When healthcare organizations seek help achieving their marketing goals, they often encounter a dizzying array of options, presented by a wide variety of marketing agencies, all claiming to be just the right fit.
Of course, one way to narrow the field is to require deep experience in healthcare. Another is to focus on those agencies that have proven experience in particular skill sets. For many healthcare leaders today, that will mean looking for a healthcare marketing agency that excels at B2B content marketing. Even then, many agencies include content marketing as a competency today, in order to present themselves as an ideal choice.
Too many healthcare executives and healthcare industry marketing leaders have had the experience of engaging with a healthcare marketing agency full of promise, only to be disappointed by a poor fit. Often, mismatches occur when the real task at hand is beyond what an agency is really good at. Some agencies, for example, are excellent at graphic design, while others excel at direct marketing, or consumer goods. Many understand one or two industries very well, but are willing to take healthcare clients where they can find them. Few agencies actually specialize in content marketing, and fewer still specialize in healthcare content marketing. Yet, many will take clients who seek to execute content marketing strategies. The result is invariably disappointing.
In the case of B2B healthcare content marketing, many say they can get the job done. Content marketing has become a proven and highly sought-after means to achieve business goals. That popularity encourages ‘full-service’ firms to claim content marketing expertise as they court new clients. Also, some agencies that might otherwise be great at content marketing in, say, automotive, or the cosmetics industry, fail miserably when it comes to creating and marketing content suitable for healthcare audiences. Healthcare content only works well when its creators understand their audience, market, language, trends, and other specialized aspects of the healthcare industry.
In fact, there are no agencies, anywhere, that do everything well. Instead, agencies tend to excel at a core set of marketing services, usually in a specific industry. Even though plenty of healthcare marketing agencies possess expertise, talent, and experience, they can only benefit the client when that experience matches the client’s industry-specific needs.
So, if your healthcare organization has decided to find a great content marketing partner, how do you vet all those options and find the healthcare marketing agency that will knock it out of the park on the first swing? Below are some key questions you should ask.
Does the Agency Prioritize Content Quality?
People respond well to quality content. As a result, so does Google. Both have an interest in connecting search queries to the most relevant results. But, because the internet today is saturated with content, on every imaginable topic, Google and other search platforms have to work hard to serve up what people want. That all leads to the need for marketers to produce only quality. Anything less will be relegated by Google’s increasingly advanced algorithms to lower results pages. Only the best content rises to the top today. And, that’s where you win the battle for views and clicks.
Your healthcare content marketing agency should, for this reason, never prioritize quantity. This is a very common mistake made by agencies with little real-world experience in content marketing. The result of producing a lot of content of low quality is not only poor results on Google search pages. Your audience engagement, as measured by metrics such as pageviews, time on page, click-through rates, social follows and likes, return visits, etc. will all suffer too. No one wants to waste time on irrelevant, poorly written, poorly researched content.
Of course, your agency will need to produce enough content to achieve your goals, so they should be able to share with you a publishing cadence, with an editorial calendar, that includes every type of piece you’ll be getting, and when it will publish. Finally, when it comes to quality, the proof is in the pudding. Ensure you are able to review samples of their work. Look for consistent voice and tone, references and links, signs of recent research and subject-matter expertise. And, ask yourself and your team: would I read this?
Is the Agency Listening to You? Will They Understand Your Goals?
Content marketing, particularly in the healthcare industry, requires a deep understanding of client goals, key objectives, corporate culture, target audiences, industry trends, policy issues, and more. But every client has unique characteristics. The only way to achieve quality content marketing that works is to ask the right questions, do the research, bring the expertise to bear, and listen.
Ask yourself if the agency you’re considering will understand your goals. Any prospective partner should ask you about your business objectives and marketing goals very early in the conversation. Give them your story then sit back and listen to what they have to say. Think hard about what they are saying to you — do their suggestions address your goals in a way that might demonstrate meaningful results?
If your goal is lead generation, you might hear, “We can get you 3,000 new leads over the course of the next month.” That may sound great, but it becomes a major problem if you get 3,000 new contacts that don’t yield a single lead or opportunity for your organization. The agency should get to the root of your needs and explain in a comprehensive, logical manner how they will help you reach your goals. They should explain how, from a lead generation perspective, they understand your industry and audience, and how they will develop targeted content and campaigns to generate the right kind of sales prospects.
Does the Agency Plan Before It Acts?
Not everyone appreciates the value of thorough planning. This is especially true in many healthcare marketing agencies. This is an industry that values speed, creativity, and productivity, which leads to more billable hours and greater profits. Taking the time to do things the right way can reduce margins. But in content marketing, strategic planning is essential, and there are no short-cuts.
