Full Transcript

Visit the website at https://www.seniorsbettertogether.com/

Valerie VanBooven RN BSN:

This is Valerie VanBooven with the Senior Care Industry Netcast, where leaders with three or more years in the senior care industry share their advice. It’s just a few questions in just a few minutes, we try to keep it short. So with that, tell us who you are and what you do.

DeAnne Clune:

Hi, Valerie. My name is DeAnne Clune, and I’m a senior living marketer. I’ve been in the business for 21 years now, and got my start at Leisure Care. And I’ve always worked in a multi-site capacity for companies like Leisure Care Merrill Gardens Transforming Age. And then most recently I’ve been a consultant in the industry, and now have the dual role of being Managing Director of Seniors Better Together, which is a newly formed marketing co-op of unaffiliated communities.

Valerie VanBooven RN BSN:

Wow. Well, tell us a little bit more about Seniors Better Together, because I know we have other questions, but people are going to want to know more about what that means.

DeAnne Clune:

Oh my gosh. Yes. Well, I’m so excited because it’s really a grassroots effort, and it came about in discussions with community marketers all over. I’m based in Washington State. So I spoke to a lot of folks there, and basically listened to everyone’s common challenge of the pandemic. What can we do to market? Our budgets have been cut, our occupancy’s going down. We still have goals to meet. And, everyone is just really for the first time ever is in the same boat.

DeAnne Clune:

So we started having conversations about, what could we collaborate on? What can we do together, industry-wide? So came I up with this marketing co-op idea, and Seniors Better Together was formed, and it is also the name of the campaign. So we have a consumer campaign ready to go, and we really hope it becomes a movement among senior living communities across the country who, if unified, can really make an impact on our current situation.

Valerie VanBooven RN BSN:

Yeah, absolutely. I think we have all learned a lot in the last eight months, or maybe it’s almost been more than eight months. Well, maybe we’re right at the end of eight months. It seems like it’s been like five years, right?

DeAnne Clune:

Right.

Valerie VanBooven RN BSN:

We’ve all learned a lot. Marketing has been a huge challenge for everybody, especially those of us who rely on those face-to-face meetings with families, and seniors, and with our peers, and other folks in the industry. We just can’t do that right now.

DeAnne Clune:

That’s right.

Valerie VanBooven RN BSN:

Not very well, or not very much. And we’re going with these waves of, it gets better, it gets worse, it gets better, it gets worse. So, a vaccine can’t come fast enough, or whatever it is that makes this-

DeAnne Clune:

Right. [crosstalk 00:03:27]

DeAnne Clune:

And I have to say, I think by and large communities, in general, have done a great job of keeping residents safe.

Valerie VanBooven RN BSN:

Yes.

DeAnne Clune:

That has been a bit of a bright spot, but now it’s time to maneuver out of that situation. And how do we continue business in this situation? And, like you said, a vaccine hopefully will be a game changer and can’t come too soon, but… Really thinking about what we can do in the moment and what we can do when the sun comes up again for our customers.

Valerie VanBooven RN BSN:

Yeah. And, truly, this may not be the last time that we see something like this, it probably won’t be. So whatever we can learn now, and whatever we can do to know that moving forward in our lives, and in our professional lives, and in our marketing lives, that there’s always this possibility. And there’s always a time that we may need to come together more, or better, or any different way, than… We learn all we can right now.

DeAnne Clune:

Yes.

Valerie VanBooven RN BSN:

Awesome. So, I’m so glad you put this together. And we’ll make sure there’s some information about that with your video, so that people can learn more, and participate, or reach out to you, or however they want to do that.

DeAnne Clune:

Wonderful.

Valerie VanBooven RN BSN:

All right. Well, tell me, what is the best thing about serving aging adults and their families?

DeAnne Clune:

Oh my gosh. Well, I think, like a lot of people, I feel like it’s a calling, it’s a passion. And I discovered it when I was going to college at Oregon State. And I got a summer job as a CNA at… In Oregon, they called it residential care at the time, and there was also a nursing component. And I really wanted to stay in Corvallis for the summer, and so I was looking for a job, and I thought, “Sure, why not?”

DeAnne Clune:

And I just developed such a love of working with older adults, and what the privilege it is to be serving them in this chapter of their lives. And, really, I think I was influenced too, by growing up with so many older adults in my life. I have known all my grandparents well into my forties.

Valerie VanBooven RN BSN:

Nice.

DeAnne Clune:

My first… Yeah. How lucky can you get? And then six of my great-grandparents, I had really close relationships with.

Valerie VanBooven RN BSN:

Nice.

DeAnne Clune:

In fact, Zola Consulting, which is my marketing consulting firm, is named with a mashup of two of my great-grandmothers. It’s called Zola, but it’s from Zora and Lola. So I put them together to create the name.

