Hiring your healthcare marketing agency – a four act story

Act One (Setting The Scene)

With the final conference session ended for the day, a healthcare marketing VP walks into the adjoining hotel bar. She (we’ll call her Jeanne) pulls up a stool and ends up sitting right next to a guy named Dave. Ordering a chardonnay, she glances Dave’s way, notices that he’s also a conference attendee, let’s out a long sigh and says, “What a way to start a new job.” She goes on to say that this is week two of her new job, after being recruited to her health system from years in the consumer-facing technology industry. And on top of everything else on her plate, she’s gotten word from above that the organization is now seeking a new agency relationship.

The stars couldn’t be any more aligned — because Dave happens to be on the leadership team of a healthcare-focused agency search consulting firm. Having been in the business for nearly four decades, he knows a thing or two about the agency search and selection process. He also did stints as an agency account director in the healthcare space and as a client-side marketing director, so he’s well equipped to serve as advisor to stressed out healthcare marketing VP Jeanne.

Act Two (Working The Challenge)

Jeanne and Dave decide to order a few appetizers (before the big closing conference event), and begin the conversation about hiring a new healthcare marketing agency. To start, Jeanne volunteers that she really does believe in the power of a strong client and agency partnership to move brand and business. She’s seen the results in her former life. She goes on to talk more about the intangibles important to a successful relationship. In her opinion, this starts with the agency needing to feel secure in the relationship. Jeanne goes on to say that for an agency to have the courage to travel down a new path, explore new areas and make us [clients] feel uncomfortable (in a genuine and exciting way of course) – they need to be confident in their partnership. They need to have the trust of client leadership to have permission to break new ground without it coming back to haunt them later on.

Dave glances at his watch, and almost two hours has flown by. They agree to pick up the conversation post conference. While it fleetingly occurs to them to skip tonight’s event and keep the conversation going, they both feel like they could use a break. They’ve also heard great things about tonight’s venue. They exchange information and agree to a Skype meeting the following Tuesday. The agenda will focus on working together to craft an agency screener, to get to a handful of agencies for Jeanne to interview. Before they leave, Dave goes old school and hands Jeanne a cocktail napkin with these six criteria to get her thinking started:

  1. Expectations
  2. Expertise
  3. Experience
  4. Approach to strategy and creative development
  5. Capabilities
  6. Culture

Act Three (Getting On The Other Side)

It’s the Friday before next Tuesday’s call. For some additional perspective, Dave reaches out to his friends at Trajectory, the healthcare branding and marketing agency he worked with years ago when he was in client-side healthcare marketing. NOTE: here’s where our story transitions into a “non-fiction” post about what a few of our Trajectory marketing, creative and digital leaders — reflecting the view of the agency overall —  believe are the characteristics important for a client to consider as they look to partner with a new healthcare marketing agency.

According to Trajectory VP Creative Director, Joe Gugliuzza:

Does the agency possess a proven record of success; and can they back up their talk with proof (whether qualitative or quantitative) and testimonials?

Will that agency covet you, treating you like you are their only account (within scope of engagement of course) and their very existence depends on you? And do their actions reflect this, in how they continue to question and challenge you (and themselves) each day.

Is there a commitment to challenge you creatively? While work can’t always be new to the world, a true agency partner should always be trying to break new ground to help you connect with audiences in the most meaningful ways possible.

Michelle York, Director, Account Services at Trajectory adds that:

It’s important to drill down and get underneath the hood in regard to the following: Knowledge/specialization in a particular category or genre is important; but the drive and dedication to delve deep into the specifics of a client’s business is crucial. Your agency should be committed to getting to know your business, your clients, and your industry as well (or better!) than you do. And they should be able to prove that they’ve done this.

Next on my list is Competencies/Qualities: solution driven, service oriented, and nimble. These three factors driven by strong strategic, creative, and branding acumen. A true partner who works with your team hand in glove to achieve your goals. They make things easier for you and your team vs. drowning you in lengthy emails and “BS”.

Honesty breeds success. The relationship between healthcare marketing agency leadership and client leadership should be strong and built on complete (respectful) honesty. Building depth to these relationships allows for difficult conversations, allows for respect to grow, and allows for the right work to be produced.

