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How to Avoid Being Fleeced by a Sleazy Medical Marketer

By Stewart Gandolf, Chief Executive Officer

"unprofessional" text crossed out with a penSadly, this tale is true. Hopefully, there’s a lesson to be learned and doctors and healthcare marketing professionals can be on guard. Here’s the story (and how to avoid being fleeced by a sleazy “marketing person.”)

We’ve disguised the particulars, but this real-world case vividly illustrates the definition of “fleeced,” which is: “to obtain a great deal of money from someone, typically by overcharging.”

It began innocently enough…

It seems that a certain individual—we’ll call him Gentleman Joe—became socially acquainted with the principal doctor in a successful group medical practice. In all likelihood, Joe was not a professional confidence artist, but his warm and endearing personality was enough to charm everyone he befriended.

At the least, Joe was an opportunist, and the good-natured doctor (and his successful practice) was the target of opportunity. Although the eminent doctor in this story had exceptional medical credentials, he was not particularly experienced in marketing and business development. It turns out that he was also a bit naïve and accepted Joe’s claim of being a “marketing person.”

Based exclusively on the social rapport that he established, smooth-talking Joe was able to win a substantial and ongoing engagement “to do the marketing” for the medical practice. The reality was that Marketing-Person-Joe had some sales experience, but virtually no training, experience or other qualifications in marketing.

Stick with me…it gets worse.

Amazingly, the six-figure engagement “for marketing” had only a vague definition of duties, responsibilities, goals and deliverables.

A particularly painful example of wasted resources within this arrangement was a $300,000 contract (on top of the other fees) for “video services.” This additional special project had no clearly defined marketing purpose, no specific goals and objectives, no breakout on expenses, and no delineation of deliverables. Not surprisingly, quantifiable or measurable results were hard to find.

How to avoid being fleeced…

The total cost on this so-called marketing effort is staggering. Recognizing the lack of measurable return, the doctor and Gentleman Joe have ended this ill-fated relationship. At least there are some sound business lessons from this sad-but-true story, and we pass them along as tips to avoid being fleeced.

Demand healthcare-specific credentials and experience. We’re in favor of a good client-agency rapport and a friendly working relationship. But in this example, it seems that “Joe” had a warm (perhaps exceptional) personality, but no meaningful credentials in either healthcare or marketing. Ask for evidence of experience, credentials and references that are directly tied to healthcare…and don’t let a social relationship mask incompetence.

Don’t be dazzled by vague intentions. Marketing goals and objectives need to be clear, specific and quantifiable. Expect to use a written plan, with detailed strategies, tactics and budgets, to define the marketing purpose.

Define results by actual performance. Understand how marketing results will be monitored, measured and reported. Return-on-Investment should be gauged in near-real time, not estimated months after the fact.

Never buy an open-ended budget. A professional marketing firm can establish specific budget allowances and parameters to support specific objectives. Who can afford to sign a blank check?

Create and stick with a written plan and budget. Every plan requires some degree of flexibility, and adjustments and updates may be appropriate. But don’t let overall performance be sidetracked by big budget or poorly considered “special projects” that don’t add measurable value.

Know who is really doing the work. Marketing efforts often require a team of specialists. Establish a clear channel of communications with the team manager.

Healthcare marketing is a difficult and challenging process that, in the wrong hands, puts precious resources at risk. It’s sound business for your investment to be handled by skilled, talented and results-driven professionals.

Jamie Roney

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