Posted in on June 19, 2015

“Fun Size” Sweet Somethings from Hershey – #15LeadingAgePA Conference

T-shirt - I'm not short, I'm fun-sized. Photo Credit:

Photo Credit:

Today the Creating Results team is wrapping up its time in Hershey, Pennsylvania, after a wonderful week at the annual LeadingAge PA conference. Things I love about this meeting: the speakers, the inspiring conversations in the hallways, the chance to exchange ideas and resources with dedicated senior living professionals. Things I’m not crazy about: the temperature in the main hall (arctic), the lack of wifi or even cell reception in some of the breakout rooms … Because of the latter it was hard to share in real-time many of the great senior living marketing insights we gained.

So, here are some “fun size” take-aways from #15LeadingAgePA.

Session: “Adapting to Change: Defend your market position and growth mission”

Speakers Lisa McCracken of Ziegler and Perry Aycock of Retirement Dynamics focused on the various change signals being sent to non-profit CCRCs.

McCracken noted that some organizations assume that they’re set to capitalize on the increased numbers of American elders because they’re already in senior living. Her point was that even though the age wave is coming your way, the consumers within that wave may not want what you offer. She shared a Will Rogers quote: “Even if you’re on the right track, you’ll get run over if you just sit there.”

Demographic growth is obviously a major signal of change, as shown on this slide:


Demographic growth - Signals of change - LeadingAge PA 2015 conference

Some possible responses to these signals? The speakers touched on several ideas, including: shifting focus from nursing care to population health (which is more in line with the desires/demands of future younger residents); exploring continuing care at home; and “unbundling” services much like telecommunications companies have done.

Aycock pointed out that processes put in place for efficiency or quality or whatever reason can become bureaucracies that impede CCRC innovation. New competitors in Independent Living and Assisted Living are slipping in quietly because they’re smaller, require less start-up capital and less land. Some 100+ year old senior care organizations are too slow to react because their processes make them rigid.

RELATED: What senior living can learn from nimble innovators such as Southwest and Marriott –

Session: “Solutions for Living Life to the Fullest”

The inimitable Diana Nyad held all the delegates in thrall with her personal story of challenges and triumphs, leading up to (but certainly not ending with!) her successful swim from Cuba to Key West.

Do you want to learn how to “just keep swimming” towards a goal in your personal or professional life? Or do you want a master class in storytelling?

Either reason will do for you to check out Diana Nyad’s TED Talk, which captures some of the magical story we enjoyed:

Session: “Leading with Strengths to Create Engagement & Well-Being”

Speaker Tom Rath demonstrated how meaningful work leads to positive daily experiences which leads to true well-being. More importantly, he made the business case for leaders to care about and invest in the well-being of their team. Rath noted, however, that the idea of investment shouldn’t be a deterrent. “It doesn’t take a lot of money to have great days or make great days for other people,” he said.

What makes work meaningful? Rath noted three attributes — small wins, doing something others and the feedback loop between seeing meaning and creating more:

Tom Rath - attributes of meaningful work - LeadingAge PA 2015 Conference

The timing of the talk was wonderful, I must confess. Just the day before our entire Creating Results team had met for a bi-annual development workshop. A large section of the day was spent on the WHY of our agency. WHY do we do what we do? WHY do we celebrate and work to continually move mature marketing forward?

The consensus was that it’s because our team finds meaning in helping others get the benefits of new opportunities and new thinking provided by senior living, travel, 55+ housing and other clients. Our WHY is that it’s both fun and rewarding to be creating results together, collaboratively with those clients.

It was pretty fun and rewarding to hear Tom Rath reinforce Creating Results’ thinking! What do you think? How is your organization investing in/promoting well-being? Please share your thoughts below.

Session: “Spinning Your Organization’s Story into Marketing Gold”

Asbury Communities‘ Cathy Canning and Maura Richards spun some gold of their own with a lively and very transparent discussion of the what, why and how to of content marketing for senior living.

“Content has a cost. It takes time. It’s an investment,” said Canning. She encouraged senior living providers to be strategic about the stories they try to tell and then to repackage and repurpose content to maximize the ROI. Take a press release and cut it into pieces for the blog, tweak and put in your newsletter, and so on.

Stealable idea! To reward team members for their contributions to the blog and other communications, they invented the “Azzy Awards.” Instead of a thank you email, employees were recognized as the “Media Darling” or the “Eyes & Ears” of the effort. Definitely fun-sized!

Session: “Tapping the Independent Living Middle Income Market”

Steven Jeffrey of Ziegler set the stage for this terrific panel as follows: for most of the providers in the senior living industry, for most of the industry’s existence, the 90-10 rule has applied. Only 10% of older adults that could be served by CCRCs can afford this option. “What if we could find models that are more open to the other 90%?”

Steven Jeffrey, Ziegler - growth opportunities with middle income seniors

I connected this to the session above about signals for change, because the signal says there is a huge income gap coming along with the age wave. The middle income Boomer is one of the largest growing segments. While senior community living is a wonderful track to be on, if we can’t make it affordable we’ll be run over.

Jeffrey had recruited two fantastic speakers for frank discussions of how their organizations have risen to this challenge. Keith Frndak of Concordia Lutheran Ministries put it plainly: “If you want to serve the middle market, build a product FOR that market.” He said too many providers fail because they build Cadillacs for a market that truly desires (and can afford) Toyotas.

Concordia buys troubled properties and are extremely active in keeping construction costs to a minimum, all to reduce capital costs. Then it’s a heavy emphasis on aging in place and a la carte services, not providing support before it’s really needed. “Your goal is to keep them independent longer,” Frndak said, as it’s the mission AND it’s going to keep healthcare costs down.

Keeping costs down but expectations high was Concordia’s key to success. His team is not satisfied with 90% occupancy, the goal for many non-profit CCRCs. They aim for 97.7% occupancy; this keeps them from being overly cautious in approving applications and means more middle-income seniors can benefit from Concordia’s communities.

Jeff Davis of Presbyterian Senior Living said their organization discovered affordable housing for older adults in 2005. The organization has 29 MidAtlantic locations with a range of services from adult day to CCRCs. It’s a type of a Robin Hood mentality — they take from the Independent Living entry fee resources to support what they offer to low income and acute.

Two great quotes from Davis about why to even consider middle-income senior housing:

* “As non-profits we are organized in the public trust to meet an unmet need.”

* “If we [non-profit senior living] don’t adapt … somebody else is going to give our market what we couldn’t seem to do.”


What is your organization doing to adapt? Do these take-aways resonate with you? Please share your sweet somethings in the comments below.

Subscribe to get the latest updates right to your inbox!