By Stewart Gandolf
Chief Executive Officer
There’s a point of critical need in a business growth curve when you can’t go it alone. Without the resources of a healthcare marketing agency your hospital or medical enterprise is destined to slow, plateau or shrink in the heat of competition.
This is a significant step for any organization, and it’s vital to identify your goals and creative needs and begin your selection process early. As a starting point, use this checklist of key things to consider when evaluating a prospective agency partner.
- GOALS AND RETURN-ON-INVESTMENT: This may not be the first topic of discussion, but it can’t be last. Your core business objective is to produce specific and measurable results. Ask a prospective healthcare marketing agency to explain how they directly support the specific goals and objectives of the hospital. What is their system to quantify results, measure and actively report ROI? You’re investing in results; don’t move forward if they can’t explain measurable and meaningful goals, and the process to achieve the objectives.
- HEALTHCARE INDUSTRY EXPERIENCE: In healthcare, it’s not safe to assume that “marketing is marketing,” or that a new agency can learn on the job. Doctors and hospitals answer to higher standards and regulatory influences, and prior experience is definitely required. The highly personal service process requires a deeper understanding to communicate issues and answers between a provider and the patient public. Look at their list of past and present clients. Ask for case examples and relevant results that parallel your own needs and circumstances.
- LOOK AT THEIR DIGITAL EXPERIENCE: Online and digital capabilities are especially important to a health care agency. Determine their previous experience including recent examples of creating a digital presence. Discuss local search, mobile site requirements, search engine optimization and support for SEO. Are digital marketing and advertising a key strength?
- ASK ABOUT MARKET TRENDS AND COMPETITION: Open a discussion about changes in the marketplace. What are the recent trends and how do they influence the local competitive landscape? Has the agency done work for any businesses in the area? What is their experience with the media?
- CORE COMPETENCY AND BENCH STRENGTH: Some firms adopt an “agency” label to disguise what they do. Peel a layer or two of the onion to identify the capabilities they bring to the table. Who are their full-time people and what do they do. How does their core competency align with your needs? Determine if this is actually a limited-scope business. Is this a graphic arts firm, a public relations entity or a website programmer that’s trying to grow into a bigger name?
- PLANT ALL FEET ON THE GROUND: An agency and client need to establish realistic expectations. An agency that proposes fast and flashy results is not to be believed. Both sides of the table need a mutual understanding of performance criteria and to define a system for tracking and reporting.
- KNOW HOW THEY CHARGE: Long before the first invoice crosses your threshold, quietly walk through the process of budgets, billing and payments. Both the agency and the client want to have exactly the same understanding of rates, fees, retainers and any “extra” charges. Agree in advance about authorizations, change orders, approvals, and the like. Nothing sours a new relationship faster than financial surprises and unexpected money matters.
- UNDERSTAND STYLE AND PERSONALITY: Many businesses, including agencies, have a largely intangible personality—a creative culture of sorts and particular style. It might be high energy and high tops… or Dunhill stripes and thoughtfully reserved… or somewhere in between. What counts the most in a successful business relationship is that people work best with people they like. Which agency is the best fit for working side by side? Invest time in discovering your mutual compatibility.
- MEET THE PLAYERS ON YOUR TEAM: The agency principals and the people you initially meet may not be the day-to-day account workers. Determine all the agency team members and ask about their credentials and experience. Define responsibilities, plus who and how differences are resolved. Maintain a communications channel to the agency principals.
- JUDGE THEIR PORTFOLIO BY RESULTS: Every agency has a gallery of attractive examples. These include websites, television spots, print ads, digital ads, logos, brochures, sales collateral—and they all look nice. These represent experience and capabilities, but the primary consideration is “how well did they work?” What were the goals and the actual results? Talk about case examples that include a quantified measure of success.
Selecting a healthcare marketing agency can be challenging and, unfortunately, protracted. Use this checklist to guide your discussions, and to sort through the many service options. Although creative talent, reputation, and industry experience are important, our previous article about agency hiring identified mutual trust as a vital ingredient. Invest the time to carefully evaluate the people and processes when selecting a healthcare marketing agency.