Monkey Business

Gienna Shaw, for HealthLeaders Media, February 20, 2008
Hospital and health system marketers are sure to recognize their own service line directors, board members, and various and sundry physician leaders in the article "Beware of Monkeys" in this month's issue of HealthLeaders magazine. The monkeys in question? Those folks who drive to work and see that the competition has put up a billboard. And who, regardless of whether the billboard is any good or whether billboards even work anyway, want a billboard for their pet project, too. Monkey see, monkey do.

It's a common challenge for healthcare marketers who must say no to requests that fall outside of the strategic plan and/or the marketing budget.

What's worse, though, is that these requests don't always come from pushy egomaniacs who think their particular service line or specialty is of the utmost importance and that all other departments are insignificant and not worthy of any marketing expenditures whatsoever. They also come from the absolute nicest people in the organization, people who are doing worthwhile and valuable work that just doesn't contribute in any significant way to the bottom line or merit even a footnote in the strategic plan.

In other words, you don't just have to say no to the howler monkeys. You have to turn down the sweet little pygmy marmosets, too.

The article includes some excellent advice for how to handle these delicate conversations. Susan Stewart, director of marketing and public relations for Humility of Mary Health Partners in Youngstown, OH, makes it sound easy: "I often ask the individual that I'm talking to if their idea is the most strategic way for us to continue to tell our story," she tells our reporter, senior editor Maureen Larkin.

And that tactic will work for a C-suiter who had a hand in developing the strategic plan, especially if his or her bonus is tied to its success. But I'm guessing that a lot of monkeys would scratch their heads at that one. For the nicer monkey, in particular, I like Susan Dubuque's solution. Marketers can create a menu of inexpensive or free promotions that non-core specialties can use to promote their services, Dubuque, president of Neathawk Dubuque & Packett, a Richmond, VA-based marketing and advertising agency, says in the article.

What it really boils down to is that you have to have people skills. You have to know how to talk to people, to appease them and negotiate with them without losing sight of your own goals. It's just one more skill that the modern healthcare marketer must add to his or her growing repertoire: The ability to quiet down those howler monkeys and give the marmosets some love and attention, too.

Gienna Shaw is an editor with HealthLeaders magazine. She can be reached at
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