Valerie VanBooven RN BSN:

Very nice. Yeah. It sounds like you have a lot of good health and some longevity in there, so that speaks well for you.

DeAnne Clune:

Hopefully, some good genes. Yes.

Valerie VanBooven RN BSN:

Yeah, absolutely. That’s great. And so let’s talk about other organizations, leaders, mentors, maybe your grandparents or your great-grandparents, who is it that you would like to tell us about that that means a lot to you in your career?

DeAnne Clune:

There have been so many people along the way in my career journey. I was thinking about this, and there’s four women that stand out. They don’t know that I’m going to say this, so it’ll come as a surprise. But people that I really consider my mentors who have had really amazing careers themselves and, I don’t know that they set out to be my mentor, but they served in that capacity for me. And one of them is Tana Gall. You might know her from, she’s at Merrill Gardens now. And then Brenda Chambers is another COO that I’ve worked with in the past. And then Barbara Bowman was another operations partner. She has retired a few years ago. And then Bonnie Brian Caldwell, who is a nurse. She taught me early on, it was like the school of Bonnie, everything about assisted living, memory care, skilled nursing, the differentiating points. And so they’ve all been really instrumental for me.

DeAnne Clune:

Then just on an ongoing basis, all the community marketers that I’ve ever worked with. I’m so inspired by all of them, the jobs that they do, and really all the community teams, all the workers there who… I don’t think you can do this job if you don’t have a love of seniors, and who really work to do the right thing every day, and do what’s best for the residents in their care. And that’s been really meaningful for me.

Valerie VanBooven RN BSN:

Very inspirational to see that in action every day, as you’re marketing, and doing your own job. And those ladies that you mentioned, there’s always… If we come this far and we’re still doing what we love, and it makes us feel good, there’s almost always a few people in our lives, or organizations, that definitely stand out to us, and make a different may have made a difference in our lives. There’s so many moving parts and pieces to this whole senior care thing. So learning from really smart individuals who have been around the block for awhile. No schooling can replace that.

DeAnne Clune:

No, that is so true. I learned so much more, in life in doing the job, than I did in school.

Valerie VanBooven RN BSN:

Absolutely. Well, let’s talk a little bit about online marketing, because obviously we’re in a position where that’s become pretty important, but I know it can be ever changing. I know it’s ever changing, and it can be confusing. So what do you do, and what’s your take on online marketing to get the word out about your services?

DeAnne Clune:

Right. Absolutely. Again, over 21 years things have changed a bit. You may recall the Yellow Pages was it, right?

Valerie VanBooven RN BSN:

Yeah.

DeAnne Clune:

You had to be in the Yellow Pages and that was… There was no ifs, ands, or buts, and companies I worked with spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on Yellow Pages ads. And then this thing called the internet comes along and… Evolution every day. I think I saw, in recent years, how companies have kind of moved to this, “Oh, we’ll hire a digital marketer. We’ll put him on staff.” That might be good for some situations, but I don’t know that I follow that school of thought, because I think if you have a consultant, an agency, a firm who specializes in digital marketing, that you’re really going to be able to maneuver the situation in a strategic way, that’s best for your company. You usually have a collective group who are very experienced, can offer great advice and help us get through that. So I’ve kind of chosen myself to just kind of know enough to get by, like understand the terminology, and what the importance of it is, but rely on experts to really guide the specifics on it.

Valerie VanBooven RN BSN:

Yeah. I would totally agree with that. I would say from my perspective, if you hire somebody internally, they should be somebody who is web… It’s hard to find that person, but somebody who is web savvy, and who is also experienced in the senior care market. Because I would say hiring somebody directly out of college, who is really web savvy, is not a hugely bad choice, but if they haven’t had some life behind them, and they haven’t known this whole animal of the senior care market. And whether a family’s trying to decide on assisted living, or independent living, or home care, those are such emotional decisions. And they’re such financially overwhelming decisions, a lot of times, that if you kind of don’t understand what that’s like, it’s hard to have a good sense of how to market to our adult children and to the seniors both. It’s a little bit of a combination of things for marketing.

Valerie VanBooven RN BSN:

So yeah, I’d say if you hire somebody internally, it’s okay. But you got to find that interesting mix of someone who knows what they’re doing, but also has a little experience in the marketplace, or at least a little life experience. And then if you hire a firm that specializes in it, which of course that would be our forte, we would rather see… It doesn’t matter to me who people go to, but I would say my cautionary tale is that if you pick somebody who does roofers, plumbers, restaurants, and then throws you in the mix, it’s kind of putting a square peg in a round hole, because it’s just not the same. You’re not the same as lawyers, you’re not the same as roofers. This isn’t ordering a pizza online. This is a huge life change for everybody involved. And it takes a lot of thought process and knowledge to be able to market correctly without being, I guess, too quick on the draw, or whatever you want to call it.

