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Department Focus: Marketing--CMOs at Risk

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Four tactics senior marketers can employ to make sure they stay employed.

They're the assistant coaches of the C-suite: first to get blamed for a loss, last to get credit for a win. This can be especially true in the healthcare setting, where their job description is often murky at best. So what's a chief marketing officer in this shaky position to do?

Senior marketers concerned about their job security must prove their value to the organization and insert themselves into the strategic process. Most CMOs seem more than happy to help set the course for the organization; almost two-thirds of CMOs say they want to be more involved in business strategy development and the bottom line, according to a recent survey of 132 chief and senior marketers across several industries, including healthcare, conducted by Forrester Research's CMO Group.

But two surveys by HealthLeaders Media suggest that healthcare CMOs are not as involved in top-level strategy as they think. HealthLeaders' 2007 CEO survey asked top leaders which positions are represented on the senior executive team. About 41% listed the senior marketer. Compare that to the results of our 2007 marketing survey, in which 60% of respondents said they are "very involved" in working with senior leaders to make strategic plans and decisions for the organization.

"I meet with leadership from different hospitals almost weekly to discuss strategy. My experience is that marketing is invited less than 25% of the time," says Marshall Steele, CEO of Marshall Steele and Associates, a healthcare management consulting firm in Chicago. "When present, they do not usually participate unless directly asked a marketing question."

Wishful thinking won't change anything, says The Evolved CMO, the report that accompanies the Forrester study. But these four tactics might:

1. Get off the bench. Many healthcare leaders view CMOs as advertising and PR specialists, even though there's more to the job than that, in part because those aspects of the job are so visible and easy for the layman to understand. CMOs perpetuate that narrow view when all they talk about is advertising and communications, says Cindy Commander, an analyst with Forrester Research's CMO Group who coauthored the report. The most important thing CMOs can do, says Commander, is to help the organization meet its business and strategic goals, looking for ways to add value and drive success.

"The more the CMO can be talking about other parts of the business," the better, she says. Talk to other department heads about their functions, find out what their challenges are, and determine how marketing can help address them.

2. Scratch their back, and they'll scratch yours. When marketing reaches out to other departments, the results can be mutually beneficial. If the IT department is having trouble getting staff to follow regulations about patient privacy by failing to log off from shared computers after viewing patient data, for example, marketing could launch an internal awareness campaign for IT.

"You now have a friend at the executive table. You have an ally. That helps when it comes down to that head-chopping," Commander says.

3. Start keeping score. Marketers are very good at measuring brand awareness and patient satisfaction. But operations, finance, and the CEO want more than that.

"Those are great metrics, but a lot of times the CFO is going to look at that and say, ‘How does that tie back to the business?'" says Commander.

To show the true value of marketing, partner with the CFO, who is most likely to know exactly what data the organization's top leaders want.

4. Be a utility player. The current trend in healthcare is to focus on the customer experience. "From the operational perspective, there are a lot of people out there interacting with the customer. They might not know who that customer is or the best method to be delivering the services to them. They might not have that insight," Commander says.

CMOs are in a unique position to be the expert in that area. "That's something that it's definitely more and more on the minds of the CEO, because they're realizing that's how you're generating loyalty," Commander says. "CMOs have this bridge to the customer or to the patient. They should be the expert. . .and then share the wealth."

Gienna Shaw

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