Stephanie Burton

The “B” Word and Other Reasons Why Your Health System May Need an Agency

By Stephanie Burton on November 29, 2016

“I hate ad agencies.” That’s what I used to say when I worked on the provider side for a large health system. The smoke and mirrors, the empty promises, the egos! But, I gradually learned that not all agencies are created equal. Some are actually designed to help (yes, help!) healthcare marketers be more effective at what they do – keeping people well and healing them when they are sick.

Check out some of the reasons you may want to consider partnering with an agency to handle some of your health system’s needs.

The “B” word is the mouse being batted around by the big cats in your “C” suite

Yep, branding. An agency can help, particularly if your senior leadership team is unable to identify how your health system is different from the competition. Or, worse, believe in being all things to all people.

With very few exceptions, it is wise to engage with a healthcare marketing agency if branding is a strategic initiative. If you don’t, you’ll be doing the equivalent of performing surgery on yourself. It’s painful, you don’t have the same vantage point and you’ll end up losing even more blood in the process.

Daily demands have exceeded your team’s capacity.

This probably goes without saying, but an agency really can help increase your team’s capacity and, ultimately, impact. Just make sure you use your agency wisely. If you’re taking a “divide-and-conquer” approach, be strategic about how you will use an agency versus your internal resources.

Competition is moving in.

Are you able to differentiate yourself from the competition? Are you prepared for the impact that competition will have on your market share? Hiring an agency can be an important first step in reassessing your competitive landscape.

You have a special “project.”

By “project,” I don’t mean a brochure, or another minor something that can be tackled in a weekend. I mean a sustained, but impactful event that has a beginning, middle and end. Here are two examples:

  • Building and expansion. When I worked for a local health system, we hired an agency to help develop a campaign surrounding a $150 million expansion project. Due to the short-lived nature of the “project,” we couldn’t justify hiring a full-time employee, but we could afford a shorter-term investment of an agency.
  • Crisis communications. Your CEO has made some serious errors in judgment. A physician has disclosed patient data. Or, a community is fighting back against your expansion. Whatever the crisis may be, it is often wise to bring in an agency to help provide counsel during a sustained crisis.

Your staff needs some inspiration.

The thing I enjoy about healthcare marketing departments is that there tends to be longevity. But, that longevity can also chip away at creativity. We can become familiar with the roadblocks that stand in our way and sometimes an agency can infuse new life into an experienced marketing team. This alone likely isn’t a sole reason to hire an agency, but it can absolutely serve as an added benefit.

You need to do something you’ve never done before.

The healthcare marketer’s world changes almost as frequently as I change my socks. And, no single marketer can be expected to know everything about the business we’re in, but an agency can help you get there. It’s OK to reach out for help.

Your total annual media spend is greater than $100,000.

Listen up, because this is actually a really good deal. If your healthcare organization is spending more than $100,000 in media placements a year, hire an agency to help. The agency’s planning fee and commission on the media will undoubtedly be less and yield greater value than doing it yourself. Why? We are able to negotiate deeper discounts and we take care of trafficking all ads – generally a very time-consuming process for a single person to take on him or herself.

These are just some of the reasons you may consider hiring a healthcare marketing agency. If just one (or, gasp!) all of these apply, consider starting the search process for an agency.

Hint: Need help writing an RFP? Check out this template.

Stephanie (Hungerford) Burton, APR, is the Director of Healthcare Marketing at Core Creative. Follow her on Twitter @shungerford.