by Melinda Gisbert, M.S


two elderly woman

Over the last 13 years, Big Buzz has provided those in the senior living industry with effective marketing tactics, research, strategy and consultation. In May of this year, Big Buzz partnered with SiteStaff to survey hundreds of senior living executives to gather common concerns, perceptions and opinions of how they were handling the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic within their communities. The results of that survey were presented via webinar and also shared with some of our industry contacts to understand how the survey findings translated to what they were seeing firsthand in their communities.

In a recent survey conducted by Big Buzz and SiteStaff, 43% of participants said they expected to have lower occupancies in 2020 than in 2019. What are you doing to combat a drop-off in leads/occupancies?

“At the community level, we’re doing back-to-basics sales-only sales. DSMs are focusing on building relationships with their prospects and referral contacts. We’re no longer able to sell on the tour, as the industry has traditionally done. From a digital perspective, we’re trying to pivot to qualifying leads via marketing as much as possible so that we will be in a stronger position to recover when restrictions are lifted. This means greater transparency, which is something consumers have been crying out for for a long time.” – Jodie Roberts, Director of Digital Marketing at Elegance Living

“We have conducted 14 webinars for leads and families to help [them] understand and cope with the challenges of COVID-19. These have included: The Intersection of Coronavirus Isolation and Mental Health, The Hidden Crisis Facing Caregivers during COVID-19, How to Safely Move a Loved One During COVID-19, along with the popular Virtual Wine Tasting!” – Spokesperson at Renew Senior Living

“As of [now] we have not seen a drop in either leads/occupancy. We are continuing to focus on our personalized care, home environment and low staff turnover, as well as reduce the number of staff coming in and out of the residences.” – Francis LeGasse Jr., President/Administrator at Assured Assisted Living

In consulting with senior living communities, it’s clear there has been a restructuring of sales processes both in terms of engagement and interaction with prospects. These changes encompass both sales messaging (empathetic tones and reassuring language) and channels (digital marketing vs. in-person tours). The focus of the former is to create a sense of trust among prospects, cultivating the idea that organizations want to do more than fill an empty apartment – they want to provide the safety and security that can often feel hard to achieve during a prospects research process. The latter is a result of necessity, but some organizations may be lagging behind in their execution of pivoted sales tactics. Renew Senior Communities’ approach with utilizing webinars is a great example of how to keep the community engaged while creating an opportunity to draw prospects into the top of the sales funnel.

In that same survey, 65% of participants said health and safety measures were the most important things to communicate to residents and families. How has your organization been staying in front of residents and families with the right information?

“Families are mostly concerned with the safety of moving their loved one into a community, especially with all the negative press. We’ve been using snail mail, phone calls, website updates, social media, and email marketing for lead nurturing. We’ve been creating company-wide email campaigns to communicate our procedures.” – Jodie Roberts

“We have been publishing weekly family updates detailing our efforts to keep COVID out, and what our heroes and their families are doing to support our communities.” – Renew spokesperson

“We are doing more with videos on our social media. With our personalized care we are seeing and interacting with our residents on a daily basis. We are including virtual visits with our families. We are reaching out and doubling down on text messages, phone calls and emails. We are using Facebook Live videos to keep families, loved ones and friends abreast as to what we are doing. Our biggest addition is Serenity Engage. This app is HIPAA compliant and enables us to create a channel for each of our residents and their families.” Francis LeGasse Jr.

Big Buzz partnered with one of our senior living clients to completely recalibrate the organization’s approach to engaging with both prospects and referral partners by designing a short-term content marketing strategy centered around rebuilding trust and instilling confidence in the health and safety of the communities. By empathizing with readers and appealing to them emotionally, the organization was also able to inform them of thorough new protocols put in place to reduce the impact of COVID-19. This content strategy offered much-needed transparency and gave potential families an inside look into the internal operations and the heroes put in place to protect residents.

What has changed in senior living that will never be the same following COVID-19? How does your organization seek to manage that change?

“Negative press coverage will affect the industry for years to come. It’s something that’s going to have to be addressed on every tour going forward. People are going to ask, ‘How are you dealing with or how did you deal with COVID?’ That’s why communicating our procedures is so important. On the flip side to that, family members may have been pushed into an extended caregiver role and may realize they need help sooner rather than later. If we can mitigate the perceived risk, there could be a boom once the COVID crisis passes.” – Jodie Roberts

“The senior living industry has been dealing in the past with norovirus, C. diff, MRSA, influenza and other communicable diseases. However, COVID-19 has brought us all additional challenges due to its virulence. Given the highly transmissible nature of the coronavirus and the limited treatment options available in severe cases, prevention has been our senior living community’s first line of defense. Renew has taken a leadership role in creating innovative barriers to protect our residents and staff from this risk.

