President's Blog

Mitchell S. Elliott, AIA  SAGE President

Senior Partner

RDG Planning & Design

Mitch has been involved in SAGE for over ten years, as an advisory group member,  Vice President and currently President of the organization.  His depth of understanding in senior living design and resident-centered strategies has expanded substantially through the relational connections he has cultivated through SAGE.  He also serves as 2nd Vice Chair for the Health Care Section Board of NFPA.  Mitch is a member of the AHCA Life Safety Committee.  

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  • Wednesday, June 14, 2017 4:05 PM | Lori Bridgeman (Administrator)

    By Bill Pemberton

    This month, for my “president’s blog”, I thought I would give you all a break from my ranting.  I have invited a guest blogger, Bill Pemberton, to share his passion in my place.  Bill Pemberton is senior vice president of the senior lifestyle division of The Point Group, a senior-focused marketing firm based in Dallas, Texas.  Bill is also a member of the SAGE Board of Directors.  Bill believes strongly in the value of design as an integral part of the overall customer brand experience.  Let’s hear what’s on Bill’s heart.  --Mitch


    As senior living communities continue to proliferate across the country, the level of competition is getting increasingly tough in markets, small and large.  This market saturation offers a baffling array of look-alike choices to consumers, and makes the first challenge to building occupancy simply finding a way to stand out from the pack.  While the temptation is to high pressure the sales team to close more deals and focus on occupancy, the real answer is probably focusing on a more effective brand strategy.

    Your brand wins for you when it connects well and quickly enough with prospects for your community that you make the shortlist on your prospect’s list of providers they want to tour.  Then, and only then, is it up to sales to uphold the brand promise.  Occupancy is an outcome of qualified leads, well managed.

    While brand is often seen as a mysterious and complex piece of marketing magic, it’s really a straightforward but strategic approach to a series of customer touchpoints that guide consumers on a journey from being prospects to customers, and then to brand advocates. That journey begins with your communications to the market, via media channels such as PR, advertising, direct mail, your website and more.  Your sales staff must continue that brand promise on the physical visit, or you risk an abrupt brand disconnect as in, “Honey, this isn’t at all what I was expecting.” That wastes everyone’s time.

    Brand formulation begins with defining what makes up your unique value as a company or community. That value consists of whatever benefits your community is intrinsically able to deliver on a consistent basis—especially in contrast to the competition who can’t deliver exactly those benefits, or as well. No senior community can be all things to all prospects.  Your goal then should be to capture those prospects who generally belong at your community based on your special ability to meet their key “care abouts”—whether real life needs or just strong preferences.

    Maybe you’re the only non-profit in a town full of for-profit providers—stress the benefits of that model.  Perhaps your building is older and unattractive, but your clinical staff are second to none, or you have a culture of caring that trumps a flashy building with a cold staff.  Maybe you’re more affordable than other communities, or conversely, you offer an extraordinary experience at unashamedly high prices. Maybe you’re located among walkable local attractions—or you offer quaint country ambiance. Ideally i’s a combination of several key factors—but find your “hook” points and keep it short. 

    Brand ID elements such as name, logo, slogans and website homepage copy are what most folks believe brand is about. But those are just the compact containers you use to provide a condensed, concise—and hopefully compelling—taste of what your full value proposition entails. It’s more overture than opera. You’ll need a brochure to tell all about dozens of your amenities but your brand promise may only trumpet “a signature lifestyle experience” and the like. The best branding is specific and memorable.

    Another key point: your brand isn’t a once and forever formulation but may require a “brand update” to reflect new expansions, renovations and other repositioning activities you do to counter new or improved competition. Finally, don’t hesitate to pull in a professional marketing agency—preferably one with strong senior marketing savvy—to guide you through the process of brand formulation and brand ID development. Brand is far too important to miss the mark and agencies spend their days in brand development processes. An agency can also ensure that your brand is communicated consistently across all channels.  In any case, start today making sure you’re leveraging your brand assets to the fullest. You may find that much of the occupancy growth—of the kind you need—takes care of itself.

