Protecting Your Marketing Turf.

Posted on March 2, 2010

How many times have you heard "Isn't marketing responsible for that?" or "We'll handle operations, you stick to marketing?"

Let's face it: marketing is a support service for your organization, and you should operate it accordingly. Turf wars are meaningless, and in fact, can be counterproductive.  Don't worry about who gets credit, as long as the right things are being done.

Easy to say, right? After all, it's human nature that makes people protective of their own sandbox. In fact, most turf battles stem from self-preservation. But what would happen if you approached this challenge from a different perspective?

As a leader in your organization, you should take a look at the big picture and see how you and your department can contribute to the bottom line.

The most obvious way marketing makes an impact is by increasing sales, or in our case, patient volumes.  When you can draw a direct connection between a marketing program and new or increased revenue, you solidify your standing.  Done repeatedly over time, that can lead to greater responsibilities and opportunities for you and your department to be more involved in the long-term planning and strategic direction of the organization.

Along the way, keep in mind that success doesn't always come from doing more. The time will come when the best thing you can do is recommend a marketing budget decrease instead of automatically asking for more. You'll at least get the attention of the CFO - who will know that when you ask for more sometime down the road, it probably is needed.

It's also important to make it easy to work with your team.  That means refraining from the urge to create multi-level approvals just to update letterhead.  Do you need to have processes in place to handle requests?  Absolutely.  Just don't let the paperwork be so overwhelming that the rest of the organization sees your team as an obstacle instead of as a resource.  Trust me, they will still create that brochure or flyer - it just won't be done within the branding guidelines you've established.

Instead of remaining inside the stereotypical marketing silo, it's time to revolutionize our field by acting more like a leader than as an expense item.  Only then will you and your team lose the "overhead" categorization that is all too familiar.

Have you ever been caught up in a turf battle that wasn't worth fighting?  How did you handle it?  Did you eventually drive operations through an effective marketing campaign?

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How to Say “No” and Keep Your Job.

Posted on March 9, 2010

You know that putting your heart surgeon's closeup on a billboard won't build anything except for the doctor's ego.  But despite your professional opinion, you're also enough of a realist to know that the desires of a high revenue-producing physician carry a lot of weight with senior leaders.

So how can you say "yes" to this type of demand while saying "no" to its poor strategy?  It's not as hard as you might think.

Here are some low-cost or budget-neutral tactics you can employ to keep the pressure off:

1) Reposition sponsorships and partnerships.  Despite being non-profits, many healthcare organizations support other non-profits in a big way.  If yours is one of these, make sure that you are getting the best return on your investment.  Instead of dropping $25,000 to sponsor an annual dinner, figure out how you can be involved in ongoing events or a year-long partnership.  Make sure you still have a presence at the dinner - remember who likes to go to those events - but don't bother putting your logo in lights as a title sponsor.  The 200 or so people who were there won't remember anyway.

2) Plan accordingly.  You know the calls are going to come, so be ready.  When preparing your annual communications plan (you do create a plan right?) be sure to include some tactics that will provide you with ways to fill the requests.  Secure a health column in your local newspaper, record weekly health tips for your local talk radio station or sponsor a TV health segment.  Each of these will require physicians to fill the space or airtime and they're the ones who will be looking for more visibility.

3) Take advantage of what you already do.  Every organization has some "untouchable" items - maybe it's a signature event or one put on by the CEO's favorite charity.  Whatever the reason, take the opportunity to get what you can out of it.  Did the news release you crafted garner a television interview?  Please, please, please tell me you weren't going to do the interview yourself - get that attention-seeking physician some speaking points and put her in front of the camera instead.

4) Make social media your new best friend.  Sure there's a difference between being the star of a television branding campaign and recording a three-minute podcast.  But presented at the right opportunity and positioned the correct way, a physician will see there's far more patient impact to providing valuable health information in whatever format.  Remind them why they became a doctor in the first place - if they wanted to be a movie star then they should have went to acting school instead.

These ideas might not always work - but if you're sick of saying "No" or afraid the next time you do might be the last, give it a shot.  And if all else fails, make sure you reserved that digital billboard so you don't have to pay for new artwork for the next physician of the month. Let's hear your ideas. How do you say "no" but "yes" at the same time?

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Who Really Reads That Newsletter?

Posted on March 16, 2010

Whether printed pieces or in electronic formats, newsletters can be effective - but how do you know?  Just because your administrative team likes them doesn't mean they're good investments.

Before you publish another issue or launch a new publication, take a look at what you're trying to accomplish and whether a newsletter will help you be successful.  While it's only one way to communicate with your audience, a well-done newsletter can have great impact when it gives the reader timely information or something he or she can't find anywhere else.

