Name change may cost Whidbey General Hospital $115,000

Whidbey General Hospital spent in the ballpark of $60,000 on consultants to help conceptualize a new name and logo. Officials estimate they may spend between $90,000 to $115,000 more implementing the change, though they say they were going to spend money on signs anyway.

Whidbey General Hospital spent in the ballpark of $60,000 on consultants to help conceptualize a new name and logo.

Officials estimate they may spend between $90,000 to $115,000 more implementing the change, though they say they were going to spend money on signs anyway.

The hospital board unanimously approved the new name and logo last month without knowing the costs for either the rebrand effort or the implementation. At the time, CEO Geri Forbes assured the public and the board the organization will be as cost-conscious as possible.

The South Whidbey Record made public information requests for billing documents associated with the rebranding effort.

Those documents show three consultants were hired for professional services and some conducted previous marketing work with the hospital that overlapped with this effort, explained Jake Kempton, an attorney for the hospital.

The hospital contracted with three entities related to the rebrand:

• GMA Research, founded in 1970, describes itself as an experienced research firm in the Pacific Northwest that provides data collection, analysis and interpretation offering telephone surveys, online surveys, ethnographic research, focus groups or secondary research. The firm was also hired to do other general market research not specific to the rebrand that was used in the decision making. The hospital paid them $6,000.

• Sharp Consulting, based in Seattle, provide public relations consulting work for the hospital during the last several years. The district has paid this company $27,150 but not all of that work had to do with the rebrand. The founder, David Sharp, describes himself as a marketing strategist, rainmaker and “yenta” with experience with some of the world’s leading brands including Ford, Paccar and Campbell Soup.

• HDR created the WhidbeyHealth “visual identity” which includes the logo, color scheme and fonts. It is the same firm hired to design the new hospital wing now under construction. The brand identity work was not funded with bond money. Total amount paid: $30,289.

The projected budget of $90,000 to $115,000 for implementing the brand is an estimate, according to Keith Mack, the hospital’s marketing manager. That number includes what the hospital plans to spend during the remainder of this year on signs, way-finding and miscellaneous expenses.

The hospital needed to replace, repair or upgrade signs at many of its locations and would have had to spend the money anyway, Mack said.

“Our goal was to save money by doing all the signage at once, under a new name, rather than doing it under Whidbey General and then changing it a couple of years later,” he said. “In other words, part of the projected budget is to meet existing signage needs, regardless of names.”

The Whidbey General CEO announced the new name, WhidbeyHealth, at a town hall meeting in Langley in late January.

Immediately, hospital officials caught flak from people who thought a new name was an unnecessary expense. One letter writer to the newspaper said the name sounded more like a spa retreat than a hospital.

Since then, officials have tried to clarify to the community the intent of the change, Mack said. The change is meant to unify all the various clinics and services under one name.

“People still think we are renaming a brick building in Coupeville,” he said. “We are taking an extensive healthcare network and putting it under one umbrella name — which is what you would see if you went anywhere else.”

The hospital district opened or purchased several primary care and speciality clinics in the past dozen years. The hospital conducted market research in 2013 that indicated “uneven awareness” that services are connected or coordinated, according to a document from consultant HDR. Many of the clinics operated with different names and signs, making it harder for the public to “connect the dots” between them and Whidbey General.

To many outside the hospital, the name change came as a surprise. When Forbes made the announcement, she said: “I have a secret to share. We’re changing our name.”

To the hospital board and others at Whidbey General, this was no secret. Previous CEO Tom Tomasino’s administration began talking about the idea more seriously after the public passed a $50 million bond to build a new hospital wing and launched the plan in 2014. That April, Mack made a presentation to the board at a special leadership retreat meeting at a conference center in Freeland. Mack also gave an update but at another special leadership retreat meeting that August.

It seemed the right moment to rebrand the hospital, so signs and color schemes could be carried through in the new building, Mack told the board, according to the April 2014 meeting minutes. Hospital officials also talked about the need to unify the various clinics and services under one identity.

The board didn’t vote on the matter then and the discussion didn’t include any details about what it might cost, according to the minutes.

The plan makes sense because people may not realize all the services provided by the hospital, and while the change isn’t about “keeping up with the Joneses” most every other hospital is making similar changes, said commissioner Grethe Cammermeyer.

“People need to know they don’t have to go off island for the services,” she said.

Whidbey General Hospital is following the lead of other local hospitals to unite their services under an umbrella term. Skagit Valley Hospital, for instance, now uses Skagit Regional Health as their umbrella name. A spokeswoman for that organization didn’t know how much their rebranding effort cost by press time.

The trend isn’t isolated to health care. The Oak Harbor School District became Oak Harbor Public Schools last year and that change came with a new logo and a tagline “Learning for Life,” and videos available online that help introduce staff and new families to the district. The school district did the work in house with outside costs less than $3,000, said district spokeswoman Kellie Tormey.

Whidbey General hasn’t yet announced when the new name will take effect.