Starting a Marketing Department from Scratch
“Great news!” said the young woman who called me after attending one of my marketing workshops. With a background in graphic design, she was responsible for advertising, special events, and employee communications for a group of physicians in a multi-specialty medical practice. “My boss agreed to start a formal marketing function, and he wants me to head it up,” she explained. “Help!”
Where to begin
I shared her excitement, enthusiasm, and even a bit of panic. “First, take a deep breath,” I advised her. “Now, tell me about your company’s most pressing marketing needs.” We discussed these to start to prioritize them and get a realistic perspective of what could be achieved given her status as a one-person marketing department.
Beyond Marketing 101
Since there are plenty of books available on how-to-do marketing and how-to-write-a-marketing-plan, her concern was really how to be effective in developing a formal marketing function that would be accepted and respected within the group practice. My advice centered on four areas.
- Focus. Prepare to discuss the practice’s critical marketing needs with key internal stakeholders – in this case, physicians and administrators. Then get their agreement on selecting no more than three priorities that will receive most of marketing’s attention.
- Build Relationships. Cultivate and nurture relationships with marketing-related providers – printers, media reps, research suppliers, promotional sales reps, web designers, direct mail firms, etc. At the same time, develop and maintain relationships with marketing partners inside the practice. Educate and communicate with physicians, nursing staff, and administrators so they know and understand what marketing is doing and why (i.e., explain the rationale and goals of marketing’s strategy), including how individually and collectively they impact the brand based on their interactions with patients, families, hospitals, and the community-at-large.
- Manage Expectations Carefully. Once people within the practice know about the marketing department, everyone will have a laundry list of things they want marketing to do for them. So it’s important to manage organizational expectations of marketing – its goals, capabilities, limited resources, deadlines, etc. – upward (among management) as well as laterally (between and within the practice specialties). Stay focused on marketing’s top priorities [see Focus above] to keep from being overwhelmed with marketing requests.
- Make Time for Professional Development. It’s not easy to do it all as a one-person marketing department. Which is why it’s even more important to continue learning how to be a better marketer. Some of this knowledge can be gained by investing in formal development – taking classes, webinars, reading, etc. And some of it can be obtained via networking with other professionals in the field. Try to learn how they manage their marketing functions and how they handle marketing challenges, including being creative with limited resources. This networking can be invaluable for sharing ideas and coping strategies with other marketers and using them as sounding-boards. Whether over the phone, over a meal, over coffee or a more potent beverage, it’s also helpful to know that others have survived similar challenges.
Special Note: This advice is applicable to other organizations. Identify the internal and external stakeholders who are important to your organization and insert them to replace the physicians, administrators and other segments mentioned above.
Good advice, Sybil! Focus is especially important. Without focusing on agreed upon priorities, she risks getting stretched too far and not being able to deliver meaningful deliverables.