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Breaking The Healthcare Marketing Mold To Drive Transformation

August 27, 2018
Posted by Jedd Davis

When it comes to healthcare, the traditional media model doesn’t work. At Publicis Health Media, we’ve created one that does.

Three folks in a room, trying to figure out how to make the traditional media model work in healthcare. That’s where we at Publicis Health Media (PHM) started: trying and failing to deliver high-impact campaigns with the wrong tools.

What we would soon realize is that for a long time, the traditional media toolkit simply hadn’t worked. That’s because this combination of garbage inputs, syndicated data, proxy metrics, and spray-and-pray methodologies was designed for other verticals and aimed at boosting peripheral KPIs.

We founded PHM to deliver the only thing that matters in healthcare: outcomes. Unfortunately, the traditional tools available to us weren’t sufficient for getting the job done. So we set out to create new ones.

We’ve spent the last six years designing a media infrastructure that delivers meaningful results for healthcare brands and better experiences for their audiences. Using real, 1:1, outcomes-based approaches, we’ve driven transformation across the healthcare landscape. Structured around four “P’s” — POV, Platform, Partnerships, and People — our healthcare-specific agency model positions us at the forefront of one of the most exciting marketing revolutions in recent memory.

POV: A Healthcare-Specific Approach

Our belief that healthcare marketing is fundamentally different from other consumer-facing marketing is the cornerstone of the PHM model. So many patients feel inadequately understood precisely because most healthcare companies market to them as if they were marketing toothpaste or breakfast cereal.

But everyone brushes their teeth. Everyone eats breakfast. Not everyone has Thymic Carcinoma, and not everyone has the potential of being diagnosed. When you implement mass marketing strategies in consumer packaged goods (CPG), you’re always on target because nearly everyone’s in play. In healthcare, effectively reaching in-play audiences with the right messages at the right moments requires a degree of granularity the traditional media model was never built to provide.

For healthcare companies, a consumer is only truly in play if they have the specific health condition that the company’s product or therapy is designed to treat. You can’t convince someone to contract a disease the way you’d convince a consumer to try a new toothpaste.

Despite this unique challenge, the high quality of data the industry produces offers a uniquely well-defined (if narrow) path toward effective targeting. Data gleaned from sources like claims and prescription records is exponentially richer — and exponentially cleaner — than data ingested from syndicated sources like comScore or GfK MRI. Companies in the healthcare space have access to data assets that no other vertical does. Before PHM’s founding in 2012, no one knew how to use it.

The traditional media agency model has always been ill-suited to the idiosyncrasies of healthcare. PHM was just the first player willing to try something new: a carefully-crafted approach to marketing, which is why we hired health data experts — not media experts — to build the foundation of our Business Intelligence team at the heart of our agency.

Platform: Evaluating Success Using Outcomes-Based Metrics

The most salient example of PHM’s innovative streak is the way in which we leverage data. While most media agencies in the digital age use data to inform their decision-making, our focus on driving real, measurable outcomes sets our analytics platform apart.

Traditional agencies tend to optimize for top-of-the-funnel metrics like click-through rates, impressions, or ad reach. It’s effective enough in CPG, where garnering hundreds of thousands of click-throughs goes a long way toward driving conversions, but it’s insufficient in the healthcare space.

In healthcare marketing, success pivots on outcomes. Whether it’s visiting a healthcare provider (HCP), or (re)filling a prescription, healthcare companies’ primary goal is to get patients to do more than just click — they need to take specific, real-world actions.

Tracking — to say nothing of driving — such specific behaviors is all but impossible with syndicated datasets alone. Audience segments assembled strictly from syndicated data might reveal that a large number of individuals who have type 2 diabetes regularly watch the same television program. The manufacturer of a leading diabetes drug might consider this information and decide that running an ad during the program’s weekly airtime is its best course of action.

As intuitive as this investment may seem, its effectiveness would be difficult to predict without a great deal of additional information. The vast majority of the highlighted audience might have recently switched to a new therapy, meaning their interest in making another switch would be marginal at best. Alternatively, much of the audience might have been treating their diabetes with the same drug for decades and have little interest in making a change so late in life. In short, analyses of syndicated data can give companies a vague idea of who they should be speaking to, but they can’t circumscribe an in-play audience with any amount of precision. And they can’t define where their audiences are in their healthcare journeys, when they should be speaking to them, or what message they should be sending.

