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Healthcare Marketing is a World of Specialists

By Stewart Gandolf | February 28, 2011

Are you setting up your marketing person (or department) to fail?

Almost every day we hear from a frustrated provider-based marketer whose boss thinks she should be an expert at every imaginable marketing task.

The problem is that marketing – just like medicine – is a world made up of specialists.

For example, our firm works with over 40 healthcare marketers on our team. They include: Marketing Strategists, Account Managers, Web Designers, Web Programmers (a different skill set entirely from design), Pay-Per-Click Specialists, Search Engine Optimization Specialists, Writers, Art Directors, Directors of Photography (video), Editors (video), Graphics (video), Editor (print), Proofreader, Director of Client Services, a Media Buyer, Publicists (to get press coverage), Physician Liaisons, Trainers and Administrative personnel. Beyond our core team, we utilize others as needed, e.g., talent agents, photographers, production assistants, etc.

Most doctors and healthcare executives are very surprised to learn there are so many areas of expertise required. “That’s great, but all we need is a website.”

Really? While people typically assume a graphic designer is the person to see for a website, the designer is often the last person involved. Someone needs to dictate the strategy, someone else writes copy and someone else has to manage the process. If getting traffic is an objective (almost always), someone has to run the pay-per-click campaign, while someone else will be responsible for the search engine optimization. If the site is complicated, someone has to create the programming, while someone else handles the artistic design.

If it were possible to hire one person that could do everything well, believe me, agencies like mine would beat you to it and hire them.

People who do everything well are like Bigfoot – very hard to find in the real world.

Another truth to consider: some marketing tasks require higher levels of expertise, training and cost than others. Just like in medicine and in law, marketing firms like mine work with “extenders” as an important part of the team. Extenders keep the process moving forward, and keep your costs under control.

One final thought.

It’s bad enough that healthcare marketing is often a thankless job. Please don’t make it an impossible one too.

The next time your marketing person tells you she needs expert help to accomplish your objectives, please support her, rather than set her up for failure.

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New Instructional Video Series About Creating Healthcare Videos

By Stewart Gandolf | February 16, 2011

The use of video in healthcare marketing is exploding these days for two reasons.

First, production is getting easier and costs are declining. Second, doctors, hospitals and healthcare corporations want to post video on their websites, in their social media efforts and in their general marketing programs.

As a result, my firm created a 6-part instructional video series, “Heathcare Video Marketing Secrets.” The first two segments are ready, and the remaining segments will be released over the coming month. You can check them out here.

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Where Can You Find a Retail “Boost” to Your Bottom Line?

By Stewart Gandolf | January 31, 2011

In case you haven’t noticed, many healthcare services are now on the fast track toward “retailization.”

For example, within the past two weeks I have seen flu shots sold at the airport, the upscale gym I frequent, and also my mother’s Walgreens pharmacy.

Of these new-kid-on-the-block flu shot providers, Walgreens was the most sophisticated. They had a large banner facing a heavily trafficked street, plus internal point-of-purchase signage to boot. This particular pharmacy serves a large senior population, and I noticed several “sweet little old ladies” waiting in line, their sleeves dutifully rolled up.

Please note that Walgreens not only gets extra revenue from providing the flu shots, but also generates goodwill, foot traffic and add-on sales from seniors who wish to avoid the flu without the inconvenience of a formal doctor visit.

What struck me about all this is how fast things are changing.

LASIK surgery is really a competitive retail business these days, doc-in-a-box retail locations abound in drug and grocery stores, and flu shots are offered nearly everywhere.

While many providers (doctors and hospitals) often gloomily complain about declining revenues, savvy retailers and others recognize competitive voids in the marketplace and seize the day.

After all, every flu shot my mother’s Walgreens provides does NOT come from a neighborhood doctor.

Of course, I am not saying everyone needs to provide flu shots (though some of you should).

Rather, I merely wish to remind you that creative thinking can open new opportunities, especially when you look at things from the consumers point of view. You may think offering flu shots would appear “salesy,” but consumers see it as “convenient.”

There are dozens of services beyond flu shots that providers can offer, including:  therapeutic massages, teeth whitening, cosmetic services, sports enhancement programs, work and school physicals, workplace evaluations, supplements, weight loss programs and others. These kinds of other services can open whole new, non-insurance, “consumer direct” opportunities.

Sometimes you can build revenue easily, by asking patients during their office visits something like, “Have you had your flu shot?”

Other times, your new idea might be bigger, and lead to an entirely new business. Of course, whole new businesses usually will require time, money and courage.

Either way, I have to ask you….

Which new consumer-direct services are you going to provide this year?

