The Strategic Marketer

Gienna Shaw, for HealthLeaders Media, December 5, 2007
No matter how many different ways I ask the question, I can never get a straight answer: Are hospital and health system marketing departments playing a more strategic role in operations and helping to make business decisions? For example, are they getting involved with the development of service lines, or simply being asked to create an ad campaign for the line prior to launch? Do they have a role in keeping the internal customer happy, of turning the work force into an army of brand champions, or are employee relations solely a role for HR? Are they gathering market intelligence and reporting back to the COO or CEO? Or are they at the bottom of the organizational chart, somewhere above the volunteers but well below anyone on the senior leadership team?

The 2007 HealthLeaders Media Annual Marketing Professionals Survey has some of the answers to these questions. Our annual CEO survey has some intell on the subject, as well.

As for whether or not marketing has a seat at the leadership table, it turns out that the answer, at least according to our surveys, is anything but decisive. Our CEO survey asked top leaders which positions are represented on the senior executive team, the inner circle that works together on strategic planning. A little more than 41 percent listed the chief marketing officer or director of marketing. That is slightly behind the COO's 47 percent and ahead of the Chief Information Officer's nearly 24 percent. Other titles, including chief nursing and chief financial officers, got much higher percentages. (Volunteers weren't one of the choices.)

Healthcare marketers, on the other hand, see things in a slightly different light. In our marketing survey (stay tuned, the full results will be released soon) we asked how involved respondents' departments are in working with senior leaders to make strategic plans and decisions for the organization. Sixty percent answered "very involved" and another 30 percent said they were "somewhat involved." Only 10 percent said they were not involved at all.

Of course, different organizations answered the surveys, which were conducted separately. And we all know that numbers can be misleading. But I think the numbers do illustrate the fact that hospitals and health systems are still working out what role marketers play in the business end of running a hospital. This trend is obviously in flux, and marketers and CEOs aren't quite on the same page as to the direction it's heading.

A Love/Hate Relationship
I've received some interesting feedback from last week's column, When Marketers Dream. Based on the e-mails you sent me, as well as the responses to our 2007 HealthLeaders Media Annual Marketing Professionals Survey, hospital and health system marketing and advertising professionals are in the same boat as everyone else when it comes to their jobs. Overworked. Underpaid. Too much to do and not enough time, budget, or staff to do it.

As one of my co-workers recently said, "Well, we're not doing a musical, here."

For the most part, though, the responses to last week's question (What do you most love and/or hate about your job?) are not ones that the authors would want me to share with the whole world. But with our fancy new Web site comes the ability for readers to simply click that little talk bubble at the bottom of the page and leave a comment in response to this column. Instant gratification--who doesn't love that?

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