This is where healthcare-specific datasets become invaluable. At PHM, we weave together  syndicated data with extensive claims data, and behavioural data from search and SEO, which gives us a clearer picture of not only who’s in play, but (cue the baseball reference) which base they’re on. The ability to rapidly mine data exhaust from in-market campaigns enables us to continuously optimize and refine our platform. We’re serving ads against moments to generate meaningful connections between our clients and their customers.

Stitching these diverse datasets into a unified “data story” is a monumental challenge, but it affords us the targeting precision we need to deliver outcomes-based results. In the healthcare world, investing in a modest number of expensive banner ads that drive 20 percent of people who click through to actually visit an HCP is usually preferable to investing in hundreds or thousands of cheap banner ads that drive only 1 percent of people who click through to actually visit.

At the end of the day, healthcare marketing is a business of driving action from generally smaller, in-play audiences, not maximizing reach to millions of potential category buyers. This is only possible with a forward-thinking, healthcare-specific data analytics platform like PHM’s.

Partnerships: Bringing Our Insights to the Media Marketplace

If our unique perspective on the healthcare industry and our innovative analytics platform constitute the underlying mechanics of our agency, it’s our distinctive partnerships that spark the transformation-driving machine that is PHM into action.

Our peerless ability to stitch together comprehensive data stories enables us to identify in-play moments with unparalleled precision. That said, identifying a target and reachingthat target are two very different things. Minimizing the gap between these tasks begins with holding media publishers accountable — something PHM is optimally positioned to do.

We sit at the intersection of the world’s premier healthcare group (Publicis Health) and the United States’ largest media buyer. Not only does this give us access to deep reserves of strategic talent and insights on both the healthcare and creative sides of our business; it also gives us an outsized amount of clout for an agency of our size.

Over the last half-decade, we’ve leveraged this clout to build cooperative relationships with the media community that aligns client objectives to our external initiatives – delivering against the most qualified and eligible audiences, rather than scale or CPM. We’re not interested in buying the cheapest impressions for our clients, but the bestimpressions, using our scale and data-driven insights.

People: Injecting a Startup Mindset into a Big-Time Firm

Despite our big-name affiliations, we’ve gone to great lengths to retain PHM’s foundational commitment to entrepreneurialism. Our unique position empowers us to adapt quickly to the shifting marketplace and evolving client needs.  

The profoundly human aspect of our work — helping patients learn about the right treatments at the right time — attracts passionate, energetic individuals to the PHM team, individuals who are always game to tackle the challenges endemic to our industry.

As an agency, our thirst for innovation has inspired us to embrace and develop new roles, org structures, and whichever novel staffing practices we feel will spur our’s and our clients’ forward progress. From our Head of Platform Activation, Ray Rosti, to our Chief Strategy Officer, Andrea Palmer, to our collection of SEO Content Strategists, we’ve assembled a talented team whose cutting-edge work continually places us at the leading edge of our industry.

A Model for the Future of Healthcare Marketing

We’re confident that our singular combination of industry-specific perspective, sophisticated data analytics platform, robust publisher partnerships, and passionate people can help health and wellness companies achieve real transformation with meaningful connections that change patients’ lives.

Marketing pioneer John Wanamaker is rumored to have mused, “Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don’t know which half.” At Publicis Health Media, we’re employing a truly innovative model — one that really works for healthcare — to identify and reduce that wasted half, achieve meaningful outcomes, and deliver more value in the process.


Jedd Davis, Managing Director, Publicis Health Media, has over 20 years of experience working in advertising, media, and digital marketing.

Jedd joined PHM as SVP, Media in 2012, to help launch the new strategic media offering for the PHCG network of agencies. He is responsible for leading PHM’s work in the US.

He has held strategy roles at full service agencies, large media buying and planning agencies, and most recently built and led the strategy and analytics teams at Razorfish / Razorfish Health.  Jedd’s background has given him insights into all aspects of audience behavior, as well as a good understanding of how business and marketing work.

Connect with Jedd on LinkedIn


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