Derek Dunham headshot
Derek Dunham
Derek Dunham headshot
Derek Dunham

It’s the job of every marketing agency to understand its clients’ needs. And if you can’t understand those needs before the client does, then you at least can try to address those needs before the client asks for help. Few industries — with the possible exception of restaurants and hospitals — needed that help more than senior living communities did during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Social isolation, health and wellness concerns, and ongoing staffing challenges. Those were just a few of the headaches thrust on communities almost overnight as the pandemic’s effects lasted weeks, then months, then years.

Addressing that struggle was the goal of Varsity’s Roundtable Project.

The Roundtable Project is a weekly meeting that is open to marketing leaders at retirement communities nationwide. Initially, the purpose of the meeting was to bring communities together to share insights about how to navigate retirement living during the pandemic. More than three years and 160 meetings later, the roundtable has become a weekly source of knowledge and support for communities coast to coast.

But as useful as the roundtable is to the marketers who attend each week, it also has taught the Varsity team some valuable lessons:

Good ideas know no boundaries. What started out as a weekly call to discuss navigating the pandemic has turned into a valuable source for best practices and a true community of marketing professionals. The roundtable has welcomed retirement community teams from 30 states, from Hawaii to New Hampshire and Florida to Washington.

Peers, not competitors. Even though you’re in the same category as another company, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be willing to help that competitor succeed. That’s what the roundtable is all about. Around one virtual table, the group discusses, shares, learns and grows to help each other become smarter retirement living marketers.

Heroes truly do work here. Retirement communities and the teams who manage them are incredibly resilient and strong. We’ve always known that, but that strength was on full display in the earliest days of the pandemic, when community team members showed up every day to care for the sick, both physically and emotionally. Today? Still strong and still as resilient as ever.

Personal relationships prevail. Participants have created a sense of community within the roundtables. Folks from Washington state and Arkansas have created bonds over shared musical interests. People from New Jersey and Maryland connected to continue conversations started on our calls. And people have sought each other out when they find themselves together at national conferences.

The power of dialogue. The primary purpose of the Roundtable Project was conversation. Not to sell anything. Not to convince anyone of anything. Only to talk. And share. And laugh. And support. Mission accomplished.

“It’s been great getting to know the various sales and marketing people from across the country, to share ideas and hear how everyone is doing. We’ve become a community of our own,” said Christine Hall, senior director of marketing and public relations at Franke Tobey Jones, a senior living community in Tacoma, WA. “Seeing familiar faces on the calls each week is comforting. It makes me know that we are in this together, and it’s great that we can help each other.”

Derek Dunham is vice president of client services at Varsity, a full-service marketing agency focused on senior living and the mature market.

The opinions expressed in each McKnight’s Senior Living guest column are those of the author and are not necessarily those of McKnight’s Senior Living.

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