’s dignity in their actions every day and actively demonstrate an appreciation and respect for the accomplishments that each resident has made in their life prior to coming to live in the senior community.

Recognizing and treating each resident as an individual and not as a group demonstrates this attitude of utmost dignity and respect. Otherwise, there is a tendency to fall into the trap of “us” (e.g. staff and management) versus “them”.  The prior management at one independent living property had been so unresponsive that the residents had banded together to form their own independent committee as a means to getting their concerns heard and/or addressed.  This committee had elected officials and held formalized meetings, with published minutes, in which management was not allowed to attend or participate, unless specifically invited by the residents.


Prior management had allowed the equivalent of a “Resident Union” to be formed.  It was tempting to simply refuse to recognize this committee, but I decided that a) that was a battle I couldn’t win and b) that if I did “win”, I would do so by taking away some perceived rights, independence and the respect that the elected officials had with their peers.

I decided to use a sales approach in meeting this challenge instead of trying to dictate behavior to the residents.  We made it a priority each day to recognize and be more responsive to the individual needs and desires of each resident and made a conscientious effort to deal with each of them as an individual.

Most importantly, we demonstrated respect by communicating our plan, vision and proposed changes / improvements to the residents on a regular basis.

Then, we began to find solutions to their concerns, solved some long-standing problems and invested a few dollars for new activities and a few amenities to their environment.  We took the initiative to make changes without waiting for a complaint / suggestion from the residents.

We were successful in quickly turning around a negative situation by treating the residents with dignity and respect.  The President of the committee, after 2 – 3 weeks of this new focus, said that he felt that our new management team really cared for the residents, that he supported what we were trying to do and suggested that he disband the committee.

In exchange, I presented the concept of shared responsibility for the smooth-running of the building; replacing the “union” with a management-led resident meeting, 2-way dialogue and a cooperative effort between management and residents to solve common problems.  This allowed a forum for the residents to express their opinions and concerns (thus having some input and control of their own destiny), BUT management remained in control of the process.

A number of key residents volunteered to help in marketing the property as a result of these endeavors.

This scenario also demonstrates the importance of creating a selling atmosphere throughout all levels of the organization.  The clientele in independent living, and to a somewhat lesser degree in assisted living, are predominantly private-pay, heavily involved in the decision-making process as to their care and level of service, and fully capable of choosing another location / provider any day they aren’t satisfied with the level of service.  Management, for success in this environment, must focus on perceptions and marketability, with less emphasis on structure and compliance with policies and regulations. The individual staff members must sell every aspect of the service every day, including the description of the meals on the menu, presentation of the entree on the plate, the attitude of the housekeeper, wait staff, bus driver and others as they interact with the residents, and the quality of the activity program.1

How many times have you heard the expression that we revert to childhood in our “old age”?  The sad fact is that too often management tends to treat their “charges” as though they were children, with senior centers run like child care centers with a lot of rules, limitations, etc.  This can become demeaning and demoralizing for a senior resident as they struggle to deal with the loss of their independence.  These residents, unlike children, have been accustomed to making decisions for themselves (and often for others through their positions of responsibility) all of their adult lives.

Therefore, PROMOTING INDEPENDENCE is another important ingredient to gaining the support of the residents for community marketing efforts.  This is the mortar that holds the foundation of resident satisfaction together.  A dynamic activity program that identifies and helps residents meet their needs and fulfill their life’s desires is an essential key to achieving these objectives and creating value for the residents.  Activities should be considered as a marketing investment; not merely as a necessary cost – as filler for the day.

Residents who become motivated to get involved with other residents in scheduled activity programs will help create a community that is an active and fun place to live; thereby attracting more potential residents.  The goal should image001be to stimulate an environment in which the residents can’t wait to get up each morning –> to see what types of exciting and rewarding activities are planned for the day.  In some of my best buildings, the residents complained that there was so much to do, that they couldn’t do it all! This is a good complaint to have because they are presenting the property in a very positive light as they speak with their friends and family. 2

In summary, if the residents are treated as individuals, with the utmost dignity and respect and their efforts to maintain their independence in all phases of their life are promoted, a strong foundation of resident satisfaction will be built and the residents will become friends who will be happy to help market the project.

Additional information may be obtained regarding the following topics:

1Building a Winning Culture

2 “Promoting Independence in Mind, Body & Spirit”