By David H. Kirkwood
WASHINGTON, DC—Citing “structural and programmatic changes for the Better Hearing Institute (BHI),” the Hearing Industries Association (HIA), which funds BHI, announced that Sergei Kochkin, BHI’s executive director since 2004, “will no longer be associated with the institute” effective November 1.
In a press statement issued October 22, HIA said, “While Dr. Kochkin will no longer be on staff, HIA anticipates a continued relationship with him and is deeply appreciative of his many years of service as an HIA member, a BHI director, and, most recently, its executive director.”
It continued, “His work has contributed to a comprehensive understanding of people with hearing loss and their approach to amplification that has enhanced the products and services that the hearing aid industry delivers to those individuals, and the industry deeply appreciates and loudly applauds his contributions.”
While Kochkin declined to comment on HIA’s action or its statement, he told this blog, “I look forward to consulting within the hearing healthcare market, since with 25 years’ experience that is where my expertise is.”
He also posted HIA’s statement on his Facebook page, where it quickly drew dozens of comments from people paying tribute to his contributions to the hearing industry.
HIA AND BHI ARE NO LONGER SEPARATE
The key structural change that led HIA to eliminate the position of executive director of the Better Hearing Institute was the merger of HIA and BHI on January 1, 2012.
The two organizations have always been closely connected. It was the industry trade association that founded BHI in 1973 as a not-for-profit corporation to educate the public about hearing loss and its treatment. And BHI was always dependent upon HIA financially.
Legally, though, BHI was a separate organization with its own board of directors and executive director. But after HIA absorbed BHI and essentially turned it into an HIA committee, there was no longer reason for BHI to have its own director.
A CHANGE OF DIRECTION
HIA has also decided to shift BHI’s direction to focus more on consumers with hearing loss. In a recent message to the association’s Market Development Committee, Carole Rogin, president of HIA, explained “This new direction affirms the original mission of BHI and extends its strategic impact by expanding the focus on the consumer with hearing loss.”
She added, “We will be repurposing the invaluable MarkeTrak data that we have developed over the past decades into articles, publications, social media venues, and a new web site that will communicate directly with consumers in a manner that stimulates them to take action on their hearing concerns and begin the journey to better hearing.”
While HIA will continue to use the data from past MarkeTrak surveys, it has decided, at least for now, not to pick up the costs of doing additional surveys. From its inception in 1990, the MarkeTrak program had been funded by Knowles Electronics.
HIA’s statement about changes at BHI did not address the issue of what impact the institute’s efforts have had. However, anyone who, like me, has been a member and a director of HIA knows that the manufacturers that make up HIA are continually trying to determine if BHI’s programs are leading to growth in the hearing aid market. In other words, is their investment paying off?
That has always been difficult to judge with any certainty. However, the perennially slow growth of U.S. hearing aid sales along with MarkeTrak’s findings that the percentage of people with hearing loss who use hearing aids has scarcely budged over 25 years are not the kinds of results that HIA would like to see. And they almost certainly influenced HIA’s decision to make changes in BHI’s structure and direction and, it appears, to reduce its level of funding.
While a cynic might question the sincerity of HIA’s stated appreciation and applause for Kochkin, by all accounts his many achievements during eight years at the helm of BHI were truly recognized by the industry organization and beyond.
Even before becoming executive director of BHI in 2004, Kochkin was well established as the leading analyst of the U.S. hearing aid market. As director of market development and market research for Knowles Electronics, Inc., he had supervised the MarkeTrak survey. His dozens of reports analyzing the MarkeTrak findings began appearing in industry publications in 1990 and were regarded as the authoritative source of information on consumer attitudes and behavior toward hearing aids and hearing loss.
Kochkin had also been a board member of BHI and had chaired HIA’s Market Development Committee.
In taking over the directorship of BHI, Kochkin said, “My short-term goal is to rebuild the Better Hearing Institute into the premier hearing health educational organization in the United States.” Even a cursory look at his record shows that he did that.
Over the next eight years, BHI published and posted numerous guides for consumers on such important topics as tinnitus, financial assistance for buying hearing aids, protecting one’s hearing from noise, shopping for hearing aids, and children’s hearing. Kochkin recruited a long list of prominent experts to write these guides.
Under his direction, BHI provided information to hearing professionals and to consumers about subjects such as the dramatic economic benefit to people who get help for their hearing loss, the link between untreated hearing loss and dementia, why people with depression should have their hearing tested, and the risks of hearing loss from attending rock concerts.
Kochkin continued publishing the MarkeTrak articles and also gave talks all over the country to spread the better hearing message. Now, he hopes to continue his efforts in a new capacity.