The COVID-19 pandemic and the economic downturn that accompanied it has drained the profitability out of businesses across a wide range of sectors. So it only makes sense that healthcare marketing agencies serving these companies would also feel this pain. Yet whenever we’re asked about the impact of on our business, many people are surprised by the response that we’re busier than ever. In fact, advertising agencies are being tasked with so many mission-critical communications in the face of this pandemic. Of course, this includes working on direct COVID-19 communications foundational to patient education about the virus itself. But we’re also working to help companies position themselves successfully to address the “new normal” of healthcare.

No matter what the product or service, the global pandemic is changing every healthcare organization’s clinical and operational business objectives. This new climate also directly influences how people make decisions about any type of investment, from a consumer shopping for individual health insurance to a health plan VP assessing new health IT systems. For example, more people are working from home, and are less likely to want in-person sales interactions. They are also overloaded with digital—and COVID-19—messaging. Given this fact, it’s especially crucial to be relevant, targeted and timely right now. Finally, with so much economic pain being felt by individuals and businesses, budgets are shrinking (or will in 2021) and big purchases are going to face more scrutiny than ever before. This all means healthcare marketers, and their healthcare marketing agencies, are having to rethink how, what and how often we communicate to these potential buyers.

We’ve certainly had firsthand experience with these challenges at Activate Health. With the exception of a few companies rolling out branding initiatives planned prior to the pandemic, everything we touch seems to be related to COVID-19 in one sense or another right now. We’ve worked on webinars promoting home infusion (a safer alternative to infusion clinics during the pandemic), white papers on the growth of automated patient notifications (used to reschedule visits, disseminate test results and for new check-in processes) and benchmark reports that showcase how the new care environment has impacted health plans and their members.

Of course, this outreach has also become more difficult than ever before, as many companies don’t realize the challenges faced by marketers (and healthcare marketing agencies) looking to develop accurate, timely and impactful messaging. Making content relevant in the face of a virus not yet well-understood by scientists and clinicians, while reviewing the thousands of preprints and clinical studies published daily, is no small task. However, there are lessons we’ve gleaned in working on a wide variety of COVID-19 marketing pieces that can help clients get the very best work from their in-house marketing teams, or their healthcare marketing agencies, during this difficult time.

Set realistic goals for content longevity.
Just like the industry environment, COVID-19 communications must be dynamic and adaptive to new information as it becomes available. While it was once possible to develop messaging that maintained its accuracy and relevance for months or even years, this isn’t practical or effective as new insights are constantly emerging about how to diagnose, manage and treat this virus. So if you want your content to be as current as possible—plan on updating it accordingly.

Undertake a research-first approach.
Understanding the emerging clinical data around something as complicated as COVID-19 is difficult for even the savviest marketers. Too many healthcare marketing agencies consider “research” to be a secondary consideration that often takes the form of client calls and a quick Google search. That’s why it’s important to have an experienced healthcare writing and research team leading the charge for any new deliverable, whether it’s a white paper targeting health plans or a patient education campaign.

Make it a true partnership.
Clients willing to work closely and collaboratively with their healthcare marketing agencies will find it’s easier to overcome these hurdles because they are in lock step with the firm on everything from business objectives to branding considerations. If you’re having marketing strategy sessions without your agency, you may want to consider whether they are a true strategic partner, or just taking orders and delivering tactics. During a time as challenging as COVID-19, understanding where your business is headed and what hurdles you’re facing is something your agency needs to know. (And if they aren’t asking you about these issues, it may be time to consider finding a new partner.)

If you’re interested in learning more, contact us today.