President of the New Jersey health and wellness marketing agency Trajectory, Eric Brody outlines how to gain the most insight from your first meeting with a potential healthcare marketing partner.
You’ve just begun your new position as CMO at an organization that was heavily recruiting you for the past two years. As one of your first priorities, you set a lunch date with a few of the principals from the healthcare marketing agency assigned to be AOR for all of your system-level work.
While it is an informal lunch, there are some questions that are valuable for you to have answered. These five questions are also ones that you might ask any agency you are considering to work for your healthcare organization or healthcare channel.
Here are the five questions CMOs should ask to make sure you hire the best healthcare marketing agency for your business. Within each question, you will find tips on what to look for in the agency’s answers to evaluate whether they are the best fit going forward.
1. What is your philosophy and approach to our health system’s work?
There are two traits you want to listen for: category expertise and a fresh point-of-view.
Category expertise. Focus is powerful and builds depth. Thus, command of the healthcare industry is a necessity. Everyone working on your business should understand the healthcare industry trends and direction, and the forces that will dominate in the future. The same goes for understanding your specific audience within healthcare. To inspire and move healthcare consumers or b2b decision makers to action, the agency needs to understand them. Not just who they are, but why they do what they do.
Because creativity is fueled by knowledge, not stifled by it, this knowledge gives the agency the ability to develop powerful insights. And, great work typically has a smart insight at its core. Insights inspire new ways to think about the business of healthcare, new service concepts and new angles to address problems.
A fresh point-of-view. While healthcare industry knowledge is a must-have, it is most potent when combined with outside category inspiration. One without the other can make for less courageous and stand-out solutions. Does this agency take your company and category knowledge, shake it up, and apply it in new ways? This is what helps brands become the disruptor rather than the disrupted. It’s on the agency to question everything about your brand and business proposition, with no regard for sacred cows.
Combined, these two traits will ensure the work is relevant, hits or exceeds the mark, and makes a tangible impact.
2. What is your overarching brand view? How do you feel about brand stewardship?
It’s important for clients and agency partners to share a similar mindset about the power of a brand and how to grow its financial and strategic value. Does the agency see one asset that unites all internal audiences around a higher meaning and purpose?
And in today’s hyper-competitive and connected world, your brand is also the one asset that can provide clear meaning for your consumers. It is central to creating customer value as well as core to creating and sustaining competitive advantage.
Even though you may rely on many specialist agencies, such as SEO, marketing automation, advertising, public relations, and so on, this question may help you decide if this agency can be charged with having a holistic brand understanding, to ensure brand strategy and actions reflect business strategy. Will they help champion a unified message, tone of voice, design, communications and actions that are coherent across hospitals, service lines, physician practices and other healthcare channels in order to continuously build brand equity?
3. How does your agency define excellent work?
Look for an answer that combines both tangibles and intangibles. Does the agency talk about staying on strategy while standing out in the marketplace? Does their answer align with your focus on driving business success? Or, do they talk about winning awards and making senior leadership and board members happy?
Do you feel their answer can lead to a common ground definition of excellent work within your healthcare organization?
Listen for hints on an agency’s focus on effective vs. efficient work. It’s important for you to keep your eye on the ultimate prize. While agencies can be efficient with things like process to final campaign direction, how do they balance that with the underlying work itself to make sure it is effective based on an understanding of who customers really are and how they choose.
In this era of efficiency tools and procurement, the commitment and passion for excellence can sometimes fall by the wayside. Will this agency deliver work labeled “good enough” to leave the building? Or, will they deliver work that is excellent at moving the needle for the business?
4. How will we work together? Or put another way, how do you like to work?
Let them tell you how they like to work. Does it synch up with your expectations? Do you want to be involved earlier in the creative process? Can you make the time? And what does this mean for your hospital marketing directors and service line specialists?
Most agencies welcome the opportunity to collaborate early in the process, but there are always nuances that come out of this question.
The right amount of collaboration, at the right time, allows them to understand your thought process, and ultimately builds a deeper level of trust which allows you to have more meaningful and open conversations about your business challenges. Collaboration is also at the heart of creating exceptional client/agency relationships which usually improves your ability to deliver great work that’s embraced across the organization.
5. Do you have any lessons learned about the intangibles that are important to a successful client/agency relationship?
The intangibles can make or break a relationship. Here are a two to listen for.
Honesty. The relationship between healthcare marketing agency leadership and company leadership should be strong and built on frank (though respectful) honesty. Building depth to these relationships allows for difficult conversations, allows for respect to grow, and allows for the right work to be produced. Your agency’s job is not to keep a client happy. They’re there to do great work which helps your organization achieve their marketing objectives and business goals.
Communication. As with any productive partnership, there is a give and take required from both sides to ensure success. But what can the agency do to uphold their end of the bargain? Characteristics like reliability, trustworthiness and communication are key. Establishing a cadence of engagement and communication that goes beyond excellent customer service. For this to happen, the agency needs transparency into your true pain points and objectives.
Results are the best indicator of success
In the end, no matter which healthcare marketing agency you choose to partner with, it’s about results. Is the end-game really great creative and award-winning healthcare marketing campaigns?
Given the ever-changing shift in marketing budgets and the availability of analytics, integrated strategy and award-winning campaigns are no longer enough for brands to justify agency partnership. Today, data-proven results are the #1 “got to-have-it” indicator of success. Which means results that impact the bottom line and the growth of the business.
Eric R. Brody is President of New Jersey-based Trajectory, a specialist health + wellness branding and marketing agency using every moment as an opportunity to move customers, brands, and businesses upward to a new destination. Clients span health systems and hospitals, medical and beauty devices, skin care to supplements.