    Bill Pemberton develops marketing solutions for senior living and care communities of all types and sizes across the nation—as well as companies who market to the senior living industry.  He welcomes dialogue at

  • Tuesday, May 09, 2017 4:54 PM | Mitchell Elliott (Administrator)

    Since moving back into the architectural consulting world, my first two months have been full of video conferences.  The technology that is available today to connect with people all around the country, as well as globally, is amazing.  The collaborative opportunity for design charrettes through shared desktops is mind-blowing.  This technology is reducing travel costs and helping designers and consultants control time and expenses. 

    With all this high-tech connectivity, are we still truly connecting with people?  Are we building relationships?  Are we missing something in our human interactions?  Call me old school.  Call me old fashioned.  Call me a skeptic.  There is something meaningful in a handshake.  There is something about eye contact that builds trust.  Face to face interaction allows for transparency.  It contributes to real relationships that matter.

    Speaking of face to face opportunities, I am anticipating a fantastic strategic planning retreat for the SAGE board, where we will be in the same room for two days.  The board normally meets electronically once a quarter, while the officers participate in monthly conference calls.  This in-person opportunity will contribute significantly to relationship and trust building.  The face-to-face collaboration will provide the board with ample time to get to know each other in deeper, more meaningful ways.  I am confident the SAGE organization will benefit now and in the future because of this investment in time and energy. 

    How many of our client relationships could benefit from a renewed face-to-face encounter?  How many of our employees would feel valued by sitting across the table over lunch, rather than receive a text or email?  Do you remember those handwritten notes? 

    The next time you get ready to launch an email or hammer out a text, think about the benefits of a phone call or an appointment starting with a handshake.  Your choice may just contribute to a deep, meaningful relationship for years to come. 

  • Monday, April 17, 2017 1:41 PM | Mitchell Elliott (Administrator)

    Our world seems to revolve around paying for a voice. Social media is full of advertising by those wanting to influence our choices and decisions. The data mining behind the scenes in social media is mind boggling as companies and people try to figure out what we want--what interests us. People pay considerable sums of money for that information. 

    Many donate significant dollars throughout the political process for a voice--an opportunity to influence and a chance to be heard. I think Washington refers to this as "pay to play".  The days of supporting a cause without an expectation of being heard seem in the distant past...except at SAGE. 

    A you may know, we have a number of companies who sponsor, donate, and support our efforts at SAGE. The sponsoring organizations only ask that we recognize their support. There are no lobbying expectations. No strong arming of decisions. These companies and individuals don't take a "what's in it for me" attitude in contributing to the mission of SAGE. 

    Last year, J+J Flooring approached me with an idea. Part of their corporate mission is to invest in the senior-living world. After sitting in on a SAGE POE presentation at EFA, they were convinced that we were worthy of investment.  

    We are working with J+J Flooring to develop a research initiative tied to the SAGE POE process. I am excited to see what will come from this collaborative effort this year. They are also sponsoring a strategic planning retreat for the SAGE board this coming May. J+J Flooring views the leadership of SAGE, as well as its members, as some of the most influential thought leaders in senior living. That is quite a statement that we feel the burden and responsibility to live out. 

    Does J+J Flooring, or any of our other sponsors want to sell more carpet, or showers, or construction services or furniture? Of course. More importantly, do our sponsors want to see innovative improvements in environments for seniors that impact quality of care and quality of life? Absolutely. 

    Please refer to the sponsor page on the SAGE website and thank those companies who sponsor us. Through their support of our cause, we will all have a more influential voice that will impact senior living for years to come. 

    Learn more about J+J Flooring's SAGE sponsorship HERE

  • Monday, March 06, 2017 11:44 AM | Mitchell Elliott (Administrator)

    Another Environments for Aging Conference is in the books!  As I have told many of my compatriots, this is by far the best design conference when it comes to thought-provoking content that is so relevant to senior living.  The presenters represent “who’s who” in the senior living world.  The intensity of the presenters is matched by the passion of the solutions providers in the trade show as together, they raise the bar of quality for senior living. 

