Don't Fret Over A Lack of (Internet) Connection

Mar. 15, 2022

Why Traditional Marketing Still Works in Rural Healthcare – Even When Everyone is Screaming Digital


By Amy Yaeger, vice president strategic services, Legato Healthcare Marketing

We’re here to tell you: It’s okay to go your own way.

Even though everything you see, read and hear about marketing seems to focus on the D-word (i.e., digital), we get it: There are a lot of rural communities that don’t have reliable internet service.

According to an NPR article from late last year, “[T]ens of millions of people across the country, especially in rural areas and tribal lands, lack the kind of fast or reliable connection they need for things like work, school and telehealth.” This means that your healthcare consumers may also lack the speed and reliability needed for a digital marketing strategy to be truly effective.

So where does that leave your rural healthcare organization?

Don’t despair: Traditional approaches still work in rural healthcare marketing – and when packaged with a modified digital strategy (one that makes sense for your area and audience), your organization’s marketing plan will be in top shape.

Effective Traditional Marketing Avenues 

Here are some recommendations about how to effectively use traditional marketing avenues to successfully position your rural healthcare organization:  

Commonly referred to as billboards (although it includes any type of out-of-home signage), outdoor advertising in a well-trafficked area can get great reach when it’s part of a larger campaign.

Too often today, people tend to overlook outdoor as old-fashioned because it’s a simple tool that appears to miss all the hoopla of our technology age.

In fact, that’s one of its best qualities: Outdoor is simple and affordable, but its impact is immediate because it’s geared toward the rapid assimilation of information. Imagine you were driving down a busy interstate, eight hours into a two-day road trip. Now you may realize how genius the placement of all those hotel billboards were.

Outdoor also effectively provides exposure to your brand on a repetitive basis: people driving past your signage every day on their way to work will remember your organization’s name.

Tip: Be diligent about changing your signage – you don’t want your outdoor advertising to become white noise. If your rural healthcare organization is posting the same message for longer than three months, that’s too long – it’s time to switch it out.

Although it’s tough for residents of urban areas to imagine this, we know that “the paper” is still a standard in many smaller communities: There are many proud parents and grandparents who look for school news and achievements –from academic to athletic – in their local newspapers.

Your healthcare organization can improve its brand image with an affordable, consistent presence in your local newspaper – not only do you hit a targeted geographic audience, but such a strategy also works to position your organization as a trusted local source for quality care. Another perk: working with your rural newspaper on an advertising plan allows for both timeliness and flexibility.

Tip: Feature locals: The sense of community in smaller and more rural areas is intense – use that to your healthcare organization’s advantage by using local faces in your print ads. The feeling of pride and recognition when seeing a loved one or friend in print advertising can really drive home your healthcare organization’s message.

Local radio stations offer another affordable, traditional approach that still works in rural because it not only has a wide reach, but also hits a targeted audience. As with newspaper advertising, residents are often listening for local sports coverage, radio shopping specials, obituaries and other area news, especially if internet access is a challenge in the region.

Even better: Many local stations offer a digital advertising boost to a radio buy, which can be a cost-effective way of using one tried-and-true advertising medium to test the digital waters. Another benefit of advertising with local radio is that it allows for timely, highly repetitive messaging – and radio historically works because it taps into the audience’s emotions and drives action.

Another way to personalize your radio advertising (and make it stick with your audience) is to reach out to local radio personalities to see if they have their own healthcare stories – and ask them to share with their listeners how your organization played an integral role in their successes. It’s the same idea as featuring locals in your printed pieces: Storytelling makes your message much more impactful to your consumers.

Tip: Remember that radio advertising – which is typically only 15 or 30 seconds – happens fast; to get the most out of your seconds, make your message simple, clear, relevant and interesting to the listener.

Community publications such as newsletters and local magazines work like print ads: You’re building awareness and understanding of your organization, while also building your audience’s trust in your brand. When your organization-produced publication provides educational information that people trust, you’re further positioning your organization as the expert source for your community’s healthcare needs. 

Publications also situate your healthcare organization as a stable, committed entity in the community; take it a step further by featuring familiar faces as the focal points for your stories (you might even find that your readers post photos on social media of these local “celebrities” posing with your publication: Talk about a digital boost!).

Tip: Not only can you use your community publications to build your contact list (which you can also use for other targeted campaigns), but you can also align your magazine content with your CHNA, which can provide a tax advantage for your organization based on the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) reimbursement guidelines.

Remember that your presence in any of these traditional mediums can direct local audiences to your website, which is your most reliable form of digital marketing. Your website is a larger body of information that’s stable and less temporary in message than most other forms of digital marketing, such as social media posts. 

Traditional Formats to Avoid

You might be asking yourself if there are any traditional marketing tools that should come off your list of healthcare marketing strategies? Without a doubt.

For a long time, yellow pages advertising (i.e., in the local phonebook) was a standard for almost every business. But that was definitely then; now, it’s time to cut yellow pages advertising from your healthcare marketing budget because it’s both expensive and inflexible (you can only adjust your ad once per year!). A free listing in your local phone book will work for area residents who still use it.

Looking for additional advice about effectively marketing your rural healthcare organization? Email me at, or call me directly at 715-299-0644.