DeAnne Clune:

It does. And it is a unique sector. It’s not even like hospitality, you have some influences of hospitality, you have some influences of healthcare, you have some influences of food service, and housing, and real estate. So there’s a lot of different influences, but yes, I think you’re absolutely right. That if someone does hire someone in house, that it’s not just like, “Oh, we’ll find a millennial and put him in the job.” I love millennials, don’t get me wrong, but just because some of our leadership doesn’t understand it, they kind of can, regretfully, decide, “Oh, we’ll just get this person, and they know…” Set it and forget it kind of thing.

Valerie VanBooven RN BSN:

Yeah. I even think that that goes as far as even answering the phones.

DeAnne Clune:

Yeah.

Valerie VanBooven RN BSN:

I know that sounds weird. But to me, whoever answers the phone at whatever place you work at, is that first line of marketing. And I’m a fast talker, so mom always used to say to me, “You talk like you’re a McDonald’s drive-thru lady, you’re always [inaudible 00:15:01] ” But I realize that now, that I’m old, and so for someone that has a little bit more maturity answers the phone, and knows that the call on the other end could be potentially someone who’s really struggling, because they need to make some decisions pretty quick. I think that person is going to be a better answerer of the phone than the person that says [inaudible 00:15:27] Like, “What, who?” Hold on a second.

DeAnne Clune:

There’s sensitivity involved in that.

Valerie VanBooven RN BSN:

Yes.

DeAnne Clune:

I have always told people that I work with, “Think about what happened in that person’s life before they finally picked up that phone and made a call.”

Valerie VanBooven RN BSN:

Oh my gosh. It’s been a…

DeAnne Clune:

It could have been years in the making, right?

Valerie VanBooven RN BSN:

Yes.

DeAnne Clune:

So you got to make it count.

Valerie VanBooven RN BSN:

Or somebody fell and broke their hip three days ago and they’re being discharged tomorrow, and this is a huge shock. Whatever it is, it is never the happiest… It’s not the saddest phone call ever either, it’s just not the, “Yeah. This is the light of my life. I’m so glad I’m calling you right now.”

DeAnne Clune:

Right.

Valerie VanBooven RN BSN:

A decision time, and so from the moment somebody answers the phone, or the moment they hit your website, being aware of that is really important. So anyway I’ll get off my soap box.

DeAnne Clune:

I like your soap box.

Valerie VanBooven RN BSN:

Old people answering the phone is excellent in this case. All right. And I mean old people like me, so…

DeAnne Clune:

And me.

Valerie VanBooven RN BSN:

Yeah. Well, all right. So what piece of advice would you give to other senior care providers?

DeAnne Clune:

I think the most important thing I would say to anybody, is to think like your customer. When it comes to marketing, you really need to think like your customer. And the customers of today are the residents of tomorrow. And we have to listen better, and not only hear the input we’re receiving from people, but take action from it. So to me, like in the sales process, or even to someone inquiring, the types of questions they ask are very telling. The types of obstacles they bring up to take issue with this idea of moving somewhere, are all really telling things, that give us as sales and marketing folk, an opportunity to address those in a better way.

DeAnne Clune:

How long have we been saying the Age Wave, the Next Generation, the Baby Boomers? Well, it’s not coming, it’s happening, they’re here, and it’s different. And so this kind of thinking of, “Well, this is what we do, this is our box, and this is our list of services, and this is our package. And people can buy it or not,” is not necessarily a really good long-term strategy. So I think perpetual evolution, innovation transformation, in programs, services, packages, amenities, features in the living space, all of that, just like every other successful business, it has to go on.

Valerie VanBooven RN BSN:

Yeah. Evolve with their… And that our Silent Generation, and our Baby Boomers, they’re telling us what they want. They are telling us, and within reason, I think that it’s a great idea, like you just said, to try to fulfill those expectations. Because, as long as it’s not impossible, to make sure that your packages, and your rooms, and your things that you’re offering, do evolve. And they have. And you see, even just food service today is so much different than it used to be, and family dining. I know that right now we’re in a weird spot, but being able to dine sort of more in a family-like setting in some situations is so much better, and the way we deal with dementia and the… So it has evolved a lot, but you’re right. Listening, and if you get the same request over and over again, or the same questions, then maybe it’s time to think about those services. You’re right. Absolutely continue to evolve.

DeAnne Clune:

And I think in light of the pandemic, there’s been a lot of heartache and hardship, of course, but we would be remiss to think that this is not a golden opportunity to hit the reset button.

