April 16, 2018

Tips from a Healthcare Marketing Vet that Every Newbie Should Know

Whatever the organization, sage advice from someone who has walked before you (often transmitted in a candid and unscripted moment) is almost always more powerful than what you can learn from a book, formal training program or podcast.

This ethos of mentorship might be what I miss most about my prior life in the Marines. There, it’s not only common practice but it is a culture where the passing down of even the simplest of tips is encouraged…even required.

That’s a far cry from the corporate environment of many hospital marketing departments. And the results this culture generates speak for themselves.

More than ever, healthcare marketers (especially junior level folks) feel disengaged from their bosses and employers. Too many look to stay out of their bosses’ way rather than expect some quality time to gain knowledge.

We manage meetings, PowerPoints and deadlines…giving them more time than leading. And it’s killing our industry.

In the best professional military organizations, leadership goes out of its way to retain veterans when a conflict ends. That real-world advice, proven on the field of battle, is worth more than any former schooling or training manual.

So not only do I encourage you to actively mentor a subordinate every single day, but most of all, I hope that you give your next new hire the kind of advice that books can’t teach.

You’ve earned those gray hairs. Give them meaning by passing down what you learned while getting them.

Our world of healthcare is a weird one. Take your new protégé by the hand on their first day and give them a “top five things to remember” about working for healthcare and your organization.

They are brand new and un-jaded by the inevitable friction that comes with a longer tenure. Their minds and hearts will never be more open to receive the kind of wisdom that they could retain forever. Below is a list of veteran tips I wish I had before I started in healthcare. This is my list. It’s not yours or Franklin Street’s. But one thing I do want you take from it: notice that it is free of BS, because the best advice…always is. Create your own list and get to teaching. Your colleagues, your superiors and your legacy…will all thank you.

1. Your approval chain will make or break your success.

The bigger the approval chain, the less impactful your marketing initiative will be. Hospitals love consensus. It’s safe, expected and non-confrontational. The problem: The power of change doesn’t come from things that are safe, expected and non-confrontational. The less hands in your dinner…the better it will taste. Limit your approval chains to a bare minimum. And for goodness sake…keep the physicians to a minimum (see the next tip).

2. Remember: Physicians are amazing people.

But physicians often don’t know much about marketing. When you are new to the marketing department, you will run into “that guy.” Every single hospital has that guy. Don’t even argue. That guy will twist your arm for more “love” from the marketing department. Of course that’s why his practice is struggling, right? A few billboards with his handsome mug will turn this thing around…can’t be his terrible bedside manner, right? Don’t appease That Guy. Delay, ignore or distract. Once That Guy gets you to jump for him…you will always be his. And That Guy will move on. Make sure he doesn’t take your professional diginity with you.

3. Be careful about utilizing lessons from other industries.

When I started in healthcare, I did this a lot. I still find the airline industry to be a good benchmark for hospitals but that’s a different blog. What I’ve learned since then is that while you can steal some ideas from non-healthcare brands, you have to acknowledge that our industry is unique for two reasons. First, if someone’s insurance doesn’t pay for your hospital, your brand is not for consideration. Second, most patients care about the doctor first. As long as your hospital doesn’t have a reputation for killing people, for many people the choice of hospital is way down the food chain from insurance issues and their doctor of preference. You may choose between Target and Walmart, but nobody is telling you (like an insurer does) that you simply can’t shop there.

4. Beware of the phrase “but that’s how we’ve always done it.”

This mentality was surely forged out of keeping people comfortable. Human beings naturally resist change. The DNA that guides a hospital leadership team is one of the worst environments for breeding creative ideas. If you hope to create something new, crush those comments on how it has always been done with cold hard facts and red-hot persistence Unless you…

5. Choose your battles wisely.

My father once told me that the best advice he could give me was in a Kenny Rogers song, The Gambler. Yes. I’m that old. The point being is that the chorus reminds us “You’ve got to know when to hold ‘em and when to fold ‘em.” My final piece of advice to healthcare newbies is just that: choose your battles wisely. You are one person. There is only so much you can change. Pick one or two important initiatives each year and protect them like your daughter. Choose those initiatives that mean the most to you. And when pressed by others, just let it be. It’d be a shame if you were as gray as me before 35.