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List your blog with BlogCatalog

By Stewart Gandolf | December 21, 2010

Blog Catalog

<a href=”http://www.blogcatalog.com”>BlogCatalog</a>

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New Health Care Marketing Blog

By Stewart Gandolf | December 16, 2010

Just a quick note: my healthcare advertising agency has been publishing a new blog for the past several months.

The Healthcare Marketing Exchange is different from this blog in that many of my colleagues also write for it, it is much more frequent (up to 5 times a week) and it is more “news based.” Hope you enjoy it too.

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Don’t Send Your Physician Liaison Into Battle Unarmed

By Stewart Gandolf | November 29, 2010

I just got off the phone with one of our loyal readers, who is both very smart and brand new at her job as a physician liaison. Due to confidentiality reasons I can’t tell you her real name, so let’s just call her Amy.

In case you aren’t familiar with the term, physician liaisons – also known as practice representatives, physician relations and business development personnel, generate referrals from doctors for their hospital or practice.

This highly specialized position is becoming more and more prevalent at both hospitals and medical practices.

In this case, Amy works for some radiologists who have seen a decline in the practice, and just saw their best referral source defect to an arch competitor – and that happens a lot these days.

The good news is that they knew they needed to hire someone to build referral sources, but the bad news is that they 1. Expect her to know how to do everything, and 2. Aren’t willing to spend any money to support her efforts.

Let’s take these problems one at a time.

First of all, the physician liaison position is a SALES position. Good physician liaisons are worth their weight in gold, because they can build RELATIONSHIPS with referring offices. Now I am not talking about dropping off bagels quietly – I am talking about people who can really engage doctors and staff at referring or admitting practices.

However, problems arise when doctors or hospital executives expect their “marketing person” to be good at both selling and creative skills, like building websites or writing brochures.

Marketing is a world made up of specialists, just like health care. For example, when it comes to the Internet, there are designers, programmers, writers, strategists, pay-per-click specialists, search engine optimization experts, media buyers and more.

Therefore, asking someone to do both sales and create websites will yield poor results. First of all, no one is talented at everything. Secondly, even if you somehow could find – and recruit – the one out of a thousand who could do both, their time would be better spent in the field developing referrals.

So remember, there are sales people, and there are marketing communications people.

The second problem was the owners’ unwillingness to invest money to properly arm the physician liaison with even the most basic materials, like a brochure and a good website.

Now I understand no one likes to spend money. I don’t either – just ask my Partner and staff.

But there are EXPENSES that COST you money and INVESTMENTS that MAKE you money. She’s not asking for the world – she just wants the bare essentials to do her job. Keep in mind that everyone else who shows up at referring practices has proper materials – from device manufacturers to pharmaceuticals to competing physicians liaisons.

Amy asked me for advice.

I recommended she remind her boss that a professionally done brochure and website from our firm (for example) might cost around $12,000. One additional regularly referring doctor EVER would make that limited investment wildly profitable, especially for a radiology practice.

Now I know radiology has had some reimbursement challenges lately. But still, the economics of building doctor relationships are undeniable for any specialist or hospital.

The analogy I often use in our seminars is, don’t buy a racehorse but then cheap out on feeding it. That goes for new capital equipment like MRIs, new associates or new physician liaisons.

I hope Amy is able to convince her boss. Not because we need to do another brochure and website – but because I already like her. I want her to be successful in her new job.

At the same time, I am sure their archrivals would be positively THRILLED to know that Amy’s practice is unwilling to invest in supporting her with even minimal marketing materials.

As a final remark, Amy is not alone. We see this kind of thing all the time.

So if you are a physician liaison, feel free to forward this blog post to your boss. And if you are a hospital executive or practice owner, please don’t send your physician liaison into battle unarmed.

That’s it for now. Let’s talk if you need me.

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Healthcare Marketing Costs Time or Money. (Or both.) You Choose.

By Stewart Gandolf | September 23, 2010

I am flying home from the Society for Healthcare Strategy and Market Development (SHSMD) conference as I write this, and one of the many conversations I had in Chicago is particularly relevant to our readers.

This particular hospital’s Director of Marketing has spent a lot of money on branding this year, with virtually no impact on the bottom line. Next year’s budget is in question.

She asked for advice.

First I told her that while branding has its place, I’d recommend focusing next year on strategies that can deliver actual patients, rather than activities that solely “feel good” or build her hospital’s image. I also told her that she’d likely rebuild her skeptical CEO’s confidence by showing him some tangible results.

My newfound pal wholeheartedly agreed. However, once she has a budget, she’ll still need to decide where and how to spend it, particularly in lieu of her limited internal resources.

