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240: William Swearingen

Digging into the data is the goal for William Swearingen, SVP of Sales & Marketing at Spectrum Retirement Communities. Plus we dive into the importance of creating a community culture where team member’s voices are heard is crucial. 


Recorded at the NIC Fall Conference where BTG is a proud Media Sponsor.




Welcome to Bridge the Gap podcast, the senior living podcast with Josh and Lucas. We are in DC at the very energetic NIC conference, and we are excited to have a new guest on today. We have William Swearingen. You are the Senior Vice President of Marketing and Sales at Spectrum Retirement Communities. Welcome to the show.

William Swearingen

Thanks for having me. I’m glad to be here.

Lucas 1:04

Glad that you’re here. You know, there’s a lot of energy here around big thought leaders, big decision makers, big capital providers. And one of the things that we have seen shift in change at the NIC conferences over the last decade is that as the industry has shift and changed, they’re getting into a lot other bigger topics. It’s no longer just cap rates, capital deals, real estate, it’s way more complicated. And I’m glad to see William here at the NIC conference. And you’re actually gonna be speaking on a panel today about other things that impact all of those deals right?

And there’s been a big shift we’re coming out of two years of deep disruption in the industry. And I think it’s time that we start thinking differently about staffing occupancy technology, marketing sales, right? All of it. Am I on the right track? 

William Swearingen 02:04

You’re absolutely on the right track. I think the challenge has been that during COVID. I think that we all got wrapped up in kind of the sadness of it all. And we forgot that COVID gave us cover to push reset. And that’s what we did at Spectrum was we took it as an opportunity to step back and really evaluate what do we need to be doing differently coming out of this? Because the reality is everything that we learned were the things we should have already been doing for the last five years. And I think that that’s a pattern that senior living has, which is kind of getting trapped in these kind of same old elements. And we convince ourselves that we’re being innovative, that we’re pushing forward, and we have conferences and we talk about it, but then everyone leaves. And the moment the conference is over the thoughts I think just go away. And everybody gets back to doing exactly the same thing that they did before. And so that’s why there’s not really been the kind of change on the other side of the equation behind the scenes, all the financial components, that changes that moves that, the investors do what they do. But the front side of the business hasn’t evolved as much as we like to convince ourselves that it has

Josh 03:04

Well, here at NIC, one of the big driving forces, I guess you would say behind so many of these deals that are getting done, decisions that are being made is data. NIC talks tons about that. I think that’s what draws people to Nick. But I heard you in a in a conversation we were having just before is like we need to dig a little bit deeper. There’s so much more out there that we’re not kind of turning over. I hope on your panel you’re going to dive into that a little bit. But tell our audience a little bit about your thoughts on that.

William Swearingen 03:40

Yeah. So one of the panels is really focusing on the NIC vision data and, and the, I think the new concept with NIC vision in and of itself is going to push the industry. It’s going to force us all to step back and reevaluate what it is we’re looking at when we say data. It’s one of those buzzwords that you say it in a room and everybody reacts to it and we all go, “yay.” The problem is nobody’s actually digging in the data. They’re looking at the surface elements. And so we still, as an industry target one audience. We target white America. There’s nothing wrong with that. It’s by population, it’s our predominant client. That’s a truth. The problem comes when we’re not looking at all of the secondary and third tier markets. That can be those supplemental elements that stabilize occupancy; that address, and kind of recast challenges that you may be having with staffing by just simply looking at things through a different lens, try actually embracing the consumer lens.

William Swearingen 04:33

And one of the things that kind of caught the attention of NIC and why I was asked to speak on the panel is the direction that we’ve taken in looking at the data and going 2, 3, 4, 5 layers below that onion and crying a little bit to kind of reshape what it is our message needs to be. We don’t go after the ethnic markets out of fear, out of lack of knowledg,e an unwillingness to embrace the changes that need to be made in order to invite those communities in so that the representation is accurate, so that they see themselves when they walk through the door, because I’m not buying anything that isn’t connected to representation of who I am as a human being. And that applies to senior living as well.