Here are a few tools you can use to measure your publication's effectiveness:

  • Readership survey. Whether you're sending a printed piece or an electronic version, make sure to ask those who are receiving your newsletter what they like or don't like.  Here's the tricky part: your results will be skewed because you're only hearing from those who aren't dropping it in the trash or hitting the delete key. While it's helpful to know what types of information your loyal readers are interested in, what you really need to know is why others aren't. Try random surveying in your cafeteria or waiting areas.  You'll run into some who recall the newsletter, but you'll learn much more from those who can't.
  • Specific calls to action. Use a trackable website address, a trackable telephone number or a trackable (get the hint on tracking this yet?) e-mail address to make sure your readers don't have to wonder what they should do next.  Sometimes you'll need to incent them to contact you with a free health screening or information booklet, other times just asking them to call for more information is enough of an ask.
  • Downstream revenue tracking. Here's one that will get your CFO's attention.  Take your distribution list, compare it with your existing patient list, then use the remaining names to track new patients that were "acquired" as a result of the publication.  Start with specific services you featured and look at the numbers over time. You can try to claim all the revenue (especially if the new patient cites the newsletter as a referral source), but applying a percentage to your efforts makes more sense.

Remember, you're trying to stop having that newsletter end up in the circular file bin or electronic recycle bin. You also want to show why it should be included in next year's plans. What ideas can you share for measuring newsletter effectiveness?

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Don’t Bust Your Bracket.

Posted on March 22, 2010

Did you hear the screams Saturday afternoon?

When Northern Iowa defeated Kansas in the NCAA men's basketball tournament, about 40 percent of the people who filled out a bracket knew their chances of winning the office pool were all but over.  Yes, the overall top-seeded Jayhawks were an overwhelming popular choice to win it all but failed to make it past their second game - and they weren't alone.

The best story of the tournament so far has to be the 12th-seeded Cornell Big Red, which has disposed of fifth-seeded Temple and my very own fourth-seeded Wisconsin in convincing fashion to become the first Ivy League school to make it to the Sweet 16 since Penn did it in 1979.

As I looked back upon the crazy happenings of the tournament's opening weekend, I found myself comparing the work we marketers do to the way many fill out their tournament bracket.

Too many times we fill our plans with high seeds, the safe tactics that have fairly predictable results. Instead of picking a longshot to win a game or two, we continue to do the same things we did the year before.

Looking strictly at basketball, if the games fell according to the seedings, every team with a 1, 2, 3 or 4 next to its name would be in the Sweet 16. The reality? Exactly half of the 16 teams to advance to next weekend were seeded fifth or worse.

Applying that to marketing, we would hit on every other tactic. Of course we aren't in a lose-and-you're-out business.  In our world, as long as we continue to make smart, research-based recommendations that usually work, we'll get to make more picks.

But let's face it, the healthcare industry is competitive. In order to take the lead, you need to bring your A-game-and so does your marketing firm. If your hospital or clinic isn't effectively marketing itself, you'll be left sitting on the bench while other healthcare providers put points on the board in terms of brand awareness, patient volumes and revenue.

I firmly believe that there's no better offense-or defense for that matter-than an effective marketing strategy. I think we should take chances sometimes, but that doesn't mean you need to pick a Cinderella team to win it all.  Start by picking a couple of upsets and work your way up.

With any luck, you'll end up with a Northern Iowa and a Cornell in your plan.

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Your CEO is the Best Spokesperson – Just Ask Him.

Posted on March 30, 2010

Despite what many CEOs might believe, they aren't always your company's best spokesperson.

In fact, the mere presence of your chief executive can elevate an interview from routine status to suspicious in a reporter's eyes.  A seasoned journalist will immediately wonder if he's just scratching the surface of a much larger story. He's likely to ask more questions, dig deeper and treat responses with more skepticism.

Likewise, when you respond to a request with a written statement, you might create more attention than you would have by agreeing to an on-camera interview.

When faced with the media crisis of the day, week or month, always remember that your job is to protect your organization's image and reputation, as well as that of your CEO.  To do both, you will sometimes need to consider using other content experts instead of automatically going straight to the top to fulfill the request. When it comes to providing updates or describing processes, you don't need your top officer.

Take time to compile a list of other potential communication resources on your staff at every level, such as VPs and department heads. What are their individual strengths? Are they articulate? In what situations might they be able, and open to, speaking?

Before automatically putting your CEO on the podium carefully consider the issue at hand. Ask yourself, "Why are we pushing our highest ranking officer into the spotlight?"

The key is to save that most valuable communications asset - your CEO - for when it really counts.  While that might be a crisis situation, it doesn't have to be.  Remember that your CEO best represents the image of the organization when presenting with confidence, authority, empathy and compassion.

If your CEO insists on taking the interview, make sure that he or she has the skills to handle the role.  If you have noticed too many "umms" and "aahs" and stutters in past interviews, it's time to tell your CEO that he or she needs some work in becoming a better spokesperson.  It can be a tough conversation, but it's your job to deliver that news - and the solution.  Consider bringing an expert in to train your CEO and other potential spokespeople, including yourself.

The reward will come the first time you stand behind the camera and watch your CEO deliver a crisp, believable response to a difficult question - and you get to e-mail the digitized news clip to him or her.

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