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Which Doctor Marketing Services Should You Outsource, and Which Should you Handle Internally?

By Stewart Gandolf, Chief Executive Officer

in-house outsourceTrue story. This sort of road hazard doesn’t happen too often anymore, but it illustrates when outsourcing doctor marketing services would have been the much wiser course.

A few years ago a physician friend arrived at his normally efficient office to find a first class mess. With a goal of attracting new patients, two part-timers (subsequently joined by two regular employees) were bogged down in an effort to fulfill a fairly large advertising mailing to area residents.

You can imagine the upheaval with a sea of mailroom paraphernalia and a few thousand envelopes to be stuffed, addressed, zip code sorted and properly stacked…all according to government bulk mail standards. What’s more, for two days the orderly ebb and flow of patients was non-existent, and more than a few patients were miffed at the delays and poor experience.

These days it would be even more foolish to attempt a DYI effort “to save money.” Digital printing, USPS-provided services, automated systems and advances in computer technology greatly simplify the once labor-intensive process steps.

Many practices recognize the significance of marketing and they handle some tasks internally. For example, some have a designated "marketing person" who is responsible for developing relationships with referring practices, and that's really a sales role. A good start. Other practices have marketing people who do vendor coordination and administrative tasks. Also good. But rarely does it make sense to build your own in-house advertising agency (unless you have 200 locations).

So in most situations, the required marketing services often exceed a doctor’s in-house capabilities. Some needs are episodic or short lived, while others are ongoing. The critical determination is in knowing which doctor marketing services you should outsource and which should be handled internally.

Know your internal strengths

Medical practices—from individual providers to large groups of physicians—are staffed and equipped to provide medical care. Although marketing, advertising, public relations and the like are vitally important, your marketing-devoted staff has defined skill sets and finite strengths. Every marketing and communications professional has one or more core competencies, but we have yet to meet the person who truly "does it all."

Good as they may be at some tasks, a provider’s “marketing people” (or person)—individually or collectively are not capable of everything/anything that drops on their desk. Veteran healthcare marketing executives recognize the real-world solution is to:

(a) excel internally with existing core competencies; assignments that are supported by prior training, experience and proven performance; OR

(b) to effectively select and manage outside creative and marketing services.

A realistic assessment of internal strengths (and weaknesses)--as well as your "normal" and "stretch" capacity--will guide internal v. external resource decisions that, surprisingly, will save time and money, and more efficiently drive results.

When outsourcing doctor marketing services makes sense…

The story about our doctor friend illustrates several of the most common occasions when outsourcing makes sense. Medical practices are familiar with outsourcing office routines that are highly repetitive (as with the DIY direct mail mess), such as data entry, accounts payable and the like.

In addition, other types of marketing services that are strong candidates for outsourcing often fall under these headings:

Specialized skills: There are times when marketing requires a computer artist, technical illustrator, programmer, speechwriter or similar creative talent. What’s more, you can open the door to fresh thinking, broader capabilities and better results. You don't build a new website every day, but when you do, experienced talent can bring you the latest technology and a more effective final result.

Specialized knowledge: Experience takes time to grow, but it’s easy to tap into outsource expertise when you need, for example, broadcast media buying, internet ad planning, independent market research or deep healthcare marketing experience.

Specialized equipment: Audio and video production is a good example. Some content can easily be created using amateur equipment, but when the deliverable needs to be broadcast-quality, it's wise to outsource to an experienced, professional film crew with lights, cameras and even actors.

Pressure-cooker deadlines: It’s bandwidth versus due date.The “haste makes waste” axiom probably originated with inspired marketing efforts that were hurriedly thrown together…at considerable cost and with wasteful outcomes. Advance planning and adequate time for preparation is helpful, but drawing down on outside marketing resources—even briefly—can save the day.

Growing pains: Outsource marketing services make sense when the business grows or changes rapidly, such as when doctors merge into a group practice. When the marketing requirements suddenly explode or the competition dramatically shifts, external help can bridge the creative gap with immediately available talent.

Budget and accounting considerations: The decision to outsource marketing services is mainly a cost/benefit ratio calculation that benefits the business in the immediate or near term. Accountants might view it as managing costs as variable expenses.

Everyone can appreciate the benefits of cost-effective results and a high Return-on-Investment. And cost/benefit ratio most often favors healthcare marketing and advertising outsourcing when a range of specialized skills and experience is needed for a defined term.

For more on this topic, read my previous article that lists 20 Healthcare Marketing Moments: When & Why Outsourcing Saves Money.

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