By Kerry | November 24, 2021
As LeadingAge forges ahead into 2022, advocating for policy and legislation that supports older adults, the organization has also turned an eye toward public education and awareness.
Throughout 2020, negative media coverage compounded the many challenges that the Pandemic brought to the aging services sector. Concerned about public perceptions of the field, LeadingAge’s Board of Director mandated a new initiative. Opening Doors to Aging Services was launched in January 2021 to better understand public views and perceptions of the aging services sector as well as to assist older adults and their loved ones better understand and access the care and services that they need.
“We believe we can make a difference in introducing more of the public to aging services and important next steps for us are making sure that people who don’t know about us now learn about us and come to know us with real authenticity and accuracy,” said Susan Donley, senior vice president, communications and marketing, at LeadingAge.
The first phase of the initiative consisted of research, which actually found that more Americans have favorable views of aging services than those who don’t while approximately one-third of Americans hadn’t formed an opinion. The research also found that when this segment of the population is educated on what exactly the aging services sector is, they will form positive opinions of the field. Americans who do have experience with the aging services sector also tend to have a positive image of it. Further, the majority of Americans also believe aging services are a basic right and should be supported by the government.
“We were expecting to find that our sector was in a real crisis of public perception and we were heartened to find that that is not actually the case,” Donley added. “The research gave us a solid and actionable foundation to move in.”
The research additionally found that the public strongly supports direct care workers, with the words “compassionate,” “dedicated” and “professional” most often used to describe them. As a result, Donley called care workers one of the field’s most important assets; “the heart of the field.”
Futhermore the research is available not only to members, but to the aging services sector at-large. The strategies and research housed on the website https://openingdoors.org are publicly available, with Donley pointing out that the sector can only become stronger as more aging services organizations leverage the research and strategies.
The strategy driving the Opening Doors initiative defines the campaign’s primary audience as adults aged 45 and older and primarily women since they are most likely consumers of aging services for themselves or loved ones. Good mental health, independences, physical health, respect and dignity are all paramount for them as they consider aging services.
The campaign’s secondary audience are adults aged 65 and older, with a focus on those 75 and older since they are most likely to be in current need of aging services.
Of course, the strategy is not intended to replace any organization’s existing marketing campaign or public relations approach. Instead, Donley explained that the Opening Doors initiative is “a strategic framework that can be deployed in myriad ways to support, augment and help refine the work that our members and states are already doing.”
The strategy directive also encourages users to feature real images and stories of older adults and care professionals, especially from their own communities. Photos and videos should include a diverse representation of visuals and perspectives. Photos, graphics and videos, can also be complimented by testimonials and other first-hand accounts.
As part of a tactical plan, campaign participants are also encouraged to host and participate in community events and to form community partnerships.
Vocabulary is also a key component of this strategy. Those joining the campaign should use words such as “aging services,” “sector” and “field” and avoid using terms such as “aged services,” “industry” and “market.”
Resources: Still to Come
The next phase of the initiative, set to roll out later this fall and available exclusively to LeadingAge members, will include strategies and guidance for leveraging the research, providing LeadingAge members with greater resources for impactfully communicating about the aging services sector. Ready-to-use tools and templates will also include media relations materials, social media content and advertisements.
Opening Doors to Aging Services is expected to play a long-term, multi-year role in LeadingAge’s educational programming. “It will be quite some time before people fully understand that aging services will support them so that they ca live the life that they want as they go through the aging process,” Donley said.