If you are the Chief Marketing Officer of a health system, these two words most likely come with a lot of baggage if the month of February is nigh.
Usually that baggage stems from the weighty pull of obligation.
We feel obligated to message heavily in February because it is heart health awareness month.
We think we are obligated because our cardiac service line leaders and their fleet of physicians are demanding we have a heavy presence on the airwaves in February too.
We feel the need to oblige our CEO and help lift volume in this key service line.
But it is this obligation that is the quintessential rub. And that’s because no brilliant strategy every arose from “obligation.”
Brilliant strategy comes with recognizing an opportunity when others don’t see it. Brilliant strategy comes with meeting an unmet need in unique ways.
We understand the rationale behind the push to do a cardiac campaign in February. Awareness months give us a focal point that seems to solve a lot of problems for communicators—the media noise gives our message context to an otherwise less than interested audience.
But in all of the white noise about cardiac campaigns in February (both internally and externally), we may be missing an opportunity to set ourselves apart and position ourselves as true problem solvers in the community. Rather than just being heard as a voice in the chorus, we have a chance to be heard belting our lyrics in a beautiful solo.
Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory. Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.—Sun Tzu
STEP 1: SET THE STAGE
Your leadership and service line amigos keep harassing you for a meeting about a cardiac campaign. They mention all of the work your big, bad competitor did last year and allude to the lack of support your department has been giving them. They really want to go all out this year with broadcast, digital and screening messaging. You agree to the meeting but this time you’ve got a curveball in store for our friends in white coats. Hint: You won’t be showing up to the meeting with an order pad.
STEP 2: STAND YOUR GROUND…BUT THROW THEM A BONE
Dedicate the first quarter of the meeting to hearing out your colleagues. Let them be heard and even vent a little if needed. Then you might just ask them this question:
“Would you rather us place all of our resources into this campaign along with everyone else or would you rather have a year-long sustained effort over less contested ground?”
If that is too vague, you might go for the kill shot with this question:
“So tell me, does heart disease only present itself in February?”
These questions are snarky but they cut to the roots of the common problems that come with many awareness months.
First, it is a disservice to patients to only reach out in select months. Just as breast cancer doesn’t care if it is October or not, heart disease knows no calendar. Second, when you message heavily on heart disease in February, you are competing with EVERYONE on the subject. That means you are competing with competitors, flyers in your kid’s backpack, local physician practices and of course, The American Heart Association—which has a massive presence on the airwaves.
Now comes the part where you show your colleagues that you are a thinker and not just a doer. You acknowledge the need to be seen during heart awareness month. Throw them that bone and say you will dedicate five to ten percent of your cardiac budget to programming in February. A nice print ad in a prominent newspaper or a meticulously targeted Facebook campaign could show the flag here nicely.
But then, we’re going to recommend a strategy that sets us apart in the market and allows us to be heard year-round.
STEP 3: PLAY THE LONG GAME
Now take that money that they want to dump into February and chart an alternate course that takes those dollars and spreads them throughout the year. Think about how long and robust your digital buy could be if you converted those funds from that sexy TV ad they are planning and instead leveraged it into a yearlong screening initiative.
Paint a picture for your colleagues. Do they want to be valued as a community resource that is always there for patients or do they want to position themselves as jumping on the awareness month bandwagon with everyone else?
It’s a simple matter of thinking about a fire hose versus a steady stream. I’d rather your patient pipeline have slower but consistent volume throughout the year versus one mighty blast for just four weeks. That’s the way solid business models are built. (Ask the gym owner who only advertises in January for the New Year’s resolution crowd…if they’re still in business.)
STEP 4: REAP THE REWARDS
In addition to providing better service to your patients, this approach actually treats a lot of pain points that you and your team would otherwise experience. First, it provides clarity and time to diligently plan your campaign. It shows that you are strategic thinker who provides value beyond just doing. It shows empathy towards your colleagues and that you are sharing ownership of their service line’s business goals. It’s also disruptive to your competitors and throws them off balance.
But most importantly, it helps your patients protect their life year round. While there is some power to awareness months, this approach thinks about the people who just had a lecture from their PCP and they’re not sure just what do it about it. It accounts for that daughter who just found out her mom has heart disease and now she’s worried about her family history. It speaks for the dad who just had a heart attack and is now charting long-term treatment options.
Because when you can see through all of the office politics, the only obligation that really matters is our promise to be there for our patients.
There’s nothing wrong with being out there in February. But these trigger events happen to patients every month of the year. And it’s our job to be there for them when that happens…no matter what month it is.