 Josh 05:13

Well, so I’d like to dig in on this a little bit, because I know we’ve got a ton of operators, developers both that have been in the industry for years, as well as some new ones. And when people are even beginning to look at new markets, for example, I know years ago, NIC you couldn’t even get data on anything but primary markets. They finally started compiling a little bit of secondary markets were still not there on tertiary markets. I just saw a release that finally we’re gonna start getting some, or at least collecting some data on active adult, which is a, been a missing thing. But one of the things that’s always struck me is like, let’s just talk about feasibility when you’re thinking about who you should be going after. I guess there there’s had to be some very intentionality from your team to kind of drive and dig into that data because if you order a typical demographic study from any, they all kind of look identical with the exact…

William Swearingen 06:16

Write out the name. Yeah. It’s all the same. 

Josh 06:17

It’s all the same. It’s all the same. So you could order a market study for just about any market, and probably America it’s gonna have the same 10 or 15 little bullet points. They’re all going to look pretty similar. So when you guys have had to, you made the, the decision, you’re like, “Hey, we’re missing this.” How difficult in what steps have you had to take to actually gather all that data? It seems like it’s been a heavy lift on your part, right?

William Swearingen 06:40

It has been a little bit, I, I think what strengthened our ability to do that is our, just our, our internal kind of genetic makeup already in the decisions that we had made. We’d started kind of gravitating in this direction before the pandemic, the pandemic just gave us the freedom to do it without it impacting business. We could test some things. And so we had to really look at our own data that we had already been collecting. Look at kind of the, the methodologies that we were utilizing and where was the reactions. But we only had that because of the intentionality, as you said of already wanting to move in that direction, right? Finding out where these other markets were. For example, with markets like in Dallas or Phoenix really anywhere in Arizona or Texas, we started going after a Spanish speaking campaign and a Spanglish campaign, a very intentional mix of the two languages. Because our own data showed us through our chat bot that they search differently.

William Swearingen 07:35

They use different keywords. They don’t use the same nomenclature that the rest of the population uses in searching for these options. And they also don’t see themselves represented in any element on a website, in a digital campaign, print, doesn’t matter. If they see themselves, they’re reflected in the caregiving role, never in the consumer role. So by flipping the script on that, we already had data that we could tap into. And it’s gone both ways for us. It’s caused us to move forward with projects and it’s caused us to pause projects. And I think that that’s another element that senior living needs to start looking at, building it because you can, does not help the industry. If the consumer base isn’t there to actually make sure that it works. Just because you’re new doesn’t mean you’re going to succeed.

Josh 08:19

Well, speaking of making communities work. I think most of the time we are naturally thinking when we think marketing, sales demographic, we’re thinking of occupancy. And a lot of demographic studies will come back and say, “wow, this market is, is we can build it.” And then all of a sudden, “oh my gosh, we can’t staff it.” And everybody here, if I ask probably most of the operators, what’s keeping them up right now, they’re going to,  it’s going be something related to labor. What are your thoughts on how digging deeper into the numbers and getting broader spectrum can also maybe translate to how we appeal, how we market, how we tell our story to a broader demographic of team members. Could that help us with this labor challenge?

William Swearingen 09:08

I think it absolutely can. And I know that it did for us at Spectrum. Are we still having labor challenges? Absolutely. That’s just the nature of the beast right now. However, I think that at least 50% of the labor challenges are created by how we as senior living operators choose to look at those we want to employ. It’s not just wages, it’s not just benefits. It’s also understanding the respect level. It needs to come from us as operators and the expectation that we place on the people that will choose to live in our communities to respect and honor those who already work there, which typically are a very diverse ethnic group. But what we also do see in senior living is if you were to go right now on any job board, Indeed, Glassdoor, whatever it is, and click through to an ad, you’re going to see a Anglo person of age pictured receiving care from a person of ethnicity, 99% of the time.

