April 25, 2016

When Art Defends Life: The Health Care Marketer

A few months ago, I spent a week with a client during a television commercial shoot. As the Chief Marketing Officer, she was on the set as a member of our team but in between takes, I also had the chance to observe her work life.

A coworker would pop his head in the door with a pressing issue that just couldn’t wait. Her CEO sent a cryptic e-mail asking about a sign at a facility that was 20 years old and 20 miles away. We’d walk down the hallway and three different colleagues would press her on a brochure or website initiative.

Her iPad would glow. Her phone would ping and her life seemed to be getting louder and louder. All the while she was with us in the middle of a TV shoot.

Come Friday, I joined her and the crew for a wrap dinner and as the hectic week loosened it’s grip on her psyche, she wondered aloud “I hope all of this makes a difference.”

The life of a healthcare marketer is hectic and often thankless. If you say you’re a doctor, you usually garner instant respect. Tell someone you are in marketing and many will hear “I am a professional liar”.

It’s just the way life is.

But do we make a difference?

Recently I had to tell my children that their grandmother had taken her own life. There are not any Dr. Seuss books that cover the subject. My anxiety on how to deliver this message was perhaps the most I have ever felt.  And with 41 years on the planet and 10 of those years as a Marine, I can assure you that I have seen my share of “stuff.”

As I collected my thoughts before I gathered my 7 and 10 year-old into the room, I realized that I had never been more thankful to be a healthcare marketer. Communicating difficult, emotional messages is what we do.

Guided by the advice of a child psychologist and my skills as a healthcare communicator, I think this first discussion went as well as it could. As the weeks have passed, I realized that as healthcare marketers, we have a unique skill that serves a unique need.

So at the end of a long week getting pounded at work, remember this: Our work makes a difference in people’s lives…even our own.

Here are just a few more reasons I’m thankful to be a healthcare marketer. I hope you have many more of your own.

MY JOB CONNECTS ME WITH INSPIRING PEOPLE.

I interview patients who have beaten tumors the size of grapefruits. I’ve met women from the poorest reaches of India who became physicians with loyal followings of patients in the wealthiest neighborhoods of our nation. I see an exhausted nurse rushing home at the end of her shift only to stop one more time to reassure a patient in the hallway—a patient they’ve never met.

IT ISN’T SELLING CANDY BARS.

Other marketers that work at traditional branding firms and advertising agencies get a lot more creative leeway. Their work is often funny or shocking and they are obviously talented people having a lot of fun. But at the end of the day, what legacy does it leave that their customers bought more candy bars?

WE HELP PEOPLE THAT HELP PEOPLE.

Many of the doctors we help are quiet people. They’re simply brilliant minds developing life-changing solutions. But that brilliance often doesn’t translate to being a great marketer. When we connect a family with these wonderful minds, we’re helping a doctor fulfill their calling and we’re helping a family live better lives.

IT REMINDS ME WHAT MATTERS…AND WHAT IS ACTUALLY TRIVIAL.

My Grandfather once asked me “How can you write about cancer all day?” It’s true that healthcare marketers tackle a dark world. Last year I interviewed a cancer survivor who had just been told she was having a recurrence of the disease. When I got home that evening, there was this same damn woodpecker on the side of my house (we have been at war for months). But that night, I let him have his fun. I heard him pecking away as I read books to my kids.

THE EMOTIONS OF HEALTH CARE ARE A STORYTELLER’S PLAYGROUND.

They say everyone is a story. If you spend even ten minutes observing the footsteps in a hospital, you will be overwhelmed at imagining what is truly going on in the lives of those prodding by.

OCCASIONALLY WE GET TO WIN ARGUMENTS WITH PEOPLE WHO WENT TO HARVARD.

The physicians and executives we work with are brilliant people and they are all smarter than me…except if it’s about branding or storytelling. Occasionally we get to hear “I see your point” or “You’re right”. Double points for you if they are an Ivy Leaguer.

WHAT PEOPLE SEE WITH YOUR LOGO EVERYDAY

Somewhere a patient is looking at your work right now. They’re driving by your billboard. They’re seeing your TV spot. Maybe a mother of three is sorting her mail and she pauses on your direct mail piece. You’ve spent hours and hours to make her stop for one second and think about getting her first mammogram. Maybe she does. Maybe it finds cancer early. Maybe she beats it. Maybe she sees her kids grow up and she becomes a proud, doting grandmother.

Maybe our work does make a difference.

Maybe that one second that made a difference…makes that one tough week all worth while.