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The Benefits of Teamwork

December 1, 2006
by Gary A. Enos, Editor
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Some centers find value in partnering, but few follow their lead

If you attend national conferences at which addiction treatment centers tend to exhibit, chances are you will come across Massachusetts' AdCare Hospital and Illinois' Rosecrance Health Network at adjoining booths, or perhaps sharing the same space. Neither the luck of the draw nor a scheduling difficulty has anything to do with it.

Joint planning for conference attendance represents just one item on a far-ranging list of activities that have resulted from an innovative partnership between the two treatment organizations. The effort, focused mainly on marketing and driven originally by the CEOs of the two agencies, is noteworthy in being relatively uncommon for an addiction treatment marketplace that some leaders worry has shed a spirit of cooperation in recent years.




Given the availability of potential partners in a field where many large facilities have similar treatment missions but for geographical or other reasons don't directly compete, it remains surprising and disappointing to some that more treatment agencies haven't followed the example of facilities such as AdCare and Rosecrance.

“This gives me a colleague I can talk to,” says James McKenna, vice president of marketing and development at the Worcester-based AdCare. “That has saved me from having to pay a retainer for a marketing consultant. What's that worth?”

The small handful of treatment organizations that are engaged in partnerships with other centers cite many factors essential to a successful effort, including commitment at the top level of leadership, a knowledge of which business topics should remain off limits in the relationship, a common mission and philosophy of service, and a lack of direct competition between the organizations. The partnerships that are thriving are notable for their informality—even the phrase “handshake agreement” may overstate how much of this work tends to be formalized.

“It's based on trust,” Caron Treatment Centers President and CEO Douglas Tieman says of his organization's frequent work with the Betty Ford Center and Tieman's longtime friend, its President and CEO John Schwarzlose. “John will call me, and I'll call him. Neither of us would take advantage of each other. There is a good spirit of our efforts being mutually beneficial.”

Cooperative marketing

The joint marketing work between AdCare and Rosecrance grew out of the relationship the two agencies' CEOs had forged through their work with the National Association of Addiction Treatment Providers (NAATP). McKenna began having discussions with Janis Waddell, the Rockford, Ill.-based Rosecrance's vice president of marketing, and soon the two were planning a retreat involving each organization's entire marketing staff.

“Jim and I started at the higher level and then we took it one step further, to involve our whole staff,” says Waddell. She considers the communication and sharing of ideas highly desirable in an environment where no one really knows if a certain marketing strategy will work until it is tested. “You have to try a lot of different strategies today,” she says, and sometimes working with another organization will help determine more definitively whether a certain approach can work.

The two organizations have shared use of television ads that differ only in the name of the treatment agency shown on the screen. Both organizations are tied into the same toll-free hotline for people seeking alcohol treatment for themselves or a loved one (800-ALCOHOL). The arrangement works because the organizations serve different regional markets and to a degree offer a different mix of services. For instance, AdCare has been able to refer adolescent clients from the Northeast to Rosecrance because AdCare does not offer adolescent treatment.

Also, the arrangement gives each agency another set of eyes for identifying possible business contacts. “A friend of mine who was the EAP for an airline in my area was able to help make a contact for Janis at the same airline in her area,” McKenna says.

The two organizations often pool their efforts at professional conferences, either by reserving adjacent booth spaces or sharing one space and helping promote each other's services to attendees. At a recent NAATP meeting, Waddell and McKenna joined with a Betty Ford Center official to present a marketing seminar. They warned attendees in advance that they would be asked to break into small groups during the session and share ideas, but Waddell says the 35 participants were receptive to working together and gave the presentation favorable evaluations.

McKenna says it is good to see some indications of a willingness to discuss business issues among organizations. “There really are not many secrets out there, but still people don't share as much as they could,” he says.

Waddell believes treatment agencies can build the kind of relationship Rosecrance has with AdCare without losing any competitive edge. She refers to the hybrid phenomenon she'd like to see more of in the field as “co-op-etition.”

Teaming up for advocacy

The Betty Ford Center and Caron Treatment Centers have engaged in a number of joint projects over the years, including sponsorship of a conference on women's treatment (Hazelden also co-sponsored that event with Betty Ford and Caron in the past). Schwarzlose and Tieman have the same type of informal relationship that high-level officials at AdCare and Rosecrance enjoy, and that can lead to discussions of any number of possible joint ventures.

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