    In almost every EFA conference I have attended, the quality of the content is only surpassed by the meaningful depth of relationships that come from the networking opportunities.  The Las Vegas location for this year’s event had a detrimental impact on those relationship-building opportunities.  Once you left the third floor of the convention center at Mandalay Bay, fellow “EFAers” were impossible to find. Instead, one encountered a herd of gamblers, bachelorette parties, unhealthy behaviors, and other visual images that may be difficult to leave behind.  Unfortunately, the atmosphere of Las Vegas was not supportive of the hallmarks of the EFA conferences of the past. 

    Printed in the conference program was the announcement of “same time, same place” for the 2018 EFA.  We as a profession spoke up and Emerald Expositions listened.  The leadership at Emerald knew that the timing and location of this year’s conference was an experiment.  Emerald took the high road, and in all humility, decided that a return to Las Vegas was not in the best interests of the EFA brand.  THANK YOU, to Kevin Gaffney and his team, for listening to the customer and making the difficult changes…changes that will probably cost Emerald some money.

    The fact that the team at Emerald listened also challenged me to look in the mirror.  Are we at SAGE listening to our customers…you, the members?  Are we as professionals listening to our customers and clients?  Are we listening to our co-collaborators?  I challenge myself and those I lead to watch our “question to statement ratio”.  If we aren’t at a 5:1 ratio, there is a good chance we are talking more than we are listening.  Covey says to seek first to understand, then be understood.  We need to be great at asking open-ended questions…and then listening. 

    Emerald Expositions did just that.  They asked the attendees what they thought.  We gave our honest feedback and they responded.  If only all of our asking and listening opportunities could result in these quality outcomes!  Emerald did ask us at SAGE to provide recommendations for locations for next year’s EFA Conference.  There is a strong possibility that next year’s conference will be more east coast in location.  Please communicate with either our administrative assistant, Lori Bridgeman, or me if you have some thoughts on next year’s location for EFA.  We would like a location where senior living is vibrant and one that represents the quality of environments in which we strive.

    Thanks for listening…

  • Thursday, February 02, 2017 2:19 PM | Mitchell Elliott (Administrator)

    I recently heard a story from a Chick-fil-A board meeting that may be a nice springboard for leadership at SAGE. Back in the 90’s there was a company called Boston Chicken that eventually changed their name to Boston Market. They were Chick-fil-A’s first competition in the chicken restaurant world. Boston Market had significant expansion plans. 

    As the story goes, the Chick-fil-A team was a little nervous about their competition. They began to have discussions about how to grow bigger and how to grow faster. The strategies landed in a board room at Chick-fil-A with many of their leaders and marketing folks debating about how they could grow faster and bigger to stave off Boston Market.

    Truett Cathy, the founder of Chick-fil-A, was in attendance at the meeting.  He was very quiet and seemed disengaged during the strategy sessions.  Finally, Mr. Cathy must have heard enough.  He said, “Gentlemen, I am sick and tired of hearing you talk about us getting bigger!” And then he paused. He said, “What we need to be talking about is getting BETTER!”

    Here is his leadership principle we can learn from: “If we get better, then our customers will demand we get bigger.” That statement shifted the entire conversation of the meeting and the strategy for Chick-fil-A. Not coincidentally, in the year 2000, Boston Market actually filed for bankruptcy. That same year Chick-fil-A hit a billion dollars in sales for the very first time.

    I couldn't help but apply this principle to SAGE.  We have experienced substantial growth over the past the tune of 148% growth.  We are getting bigger, but are we better?  I think yes. We are seeing increased member engagement, and--perhaps most telling--SAGE members are introducing their colleagues to SAGE membership. The SAGE webinar series is just one example of our pursuit of "better". Every month, more and more Great Minds are Learning with SAGE. The SAGE board is committed to growth in membership numbers, but more importantly, in membership value! We encourage all members to contact us with their ideas for making SAGE better. 

