With So Many Disciplines at Play, How To Choose a “Right-Hand Agency” in the New Integrated Healthcare Environment

Running in parallel with the mind-blowing speed and impact of technology on business, the role of communications in healthcare has undergone a tectonic shift over the last 20 years. As Amara’s law of technology dictates, this evolution is similar to the movement of the hour hand on a clock—If you keep staring at it, the hand appears to remain stationary. If you leave and return after some time, you will see that it has moved a great deal.

In the blink of an eye, the increasingly complex healthcare environment has changed the way we need to do business. The most glaring example is the “Agency Summit” meeting that gathers agency partners from across the country to create a unified approach between company and consultants. Gone are the days where the summit table is relegated to a small, clearly defined group—ad agency, PR agency and the med ed agency.

Today’s “Agency Summit” (if there is budget hold a live discussion) can resemble a giant, chaotic banquet table—including access/reimbursement specialists, digital content and social experts, web design, brand identity specialists, mobile consultants, traditional and online advertising, traditional and online PR, event specialists and patient and professional advocacy specialists.

Cacophony, boredom and restlessness often set in as each agency presents their plan in a vacuum to one another. The client is inevitably frustrated by the outcome, and the agencies are confused and nervous as to whether their plan aligns with the client’s wants and needs.

A re-alignment and true agency integration is now tantamount to success.

Clients need a banquet table of collaborators who check their egos at the door. In this modern integrated communications era, excellent work product and flawless execution are table stakes, while emotional IQ and a collaborative mindset are game changers and paramount to the client’s success. Each member of the elite group must understand that they are one instrument in the proverbial orchestra. To reign in this diverse group of experts, with big egos, strong opinions and insatiable desires for recognition, the client needs a “right-hand” agency. This agency can help separate drama from reality, maintain the focus on achieving program goals and field both important and inconsequential questions with equal amount of attention to ward off any inclination of favoritism and provide a clear vision.

How To Identify an Ideal Lead Agency Partner

The ideal, lead agency partner is one part master strategist, one part herder and one part diplomat. An optimal agency partner for integration is less likely a function of one discipline over another (i.e., solid arguments can be made for PR, digital, advertising leads) than an agency with strong industry knowledge, character, diplomacy, chemistry, strong capabilities and leadership.   You want an agency leader whom you can trust with your business and insights from closed-door internal meetings. Those at the agency must see beyond their own capabilities and understand the client’s larger strategy. The ideal lead agency partner must be “channel agnostic”—the most effective communications approach will win the day, regardless of who handles its execution. In this integrated environment, all agencies will strive for the best work product for the client.

A few questions that clients should ask about who should help them lead an integrated healthcare communications team, include:

Do You Trust the Lead Agency Partner to Roam The Halls of Your Business?

  • The lead agency’s ability to be bold and speak frankly to a variety of personality types (and make them feel comfortable) is tantamount to its role.   If leveraged effectively, your lead agency can drill deeper in a variety of areas that have not yet been explored. If done right, everyone internally will feel “heard” by the communications function.

Does Your Lead Agency Understand Your Overall Business Objectives?

  • The most important job of the lead agency is to articulate the client’s business objectives in a clear, concise way and make certain that messages are conveyed correctly and “internalized” by all agency partners. This, alone, will result in a more integrated program and create greater cohesion among the multi-discipline group.

Can You Trust the Agency To Keep Company Secrets?

  • The lead agency must be a “lock box,” since you are allowing them access to the highest levels of company trade secrets, confidential interactions with legal and regulatory institutions, HR matters and, in some cases, exposure to less-than-successful business ventures. The lead agency must have your complete trust.

Is the Agency a Good Sounding Board on All Business Matters?

  • Clients not only need to have good chemistry with the lead agency, but also need to have faith in the agency’s common sense on critical business matters. Sometimes work calls for improvisation, in which momentary decisions must be made based on common sense and knowledge of business objectives. Your agency leader must offer superlative counsel, allowing you to feel confident in your decisions.

If A Crisis Occurs, Would You Want Them as Your Partner in the Trenches?

  • Your agency lead should be the mouthpiece of all agencies in crisis, helping to decide who, among the consultants, is necessary in a multi-disciplinary crisis scenario. For example, the agency lead will make certain that internal communications is covered off, that a communications liaise to legal and regulatory institutions is available, assist with an integrated digital/social approach on a moment’s notice and, in some cases, a medical writer in addition to traditional Agency release /statement writer on standby. The agency lead should calmly and effectively handle all of these tasks while the client is submerged in chaos internally.

This article was originally featured in O’Dwyer’s Annual Healthcare Issue [Oct 2014:  Vol. 228, No. 10, Page 34].

Photo credit:  Bliss Integrated Communication.

Connect with Michael:

Phone: 212.584.5484
Email: michael@blissintegrated.com
Twitter: @M_Roth425
LinkedIn: Michael Roth