Randi Brody, Trajectory Co-President suggests these four things a client should consider in regard to hiring a new healthcare marketing partner:

Insights. About the business and about your targets, so they can immediately bring value to the table and help you achieve your goals; though also important is the ability to leverage insights from outside the category for a  fresh perspective (a must).

Competencies. It’s about the “package”: strong strategic minds; thirst for creativity (outside the mold); service and execution are king. Agnostic to media and channels, a very thoughtful, consultative approach that is unique to each partner (client).

Qualities. Are they curious, hungry, nimble, creative, team-oriented, results driven (but create change with you). As a former client-side senior executive, I have a strong point-of-view about what an agency should bring to the table, and it’s beyond surface level thinking, creative and service delivery.

Results. Given the ever-changing shift in marketing budgets and the availability of analytics, integrated strategy and award-winning campaigns are no longer enough for brands to justify agency partnership to their stakeholders. Today, data-proven results (that impact the growth of the business and the bottom line) is the #1 “gotta-have-it” indicator of success.

And for yet another perspective, Art Stiefel, VP Digital Strategy adds:

As a true business partner (if in fact this is your expectation and need) your agency needs to understand the brand, the business model(s), the market and the direction it’s goingOur point-of-view is that there’s no replacement for specialists who understand every nuance of a client’s business, which also opens up opportunities for serious business conversations with client-side leaders.

As a creative partner, your agency needs to be up to speed on what’s happening in culture, with the brand’s audiences, their media consumption habits and purchase behaviors and the changing marketing tactics available.

Digital Chops. It’s where the world is going, so it’s important to be able to help clients balance the opportunities afforded by technology with the real value it creates for customers, brands and businesses. In order to do this, is there someone inside the agency who works closely with creative and account teams to delve into the ever expanding digital domain to champion fresh, engaging and measurable digital experiences? And does the agency help clients to stay current and rise to meet the challenge of tomorrow’s digital opportunities?

Last but not last, Dan Jovanovic, Director Client Engagement (responsible for cultivating new client opportunities) weighs in on the intangibles…

Passion. Do you see it and feel it when you’re across the table or on the phone?

Drive. What drives your prospective agency? It’s a question that can reveal a lot. Not only the response itself, but the tone of the response.

Digging In. On a piece of paper or on a PowerPoint slide, most agency processes are impossible to distinguish between. So you need to probe into their approach to strategy and creative development. Ask the right questions and you’ll be able to separate out who can really help you win your brand and business battles.

Matching Profiles. Borrowing on the idea of online dating services, it’s likely that very few people you meet will be compatible with you specifically. So think about the dimensions most important to you in an agency. What size agency — which impacts who will be working on your business — will you as a client best match up with.

Act Four (All’s Well In The World)

Let’s circle back to our “fictitious” story featuring Jeanne (healthcare marketing VP) and Dave (leadership team member at an agency search consulting firm). As planned, their Tuesday call resulted in the creation of an agency screener and a shortlist of agencies for Jeanne to reach out to. Equipped with this criteria, she and her leadership team brought in three agencies for  structured “meet and greets.”  Two months later, Jeanne hired her new healthcare marketing agency partner. When Dave asked her why this agency, she said “while they all probably could have helped us get to where we need to be, their deep category expertise (beyond their capabilities), their focus on value and their ability to help us get to better business-building ideas faster, really shone through.


If a new agency perspective could be of value to your organization, please reach out to Dan for a conversation.  Since 1999, Trajectory has worked with clients across the health + wellness continuum to help them solve their growth trajectory challenges. We do this by crafting and aligning purpose, culture, strategy, design, communication and experience. So every moment comes together to move customers, brands and business upward.




Eric Brody

Eric Brody is President of Trajectory, launched in 1999, the specialist health & wellness branding and marketing agency using every moment to move customers, brands and businesses upward. Prior to Trajectory, Eric served as EVP and Management Board member at Interbrand (the world’s most influential brand consultancy). Before Interbrand, he held senior marketing positions at Beiersdorf Inc. and L’Oreal and advertising account management positions at Marschalk and Benton & Bowles.He has also taught as an adjunct professor at Seton Hall’s Graduate School of Communications and has lectured at Wharton Business School and Emory Goizueta School of Business.