    We can also apply this leadership/strategic principle to each of our roles in the marketplace.  If we get better at what we do, we will get bigger.  The higher the quality of service and products we provide, the more our influence will expand beyond where we are today.  

    In closing, I am going to re-create an over-used phrase.  Instead of "go big or go home", let's Get Better, Get Bigger and then Go Home to enjoy the fruits of our labor.

    Image: By FotoosVanRobin from Netherlands (Crispy Chicken Strips) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

  • Tuesday, January 17, 2017 2:10 PM | Mitchell Elliott (Administrator)

    In today’s competitive world, the phrase, “take care of yourself, because no one else will” is prevalent.  We hear other phrases like “he was thrown under the bus” or “watch your back” or “trust yourself and no one else”.  With these attitudes, taking the “low road” is expedient, easy and sometimes, even justified in the short term.  Unfortunately, this philosophy leads to a lonely career and an isolated life.  Relationships are important and integrity within those relationships is paramount.

    I am in the midst of a transition that could have easily been a low road experience, but it wasn’t.  I announced last week that I was leaving the company I have been with for the past twenty-four years to return to my previous employer.  That previous employer is a consulting firm that we have contracted with for the past twenty years for architectural design services.  Over those twenty years, the consulting firm has achieved “Quality Partner” status with my current company because of the similar mission, vision and values that we share.  After one of our recent building dedications, our president said of the consulting firm, “they really understand who we are and why we do what we do in senior living.” 

    After sharing with our owner of my leaving the company, he responded with, “that is a great opportunity with a great company.”  Our president told our owner that this was an example of “investing in people, sending them out and extending the quality legacy beyond the walls of our company.”  All I could think was, WOW, what a big picture vision.  An engineering consultant told me he has never seen anyone leave one company for another where it was such a lateral move in terms of culture.  There is more...

    Both companies have been working on a significant project together as client and consultant.  My moving from the client to the consultant role could have easily jeopardized the project, and worse, our relationship.  After some honest and open discussions, this relationship, and the collaborative project, will remain intact.  I am confident this will be one of the best projects that this team has ever created because the integrity of relationship has prevailed. 

    There were many points along the way where any of us could have taken the low road…the road more traveled…the easier road in today’s business world.  It has been rewarding and meaningful to see two companies, and a number of individuals, walk along the same path….the same journey…the same relational high road.  

  • Thursday, December 01, 2016 8:29 AM | Mitchell Elliott (Administrator)

    In today's culture, integrity may be a term that is talked about more than it is lived out. We just survived (sort of) one of the ugliest and most mean-spirited political campaigns that I can recall. Whoever coined the little rhyme, "stick and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me," may want to reconsider that position after this past year. 

    The reality is, words do matter. They are a window to our soul. The Holy Scriptures say that "it is not what goes into a man that defines him, but what comes out of his mouth." Our words reflect our character, our integrity, or the lack thereof. 

    So what is integrity? Some say it is honesty. Others relate integrity to morals or ethics. I have even heard it described as being true to yourself. Henry Cloud wrote a book called, "Integrity." He defines integrity as "an integrated character," based on unwavering core values. You are who you say you are and you do what you say you will do no matter what--regardless of the situation. Another way to say it is, what we do and say when no one is looking defines our integrity. 

    I have seen and experienced great examples of integrity in my career. I have also witnessed poor examples of integrity as well. Humbly, I have even seen both examples while looking in the mirror at times. The reality is, no one is perfect in this area. 

    Many of us architects have had clients who asked us to ignore a certain building code or look the other way in a bidding process. What was our response? There are endless opportunities that test our integrated character. I have seen people experience loss for their integrity and lose out for their lack of integrity. At the end of the day, integrity always wins. 

