Mastering the Chaos of Healthcare Marketing

wildfire out of control

Remember when you began your career as a healthcare marketer? You signed on to handle communications, advertising, and/or public relations to achieve the organizational goals and objectives. You probably never imagined the COVID-19 pandemic that rocked healthcare communications in 2020. And now several years later, you may even feel like you’ve added few notches to your strategy belt and are better prepared for future challenges. What you may not have realized, was that you were also signing up for the position of part time firefighter. Regardless of the size of your organization, the department you fall in  or your assigned duties, you inevitably spend a great portion of your time putting out fires.

What is firefighter marketing?

Firefighter marketing is all of the things that pop up unplanned, pull you away from what really matters and cause chaos for you and your department. The cost of firefighter marketing adds up quickly and can affect you both inside and outside of the workplace. Think of a fire you’ve fought recently: how much time did it take for you to overcome? More importantly, what should you have been doing instead?

With the frequency of emergency requests increasing, it becomes harder and harder to make time for the work you need to drive your organizational objectives and to achieve your goals. Whether you’re a coordinator, manager or a VP, we are all firefighter marketers, and we all need to know how to combat this in order to succeed in our roles. Carving out time to prioritize your strategic process will enable you to prevent many of these fires by getting in front of them.

Remember, your role as a marketing leader is to build brand awareness, improve engagement, enhance reputation and drive growth.

Your plan of attack

It’s imperative to spend time annually thinking about what you want to accomplish in these four key areas. (Pro Tip: If you’re currently well into your year, don’t feel like you must wait until the next year rolls around. You can easily leverage this concept any time of the year to recalibrate where you are, and where you need to go, to meet your goals.) Invite your department to join a brainstorming exercise to determine what you can do over the next 12 months, or remainder of your fiscal year, to grow and impact your organization as a whole. Jot down initiatives and ideas that will help clearly message who you are and what you do.

Discuss ways to drive your brand awareness in the community, perhaps through a rebrand, website enhancements, complete integrated campaigns or a new round of collateral for the overall organization or service line. Internal engagement is a critical piece of your role and will help you down the road when presented with these fires. Use this as an opportunity to develop new ways to drive engagement with employees, physicians and even the community through recognition, rewards, communications and events. Develop a plan complete with proactive ways to deal with the media, social media, listings, etc. Get ahead of the conversation by planning “Ask a Doctor” events, lecture series and proactively managing your organization and physician reputation. Lastly, establish your primary growth areas and spend time strategically carving out ways to drive prospective patients to take action.

Take these topics and ideas you’ve jotted down and work through prioritizing them on a simple grid, visually categorizing topics to degree of difficulty (difficult to easy) and to priority (low to high).


Starting with high priority and easy to execute topics, begin to craft your plan for the year. Your greatest challenge comes from evaluating your topics in the high priority and difficult to execute box. Be objective in deciding what ideas will actually move the needle and drive the greatest impact on your organization. Continue to work through your lower priority boxes and begin mapping out your plan in an annual GANTT chart with categories for brand, engagement, reputation, and growth. (Don’t discard ideas that can’t be executed this year, they may be relevant when planning next year or you may have budgets open up when you least expect it.)

Develop a shared plan complete with timing and assignments and use it to gain buy in from your leadership team.

The 10% Secret

In order to truly reduce the number of fires you’re fighting, you need to spend 10% of your time focused on the critical pieces of your plan. One way to approach this is to manage your planning in buckets.


Develop your plan, review analytics and priorities. Partner with leadership, set goals and assign responsibility.


Re-evaluate your plan, re-prioritize if necessary and add in any new initiatives that keep the ball rolling toward your original plan. Utilize this time to also identify areas that aren’t on target with your plan and to develop a strategy to get them back on track.


Look back on your own successes. This is important and we get it—you're caught up in the chaos and it can be very difficult to toot your own horn and look at your work and accomplishments objectively. But it will truly benefit you in the long run to take a few minutes to measure each month. Additionally, look at the month ahead and actually schedule time in your calendar to tackle what you need.


Look at your monthly plan and evaluate where you are trending in achieving your monthly and quarterly goals. Review your meeting schedule to determine and eliminate any that are overlapping others or unnecessary and carve out time to prepare work that needs to be completed this week. If you have staff, schedule weekly check ins to keep track of their progress as well.


Check your schedule, create a list of the top three things you need to accomplish today and keep these three items top of mind and focus on completing them today.


Driving a value-driven plan day-to-day—that's aligned with your organization's objectives—will keep the fires at bay and the heat out of your department. This is the only surefire way to create marketing that will make its biggest impact.

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