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AAC deal has repercussions for other providers

July 10, 2015
by Gary A. Enos, Editor
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Earlier this month, American Addiction Centers (AAC) quietly announced it had acquired two digital marketing organizations—Referral Solutions Group and Taj Media—for $60 million.

On the surface, the deal seemed routine to many industry observers. However, deeper research reveals that Referral Solutions is operated by the same team that operates Recovery Brands, which is known for its website that drives referrals to many treatment center clients who pay for the service.

It would appear that AAC has essentially purchased other treatment centers' referral sources.

Why it matters

The distinction is important because now that AAC owns a large, online referral source, it stands to reason that AAC centers would be prioritized for patient referrals over any other client. For other treatment centers, the deal could have direct repercussions.

“My guess is I can’t imagine them serving two masters,” says Jim Peake, CEO of Addiction-Rep, a digital marketing and analytics firm. “I really don’t know, but I would imagine they’re only going to serve one master, and that’s AAC.”

The precise role of Referral Solutions remains unclear to observers of the treatment field. AAC and Recovery Brands officials did not respond to multiple requests to be interviewed for this article.

Peake adds that AAC's purchase of a host of online referral sources was a brilliant move and makes AAC the de facto leader.

“The big win for AAC is the fact that they now have a publishing platform,” he says.

According to Peake, it takes a very long time to establish a trusted platform that is recognized in search engines such as Google, and has the advantage because it has already created that foundation. Search engine optimization (SEO) provides the best return on investment over television advertising or cost-per-click type advertising, he says, so owning a high-ranking site with SEO makes good business sense.

“Everybody is going to Google for answers, which means we’ve all got to become publishers of good quality content,” Peake says.

AAC last fall became part of a discussion of marketing practices in the addiction treatment industry when the chief executive of Utah-based Cirque Lodge discovered that Google search results under his facility's name were leading individuals to a toll-free number for AAC. AAC responded to Cirque Lodge's publicly stated concerns by terminating its relationship with the marketing vendor that it said was responsible for that campaign.

Value of the deal

For AAC, the ultimate measure of the value of the deal will be in how many leads are converted to admissions for AAC properties. At a price of $60 million, it would seem AAC is betting on a good return from the Referral Solutions deal.

AAC stockholders seemed to approve. Shares of AAC hit a new 52-week high on the first day of trading after the deal’s announcement, trading at $45.50 on volume of 102,711 shares. Overall, shares have been averaging $30.68.


Editor-in-chief Julie Miller contributed to this article.