covid-19 coronavirus healthcare marketing agencies health systems

Why MarCom Agencies Are Essential to Health Systems Right Now

Amanda Herriman, Marketing Manager COVID-19, Healthcare Marketing

If you work for a health system, you’re no doubt scrambling to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic. You’ve turned everything upside down, operationally and in every other possible way. No matter the size of your operation, it’s “all hands on deck” in these unprecedented times.

Systems that have a trusted marketing and communications agency as a partner are already several steps ahead of their competitors in crisis management communications, and they’ll be miles ahead when the crisis ends. Here’s why:

#1 An Agency Partner Can Free Up Resources

Because a marketing and communications agency is a separate entity from your organization, its staff can focus solely on the marketing matters at hand. That means you get fast and effective messaging and resources that are scalable.

As the world deals with this pandemic, things change fast. Having an agency to stay on top of the latest news and trends ensures that you get the appropriate (and accurate) messages out to your community quickly. Your internal team can focus on the immediate minute-to-minute needs of your organization and leave all the general marketing and communication responsibilities to your trusted agency partner.

For example, as soon as our agency recognized the gravity of COVID-19 and the potential impact it could have, we proactively generated new creative concepts for our clients and assessed all existing campaigns. Anything that wasn’t relevant to the current crisis was suspended, as was anything that couldn’t or shouldn’t run – for example, mall ads when malls are shutting down; promotions for events that we knew would be canceled or postponed; and all promotions for elective surgery or primary care, both of which would be suspended or discouraged. We then redirected media toward COVID-19 messaging, as appropriate. Being one step ahead of things on their behalf freed our clients up to take care of emerging situations on the ground. As the crisis progresses, we continue to monitor the situation and adjust accordingly.

#2 An Agency Provides a Fresh Perspective

A great agency is full of experts in their fields: designers, strategists, editors, analysts, etc. That’s a huge benefit. When you work inside an organization, it’s easy to get tunnel vision. This is especially true during a crisis, when your organization’s priorities are elsewhere. Marketing and communications tend to fall by the wayside when everything is in chaos – but it doesn’t have to.

With an agency at your side, you can get an objective look at the big picture. If you’re wondering, “Where should I focus my energy right now? In pay-per-click? Email marketing? Social media?” A good agency partner has the data and experience to provide clarity and guidance on the best path forward.

For example, if your organization’s marketing is very event-driven, it’s likely your events have been canceled. It’s unsafe for people to gather in groups, so health fairs, exercise classes, seminars and pretty much anything else that’s face-to-face are on hold. But, they don’t have to be. Virtual fitness classes are becoming the norm now on Facebook, Instagram, Zoom and other platforms. The same is true for doctors’ appointments, seminars and other health-related occurrences. A good agency partner can help you find and implement the right digital strategies and then spread the word on these alternatives swiftly so you don’t lose your audience.

#3 An Agency Can Help You Prepare for What’s Next

No one knows exactly when the COVID-19 crisis will pass, if there will be a recurrence or how long it will take for the global economy to recover. But life will eventually return to some degree of normalcy. A good agency partner can help you anticipate what comes next and plan for whatever the “new normal” is likely to be.

One thing is for sure, it won’t be quite like the old normal. Not for a long time, anyway. Maybe never.

In the short term, there will be a crush of patients trying to address the same health concerns they had pre-COVID-19. People who had to cancel hip replacements in March will still need hip replacements. And those who put off visits to the dermatologist are all going to want to get their suspicious moles looked at simultaneously. How will you manage their expectations and minimize their frustrations?

Right behind that crush, there will be another potentially more destructive one. Millions of people already struggling with chronic conditions like heart disease, diabetes and COPD have missed important interactions with their caregivers and lost access to the tests and medicines they need to manage their health because they lost other things – access to transportation or their health insurance, in many cases. By the time they are able to reengage with you, their providers, they will be in worse shape than ever and will need more services. Are you ready to help them understand their options so they can regain their health without overwhelming your system?

What about emotional health? Are you prepared to communicate with the millions of people who will, as a result of job loss, bankruptcy, divorce and other collateral damage from the COVID-19 pandemic, require your services? Have you prepared the messaging and materials they’ll need? Do you have a communication plan in place for helping them cope even if you are unable to see them for months?

Finally, a good agency partner can help you anticipate what advertising will look like in the future. Will you ever use photos of smiling doctors shaking hands with smiling patients again? How soon should you get back to promoting elective procedures? And which ones? What messages will consumers need to see in order to feel good about visiting your facilities? The old (and already tired) messages that use the three Cs, “convenient, caring, compassionate” may need to be changed to simply, “clean, cleaner and cleanest.”

So, there are more good reasons than ever to engage with a knowledgeable, strategic marketing and communications agency. Doing so can make the difference between being ready to serve your community during and after the COVID-19 crisis or struggling to manage their expectations and keep up with their need for relevant information. If you have a trusted partner, lean on them. If you don’t, I suggest you find one as soon as you can.

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