Claiming Marketing’s Seat in the C-Suite

If a healthcare organization were a dinner party, the marketing team would play the role of host. Think about it – the host is the first person to make an impression by opening the door and welcoming you to their home. The host is also expected to greet everyone at the party. Plus, the host cleans up after any messes.

If you’ve ever hosted a dinner party, you know this role is easier said than done. Hosting involves more than just being charming, attentive, and generous with the goodies – the same goes for the role of a healthcare marketing and communications team.

The perception of the marketer is often the person in charge of funky swag, signage, and the silly gimmicks to grab patient attention. While part of this may be true, the role’s reach and responsibility go beyond the ability to order promotional items bearing the hospital logo. The marketing and communications department is often the team most connected to all initiatives in a healthcare organization.

Despite marketers’ importance, they are frequently left on the outside of the C-suite’s strategic planning efforts.

Only 27% of 493 respondents in the 2011 HealthLeaders Media Industry Survey identified the chief marketing officer as a role represented on the senior executive team (the inner circle that works together on strategic planning). Eight titles were ranked higher than CMOs for inner circle representation. If those stats aren’t enough to convince you, maybe this is: When respondents were asked how often the marketing department is involved in the first stages of product or service line development:

  • 22% said Always
  • 58% said Sometimes
  • 13% said Rarely
  • 7% said Never

How is exclusion even possible when marketers are the ones who are in charge of branding, promoting, and cross-coordinating initiatives across the organization? The answer may reside in how healthcare organizations interpret the role of the marketing team.

At the Society for Healthcare Strategy and Market Development (SHSMD) Annual conference in September, marketing professionals were encouraged to share how their organization perceives the role of the marketer. Turns out, many organizations rely on stereotypes.

“My colleagues often ask me to script what to say to patients,” one woman answered. “They say, ‘I don’t have a bed for this patient, how do I make that sound okay?'”

Other conference attendees mentioned how they are pegged as the people with the cool giveaways, games, or gadgets.

“The goals of marketing and the CFO are aligned. You are about to become the CFO’s best friend if you learn how to contribute to their margin,” said John Luginbill, CEO of The Heavyweights, an IN-based marketing communications firm.

Luginbill makes the point that marketers can improve an organization by trimming costs in creative ways. Though marketers can add substantial value to an organization, their level of recognition falls short.

Here are the percentages of C-suite Industry Survey respondents who rated their marketing team’s efforts as high value:

  • 37% of CEOs
  • 24% of board directors
  • 22% of CFOs
  • 18% of physicians
  • 10% of staff
  • 10% of organization-wide

The remaining ratings of marketing efforts fell into the categories of valued, neutral, not very valued, or not at all valued. There is obvious room for improvement in the numbers. Marketing’s inferiority complex should not limit communications professionals any longer.

A key to entering the C-suite’s inner circle—and proof of marketers’ worth—comes from the ability to deliver market intelligence.

We need to know what the doctors, patients, and employees are thinking. As a CEO, the more I know, the more I can drive a strategy. We have a long way to go, we think we know what docs and patients are thinking. Wrong.”

Providing marketing intelligence to the C-suite can show how the marketing team is able to influence strategic outcomes. Since marketers are communicators by nature, use that skill to your advantage.

Don’t be the afterthought of the C-suite. Communication professionals need to self-advocate and push beyond stereotypical perceptions. Marketers, this is ultimately your party, make sure you are involved in the planning.

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