Peter Wright

Peter Wright, president Bridgton and Rumford Hospitals (October 2019)

The biggest challenge right now, I would say is workforce, no different than the rest of the state of Maine — inside and outside of health care. finding the number of people we need to do the work that we need to do is becoming increasingly challenging. We have probably half a dozen in the hospital and then maybe another half a dozen across our outpatient clinics. Roughly speaking, I don’t know the precise number, but it’s kind of a rolling thing. What my two cents on it is with the economy the way it is and unemployment so very low, a lot of our front-line and entry level positions, we just don’t retain as long as we used to. That is a symptom. I speak to many, many business owners and leaders outside of health care and they’re experiencing the same thing in this area. I don’t think health care or Bridgton and Rumford are unique.

I think we’ve abandoned the whole idea of traditional advertising in the want ads. We do a lot of very targeted digital and direct marketing about our organization. What we really focused on is the culture here, and the idea that so much of the values in western Maine are about small town, small community. Who the leadership team is played a lot more into the scenario, like who your manager and your co-workers are going to be. We talked intently about the expectations of our staff and the culture and the family atmosphere. It’s pretty interesting. While we’re not different in terms of our recruitment, we are different in that health care is one of the few industries where we have four different generations in the workforce. And there are some people who just manage the way they manage, and there are others of us who look at that as a unique opportunity to speak and to work with employees differently based on their individual traits.

Edward Serna

Edward Serna, president, University of Maine at Farmington (September 2019)

Oh, I think our biggest challenge is the same challenge that all the schools in Maine and most of the schools in this part of the country are facing. And that’s the shift in demographics. There are just fewer high school graduates coming through the high schools in Maine, so there’s increased competition for students. We are definitely seeing that competition for those high school graduates.

I think that leads to our biggest challenge, which is enrollment, and that’s no surprise. It’s a trend line that everyone has been experiencing. It’s been going down for the past seven years. It’s a gradual slope. The prediction is in 2026 that there’s a cliff. Because if you go back in time to 2008, 2009, the Great Recession, people were not having babies. They were holding off for financial reasons and so that cliff hits us in 2026. There’s a gradual rebound after that. Every school in the country is kind of looking at that cliff.

I think Farmington is just such a wonderful place. I think that would be a compelling place for international students, but also for working adults, if there are working adults or adult students that want to come back for an education, I want to make sure that this is a warm and welcoming place.

I’ve had the chance in the first two months here (Serna started July 1) to get out and visit community colleges. I started a conversation with their presidents about how do we get students that after they get their associates degree from you want to continue on and Farmington’s a good fit for. I just think that we have to be a little more creative and not think about traditionally aged undergraduate students. That’s where we’re going to focus at least in this first year.

Scott MacDonald

Scott MacDonald, CEO and founder, Maine Technology Group, Oakland (November 2019)

I would say our biggest challenge is educating our customers, getting the message out about the severity of cyber security, getting the message out about how to protect them, getting them to take it seriously. The biggest mindset or response I see is that it’s not going to happen and my company is not a target. I don’t lock my door, I’m up here in Maine. No one’s going to want my stuff.

In fact, small- to medium-size businesses are the No. 1 target of attack. Small businesses represent 46 percent of attacks. (Hackers) are looking for data mostly that they can sell on the dark web or that they can try to encrypt and hold hostage with ransomware so they can get some kind of Bitcoin payment for. (Bitcoin is a type of digital currency, often referred to as an online version of cash.) The latest statistics I see is that right about half of all Bitcoin transactions are done illegally through cyber security breaches.

You are looking at PII, so personal identifiable information, and that can get you all kinds of access. From an identity theft standpoint, I could open accounts, I can open up credit cards, I can find, you know, those kinds of things. Anything personally identifiable, your address, where you went to school, all of that, up to and including social security numbers. But then the other aspect is you get access to companies’ data and information, and the mother lode there is normally within that you have X amount of employees. When I’m met with that, when I’m able to access the customer or the company server network, I most times will have access to all of the employees as well as the company information, including financials, customers.