William Swearingen 09:59

That’s the photo image that is used out there to project what we want to see.  The problem is that also cast that individual in a very specific position. And so we’re missing out on an opportunity to flip that script as well. That’s another thing that we have done with great intention was look at our imagery and move the roles around. So 90% of our images when we’re recruiting right now are a person of ethnic status that is receiving services from a person that is white. There is there’s going to be reactions to that statement. I understand that. I stand by it because we’ve spent way too many years in this industry deciding a very specific narrative. We can’t change occupancy. We can’t change staffing if we don’t look at our own narrative and change it.

Josh 10:49

So changing the, the conversation path just a little bit, obviously we’re talking very high level. We could, if we had hours, we could dive into your brain very deep here. We may have to continue to do it some further. 



You might not get as far as you think. 


Josh 11:07 

But so having these conversations, I think even what you’re talking about, potentially anytime you start doing things differently, approaching a new strategy, sometimes those conversations are difficult, especially if you’re like in a SVP role or something like that. And you’re like, “I have this strong…I heard this podcast, this is kind of where we need to go.” What would you say is, is how you approach something like this, these conversations with your upper leadership in an organization to begin to try to change the culture because sometimes when you start saying, “oh, we’re gonna change our brochure to be like this,” or,  “actually we’re going to dive into this demographic. We’re gonna try to attract these. I mean, you might get a raised eyebrow and its like, “Hey, we hadn’t, we hadn’t been doing that before. I mean, how would you approach approach that with your leadership team?”

William Swearingen 11:55

I think that that was something that was really special for me. I knew immediately within our organization, when they brought me in five years ago, this was something that I was recruited for. So I had a little bit of an easier path. I think the critical part is do your research, and it doesn’t take a significant amount of time to do the research and gather some simple data. We have a saying in spectrum, raise your hand of an idea. Can’t evolve. It can’t grow. If the hand isn’t raised and you may not win the battle on the first raising of the hand, but you’ve gotta keep raising the hand on this. Especially if nothing else. I think the first statement said as professionally as one can is, “but what we’re doing now, isn’t working.” And so if we know that to be true, what is there to be lost by trying something truly different? Not a little bit different, but just, I hate it when people say, think outside of the box, throw the box away, walk away from it, leave it don’t ever return to it. Don’t say the words ever again, just leave the box alone. There’s nothing innovative in going “ think outside the box.” That means you’re standing outside this folded square. We we’ve just gotta set the box on fire, find a new new term. 

Josh 13:06

So I love that. So one, I think of the takeaway that I took away from what you just said, if I’m a listener out there and I’m wanting to create this kind of culture, you have to as a leadership team, no matter what you are, you’ve got to create a culture where your team feels comfortable saying like raising your hand, I think was the term. Yeah. So that’s a great, I think just cheat sheet for our listeners right now, put it on your refrigerator, put it on your desk, put it on your monitor, whatever, allow your team to raise their hand. So you’ve gotta start with creating that culture, because you’re exactly right. I mean NIC data, ASHA data, all these data points will tell us we have not done a good job as an industry of reaching the potential of what our industry industry has as far as reaching age, income, qualified people and the people that need care that we can provide. So raise your hand, Lucas, just raise your hand. Anytime you want to say something. 



I have a question I’s been raising my hand. I want to have a question here. 


Josh 13:59

So what an awesome… thank you for taking time for us. [You bet] Today, we know you’re super busy here. A lot of people wanting to be meet with you in the NIC speed dating. We’re in the HubbleHub. {That’s right. }I don’t even know what that is, but there’s


It’s a basement down here under in the, we’re ready for launch. We’re ready for takeoff. We’re gonna raise the roof and get outta here. It’s fun.

Josh 14:21

What a good talk. What?


It’s a great talk. That’s for it’s it’s great for our listeners for you to take time out. There is a lot of people here, but there is way more people that cannot be at NIC and be able to partake in these great discussions of thought leadership that are here. So William, thanks for your time today and we wish you the best on your panel.

William Swearingen

Thanks. Appreciate it. Love you guys.

Lucas 14:40

Love you too, man. Well, thanks for everybody for following us today. Go to to connect with us with this episode and so many more. You can see us on LinkedIn, Facebook and Instagram. Thanks for everybody for listening to another great episode of Bridge the Gap. 


240: William Swearingen