Monday, February 14, 2011

Client News: Hospital Marketing Chiefs Get Strategic

Written by: Marianne Aiello
As the American healthcare industry embarks on its next evolution spurred by healthcare reform, leaders are calling for a new kind of chief marketing officer. This new leader, experts say, should be less tactical and more strategic. He or she should be involved in the early stages of product development, excel at relationship building, constantly prove return on investment, and spend more time crafting the organization’s messaging and less on one-off advertising campaigns. The new marketing leader should have a seat in the C-suite.
“So much is unknown about exactly what’s going to happen with healthcare reform and how it’s going to affect organizations,” says Janna Binder, director of marketing and public relations at healthcare marketing research firm PRC. “The marketing leader is the one who can tie all the different stakeholders together with the visionary strategy, from the CEO to the CFO to the chief medical officer.”
Baystate Health’s marketing initiatives have already shifted to prepare for the changes brought by healthcare reform. The Springfield, MA, hospital is redesigning its website so that any data and information a healthcare consumer may be interested in is easily accessible.
“Patients are going to be in the driver’s seat when selecting doctors and health plans and who they want to partner with for their own accountable care,” says Suzanne Hendery, vice president of marketing and communications for the 760-licensed-bed, three-hospital system. “They need better access to data for quality, patient safety, and how to find a doctor and drill down into their credentials.”
The strategic role
This online marketing venture is just one of the ways Hendery is positioning her department to become more strategic and less tactical. Baystate has also recently invested in software that allows service line leaders to create their own brochures, invitations, and flyers—a responsibility that previously consumed a good deal of the hospitals’ two graphic designers’ time.
“We’ve been able to free up our own staff for the strategic priorities of the organization—that’s one of the ways we’re shifting,” Hendery says. “We’re also much leaner—we’re reducing expenses substantially—and we’re doing much more with social media and purchasing ads on Facebook instead of buying ads in the newspaper. We’re able to track the ads in analytics and are able to see if they’re working for us in a more effective manner.”
Inova Health System, based in Falls Church, VA, is also modifying its initiatives to become more strategy-focused.
“When I came into Inova Health System they had a traditional, conventional approach to marketing like much of healthcare did and still does. One of the things I found about that model is that it was more tactical execution-based than strategy-based,” says Jeff Cowart, Inova’s vice president and chief marketing officer from 2006 to 2010. Cowart took on the role of senior vice president for growth and sales at San Antonio’s Baptist Health System in early 2011.
When Cowart started at Inova’s six-hospital system, he found that much of the marketing team’s focus was dedicated to projects such as creating a cardiology campaign for heart awareness month and an oncology campaign for breast cancer awareness month. But Cowart changed the department’s approach by making the marketing revolve around the message rather than the other way around.
“When you start to move to a message model, you start to think about the long term of how you want to position this brand or this service,” he says. “Then you start to see all of the campaigns as connected, so it doesn’t matter whether you have a heart campaign or cancer campaign, you make sure they’re carrying the overall message you want to communicate.”
Cowart also convinced Inova’s leadership to change the way the sales team works because physician liaisons are conduits for the organization’s message.
“We started to define physician relations with more sales language and sales technique, and when you start to do that it’s a natural fit for the physician sales team to be with the marketing messaging team,” he says. “The liaison gets scripted with messaging, so they become another channel of distribution for the message.”
The qualifications
Not all marketing leaders are cut out to fill the role of the new CMO. First off, they have to be able to delegate most tactical duties to trusted employees so they can focus on the big picture.
“We have to ask constituencies what they want from us and work with those people in operational and tactical roles to deliver solutions,” Hendery says. “It’s like moving up from that 10,000 feet to 50,000 feet, but knowing you have to dive back down after the strategy has been set to make sure operationally things will go as planned.”
The type of degree the new CMO should possess depends on the organization, Binder says. Some may be more suited to a master’s in public administration or business administration while others may benefit from a master’s in healthcare administration.
“Any marketing leader must have a master’s degree in marketing because it’s a business discipline like accounting or finance,” says Hendery.
Cowart agrees that postgraduate education is important, but not necessarily a must-have for the new CMO.
“The key to it all is not the degrees or pedigrees you have—it’s the degree to which you embrace innovation and change,” he says.
The title
A change of title is something many marketing leaders may begin to consider as their roles transition to become more strategy- and results-oriented. Traditionally, marketing department heads have been referred to as vice presidents, managers, and directors, but some believe a chief marketing officer title is now more suitable.
“The CMO title tends to equate with titles that we understand, like chief nursing executive and chief medical officer, and it gives you a much more powerful place at the table to be the advocate, the leader, the teacher, the expert authority on the idea of how do we position this healthcare system,” Cowart says. “It gives credibility within the organization.”
Binder agrees: “A lot of times a good way to get at the table with top leadership who thinks of marketing as making pretty ads is to show them the financial impact marketing can have,” she says. “You’ve got to get in there and you’ve got to prove to C-suite executives that you’re worthy of being there. One way or another, marketers need to get at that table.”

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