    This is my last blog for 2016. I know this seems a bit heavy, but my intent through all of my blogs is to make you think. I would encourage you to set aside some time before the close of this year to think about your integrated character. What are the core values by which you live? Are your actions consistent with your words? Are your words reflective of who you are? Do you know who you are? Do you know your purpose? It shouldn't be defined by your job, but framed by your primary roles in life, according to Steven Covey. The future of SAGE, our respective professions and society in general is dependent on integrity. 

    Thank you for the opportunity to serve as your SAGE president this year. I am hopeful the board will elect all four of your current officers to serve another two year term...and in the spirit of the campaign...I approve of this message! 

  • Wednesday, November 09, 2016 2:46 PM | Mitchell Elliott (Administrator)

    Momentum is vital in sports, physics and in organizational progress.  A football team can be unstoppable when they “have the momentum”.  In physics it takes far more force to stop a truck gaining momentum on a downhill path as compared to the force required to get the truck started.  Momentum in an organization is challenging to establish, but has a significant impact on its culture, passion and effectiveness in its mission once things begin to roll.  

    Unlike my physics example of “rolling downhill”, I truly believe SAGE is experiencing an organizational momentum in upward movement!  As of today (November 7th), we have experienced a membership growth rate of 120% for this year…and we have virtually two months left in the year.  This is exciting and amazing and I want to give due credit to Lori Bridgeman, our administrative assistant, for leading in this upward growth.  The reality is, this growth is beyond the efforts of one person.  Many, many members invited guests to our recent reception in Indianapolis.  Christine Soma and her SAGEducation team have added significant value to our membership through the monthly webinars that we have in place.  Bill Pemberton and his Brand Team created our “Great Minds” initiative that has brought a fresh voice to our communications.  We have solution providers and industry specialists who believe in our mission and want to be a part of this momentum through their sponsorships and financial support. 
    With momentum comes additional responsibility in leading this effort.  As we lead in the SAGE effort, we have to stay alert of the “enemies of momentum”.  Similar to my sports analogy, momentum can be destroyed by pride, overconfidence and arrogance.  About the time one starts to count their winnings in the middle of the game, stuff happens.  We must understand where we have been, but more importantly, where we are going.  I like to describe this as keeping our eye on the prize.  Keep our mission, vision and values in focus at all times.  
    Another enemy of momentum is a resistant mindset…resistant to change, resistant to new ideas, resistant to innovation and collaboration.  I am not saying we have a resistant mindset, but we must always be wary and alert to the possibilities.  Our first look should be in the mirror of self evaluation rather than through the window of blame…to borrow an analogy from Jim Collins in Good to Great.  My hope is that SAGE will be the kind of organization that embraces and celebrates change.  We must lead the way in doing things differently…for our organization and for our represented professions.  
    The reality is, momentum extends beyond SAGE.  We hope that all of the organizations in which we serve experience uplifting momentum.  The kind of momentum that motivates us to take chances and to excel in all we do for those we serve.  
    Let’s keep this momentum going as we drive the mission of SAGE forward in some amazing ways!

  • Sunday, October 02, 2016 2:12 PM | Mitchell Elliott (Administrator)

    In October, we at SAGE prepare for transition.  We strategically stagger the terms of our board members which allows us to blend experience with fresh perspectives.  During the month of October, we will be voting to replace two “Sages of SAGE” whose tenure has come to a close. 

    For the past six years, Betsy Brawley has served on the SAGE board, representing an important interior design perspective.  She has been a passionate pioneer in designing environments with a focus in Alzheimer’s Disease.  As a recognized author and design consultant, Betsy has been a sought after speaker at conferences for many years.  Recently, she has elevated the importance of artificial and natural lighting within environments for seniors.  SAGE has benefited from her passion, her experience and her willingness to share her design knowledge. 

    Skip Gregory is the other sage who will be stepping off the board at the end of this year.  Skip has served on the board for six years since 2009.  He was one of the first “regulators” to serve on the board and he always brought a reality-based view to our discussions.  He was one of the early adopters of person-centered care from a code or regulatory perspective.  His passion and influence carried well beyond the state of Florida and included national involvement in NFPA, FGI and ICC.  Skip said it was time for the next generation to take up the mantle of “people-focused” regulations. 