Valerie VanBooven RN BSN:

Yes.

DeAnne Clune:

And really get creative in our approach to literally every aspect of the business.

Valerie VanBooven RN BSN:

Yes. I totally agree. I think a lot of us have realized very quickly that there are some things that we are forced to do better now, or forced to do a little differently now. And that’s not a bad thing, but it took us a long time to get to it. It took something like this.

DeAnne Clune:

It did.

Valerie VanBooven RN BSN:

But I think overall, I would agree. I think facilities, communities, are doing the very best they can. They are doing a really good job of keeping people entertained, of not spreading disease. And you’re going to have outliers here and there, but I think that the ones that are doing a really good job should be commended. It’s not all doom and gloom everywhere. Definitely people who are working in this kind of environment, and keeping those seniors safe, they’re definitely heroes. They continue to be every day, trying to keep them from getting sick ,and or sicker.

DeAnne Clune:

Yes. And as you know, the media is the media, and stories that are sensational garner the headlines. So, there’s not a lot of cultivation of happy, good news stories. And that is a huge part of what our approach is with Seniors Better Together too, because from the PR aspect, or again, the collaborative cooperative nature of it, just through our PR efforts and social media, it’s a bigger megaphone than any single company or community can create on their own.

Valerie VanBooven RN BSN:

Right.

DeAnne Clune:

And we’re focused a lot on peer-to-peer communications. Again, we’re trying to reach the senior consumer. And so to hear from other people like them, who have made the decision or had a situation that caused them to move into a community during the pandemic. And to hear the overwhelming appreciation, and gratitude, and just the collective sigh of relief that they made this decision when they did. And that they want others to know how great it really is. We just need to tell more of those stories any way we can.

Valerie VanBooven RN BSN:

Yeah. I think the stories that I love the most too, even pandemic or no pandemic, I wish more seniors could hear, or see, or watch a video, how many seniors who have made the transition into assisted living, or into in independent retirement community say, “I wish I had done this 20 years ago.” I wish-

DeAnne Clune:

Oh my gosh.

Valerie VanBooven RN BSN:

If we can record every time… Or get a testimonial on video every time somebody said that, and use it, you’d have thousands and thousands and thousands of seniors saying, “I love it here, and I wish I had done this 10 years ago, five years ago, 20 years ago.”

DeAnne Clune:

You know, Valerie, day one on the job. I heard that. We were opening in a community and I was showing people around. And absolutely it’s just… That day, and everyday since, I’ve heard it. If you could even have a penny for every time you heard it, we’d have a pretty good piggy bank going on.

Valerie VanBooven RN BSN:

Yeah, it is. I know people, they go, “Well, I’m different. I won’t like it.” But really it’s such a good community setting. And people really do enjoy that comradery of people their own age. It is amazing how much better life can be when you’re not isolated in a home setting by yourself. And when you do have access to others that enjoy the same things that you do, it’s just a different world.

DeAnne Clune:

Absolutely.

Valerie VanBooven RN BSN:

So when you have a win in life, or business, how do you like to celebrate? So we’re in a weird place, but everybody celebrates sometimes, so how do you like to celebrate?

DeAnne Clune:

Right. Well, I’m a party girl, so if… The pandemic has really dampened my party ability, because I love to get all the players together that helped create the win, and have great food, and drink, and comradery, with the team. And that’s really my number one favorite way. Since we’ve been sort of locked down for a while, we’ve got Zoom parties, which we’re doing the best we can with that. And, I do have a small group of people in my pod, so to speak, so we might, these days, crack a bottle of wine or something like that. If all else fails, if none of those are available, I have been known the bust to move in my living room.

Valerie VanBooven RN BSN:

That’s good. We’ve had answers that have been all over the map on this, and I think that’s great. And the word pod has become a much more frequently used word. My husband even said, the other day, “Well, you know, these are the guys in my pod.” And I was like, “How do you know what a pod is?” But he wanted to go visit… “They’re in my pod.” “Okay, you go right ahead. Just stay away from them. Don’t get near them, but you can visit with them.” So anyway, yeah, pod is definitely a term we will long be with, at this point.

DeAnne Clune:

Yeah.

Valerie VanBooven RN BSN:

Well, I’m glad you’re finding ways to celebrate whenever you can. All of us need to do that when we have a moment, to thank our lucky stars, or whoever we want to thank, for being blessed with good business and for helping others.

DeAnne Clune:

Absolutely. I love that.

Valerie VanBooven RN BSN:

Yeah. Thank you for doing this. Thank you for sharing your wisdom with us, for sharing Seniors Better Together with us, and for all of your wisdom and advice. I appreciate it.

DeAnne Clune:

Thank you, Valerie. It’s great to be here.