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VOL. 118 | NO. 75 | Friday, April 30, 2004

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Ad Agencies Find Niche in Health Care

Specialized services help meet needs of evolving industry


The Daily News

Competition and a well-informed audience are among the factors redefining the medical marketing playing field for advertisers, many of whom are tweaking their general approach to marketing to specially target health care businesses.

And with an audience that includes experts such as surgeons and hospital administrators demanding effective marketing solutions, health care organizations are more frequently relying on ad agencies with top-notch medical marketing teams to get their message out.

On the flip side, advertisers are also beginning to capitalize on employees who have experience in medical marketing.

Agency assistance. While some health care organizations handle their own marketing without the help of outside agencies, major campaigns often require temporary assistance, and thats where knowledgeable ad agencies come in, said Kimmie McNeil Vaulx, marketing and community relations manager for Baptist Memorial Health Care Corp.

Vaulx said while her department handles most of Baptists advertising work in-house, it always helps to be able to turn to advertising agencies that are well-versed in medical marketing. Though her department functions like an internal ad agency, Vaulx said she regularly works with Memphis companies such as Red Deluxe Advertising, especially when her department is creating important, specialized campaigns.

What weve found lately is that theres such an increase in marketing of health care information that theres been a rapid evolvement in how that information is put out there, Vaulx said. Thats where agencies come in great for us. They help us make sure were getting our message to the right audience.

The information age. Stinson Liles, a brand strategist with Red Deluxe, said his company is constantly organizing and prioritizing to make sure its work is simple and compelling. Red Deluxe has local and national clients, but Baptist is the companys sole health care client, he said.

People are more informed than ever, Liles said of current trends in health care marketing. On the positive side, that means they are by and large more active in their own health care.

Health care organizations such as the Semmes-Murphy Clinic, on the other hand, often rely on traditional marketing avenues, such as the Yellow Pages or local news media.

Debbie Kendrick, Semmes-Murphy human resources manager, said those marketing efforts are usually overseen in-house.

Improving resources. Vaulx, who said she is unsure to what extent other health care organizations handle their own marketing, added that her department has all the resources to do most everything in-house, but we certainly always keep in mind outside resources.

Those resources could include specialized firms such as the recently launched SigMD, a medical marketing division of Memphis-based Signature Advertising. The new division is the brainchild of Signature Advertising owners Mark Henry and Charles Marshall.

Over the last two years, the pair of executives assembled a five-person team to launch SigMD with the intent of meeting the increasing advertising needs of health care organizations like Vaulxs.

SigMD team leader Tom Lannan said the team also will serve a segment of the medical marketplace that includes medical device manufacturers, pharmaceutical firms and medical care providers.

Targeted experience. Lannan said there is a perception that the medical field is underserved by qualified communications professionals, a perception that led to the development of SigMD. He said the new divisions team includes marketing professionals with a wide range of experience.

SigMD is staffed by marketing professionals with extensive backgrounds in working with regional and national health care clients, said Les Dewey, SigMD senior medical writer. Our experience includes product launches, meeting planning, advertising, public relations, consumer research and consumer marketing.

Lannan said SigMD team members will work closely with one another on marketing initiatives, and with Signature Advertisings information technology, production and account services departments for implementation of those initiatives.

An evolving niche. Lannan said the bottom line is that companies must come to the understanding that the changing nature of medical marketing demands that experienced professionals be in place to provide needed services.

For Liles, though, the changing marketplace comes in response to a trend in medical marketing he dubbed a health care information overload. What he referred to as the cluttered health care climate has made medical marketing even more important in the realm of health care communications.

The recent explosion of health information available to individuals through the Internet, through pharmaceutical advertising has contributed to a general feeling of confusion, Liles said.

To combat that confusion, he said, medical advertising should both catch the viewers attention and make an important and simple point, whether health care groups do the work themselves or depend on others to get the message out.


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