    In the next few weeks, SAGE members will be given the opportunity to elect that next generation of “influencers” in our profession.  I am encouraged by the quality of the candidates we have for this coming election.  Please be sure to participate in the election process, even if you can’t make the annual meeting in November.  Lori Bridgeman, our administrative assistant for SAGE, is diligently putting together the electronic voting process. 

    We can learn so much from those who have more highway behind them than in front of them.  I would encourage all of us to seek out the sages of our profession.  Listen to them.  Learn from them.  Value them.  

    Thank you, to Betsy and Skip, for your passion, your service and your commitment to the SAGE design principles.  We are indebted to you for what you have done, but more importantly, for who you are!

  • Thursday, September 01, 2016 2:49 PM | Lori Bridgeman (Administrator)

    Guest Blogger

    Jonathan Blackwood

    Communications Director


    SAGE Board Member

    With the Labor Day weekend coming up, I thought back on how I had spent my summer. Living in Austin, this usually revolves around trying to keep cool; there was some of that, but this year, it was more about keeping dry. Coming off a six-year drought, I can’t complain.

    One of the highlights for me, though, was spending Bastille Day in Arlington, Virginia with some of my fellow SAGE members (Russell McLaughlin, Maria Lopez, Lori Hiatt and CC Andrews) as a reviewer for the 2017 Environments for Aging Conference. We spent the day sifting through almost 90 proposals for the 40-odd speaking slots at the conference to be held in Las Vegas, February 26 – March 1, 2017. Actually, we had received the proposals in advance; without prescreening, we would never have gotten through the process in one day.

    The thing I love about getting together with fellow SAGE members is that we each bring with us a love of seniors and the desire to improve their lives by improving their environments. But in that group of the five of us was Russ, an architect; Maria, an interior designer; Lori, a gerontologist; CC Andrews, a branding/positioning expert for healthcare; and me, communications director for an interior design firm. (Mitch Elliott, our SAGE President, previewed the proposals and provided his input, but was unable to attend the meeting.)

    Together with representatives from the AIA, ASID, IIDA, The Center, and others, we perused the proposals that were offered for topics ranging from food service to memory care, lighting to finishes, products to post-occupancy evaluation, and even designing for Inuit elders. We began the meeting reviewing the results of participant feedback from the 2016 EFA Conference in Austin. Armed with this knowledge, I believe we were able to recognize the topics our attendees would be most interested in, as well as speakers who consistently engage their participants and provide useful information. We also selected a number of speakers with excellent credentials who would be presenting at EFA for the first time, on engaging topics of interest. Getting passionate people together from all these different points of view made for an engaging and productive day.

    Jen Wilcox of the Center for Health Design ran the meeting and kept us focused and on schedule, and Kristin Zeit, Editor-in-Chief of Environments for Aging Magazine, provided valuable insight as someone with her hand on topics that are timely and of interest to the EFA Conference attendees. All-in-all, it was a productive, enlightening and fun day. I enjoyed meeting all the participants.

    Before the next EFA conference, of course, will be the LeadingAge Conference in Indianapolis, October 30 through November 2. SAGE will play a major role in this conference, as well, holding our annual meeting on November 1 followed up by a reception at Claddagh Irish Pub. You’ll want to be sure and join us for the festivities. At a gathering of SAGE members from different disciplines and different regions, you’re bound to find people you’ll want to meet and share ideas with.

    A note from Mitch Elliott, SAGE President: As I prepared for my eighth installation of this presidential blog, I thought you needed a break from my perspective.  It has been a long summer and you need some variety.  You need to hear from others who are just as passionate and more articulate in driving our mission forward.  I'm sure you enjoyed hearing from one of our board members, Jonathan Blackwood, as he shared insights from a recent SAGE experience.  Thank you, Jonathan, for joining me in being one of many passionate and articulate voices for SAGE!

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