From SHSMD 2018: 7 Tips For Healthcare Marketers And Communicators

From SHSMD 2018: 7 Tips for Healthcare Marketers and Communicators

I’ve been attending Society for Healthcare Strategy & Marketing Development meetings for many years as a member, presenter, board member and society president.

Members have always been looking for wisdom at the conference. They have always talked about balancing multiple priorities in an ever-changing environment. But this year, the conversations are a little more pointed, more anxiety-ridden than before.

Here’s what I’m hearing:

My staff is tired.

What should I do first?

I can’t work harder or faster. I’m doing the best I can.

How do I push back on the VP/doctor/ nurse who wants a billboard/commercial/special event?

The workload has grown but I’ve had to cut my staff.

Do I really need a newsletter?

My website (and/or intranet) needs to be overhauled.


And the worst, whispered, conversation: I just can’t do this anymore.

If I could be so bold, I’d like to give those hall whisperers advice that I wish someone had given me years ago:

Accept that you can’t change everything.

No matter how senior your position, you can rarely control decisions made by operations. You probably don’t make the call about whether to roll out a new EHR or open a trauma unit, for example. As the communications and/or marketing professional, however, your voice is important.  Don’t be afraid to talk about how the decision will be greeted or how it will affect public perception, but once the decision is made just accept that it is what it is.

Ask why.

Though you don’t make operational decisions, work to understand the thinking behind them. This will help you play a core role, shaping the story of change, rather than just executing tactical work, such as copywriting or event planning around someone else’s business decision.

Think strategically.

You need to execute flawlessly, but a strategic thinker will always stand out. Can you can explain to a doctor, for example, why building relationships with referring physicians is more impactful than billboards and TV spots? This type of conversation can help eliminate some time-consuming projects so you can focus on the big, business-building initiatives.

Be collaborative.

Think outside your lane. Work with peers across disciplines to share and exchange ideas.  Repurpose articles and materials. If you are writing an article for the web, think about how else it can be used. Be flexible.

Embrace templates.

You will be asked to do more and more with fewer resources. You must look critically at everything you’re managing, and if you’re still deep in the weeds with a targeted, specialty email or designing flyers for the lab, stop, breathe, and rethink those projects. What can be standardized? Can you disseminate templates for fliers and announcements so that others can create them?

Show up.

It may seem like a small thing, but it’s important to show your face at strategic events. Does your boss value that Fun Run? Go to it and make sure he/she sees your face. Is there a crisis in the ER over the weekend? Go and support the staff. Do rounds on a snow day. This type of visibility is a win-win: You’ll get to know your organization from the inside out, and the staff will get to know and appreciate your positive attitude.

Keep learning.

Most importantly, make professional development a priority. Read what your boss is reading. Is it Modern Healthcare or Harvard Business Review? Participate in webinars. Go to local or national professional meetings like SHSMD’s annual conference. Professional development will help arm you for the challenges ahead.

Susan Alcorn