Is the following story a case example of “marketing malpractice?”
A few weeks ago I received an email from an employee of a “general” advertising agency that was either pitching or trying to hold on to a healthcare client. (For your sake, I hope the email wasn’t from your ad agency.)
The people at this advertising agency apparently needed to do their homework. They asked us which media are best for healthcare clients, how to get return on investment, when to run, how to buy the media, what makes the phone ring, etc.
Funny thing. While their website claims healthcare advertising expertise, they are apparently trying to figure these things out as they go. On their client’s dime.
Putting aside the fact that we politely declined to give them a free education (our kids need to eat too after all), there is a larger lesson to be learned from this anecdote.
It turns out many healthcare clients unwittingly settle for an inexperienced marketing or advertising generalist. Sadly, they often choose a firm that is local, has good salespeople and touts itself as being very “creative.”
Now while everyone needs to make a buck these days, and I don’t begrudge general ad agencies, I truly believe medical advertising is so unique that it requires specialized expertise. Here’s why:
1. The culture of healthcare is unique. Hospitals, for example, are run by business people but depend on the cooperation of doctors. Their day-to-day world is rife with political landmines. “Oops, my bad, the entire project just exploded for political reasons I don’t fully understand.”
2. Medical marketing laws and ethics can trip up medical advertising amateurs left and right. (See this recent article for some good insights.)
3. Why would anyone want to reinvent the wheel? Medical advertising is hard enough when you know best practices. Without relevant experience, you are doomed to experiment with hit-and-miss efforts, on the client’s tab.
4. While most advertising agencies try to differentiate themselves by how creative they are, healthcare clients are usually far more interested in tangible results. Hospitals, practices and manufacturers typically don’t want to pay for their ad agency’s creative fulfillment or art awards. Sure we want to be clever and imaginative, but not at the expense of results.
5. Consumers react differently to healthcare offerings than to traditional products or services. The stakes are higher, the consequences of a poor decision are worse, insurance reimbursement completely distorts free market dynamics, reputation is paramount, referral patterns are different and the consumer has no idea what the hell it is that you do. Winging it for a local restaurant is one thing, but to feel your way around healthcare advertising is quite another.
6. Ad agencies typically view their job as ending once the ads are run. What about doctor referral patterns? How do you track? Who is going to answer the phones? What about after hours inquiries? How do you convert visitors into patients? I used to work for one of the world’s leading ad agencies. Problems like those were “client-side.” But in healthcare, there is rarely someone that can handle all those thorny issues internally by themselves.
7. Finally, the marketing people that work for hospitals, practices or manufacturers often feel “all alone.” A true healthcare advertising agency can help internal marketing people finally get buy off from “higher ups.”
Of course you could argue, “Naturally you advocate these things so well, after all, you own a medical advertising agency.”
But no one said you have to hire our firm.
Whomever you hire, just make sure they truly have medical advertising expertise and can bring added value based on real world experiences.
After all medical advertising is hard enough when you know what you are doing.
Trying to figure it out along the way is just to brutal to contemplate.