Refinements for AIHA-LAP
Feedback Focuses on Need for Marketing, Communications, and Training BY CHERYL O. MORTON
In 2015, AIHA Laboratory Accreditation Programs, LLC facilitated several focus group meetings with technical experts in the laboratory accreditation arena to get their input on how AIHA-LAP could develop different business practices and new accreditation programs to complement its laboratory accreditation portfolio. The outcome of the project was the identification of specific business improvement and development opportunities for AIHA-LAP in both the short and long term.
We want to be sure that we keep our laboratories and all stakeholders informed about what we are doing and that we are able to “tell our own story” about the importance of our accredited laboratories.
It was a bit of a surprise to me and the AIHA-LAP’s Strategic Advisory Group to learn that the majority of the improvement opportunities focused not on business operations or accreditation policies but more on marketing, communications, and education. Participants in the focus group told us that AIHA-LAP needs to:
  • improve its branding, since AIHA-LAP is not well known outside of AIHA circles;
  • better explain the services offered (like pre-assessments or expedited assessment) and new AIHA-LAP programs;
  • better explain AIHA-LAP’s international recognition status and its value to accredited laboratories, their customers, and other stakeholders;
  • promote the use of accredited laboratories with AIHA members and regulators; and
  • offer more training to its accredited laboratories.
Armed with that information and receiving immediate help in the way of financial resources and dedicated staff from the AIHA Marketing Team, AIHA-LAP started to quickly implement a number of changes to refresh its brand and address the issues identified by the focus groups. Our marketing experts developed a marketing plan and strategy that include but are not limited to the following steps: improving the website, re-instituting the AIHA-LAP e-newsletter, using more social media, and developing a training platform at AIHce.
IMPROVING THE WEBSITE The AIHA-LAP website—which is separate from the AIHA website—is our most prominent interface with our laboratories. Our accredited laboratories know that they can rely on the AIHA-LAP website to obtain important policies and forms as well as updates about new policies when they are released. Our website is also the place where customers of accredited laboratories can determine whether a laboratory is accredited, learn more about laboratories’ scopes of accreditation, and see accreditation certificates to ensure that the right laboratory is selected for testing. 
But our research and focus-group feedback told us that the website should also be a place where regulators and other stakeholders that rely on accredited test results can learn about more specific analytes covered by AIHA-LAP accreditation. Also, our focus groups told us that the website should provide more information on the value of AIHA-LAP accreditation and our international recognition efforts. Our Marketing Team started working as early as a year ago on expanding the website content and making several other improvements:
Look and feel. We changed the look and feel of the site late in 2015 to make it more attractive and easier to find information on specific programs. The website now includes a short video about the accreditation process and our international recognition logos. More importantly, we made changes to the website to promote the International Laboratory Accreditation Cooperation (ILAC) Mutual Recognition Arrangement with information about World Accreditation Day; the public assurance website, which shares case studies about the value of conformity assessment); and links to informational brochures and documents available from ILAC.
News feed. Our new website now features a news feed that allows us to continuously update our laboratories and stakeholders about important developments from policies being released for comment to announcements about new services and programs. 
Upcoming features. We are now working with a new vendor to upgrade our data management system, which interfaces with the website, to include not only instrumentation and analytical test methods for each accredited laboratory but information about analytes that can be tested. This will allow accredited laboratories and their customers to quickly find the best laboratories for their testing needs. More importantly, our labs will be able to submit their accreditation applications and associated documentation directly to us through our online portal.
DEPARTMENTS
img_201608-morton
LABORATORIES
CHERYL O. MORTON is managing director of AIHA-LAP. 
She can be reached at (703) 846-0789 or cmorton@aiha.org.
img_201608-mortonart
MORE SOCIAL MEDIA AIHA-LAP realizes the importance of social media, especially in communicating with younger professionals in the laboratory accreditation community. We are still debating the creation of a Facebook page and a LinkedIn site. For now, we are relying on Twitter as our primary social media outlet. We established a Twitter account several years back to promote our programs and provide a venue for timely information on AIHA-LAP but our use of the site had been intermittent. Starting this past spring, however, we have made a conscientious effort to regularly tweet information (we now have 350 followers) and we likewise encourage followers to post messages for the laboratory community on our site. Readers interested in learning more about accreditation are invited to follow us at @AIHA_LAP_LLC.
We also use social media to keep track of developments from other organizations and government agencies such as EPA, NIOSH, and OSHA, which allows us to pass important accreditation information along to our followers. For example, there is also a LinkedIn ISO/IEC 17025 discussion group to which we subscribe that allows us to see the challenges and proposed solutions that laboratory experts from around the world are discussing. ILAC also has a Twitter account and we often retweet their posts. QUARTERLY NEWSLETTER Although we are tweeting and using the news feed to keep laboratories and stakeholders apprised, we see a need for more in-depth articles. We have reinstituted an electronic newsletter that will be made available every quarter. The first edition of the new LAP Quarterly newsletter was released in July 2016. TRAINING PLATFORM AT AIHCE Hearing the need for more training opportunities, we started incorporating some laboratory testing topics at AIHce 2015 when AIHA-LAP piloted a special session on laboratory accreditation that was organized by Bob Lieckfield of Bureau Veritas. At AIHce 2016 in Baltimore, Bob organized a second special session on laboratory management issues that drew about 50 attendees. For AIHce 2016, we also identified a number of PDCs and technical sessions and presentations on laboratory testing, analysis, sampling, and related laboratory testing topics under a Laboratory Testing Track. 
Our plan is to conduct more laboratory testing-related training at AIHce 2017 and market this new Laboratory Testing Track to our accredited labs and others interested in laboratory testing. We will also look for opportunities for virtual training and exhibit floor presentations in 2017. 
This summer, we will conduct a survey of our accredited labs to determine current training practices and needs to plan for the next couple of years, which will help us develop courses for AIHce as well as webinars and online training tools apart from the conference. This will be particularly important when ISO/IEC 17025—the standard that AIHA-LAP uses to accredit laboratories—is revised in 2017. JUST THE BEGINNING This is just a snapshot of what AIHA-LAP is doing to refresh its brand and address what we heard from our focus group in 2015. We also plan to develop a series of presentations, update our exhibit booth, and publish program-specific brochures as well as promote the August edition of The Synergist (the labs issue) to accredited laboratories. We want to be sure that we keep our laboratories and all stakeholders informed about what we are doing and that we are able to “tell our own story” about the importance of our accredited laboratories. Follow us on Twitter, check our website regularly, and feel free to email me at cmorton@aiha.org to give us feedback or to share ideas.
thesynergist | TOC | NEWSWATCH | DEPARTMENTS | COMMUNITY