Want to earn healthy profits? There are close to 3 million nurses in the U.S., says Diana Mason, registered nurse, Ph.D., and editor-in-chief of the American Journal of Nursing. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the middle half of all registered nurses earned between $47,710 and $69,850 in 2006, and the highest-paid 10 percent made more than $83,440.
Nurses are highly educated and trained. Licensed practical nurses, or LPNs, must go through a course of study that lasts nine months to two years. Registered nurses, or RNs, typically have associate or bachelor's degrees in nursing, though there are a few master's degree entry programs for people with undergraduate degrees in other fields.
Some RNs go on for master's degrees to become clinical specialists, nurse practitioners, nurse midwives or nurse anesthetists; others continue on for a Ph.D. These are usually academics and researchers, although nurse executives are increasingly acquiring Ph.Ds.
Ninety percent of nurses are women. "But that's starting to change, and it will continue to change as wages go up and as this economy gets tougher because as the economy worsens, it's the nursing bedside jobs that are probably the least in jeopardy," says Mason. This means that more men will be attracted to nursing because of the high wages and stability.
The average age of a nurse is about 46, and that number is going up. "We're not bringing as many new nurses in, and that's not because they don't want to," says Maureen Markey, assistant director of marketing at the American Nurses Association. "There's a backlog in people trying to get into nursing schools, but there's a lack of educators. So we're not getting as many younger people in and out of schools, and thus the nursing population is aging."
In 2006, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, about three out of five nurses worked in hospitals, and about one in five worked part time.
Nurses influence medical equipment and supplies purchases in their work environments. "In the private practice setting, as opposed to the hospital setting, they obviously wield a lot more purchasing power," says Bill Kamberis, sales manager at MeritDirect, which manages the Elsevier Healthcare files. "The smaller the practice, the more influence they have, but in a hospital setting, they also work with the purchasing departments to make the decisions. So they wield quite a bit [of influence] within that environment, as well."
The federal government now requires that nurses sit on product evaluation committees in their workplaces. This came about due to needle stick injuries and the fact that nurses weren't involved in decisions about IV tubing, syringes and the option to use needleless equipment that could prevent needle sticks. Because nurses are now on these committees, "one message to marketers is that nurses have more influence than they realize over what medications are prescribed and what equipment and supplies are used," says Mason.
Not only that, but nurses recommend medical products to patients, friends and family. "Even if they're not on a product evaluation committee, nurses are recommending products right and left, not only to the institution but to patients," says Mason.
Outside of the nursing category, nurses tend to purchase media like movies, personal and professional books, and magazines. Travel is another big category: "Travel probably works for nurses for the same reason it works for doctors," says Kamberis. "It's a well-paying job, and they work in a high-stress environment. So, when they have downtime, they like to enjoy it."
Nurses are also big on affordable splurges like makeup and jewelry, says Piedad Gomez-Paulhus, RN, a hospice nurse in Burrillville, R.I. "Nurses are so nurturing and give so much of themselves that they want to spoil themselves," Gomez-Paulhus says. "But they feel guilty about spending money on themselves so they want things that are not too expensive."
Checking in With Nurses
Of the three main direct marketing channels, says Kamberis, postal works the best to connect with nurses, followed by e-mail and then telemarketing. Nurses are an older demographic, but they're still fairly e-mail-savvy; the problem, according to Kamberis, is you typically want to target their personal e-mail addresses, which are harder to get. "Sending them something at work is not going to be as effective," he says. "Obviously, they're too busy. If you try marketing to them at work, the responses are typically lower."
In addition, Mason says print advertising trumps online ads. "We have asked readers who go online a lot to what extent do they pay attention to the ads," she says "Everybody agrees that nurses don't pay attention to them. We rarely even look at them. There is this sense that it's intrusive." Print ads in a reputable publication do better to foster trust and loyalty among nurses.
Getting the Message
Marketing should depict nurses as savvy, life-loving, professional women. For example, some of the travel nurse staffing agencies that advertise in the American Journal of Nursing show images of smart-looking women on the beach with their friends. A common mistake is for marketers to show nurses as either frumpy, dowdy matrons—or as sex objects. "It tells me you don't have a clue about this being an educated women's market," says Mason. "Women today do not want to be portrayed as being mindless sex objects. The ads should be tasteful; they should appeal to an educated woman." Another tip is to make sure your message targets a diverse group of nurses, including minorities and men.
Nursing is not about fluffing pillows, taking temperatures and doing what the doctor ordered; nurses are well-educated, well-trained professionals in a complex area of specialty. Keep that in mind as you create your marketing efforts, and your profits should glow with health.
Linda Formichelli is a freelance writer based in New Hampshire. She wrote about marketing to surfers in Target Marketing's November issue.