Why does a senior living industry article mention hair bands, fanny packs and printed monthly senior living community newsletters? What could they possibly have in common?

Are they all things that I adore? 

This article isn’t about me, but let’s start with the obvious anyway: I have a not-so-guilty pleasure love for late 1980s and early 1990s hair metal (the proper term) music. And although I love grunge, too, I still haven’t totally forgiven it for knocking hair metal from arena headliner status down to county fair slot filler. Thank goodness for the nostalgic comeback in recent years that has put such bands back into stadiums and arenas where they belong.

Fanny packs? I understand them but have never been able to do wear one myself or ask others with me to do so in public.

Printed senior living community newsletters? No, and they are a huge motivating factor for this article. But as I mentioned, this article isn’t about me, so let’s move on.    

Are they all things that older adults themselves adore? 

Printed senior living community newsletters, most likely, yes (although “adore” may be an overstatement). Many older adults are used to them as a way to get information. Additionally, it’s always nice to receive something in the mail that is not asking you to consider a reverse mortgage, pay AARP dues or switch Medicare supplemental insurance plans, right?

Fanny packs? No doubt, yes. Anything that practical is an absolute yes for people aged 60 and older (and possibly a great stowaway compartment for medication, coin change holders and hard peppermint candies).

Hair metal bands? Almost assuredly no, although visions of Frizzy-Haired Fridays or Leather & Stud Saturdays in the recreation area leave a lot to the imagination.

Are they all things that senior living communities adore?

Hair metal bands? Independent studies have been inconclusive, but I believe that no human can deny an affinity for at least one song from this genre.

Fanny packs? Potentially, but most likely only at work, and only while making rounds.

Printed newsletters? Clearly, yes. The percentage of senior living communities using printed and mailed newsletters is very high and repeats the motivation for this article. 

So, what’s the answer? What do they all have in common?

When it comes to hair metal bands, fanny packs and printed newsletters, the commonality is this: they are all things that had their glorious day in the sun as a common fad but have since run their course, and people have moved on to bigger and better things.

Personal love for hair metal aside, I admit and accept that most reasonable people don’t listen any longer (and haven’t in some time).

With fanny packs, we all might have that one friend, relative or co-founding business partner that will give up their fanny packs when you pry it from their cold, dead hands.

And with printed newsletters? It’s 2021 now, so the vast majority of the world has begun using super disruptive technologies such as e-mail (electronic mail, where senders can reach receivers in seconds rather than days) and mobile apps (please email me directly about this one). One industry with a death grip on printed newsletters, however, is senior living. 

Let’s get serious now

OK, fun time is over. Let’s get serious and look at some drawbacks of printed senior living community newsletters that must be considered:

Cost. On average, it costs approximately $420 to send out a printed newsletter to 250 recipients. Printing, postage, design proofs prior to print, folding and other elements affect the total cost. If you are sending monthly newsletters, spending between $5,000 per year and $20,000 per year is a significant cost and effort to put into something that, on average, receives a 3% response rate.     

Time. A properly produced printed newsletter can take up to a week, from start to finish, to complete and get ready for mailing. A week of constant work? No, but a week’s worth of intermittently jumping in and out of the tasks of design, content writing, picture selection, sending for print, reviewing proofs, etc. I’m willing to bet that most of you reading this, if you are regularly tasked with creating and sending these printed newsletters, have missed your self imposed “send by” deadlines frequently, simply because you are overwhelmed with other work. 

Impact of information. When going to the time and cost to produce a printed newsletter, it’s difficult not to feel the pressure to load newsletters with information and use up every square inch you are paying for. But how much of the information in your newsletter is interesting to recipients — or even still relevant by the time they receive it (if they even open it and read it)? Happenings, updates and events from four weeks ago, or even worse, from 12 weeks ago in the case of quarterly newsletters, are all yesterday’s news. 

Email newsletter as an alternative?   

You might be reading this article and saying, “No worries for us. We are at the forefront of technology and deliver digital/email newsletters every month.” Well, consider the following:

Cost. This is the one area we will grant you victory when going digital on your newsletters. One of the few advantages of an email newsletter is cost. An email newsletter will be less expensive to distribute than a printed newsletter, so you can send them out more frequently. The printed newsletter will have the consistent costs of printing, mailing, etc., mentioned above, so those versions generally are sent out on a monthly or quarterly timeframe.   

Response rate. The downfall of the email newsletter is the response rate. A good email newsletter might receive a half percent response rate. It is very easy for your customers to ignore or delete the email without ever reading it. Plus, your email also has the chance of landing in spam. Also, consider the competition inside an email inbox. What are the chances recipients will place reading priority on your newsletter over all of the other emails?

Solution: Real-time information

Put away your printing press and give members of your marketing team some of their time back. Several providers cater specifically to the senior living and care space, providing mobile apps and web apps that allow residents, family members and staff members to have immediate, real-time access to information on the daily happenings of your community. 

Whereas printed senior living community newsletters can be four to 12 weeks old on the information inside, and weekly digital email newsletters can contain days-old information, real-time communication services are up-to-date on information whenever the user engages with them. Even better, such services can disseminate a significantly higher volume of useful information to users, and all with minimal to no effort by community staff.

Imagine, family members knowing exactly what their loved ones did an hour ago simply by looking at an app on their phone. What did Mom eat for breakfast this morning (did she even eat breakfast)? Is Dad being social and attending facility/community events like movie night, bingo, ice cream socials, etc?

Or how about even more detailed important information: What was my loved one’s blood pressure, temperature, etc., today? Those are all elements of information that bring transparency, knowledge and comfort to family members, especially in times when geography or pandemics can keep them away from their loved ones residing in senior living communities. 

The shocking truth

Facilities can spend anywhere from $5,000 to $20,000 on printed monthly newsletters, but they can subscribe to real-time information services for less than the cost of monthly newsletters. How much more does daily, hourly, minute-to-minute access to important information (for the same cost or less) de-value your printed or digital newsletters? Add in the enormous amount of time gifted back to community staff members and it’s really a puzzling reality that most communities have yet to adopt such real-time information services.

In closing

Hair metal bands and fanny packs are nostalgic and still very enjoyable, but neither of them are sources of information on the happenings at senior living communities and facilities. So we can laugh about them (or listen to them while writing an article about big hair rock bands, fanny packs and printed monthly newsletters). But real-time information on the happiness, morale, health and well-being of residents shouldn’t have to wait until the end of the week, end of the month or end of the quarter.

So collectively, in regard to monthly newsletters, let’s “band” together and quote one of the greatest hair band songs of all time: “We’re not gonna take it! No! We ain’t gonna take it! We’re not gonna take it, anymore!”

Gerrit VandeKemp is the CRO and co-founder of Quiltt, a messaging, communication and operational efficiency platform designed to help long-term care organizations contain costs by building a stronger census, improving staff retention and eliminating unnecessary expenses to improve profitability. He also is a fanatical hair metal fan, listening to so much of it during childhood that he still can regularly conquer any “Name That Tune” challenge brought to him.