I will say the response (to learning about cyber threats) from anyone who has suffered a breach is never one of doubt. They want to act swiftly because they have learned the lesson. You ever hear of a person complaining about auto insurance who has been in a head-on accident. But trying to convince other folks, it’s all over the map. There are folks that say, yes, there’s nothing there to get. Let them try to get my Social Security number; my credit score is awful. Businesses say there’s nothing really there. It’s just kind of putting their head in the sand.

We’re starting to see it become more accepted. It used to be met with more — I don’t want to say resistance — but, um, doubts. And now all of a sudden it’s starting to become a specialty as things hit home with the city of Augusta (which was targeted in a ransomware attack), all of those things happen. And like I said, people who have experienced this want to move full speed ahead as quickly as possible.

Nancy Marshall

Nancy Marshall, PR Maven, Marshall Communications, Augusta (November 2019) 

My biggest challenge is delivering return on investment for clients through the best marketing possible, because marketing is changing so fast. And in the age of the commercial internet, it’s a matter of test and learn. You’re testing to learn whether (messages) work and to have a client who is nimble enough and wants to try things.

When you’re doing digital advertising, you’re trying to connect the correct message with the correct audience. And sometimes you have to try a few different messages, and different audiences, to see what resonates. That’s called A-B testing. Try message A with this audience and message B with this audience, and see what works. So it’s finding clients who are willing to try new things and make an investment to deliver a return on investment, because it’s not your grandfather’s marketing anymore. (Clients) could be losing a whole new segment of customers. There could be customers out there that they’re not connecting with because they’re not willing to try new things.

There’s something called the long tail of the web. We’re doing the PR for the Kotzschmar organ, which is the famous organ at Merrill Auditorium. Through the long tail of the web, (we’re) finding people all over the world who are interested in amazing pipe organs and are willing to travel to see them. In the old days, you would have just put an ad in the Portland Press Herald and hope the people reading the newspaper would see that. But now, you could put a lot of content online about this municipal pipe organ. There’s another one in San Diego, actually at the San Diego Zoo. There’s people who are willing to buy a plane ticket and travel to see this kind of an organ.

What people in the old kind of marketing are going to miss is the possibility of tremendous growth, without even knowing  that these customers exist. There still is sometimes resistance and sometimes they worry that they’re going to get too many customers, and they won’t be able to serve them. I met with somebody yesterday who was like, “Oh, well, we don’t want too much.” And I said, “Well, that would be a good problem to have.”

We do have something we call the Marshall Plan, and that’s a three-year marketing strategy. It doesn’t all happen overnight with public relations and this new kind of what we call content marketing. It’s a long-term strategy, and a lot of times you’re trying to get the attention of Google because Google is so powerful now. Content marketing is the long-term technique of creating a lot of online content. And that could include public relations, like having an article in the Waterville (Morning) Sentinel or the Kennebec Journal or DownEast magazine. When someone Googles your service, a lot of content shows up in a lot of different places, not just on your own website.

That’s kind of a new way that we’re looking at our business. It’s not just a media relations, which is working with the media. It’s producing a lot of different kinds of content online. And I love that. I’m so excited, just so excited. I’ve been doing this a long time, and I wake up every day and I just can’t wait to do more because it’s so fun.

Annemarie Kromhout

Annemarie Kromhout, director of the Hubbard Free Library, Hallowell  (December 2019)

Obviously, fundraising. We’ve had several years of a deficit that we’ve been trying to fix. Part of reason why we have such a large deficit is … (we no longer have contracts with) Farmingdale, Chelsea and Manchester. We’re trying harder to manage our spending, not that we overspend or anything like that. Right now, we’re surviving, but we’re getting better. I think the contracts were the hardest hit. It’s unlikely that we’re going to get them back. I know Chelsea was discussing rejoining us, but nothing came of that. Farmingdale is locked into a contract with Gardiner.

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