Our 32-point communicable disease response plan was designed with the involvement of public health officials, our medical director and nursing clinicians to apply educational, clinical, operational and preventive measures to assure the safety of our residents and the staff who serve them to the highest clinical certainty possible.

Our comprehensive plan was also adapted from HHS Pandemic Influenza Planning resources, recommendations of the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) for healthcare facilities and the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response (ASPR). On the flip side, we have also created a recovery plan that applies immunological science to safely relax our restrictions in a three-phased approach tied to disease spread and continuous decrease in newly reported cases.” – Renew spokesperson

“[We are] symptom checking all visitors, etc. Care will be the more important question, that and staffing ratios. [There will be] less focus on the aesthetics of a building and more focus on the care model, staffing, turnover, infection control prevention techniques and use of technology to improve communication between facilities and families. We seek to push the envelope and lead in the trends. We want to be a part of the positive change to improve the aging experience of our older adults. For too long our aging services industry has settled for how things were done in the past. We must breakthrough that and look past our thinking of yesterday and how we can create a better experience tomorrow.” Francis LeGasse Jr.

Big Buzz recommends combatting negative press by reminding readers that, “a square is a rectangle, but a rectangle is not a square,” as it pertains to media mentions. What this means is acknowledging that while senior living communities may be a hotspot for COVID outbreaks, not all communities are overrun with the virus, and those that aren’t have maintained resident health through diligent and comprehensive safety measures.

Ending on a positive note, what opportunities do you see for your organization that you didn’t see before?

“Whenever you have an event such as this where people’s behavior has to drastically change, their preferences do too and it’s important to note that those preferences will not go back to what they were pre-COVID. A traditionally less tech savvy audience has been forced to go digital and will become more comfortable with it. This was always looming for the industry but has been accelerated due to COVID. Consumers’ expectations of digital experience will be higher and virtual tours will still be important even after communities open up. Now is the time to invest, if you haven’t done so already.” – Jodie Roberts

Difficulty often exposes the strength in people. This has been an incredibly stressful and difficult time for our staff. One true measure of the quality of an organization is the character of its front-line employees. Our staff have selflessly performed their duties and delivered quality care to our residents through it all. Our families have shown their appreciation with signs outside our buildings, cards, and gifts to recognize their efforts to keep their loved ones safe and engaged. We have welcomed feedback and suggestions from our families which have brought encouragement to our staff. We learned that sometimes it may feel as though we are only a single drop of water in a stormy sea of uncertainty, but you know if a ray of sunshine from you hits one of those drops just right, they can sparkle!” – Renew spokesperson

“Adjusting our marketing to focus on a smaller-is-better model, not just because of the care and connectedness but also because of the control of who enters through the door. Also, the ability to really impact the way we look at aging. The idea of 100 older adults together might not make as much sense as we thought. How do we truly shake up the aging services industry? It is time for a positive disruption.” Francis LeGasse Jr.

One pattern we have seen emerge across the senior living industry is a collective embrace of new technology and activities. Many organizations are setting up family Zoom calls every week to help bridge the physical distance created by new regulations, and video engagement platforms such as HeartLegacy and OneDay continue to show how communities are keeping residents engaged and active. Even when restrictions are lifted, the way communities communicate with prospects and resident families via video will remain.

These technologies have allowed residents to connect with more family, more often, and that is a wonderful silver lining.One pattern we have seen emerge across the senior living industry is a collective embrace of new technology and activities. Many organizations are setting up family Zoom calls every week to help bridge the physical distance created by new regulations, and video engagement platforms such as HeartLegacy and OneDay continue to show how communities are keeping residents engaged and active. Even when restrictions are lifted, the way communities communicate with prospects and resident families via video will remain. These technologies have allowed residents to connect with more family, more often, and that is a wonderful silver lining.


We want to know how your organization has pivoted for greater safety and success. Leave a comment or contact Big Buzz today to get scheduled.

Big Buzz is a marketing agency delivering a steady stream of move-in-ready leads to teams serving the senior living industry. For more than 15 years, Big Buzz has helped senior living marketing and sales teams nurture leads to increase occupancy, grow and scale. CEO Wendy O’Donovan Phillips is the author of the book Flourish!: The Method Used by Aging Services Organizations for the Ultimate Marketing Results, has been published in McKnight’s, has been a regular contributor to Forbes, and has been quoted in The Washington Post, ABC News and Chicago Tribune. The Big Buzz leadership team regularly lectures in front of audiences ranging from 25 to 3,000 attendees, including at Argentum and various LeadingAge chapters. Agency awards and accolades include recognition for excellence by the American Marketing Association, Gold Key Award Winner by the Business Marketing Association, HubSpot Academy Inbound Marketing Certification, and Top Advertising and Marketing Agency by Clutch.

by Melinda Gisbert, M.S



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