The Cheerleader Effect: Buzzworthy Programs Increase Senior Living Referrals

Bland walk-throughs and lackluster meet-and-greets as senior living sales and marketing go-tos are things of the past. Now, providers are stepping into the surrounding community in an effort to change perceptions on aging and boost occupancy, namely through locally focused marketing strategies.

From a senior cheerleading squad that performs at a nearby university’s football halftime shows to baseball games with the local minor league team’s mascot, providers are becoming increasingly innovative in how they market themselves and portray their residents.

“Any time you have an opportunity to create brand awareness outside of traditional marketing efforts, it’s something you want to measure your dollars on,” says Kevin Fletcher, director of sales and marketing for Harrogate, a continuing care retirement community in Lakewood, New Jersey.

And the buzz that providers are creating in their respective communities is palpable—one provider in Texas says about three-fourths of people who came in as prospects in 2014 had attended at least one locally tailored event, while another says community outreach has led to an influx of resident referrals, in turn helping to achieve the provider’s sales goals.

Here are three examples of how cutting-edge providers are establishing connections in the community to challenge their residents, forge distinct partnerships and make themselves highly visible to their neighbors.

Take Me Out to the Ball Game

As a CCRC located in New Jersey’s Ocean County, which has one of the most highly concentrated senior populations in the United States, Harrogate has its work cut out for it to stand out in a crowded playing field. But a relationship with the Lakewood BlueClaws, a minor league baseball team affiliated with the Philadelphia Phillies, however, has allowed the facility to do just that.

When Harrogate first established its partnership with the BlueClaws about 10 years ago, Fletcher says it was primarily meant to benefit the residents through outings to games. But this year, the relationship shifted to focus on how Harrogate could best tell its story and the ways in which the CCRC could benefit the team.

Part of that effort came about when the BlueClaws were looking to add video content to promote on social media and during games, Fletcher tells SHN. So Harrogate residents went to the stadium and participated in a mock baseball game with the BlueClaws mascot, Buster. Throw in some editing, and the video depicts residents hitting home runs left and right.

The video gained significant traction, not only proving a positive experience for the residents involved, but also generating conversation about Harrogate and the lifestyle attainable there. Fletcher says a main goal is to alter retirees’ mindset that a precipitating event is necessary to move to a CCRC—that it can be a want rather than a need.

“Residents are going through and experiencing this firsthand, and they’re more than happy to share that with anybody from the outside,” Fletcher says. “The No.1 referral you can get is a resident referral, and happy residents lead to resident referrals. …Through all of this, we’ve just kept our mouths shut and let the residents tell the story.”

When in Doubt, Cheer It Out

When residents at The Terraces at San Joaquin Gardens, a CCRC located in Fresno, California comprised of 272 independent living residences, 58 assisted living apartments, 26 memory care units and 54 skilled nursing beds, began discussing their deep ties to nearby Fresno State University a few years back, management began to ask: What could The Terraces offer to be an extension of the university’s cultural hub?

The most logical answer was to reach out and form a partnership, says Jessica Lopez, executive director at the CCRC.

“For us, it was really about reimaging senior living,” Lopez says . “As a society, we’re kind of afraid of aging. We’re getting out there to show that you don’t stop at a certain age, that there really is successful aging. Our residents came here to grow, not just grow old.”

Enter the Senior Dog Squad, a group of residents who learn routines from the university’s cheerleaders and perform at select home football games and basketball halftime shows.

The Senior Dog Squad launched prior to the 2014 football season, with tryouts held at The Terraces and rehearsals taking place several times each week. Participants are enthusiastic, fans go wild at Fresno State performances, and Lopez says people are amazed at what the residents are capable of doing.

“I can only describe it as a time portal, in a way,” Lopez says . “It’s taking them back to their college years, and their energy hasn’t diminished over the years.”

And leads that make their way to The Terraces are saying that they’ve seen the Senior Dog Squad out and about, Lopez says .

“The marketing was a byproduct, but it was authentic,” Lopez says. “This has opened an entire arena that allows folks to see our community in a way they’ve never seen it before.”

Roll Out the Red Carpet

A community with 182 independent living apartments and onsite assisted living, memory support and private skilled nursing care located in the cultural district of Fort Worth, Texas, The Stayton at Museum Way originally aimed to develop marketing events to reflect the nature of the area.

“When folks are looking at retirement communities, they really can’t envision themselves anyplace but home,” says Patt [two t’s?] Brewster, vice president of marketing for Greystone Communities Inc., which oversees marketing for The Stayton. “It’s up to us to really get them to feel at home before they come here to live.”

From that thinking came the concepts for the Red Carpet Series, the Signature Series and the Stayton Cliburn Recital Series, Brewster says. Events for the programs are exclusive to The Stayton residents and prospects.

Each program has its own appeal. The Red Carpet Series brings presenters like television anchor and journalist Jane Pauley, actress Janine Turner and CIA officer Tony Mendez to the community, while the Signature Series focuses more on local opportunities, like a curator at an art museum or a chef at an area restaurant providing special showcases for residents and prospects.

The Stayton Cliburn Recital Series, the community’s latest endeavor, is a partnership with the Van Cliburn Foundation, an entity dedicated to advancing classical music across the globe through competitions and educational programs. Those in attendance at these events enjoy onsite concerts from some of the top talent in the classical music realm.

Zitong Wang plays at The Stayton

Zitong Wang plays at The Stayton

Brewster says programming tailored to appeal to residents at The Stayton and those living nearby is working. In 2014, about three-fourths of people who came to The Stayton as prospects had attended at least one event, she says.

“What’s important for a future resident is to transfer that sense of belonging and social comfort,” Brewster says. “Outreach has been a very critical part of our success. And it’s not only been a lot of fun, but it’s helping the community become more educated about The Stayton.”

Written by Kourtney Liepelt