Remember that you’re hiring a healthcare content marketing agency for their expertise and input, as well as their ability to create and market a significant volume of quality content. You want them to be able to help you. If your outsourced agency simply acts upon whatever you dictate, without asking questions, and doing their own research, you’ve lost a big chunk of their value. You need them to step back and take a strategic look at your business and processes. You will be more successful in the end by letting them evaluate and plan before executing. But, be sure at the outset that they’re the kind of agency that is capable of doing so.
Do They Have Great People?
Content marketing requires talented, experienced people working together seamlessly with each other and with your own internal resources. In healthcare, you also need people who are experts in their fields, people in whom you can have a high level of confidence. The people working on your account at the agency are meant to supplement your existing marketing department (or even become your marketing department). You should be confident that they are strong in areas critical to the successful completion of your goals.
Don’t be afraid to look people up on LinkedIn, to learn about their backgrounds. Meet as many of them as you can and talk to them. Will your team develop a level of trust and confidence in their abilities? As you negotiate the agency selection process, ask the entire account team to come in and meet your internal team. Discuss roles and process so you are comfortable with how things will really function on a day-to-day basis.
Also, ensure that the people you’re meeting will, in fact, be on your team. Some agencies put their best people in front of prospects, only to switch to lower-level (and lower pay grade) people once the business is won. You will be working with this agency team as if they are your employees and teammates, so you need to believe in them.
Can You Work Well with the Agency?
Every organization has its own personality. Many internal teams can find it challenging to work with an outside agency. During the vetting process, ask yourself and your team members whether, and to what extent, you might have to adapt to the new arrangement. If it seems too much of a challenge, you run the risk of becoming a bad client. Do you get along with the prospective agency, its key people, and the way they do business? You need to be able to trust in their expertise, as well as their process. Otherwise, you and the agency will become frustrated and you won’t meet the goals you set out to achieve.
At Right Source, we have an “ideal client checklist” that we use to vet clients to make sure they are a fit for our company. This checklist includes items such as client revenue, industry, and budget, but more importantly, it includes the “softer” items that can make or break a relationship. Is the relationship going to be a partnership? Or will the client treat us as a vendor? Will the client treat our employees with respect for their knowledge, time, and effort? Create a checklist for your search, but understand that very few engagements will check all the boxes. Just be sure to pick a healthcare marketing agency that checks most of them.
What Do They Do Best?
At the end of the day, you’re investing in a partnership with a team of talented experts in healthcare content marketing. You need to be sure that that’s what you’re getting. Take a very close look at the clients and work that your prospective agencies can share with you. If they’re doing work for clients that have nothing to do with your industry, or with content marketing, you risk paying for talent and experience that you don’t need. In short, you risk hiring an agency that’s better at something else.
Look for a healthcare marketing agency that can demonstrate success in content marketing, preferably with clients that require some of the same expertise you need. Those clients don’t necessarily have to be in the same business. Healthcare and technology encompass a vast array of businesses. But look for work that is similar in voice, tone, language, and focus. Look for an ability to translate technical and complicated concepts into stories that resonate with real human audiences. Look for the kinds of tactics you look for in a content marketer, such as repurposing content, keyword analysis, sophisticated reporting, and well-sourced thought leadership articles.
What do their references say?
Ask your prospective healthcare marketing agency for references. Specify that you’re interested in hearing from clients who have similar goals to yours. You should ask pointed questions, so that the responses are telling and meaningful to your decision-making process.
Are they a trusted partner, not just a vendor?
Is the agency responsive to your needs?
Have they delivered on all the promises they made in the courting stage?
Is their team performing at the level you hoped?
Do you feel like you’re getting ongoing value out of the relationship?
Is the agency continuously helping your business grow with new ideas?
A great agency can become a long-term driver of growth and achievement for your team. But a poor fit can be a waste of time and money. As with any new employee, you need to carefully vet those agencies that want the role. You’ll find that some may be familiar with healthcare marketing, but lack content marketing experience. Others may have amazing designers and brand strategists on board, but don’t have healthcare industry knowledge. Still others may be great at healthcare content marketing, but don’t fit your culture and workflows. Make sure you know which is which, and dig into your vetting process until you can be confident that you’ve found the marketing services partner that will boost your team’s success, potentially for years to come.
If you’re considering an outsourced healthcare marketing agency and want to see how we stack up, contact us to see if we’re a good extension of your team.