So, I grabbed a napkin and sketched out a diagram we sometimes use at our medical marketing seminars to help people think more clearly about choosing from among various strategies and tactics.

The vertical axis represents financial investment required. The higher up on the line, the more a given tactic or strategy costs. Conversely, the lower on the line you go, the lower up front costs are required.

Keep in mind that the cost line simply illustrates up front costs – NOT return on investment (ROI).  In other words, just because a given strategy costs a lot, that doesn’t mean it is necessarily bad. Is $100,000 a year for strategy “X” expensive? Not at all if it delivers $500,000 in trackable revenue.

Of course, if you don’t HAVE $100,000, then strategy X disappears from consideration very quickly.

(Note: Before putting down that kind of cash for a given strategy, we usually recommend starting with a reasonable investment, and then growing the level of commitment as warranted based upon results.)

The horizontal line represents time requirement, starting from very little on the left, to a great deal on the right.

The next step is to fill in the quadrants with various tactics or strategies under consideration. Now, here’s why this simple exercise is so valuable.

Some clients (doctors, hospitals, manufacturers, etc.) have more time than money. Others have more money than time.

Likewise, some strategies and tactics require a lot of time, others require a lot of money, and some require both. (The only thing I can think of that requires zero time and zero money is Santa Claus.)

Of the hundreds of things you could reasonably do, it is easy to get overwhelmed, and underestimate either the time or budget constraint.

Let’s take yellow pages for example. Now, I know you probably HATE yellow pages, but until recent years, many of our clients quietly “cleaned up” with them. (That is after we got them past the gag reflex.)

Dentists and many “consumer-direct” medical specialties like plastic surgeons did particularly well. So well, in fact, that we helped create hundreds of million-dollar-plus practices over the years with this ugly, unpopular strategy.

Now to be sure, yellow pages has its own set of rules, and you need to know how to play by them or you’ll get killed.  But if you choose the right combination of variables (size, book, section, ad creative, etc.) you could (and sometimes still can) do quite well.

But ROI wasn’t our only consideration when we recommended yellow pages. We especially liked it for time stressed providers. Why?

Because once we got past developing the strategy and ads, the whole endeavor would become passive for a whole year. Aside from answering the calls, clients didn’t have to do anything again. If our yellow pages test worked, we’d do it again the following year. If not, we’d cut our losses and move on.

Meanwhile, internal strategies were (and are) especially good for clients who have lots of time but little budget. Just keep in mind that while everyone loves internal marketing, most underestimate the time requirement and results are usually more of a “slow burn” rather than explosive.

The chart below is a hypothetical example, though the placement of specific strategies will change based upon your own situation.

For example, building doctor referrals (physician relations) can require time, money or both.

If your doctors are good, willing “schmoozers,” they can invest time and not much cash to build relationships with other doctors. However, most doctors are either unable or unwilling to schmooze. Plus, the opportunity cost of their time can be quite expensive.

(We often hear things like, “My children would have to be starving before I’d go out selling myself.)

On the other extreme, hospitals sometimes deploy a dozen full time field salespeople to build relationships with admitting doctors. Obviously, those salaries and expenses can really add up.

Another example would be office signage. It can cost a lot to get an outdoor office sign installed the first time, but after that it becomes an almost cost-free, 100% passive recruiter.

Community events are fun, feel good and everyone loves them.  But elves don’t put them on in the night – you and/or your employees will have to invest time into them.

My last example here would be search engine optimization (SEO). You can outsource all of it, or you can do much of it yourself. Either way, there is a time versus money consideration.

Of course, you’ll need to consider your internal capabilities. You may rather spend time than money on SEO, but you will 1. Need employees who know HOW to do it, and 2. Not have more productive things for them to do with their time.

Finally, you’ll also need to consider projected ROI too.

However, as you consider your marketing options going forward, this simple exercise can help you remember to realistically consider both your investment of money and time for various alternatives.

Unless you have a special “in” with Santa, you are going to have to invest in one or the other.

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When Experience Turns Into Complacency, Watch Out

By Stewart Gandolf | August 17, 2010

A few days ago I was traveling with my family, en route to South America. Having logged over 2 million miles (I am “Platinum for life” on American Airlines), I know my way around airports as much as George Clooney’s character Ryan Bingham in the movie, “Up In the Air.”

Knowing that our gate was only a few feet from the Grand Hyatt at DFW where we were staying, I told my wife and kids to take their time. The trouble was, when we finally made it to security, we discovered the entrance was closed (it was 5 am). By the time we finally found an open security entrance and made into the terminal, the departure gate had changed to the opposite side of DFW.

