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How to Navigate the Politics in Healthcare Group Marketing

By Stewart Gandolf, Chief Executive Officer

small cactus plant in a potYour achievement checklist to getting ahead and staying ahead.

Successful marketing for large groups or organizations includes navigating and balancing many voices and varied interests. Be aware of the possible problem areas, and have an objective third-party bring the group together for marketing success.

There's nothing simple about marketing—even if you've only got yourself to satisfy. But that's rarely the situation. Creating a successful marketing approach for healthcare groups or organizations requires balancing the interests of many.

The "politics" can more than double to work to produce effective results for a group, healthcare organization or hospital. Even with the best intentions and greatest sensitivity, managing varied opinions is tough...mighty tough. And about as much fun as relocating a hornets' nest.

The first step is to recognize that there will always be differing opinions, interests and points of view. Constructive ideas are welcome, but to get to the end result there is going to be patches of thin ice, contrary agendas and the fear of unintentionally offending someone.

Finding the thorns on the rose

If you know where to look, you can be prepared to manage the situation and develop consensus for reasonable marketing decisions. In our experience, here are some of the potential hot spots:

Life stages of the principals. Consider where the participants fall in the spectrum of seniority. For example, individuals who are close to retirement are not enthusiastic about marketing. They may see this as funding the future success of younger partners. Often, they see little need to change.

Younger partners may feel they have more to gain in the near term. But they may feel they will "carry" the older individuals or build-up the sale price when they exit.

Love it. Hate it. Some individuals will be more open to marketing than others. Practitioners tend to think in clinical terms. Their education about the business-side of healthcare is likely limited and strongly influenced by what they think their peers may think. Perhaps they fear that marketing will damage reputation.

The baby and the bathwater. Some people make no distinction among terms and tactics. To them, it's all the same (disagreeable) stuff. Be clear and precise with terminology. Getting doctors to make referrals is marketing (results they want). Marketing is not synonymous with advertising, and "self-promotion" may be their true objection.

No one has the time. Everyone, especially administrators, feels they have enough work to do. Anything proposed or planned that is seen as additional duties, chores, burdens or whatever—that will require more of their limited time.

Cost-cutting mindset vs. ROI. Marketing is an investment with a measurable return. When resources are limited the dominant attitude is to worry only about cost. Marketing, however, is not an expense, it is a revenue source. And the measure of marketing success is Return-on-Investment.

Few have the needed expertise. Getting everyone to agree about any topic is difficult, especially when it's outside of their normal competencies or comfort zone. It is particularly difficult to evaluate outside talent.

Some case examples

It is possible—with independent help—to effectively work past thorny political problems.

As one example, we consulted recently with a healthcare group where the daughter of one of the partners was hired as a practice marketing rep. No one in the office could tell if she was doing a good job...and if not, no one was willing to bring up the question.

In another instance, a newer doctor wanted to expand the marketing effort in a group practice in the midwest. Although the entire practice would benefit, no one was clear about how to proceed, plus the gut reaction of old school doctors was simply: No.

In both cases, we were asked to do an unbiased evaluation. Our independent objectivity lifted the questions above the office sensitivities and toward sound business solutions.

We began with a phone interview and then an on-site visit. We talked in detail with all the key players and staff, and presented a Marketing 101 session at a partner meeting. Later we provided a marketing plan that considered everyone's input and achieved the group's common goals.

A subcommittee of three opinion leaders was identified to oversee the marketing effort of the group. They were empowered to make decisions and report results.

Group politics can be a major obstacle to planning and implementing a marketing program with real and effective results. We can provide an objective and independent voice that leads to a significant return, growth and goal achievement... confidentially, of course.

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