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5 Things to Look for When Hiring a Digital Agency

November 26, 2014
Advertising, Healthcare Marketing, Outsourcing

It’s not that hard to choose a standout digital marketing agency. First of all, there are very few who specialize in marketing for healthcare systems and hospitals. It’s like picking the love of your life. You want someone with intelligence, passion and integrity. You want someone who will work hard at the relationship and be more to you than you ever dreamed possible when you gave them your heart. How hard is that? It’s not, and you can stop saying to yourself that I am a romantic. I’m so not.

An advertising agency is made up of a bunch of people. In the good ones, they are like a family. Forget your preconceived, culture-driven notions of what an agency is. It’s the people that matter. Here’s what to look for.

People who are multi-talented hybrids, not aficionados. Digital marketing is more than paid media. That’s sometimes news to our new healthcare clients. Digital is equal parts research, investigation, counseling, coaching, strategy, innovation, technology, science, entertainment, creativity, analysis, relationship management, and patient-centric-findable-scannable-shareable-helpful content development…and sometimes rest. But not really. You want an agency who won’t struggle with one piece of the equation. Have you seen Gartner’s Digital Marketing Landscape map? That’s what we do.

People who understand that your website is not the center of your patients’ universe. Your website is your digital brand centerpiece. But it is only one touch point in an ongoing educational and inspirational process. Smart newlyweds get that idea. They know that it’s more important to focus on planning your marriage instead of your wedding. Likewise, launching your website is an important milestone as your chief digital marketing tool, but it’s only as good as the content you have in it. Delivering patient-centric, evergreen content that lies along each path in your patients’ digital journey is crucial. A good digital agency will push you to segment your audience, create personas, develop content engagement plans across a variety of website and social channels, and guide you toward new operational workflows to balance resources across your internal marketing team and agency staff. It’s a team effort. If your agency isn’t asking you a bunch of questions you can’t answer, you don’t need them.

People who are focused on looks. Don’t judge me that way, of course. We’re talking about you. Your digital agency understands the importance of great design ― not exclusive of content, function and performance ― but the way your digital properties look, and the design expertise that went into creating an optimal user experience, communicates a world of information to prospective patients about how modern, sophisticated, innovative and effective your hospital is. That’s right. When dealing with companies, people connect good design with intelligence and ability. In terms of hospital marketing, that’s integral to establishing brand trust, which in turn is crucial to driving volume. Not convinced? Think Apple, Intel and BMW. Design matters. It matters much more to your hospital brand than you realize. Don’t think of your website, microsite, landing page as a place to dump content. Understand that your website is your brand centerpiece, accessible 24/7 to everyone in your market and around the world, and it’s always transmitting information about you and your brand value. Visual stimuli is the way we’re hardwired. We all make little, visual design decisions as part of every day life: what to wear as we get dressed for work, what color to paint the walls at home, how to style your hair, when it’s time to wash your car. Patients will form an impression about your hospital and what it’s like in less than a second. Pick an agency who can make you look good and can put all the beauty of your clinical and caring excellence on display.

People who are comfortable moving ahead with limited direction. You don’t want a lot of hand holding in your new agency relationship. You want a grownup. Someone who knows what they are doing, possesses deep insights into what makes your market tick and what will ultimately please you and your boss. Really, you want an agency who can make smart decisions when you provide them with little to go on. Isn’t that right? Shouldn’t the burden of work be on the agency you are paying to grow volume? You aren’t shopping for an agency who can tell the future, but you should expect them to be able to assemble and execute a fully integrated marketing plan that builds synergies between traditional advertising and digital marketing. If they can’t, or if they don’t have proven expertise bridging both sides of the house, you need to look elsewhere. You want an agency comfortable telling you what you have to do to go from Point A to Point B, and how to get there. We ask our clients a lot of questions. To be honest, most of the time they don’t know the answers. You are paying for answers, for solutions to real business problems, and your digital agency has to be skilled at mapping digital strategies to meet your goals.

People who offer unique, varied perspectives gained by real-world experience. Look for an agency with people who have non-agency experience. Trust me on this. Years spent toiling on the client side will give your agency partner a far better appreciation for what life is like for you day to day. People with extensive agency experience learn flexibility and how to handle being in a pressure cooker. People with client side experience can offer goal setting assistance, operational insights and process management skills. An agency with a team of people who have varied experiences brings a kind of multilingualism that enables them to see problems from others’ perspectives and find creative solutions.

I used to work for Intel as a Creative Strategist serving their Global Web Marketing Operations team. It was my job to develop and deliver digital marketing solutions for B2C and B2B audiences worldwide that would advance the $34 billion Intel brand. I loved that place. I still do. What an amazing company. Everyone was super professional, even-tempered and passionate about their work. There were no slackers. The hours were long. The work load was incredible. The workflow was perfect. I sometimes slept on my office floor, not because they asked me to but because I cared. Every year they gave me a new job with expanded responsibilities. There was no time to rest on my laurels. There were new sides of the business to learn and new goals to achieve all the time.

In my time at Intel, one of the greatest lessons I learned was the real business value of assembling a team with diverse backgrounds. We came from both sides of the track ― I never knew there so many sides ― and hailed from countries all over the world with disparate upbringings, education, languages, worldviews and social opportunities. Our brains all worked differently. Different things inspired each of us. Watching the different ways my co-workers would go about tackling a marketing problem was so much fun. I learned a lot from them. You will learn a lot from BPD.

Porter Huddleston

At the time of this post, Porter was the Digital Creative Director at Brown Parker & DeMarinis Advertising. He is an award-winning Creative Strategist whose career includes stints at Intel and Wieden & Kennedy, as well as literary editorial work for author Markus Tav’s El On Earth series.