My wife and two school-aged daughters kept up valiantly as I led the way, vaulting up the escalator to the train, then dashing through the airport until we arrived in our seats with only a couple of minutes to spare.

So, because of my vast experience and assumptions about what to expect, we almost missed our flight.

Of course, sometimes complacency leads to far more severe consequences. The Titanic’s Captain Edward John Smith is said to have ignored warnings about icebergs in part because he had never experienced any problems before during his 40-year + career. In the book, “The Checklist Manifesto,” Dr. Atul Gawande recounts many examples of disasters and near disasters in the operating room due to stupid, avoidable mistakes.

What does all this have to do with healthcare marketing?

A lot.

We meet new healthcare clients all the time who are very confident because their business, hospital or practice is doing “fine.” The trouble is, once we look a little deeper, at least half of them turn out to be wrong.

For example, almost every day we get a call from a hospital, group or practice that has been taking its referring doctor base for granted, but now is suffering from defections due to new competitors, mergers and/or alliances.

Worse, big problems like those are typically very difficult to fix after the fact.

So today, stop and take a few minutes to identify where YOU might be overly complacent because of your past successes.

Are you taking care of doctors who refer to you? Are your new patient counts going in the right direction? Are you wasting significant portions of your marketing budget? Are serious new competitors emerging? Are you vulnerable to broader changes in healthcare reimbursement?

By doing some homework and being proactive rather than reactive, you have a much greater chance of ongoing success, now and in the future.

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Topics: Healthcare Marketing, Medical Marketing | No Comments »

Billionaire’s Advice: Take Perceived Risks – Not Actual Risks

By Stewart Gandolf | August 3, 2010

I saw billionaire Wilbur Ross, Jr. on Charlie Rose tonight, and something he said struck me like a thunder bolt. He talked about how his holding company bought bankrupt Cleveland steelmaker LTV for cents on a dollar, and later sold it for billions in profits.

He shared his secrets during the interview:

“We’re in the business not so much of being contrarians, deliberately, but rather we’d like to take perceived risks instead of actual risks. And what I mean by that is that you get paid for taking the risk that people think is risky. You don’t particularly get paid for taking actual risks… We basically spent $90 million for assets on which LTV had spent $2.5 billion in the prior 5 years. And our assessment of the values was that if worse came to worse we could knock it down and sell it to the Chinese. Then we also bought accounts receivable and inventory for 50 cents on the dollar. So between the combination of things, we frankly felt we had no risk…The joke was right when everybody was saying  this was too risky,  it will never work, the big debate within our shop was should we just liquidate it and take the profit, or should we try to start it up. That’s how sure we were that we weren’t actually taking risk.”

What does this have to do with marketing success? Well, too often people assume that successful people take big risks. Actually, more often they do everything they can to mitigate unnecessary risk. Then, once they have done everything they can to cut their risks, they are willing to step up to the plate and try.

That is why direct response marketing principles appeal so much to me. Start with an honest assessment, learn from the experience of others before you, invest a limited amount, test, track and adjust, and then roll out if your marketing hypothesis turns out to be correct. If you guessed wrong, cut your losses, regroup, and try something else. Eventually, you’ll find a formula for success.

I remember being in Las Vegas with a now deceased friend of mine who was a high stakes poker player and businessman. He put down $15,000 to open in blackjack, while I put down $250. He had money to burn so for him it was fun.

However, for me, I told him that while I am happy to invest thousands on a marketing idea that can work, I can’t do it while gambling. The difference is that even if he had a good night, the next night he would still have to start at zero.

On the other hand, once I invest in a marketing strategy, it will either work or not. If not, I stop right away. But if it does work, it will bear fruit oftentimes for years, sometimes for decades.

So as you think about marketing, remember to follow the principles of learning from the experience of others before you, invest a little after you have done everything you can to mitigate risks, then “double down” if successful.

So let the other guy either freeze out of fear about marketing or blow it all in risky endeavors.

Your goal will be to take risks that are either zero or limited – and capitalize big time when your assumptions turn out to be right.

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Topics: Dental Marketing, Healthcare Marketing, Internet Marketing, Medical Marketing | 1 Comment »

Photo-Pug Creative Idea For Kodak’s Blog

By Stewart Gandolf | June 17, 2010

Listening to a webinar today and one of the presenters is Jennifer Cisney, head of social media for Kodak. She shared an anecdote of one way she got creative with her blog, and put a camera on her pub to get a “dog’s eye” view of the world. It turns out the dog looks a lot at her and his food bowl. Full post here http://1000words.kodak.com/post/?ID=310439.

What does YOUR dog look at all day?

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