In an effort to bolster business in its nursing-home subsidiary, Silver Spring-based Manor Care Inc. is resorting to the tactic that pushed its Choice International hotel empire to the forefront of many consumers' minds: an aggressive marketing campaign.
The advertising that Baltimore's Gray Kirk & Evans has designed for Manor Healthcare is not as upbeat as the popular "celebrity in a suitcase" spots the agency created for Manor's hotel chain in 1984, but the company is hoping the ads will be just as effective in attracting new customers.
The black-and-white print ads will be test-marketed in magazines and newspapers in Washington beginning Monday and will focus on the feelings of people faced with placing a loved one in a nursing home.
That differs with the word-of-mouth approach that Manor Care and most nursing-home companies have relied on to spread information about their business. Under that system, they depended on social workers, physicians and hospital discharge planners to tell the public.
"Our strategy is to deal directly with the trauma involved in having to choose a nursing home" for a loved one, said William T. Eggbeer, overseer of Manor Healthcare's business and marketing strategy. "Decisions often have to be made during a ** crisis without knowing the choices that are out there."
One of the three print ads features a wife whose husband of 53 years is in need of a nursing home. The other two are about children who are grappling with the idea of nursing homes for their mothers.
Mr. Eggbeer said Manor Healthcare decided on more active advertising for its 165 nursing homes nationwide after taking a look at how Manor's Choice hotels profited from creative marketing.
After former U.S. Representative Thomas P. "Tip" O'Neill Jr. agreed to pop out of a weathered suitcase, hotel reservations from elderly travelers rose 40 percent within a month, according to the company.
"Profit margins are still under pressure at Manor Healthcare. They are looking for ways to improve their business mix and that fits with an advertising campaign," said Joyce Albers, who follows Manor Care for First Boston in New York.
Mr. Eggbeer said times have been hard for nursing homes across the country because a shortage of nurses has sparked a dramatic increase in labor costs.
If Gray Kirk's nursing home campaign is perceived as successful, Manor Healthcare will embark on a larger campaign. Mr. Eggbeer said success will be determined by the number of calls the company receives as a result of the ads.
The campaign also features a toll-free number consumers can call for a free copy of "When Love Gets Tough," which deals with the dilemmas of caring for the elderly.
The Washington market was chosen for the print campaign because Manor Healthcare has recently opened new nursing homes in Silver Spring and Fair Oaks, Va., and expanded homes in Largo and Arlington, Va., Mr. Eggbeer said.
A test television campaign has been in the works for several weeks in Cleveland, central Illinois and Tampa, Fla., all of which -- have a higher proportion of senior citizens than the national average.