AAC Pivots Marketing Strategy, Gets Personal Amid Pandemic

The past year has been one of realignment for AAC Holdings (OTC: AACH), the parent company of American Addiction Centers.

Last October, it was delisted from the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) following financial struggles and exits from several top company leaders. Then this June, AAC filed Chapter 11 bankruptcy as a way to recapitalize its business and lighten its debt load.

Another area of AAC that’s gotten a makeover as of late is its marketing strategy. Amid the coronavirus, the company has redistributed its marketing resources to launch a number of digital, personalized campaigns. It’s a theme leaders say will continue for the foreseeable future, as the pandemic rages on and substance use disorder (SUD) prevalence continues to rise.


“Because of the isolation of the pandemic, we have gotten more personalized, and storytelling has become a bigger part of what we’re wanting to do,” Chief Digital and Marketing Officer Stephen Ebbett told Behavioral Health Business. “We’ve done stuff like this before, but we’ve really, really accelerated it and focused it during COVID. We don’t have those personal connections, so let’s create digital connections and tell those personalized stories.”

Based in Brentwood, Tennessee-based, AAC provides both inpatient and outpatient care across eight different states. Before the pandemic hit, the SUD treatment provider drew patients into its treatment facilities in a number of different ways.

Its marketing efforts included everything from print, TV and radio advertising to outdoor and boots-on-the-ground campaigns. But in March, that strategy quickly changed.


“Those mediums just aren’t as effective anymore because people … [are] isolated in their homes,” Ebbett said. “Digital was always part of our marketing mix, but it’s really now almost exclusively our marketing mix because we feel like it’s the best way to connect with people.”

As such, AAC ramped up its social media activity and online content production. Plus, it launched a new website to support the rising demand for virtual services amid COVID-19 and debuted several virtual support meeting options, along with an alumni app, to help people stay connected in recovery.

Personal connections are vital to the success of those receiving SUD treatment. Consequently, the coronavirus has taken a significant toll on those battling SUDs.

In the past few months, overdose and drug usage rates have spiked. According to the CDC, about 13% of Americans have started or increased drug use to cope with COVID-19, and suspected overdoses jumped 42% year-over-year in May, according to a Washington Post report.

AAC’s digital push is meant to help lower those numbers, while also stressing stories, rather than just statistics. The SUD treatment provider did that by switching up its marketing messages to be more personal.

“Every single one of those [people] has their own story,” Ebbett said. “They have the people that love them, [and] the people that lie awake sleeplessly worrying about them. … That’s the nub of what we’ve been trying to do — really connect with people on a personal level and tell their stories.”

Case and point: A new campaign AAC launched back in August with TV sports reporter Lauren Sisler. Sisler lost both of her parents to opioid overdoses within hours of each other when she was a freshman at Rutgers University. Sisler never knew her parents were struggling, as concealed their addictions from her.

Sisler’s campaign aims, in part, to break the stigma associated with getting help.

“We’re here to tell people that we do care,” Sisler said tearfully in a Facebook live video for the campaign. “And you are worth it.”

In addition to the interview with Sisler, the campaign included a number of education videos from Sisler to help raise awareness about opioid overdoses. AAC also produced a downloadable overdose kit and provided a series of free virtual Narcan training seminars to teach people how to administer the nasal spray, which can be used to treat narcotic overdoses.

AAC’s latest campaign, We Recover Together, also exemplifies its new marketing strategy. Launched in September to coincide with national recovery month, the We Recover Together campaign highlights AAC employees who are in recovery themselves.

“We really wanted to provide some connectivity for our patients to understand that we truly do understand on a very personal level,” Ebbett said. “And many of our staff understands what you’re going through.”

For the campaign, AAC coined the hashtag, #WeRecoverTogether. Every day of the month, AAC will take to social media, where it will feature a different one of its staff members who is in recovery.

With a “sizable portion” of its staff in that camp, AAC’s staff have a combined total of more than 443,907 days in recovery and counting. The goal is to celebrate those staff, while also pulling in new patients.

However, Ebbett said the campaign can also serve as inspiration to those with SUD and potentially funnel more of those people into AAC’s employment pipeline down the line.

The personalized push doesn’t stop there. Later this month, AAC is launching another campaign to coincide with suicide awareness month.

It will focus on Kevin Hines. He’s a suicide survivor who jumped off the Golden Gate Bridge in 2000 after struggling with depression and bipolar disorder. Like Sisler’s campaign, Hines’s will be largely digital, featuring a series of videos and informational resources. 

AAC will double down on its personalized marketing strategy for the foreseeable future, Ebbett said, with COVID-19 being the impetus.

As for other plans for the year ahead, AAC plans take a market-by-market approach to marketing mediums, as coronavirus restrictions vary largely by state and county.

“The way I would think about the next six to 12 months is that we will become more localized in our marketing,” Ebbett said. “Where we may have been more national before, in terms of taking a broader spectrum of messaging and tactics and applying that across the country, I think we’ll just see very, very different dynamics in different markets.”

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