The Verdict Is In: the Best Place for Marketing to Report Is…

My first job was a foreshadowing of what I was to experience as a Healthcare Marketing professional.  The good news:  I was hired as the Program Director, reported to the Executive Director and had responsibility for Strategy, Program Development, Media and Public Relations, Board and Volunteer Development, Fundraising, and Community Education. The bad news: it was just me.

In many ways, it was one of my best jobs. I learned many lessons about always considering the big picture, collaboration, partnerships, prioritizing, and the ways organizational structure impacts all that you do. Since that time, I have worked in many, many different reporting relationships and organizational structures, so I thought it was time that I share my many years of experience on this topic. In addition, I was very fortunate to spend a significant chunk of my career working in or with Children’s Hospitals, so I admit my perspective may be somewhat biased. However, I believe the constructs may be used in any health system.

My objectives for these two blog posts are to provide you with a core understanding and scope of the functions of marketing as well as offer perspective and practical applications you can use in planning when you are considering organizing or reorganizing departments so they can work most effectively. Finally, I will provide takeaways that are important when going through this process.

Key Functions of Marketing
It’s important to start with: what are the key functions of marketing? In the past, not-for-profit healthcare systems considered Marketing a luxury – and one that should never be done at the expense of patient care. So the function of Marketing was considered “not essential” to the healthcare team.

Today, the healthcare landscape has shifted dramatically. Understanding your brand, engaging patients, improving their experience, reviews and regular communication are at the forefront of patient care. These functions are all within the scope of Marketing. Unfortunately, healthcare is slow to make changes and continues to have the same organizational structure that worked 20 years ago.

Marketing should be a core component of the management team. Its purpose is to identify potential customers and convert them to customers who become a loyal follower of the brand. In not-for-profit healthcare, Marketing still is misunderstood. It is often an afterthought and at worst, it is the place “where you make things pretty” or my greatest pet peeve, “the place you go when you need to plan parties.”

It’s All About the Brand
Everyone in an organization is responsible for brand – Marketing is the leader and keeper of brand. Marketing is the accountable source for brand. This is a function that Marketing must own. Two quick words about brand: I define brand as what people say about you when you are not in the room; and creative, the visual for the brand, MUST be aligned. The creative must tell the brand’s story. A side note, Children’s Hospitals are notorious of breaking brand to be “cute,” “animated-cartoonish” or conversely look “too academic.” No matter what you should never break brand because of the creative.

Strategy Should Always Be Aligned
Marketing must understand and create strategy that is aligned with the business strategy and objectives for the organization. The Strategic Plan and Marketing Plan are not the same, and there must be Marketing goals that are in sync with each strategic goal.  It is a hand and glove relationship. Marketing’s perspective is unique and important and must be included.

It’s Hard to Beat a Good Story
Marketing are the storytellers of the health system. Therefore, Marketing must own the content strategy. They are the creators, curators and re-purposers of content. Storytelling is at the core of customers getting to know who you are and what you stand for. Children’s Hospitals have so many amazing and important stories. They must be very sensitive to how they tell the story to always maintain the dignity and respect of the patient and family. There are many stories to tell throughout any healthcare system. These stories must be handled with care… always.

Experience IS the Brand
As I mentioned earlier, if brand is what someone says about you when you are out of the room, and Marketing leads the brand, experience IS the brand. In the past, Marketing has been left out of experience until something goes very wrong, and they are asked to clean it up or they may not be at the table for the initial discussions on experience and asked to “create something” after the fact. It is important for Marketing to be core to patient/customer experience. As healthcare evolves, Marketing must be part of the initial discussion and work very closely with colleagues from all departments within the health system.

At the Core of It All is Communication
Marketing owns the channels of communication. Today, in the digital world in which we live, that means all web, mobile and social channels, in addition to the traditional channels. This includes Public Relations. The function of Marketing must be closely aligned with Public and Corporate Relations in an organization. Communication is at the core of it all. How we effectively communicate and reach potential customers/patients in a meaningful way is the essence of Marketing.

So Where Does Marketing Fit Best?
With an understanding of the key functions of Marketing, where then is the best fit for Marketing to report? Because of its close alignment with strategy, does it make sense to report to Business Development or Strategic Planning? Today, because experience plays a central role in health systems, perhaps Operations is best? Or because communication channels are moving to all digital, should it consider reporting to Information Technology? Or because Marketing plays an important role in the community, should marketing report to Government and Community Relations? In Children’s Hospitals, maybe it’s the Foundation because philanthropy plays a central role in funding? Marketing encompasses every facet of the healthcare system, so is it a function that reports directly to the CEO?

My next post will explore each of these areas and provide you with takeaways you can use in planning.

Where do you think Marketing should report? Have you had any experience in reporting relationships? I would love to hear your perspective. Email me at