After 8 years at a Washington D.C. hospital, I have tremendous empathy for the provider side of healthcare marketing. From my experience as a hospital marketing director, I’ve assembled a list of 10 things, in no particular order, that kept me up at night, and now are insights I can apply on the agency side to better serve our clients.

10. Defining and Living the Brand Promise

I worked tirelessly to make sure that my organization understood that a health system brand is much more than a logo. It is a promise on service delivery, on the type of people you hire, how you treat every person that walks through the front door, and how you communicate. Our brand was our personality integrated into the fabric of the organization. I needed every piece of communications, large or small, to reinforce our brand promise.

9. Priorities and Engaging Internal Clients

Every department wants a piece of the marketing pie. But for my sanity, and for the good of the organization’s resources, prioritization was a necessity. I learned the importance of framing even a specific service line advertising campaign in a way that demonstrated overall impact and awareness for the entire organization. While not every service line made it into an ad, every department benefited from the campaign as a whole. Communicating this to internal audiences was often a challenge.

8. Internal Politics

Navigating the politics of a healthcare organization can be difficult, especially when management and reporting structures change. Keeping all of the internal stakeholders up to speed on our marketing efforts took time and effort. As a hospital marketing director, my job was to ensure approval and buy-in of the strategy and campaign through all levels of the organization and to always emphasize how our efforts helped improve the organization overall.

7. Integrating All the Research

With a limited budget, I often did not have enough resources to engage in all of the research necessary to track brand, consumer, and referring physician perception. I needed to make the best use of the information at hand. This meant correlating available research to paint an overall picture of brand perception that my internal audiences could understand, and that we could use in our strategic marketing and communications plans.

6. Healthcare Reform

In the midst of all this healthcare reform, I lived in two different worlds. In one, our marketing needed to drive high-margin, volume-based care. In the other, we were transitioning our message to reflect a value-based care model. Staying abreast of healthcare reform was almost a full-time job in itself, and demonstrating the value of marketing was imperative.

5. Nimble Marketing Strategy

When it came to formulating a marketing strategy, my role became increasingly dynamic. We needed a flexible strategy with concrete priorities that was nimble enough to account for market changes. Every piece of my marketing campaign—whether it was a social media tactic, physician referral piece, a consumer ad campaign, or a direct mail push—had to work towards an overall strategic goal.

4. Budget and Time

Every day I felt the pressure to do more with less. I was constantly reevaluating projects that took up a lot of time and marketing dollars, but yielded no results. Time allocation and budget were crucial. As a hospital marketing director, I had to make sure our marketing communications plan fit our budgetary constraints, and effectively met our objectives.

3. Targeting Referring Physicians

In my role, I kept our referring physicians in the forefront of my mind at all times. They were one of my most important audiences, and even if they weren’t a primary demographic mass media target, I knew they paid attention to our advertising. Integrating our strategy with the physician relations team was key to ensuring consistency in messaging and providing support points and references for referring providers.

2. Results! Results! Results!

Leadership wants to see results from marketing programs, so I was constantly tracking our efforts. I needed to prove the value of our marketing communications to gain more support for my department. Whether it was tracking incremental call and website volume, measuring referring physician volume changes, utilizing specific direct mail metrics, or using campaign micro-sites, we needed quantifiable results.

1. Everything Comes Back to Personal Engagement

For me, tying our efforts back to personal engagement was a necessity. Every campaign, newsletter, direct mail series, or even brochure needed to drive traffic to our call center or something online (website, a microsite, or social media). Integrating a strong call-to-action was just one more task on my marketing director must-do list.

As a hospital marketing director, I juggled many plates. Now that I’ve switched my role to account manager on the agency side, I understand how I can best help my clients through the advertising process. At the end of the day, we are all accountable for results. But it doesn’t hurt to have agency team members with provider-side experience who get it.

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Cori Ahrens

Account Director at SPM Marketing & Communications
Cori joins us after 8 years in the marketing department at a children’s hospital, bringing fresh perspectives from the provider side of healthcare marketing. She excels in understanding the different stakeholders that characterize this industry, especially internal audiences and physicians. Always wearing a smile, she is consistent in crafting strategy that helps clients meet, and often exceed, marketing objectives.
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