Procurement is crucial to the success of every healthcare organization. This has been the case since at least the 1990s—when it was first developed by companies in-house, as a distinct discipline—but the need for procurement is felt more acutely today than ever before.
Even as pharmaceutical providers seek to meet the demands of a multipolar world and rise to the challenge of an accelerating, digitized business climate, they must value the trust that their customers, clients, employees, shareholders, and decision makers place in them. As important as—or perhaps more important than—ensuring ongoing cost savings and nimble contracting are the concrete steps organizations take to monitor their impact on ecology, guarantee sustainable & fair labor practices in their supply chain, and respect the diversity, equity, and inclusion of the individuals they serve.
This task is great enough when procuring physical services and raw materials whose relationship to the organization’s values can be more or less reliably quantified. But it is made still greater when the value that their partners provide is less tangible, as in the case of media, marketing, and communications. This is neither because the intangibles are any less crucial to holistic success nor because the supplier or procurement teams are any less diligent. Rather, it is because the demands of modern healthcare marketing & communications make it difficult to know how to evaluate, or choose, the right partners.
To put a fine point on it, in a recent survey of executives, the World Federation of Advertisers (WFA) found that 92% of respondents felt that the way marketing procurement is perceived by their organizations could be improved. Separate research from the Harvard Business Review (HBR) found that exactly the same ratio of respondents—92%—felt that their supplier & procurement processes did not live up to the best practices set by the modern business climate. Both reports are wonderfully in-depth, in their own right. Taken together, they point to a single, overarching conclusion.
Organizations need to expand their understanding of value well beyond cost savings.
We’ve all heard that mantra a lot, perhaps so often, in so many different ways, that we still find ourselves asking the natural, follow up question. What does true value—bottom-up, diversified, holistic value—really look like? To return briefly to the WFA report, Jose Gonzalo Bisquerra Mora, VP of Marketing & Sales, Global Procurement at GSK, sums it up thusly.
“The word ‘sourcing’ is directly associated with buying or procuring a solution, and in an industry where Talent and Growth are everyday key words, I would like us to challenge ourselves and explore moving the conversation from ‘sourcing’ marketing services to ‘resourcing’ an end-to-end ecosystem of Talent for our account, incentivised to drive the Growth of our business.”
Interpreting Jose’s insight, our very own Greater Than One (GTO) Group Strategy team concludes that there are three key elements healthcare organizations need to respect when procuring agencies and marketers for their needs in the here and now: service, innovation, and value.
For a more in-depth understanding at how our team arrived at those needs, you can email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. For an explanation of the impact that service, innovation, and value have on the supplier procurement process, you can continue to read on.
Marketing & communications agencies serve their healthcare clients best by becoming autonomous extensions of the organization’s internal marketing teams. The “extension” point is one we’re probably more familiar with, as we already rightly value firms that flawlessly execute campaigns from financials to quality assurance, engage in flexible, responsive planning, and protect the brand that they are marketing through extensive image and safety protocols. The “autonomous” part may need a bit more unpacking.
Essentially, companies should understand that agencies are not simply vendors. They are co-equal experts in advertising devices, treatments, and therapies.
To see this clearly, we need only consider the normal course of collaboration. Upon handing off a brand, a healthcare company will activate the expertise of research teams who have spent months and years developing the treatments being marketed. These experts will upload that info—and its distilled insights—to science and marketing leads at the agency. These leads will be experts in their own right, and will possess serious knowledge on disease states as varied as sleep and oncology. Of course, for any single area, none of the agency experts will have the full, soup-to-nuts physical knowledge that the healthcare researchers do. But this is by design and, moreover, a feature of the collaboration that empowers the two groups to come together as something greater than the sum of their parts.
This is because the expertise of a truly valuable marketing agency does not derive from the same knowledge and experience set as its healthcare partner does. Rather, it lies in a less tangible domain.
Specifically, marketing agencies are masters of pathos, purpose, and symbolic communication. They know how to take a brand—any brand—distill it down to its single, core idea, and present that idea in a way that compels people to see its value.
This is no small feat. In an accelerating world driven by digitization, customization, and consumerization, the language that various individuals use to talk about why they care changes rapidly. The right words, the right images, the right brand. These need to be advertised far enough in advance to get client approval, even though nobody really knows what trend will become a phenomenon one… two… three months down the road. Marketing & communications agencies have to constantly predict what people will hear, and how they will feel about it, and they need to do that while respecting a diverse array of viewpoints, experiences, and perspectives. And, the cost for getting it wrong is as high as the bar they need to clear.
Judged in this light, it becomes easier to understand that the agencies which best serve their partners are the ones who hone expertise in people and brands. They are the doers staffed across all teams by senior leaders, leaders who maintain tenured relationships with external stakeholders, own experience growing brands at all lifecycle stages, and work better, together. They are diverse—as research has borne out time and again for top performers in all business categories—and they have employees who leverage their own backgrounds to pressure test all messaging, from all angles, in real time. They trust themselves to commit to a course of action which can be adjusted or corrected as new information demands, and they trust one another because they know that every action their firm takes ladders up to a single, unified ethos.
If that sounds like an impossibly tall ask, consider GTO Group. We are an independently held, women- and LGBTQIA-owned agency of record (AOR) that build our unique integration of data, content, media, and technology into everything we do.
If you ever want to set up a time to talk about how an agency—any agency—can work in service to your holistic goals, feel free to email us at email@example.com. In the meantime, you can read on to understand how innovation can play a role in your supplier & procurement decisions.
Marketing & communications agencies innovate best when they operate with a fully contextual brand-first approach. By “fully contextual,” we mean that every individual piece of the ecosystem which an agency plans to activate for a partner will be put to the same question. How does this build the business?
The discussions around that question—and the conscious decisions that they inform—grant an agency the ability to update its practices so as to better deliver on its core goals from the get go. And that, after all, is innovation in practice.
We’ve seen the effects of these customer-first approaches already. Over the last 20 years the industry has moved towards an integrated group model, where each agency in a group has a specialty, and each department within the agency harmonizes to a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts. Discrete siloing of Search, Media, Analytics, Copy, Art, and Finance has given way to a process where each team collaborates with every other—precisely because experience has shown that this is the way to deliver the most inspired solutions to audience members and partners.
As Jennifer McLachlan, Director of Brand Building Purchases at P&G, explains in the WFA survey, it is only natural to extend this collaboration back to the healthcare company, and its procurement teams.
“Where businesses share common agendas, we can leverage our ability to see across to develop common platforms or scaled solutions that meet the greater good, while not diluting the benefits at a brand or category level.”
This kind of thinking hasn’t been around quite long enough for there to be granular data on its effects. But, from what we have seen firsthand, the prospects it brings to innovation promise to be industry-changing. When a pharmaceutical client collaborates with an agency to the point where they implicitly trust their vision, the agency gains the freedom and confidence to take small, but powerful, risks.
Repurposing solutions purpose-built for Partner X in a way that respects the individual needs of a brand for Partner Y. Debuting unique planning and measurement tools for key performance indicators (KPIs) that have never needed to be tracked. Integrating reports and optimization guidelines to provide true cross-channel insights and having the humility needed to collaborate with other agencies who bring complementary value to the clients and their brands. Then, tying it all together with content that pushes the envelope just enough to wow its audience and win awards.
Again, we have experience with that here at GTO Group. Our senior leaders have all been in healthcare marketing & communications for over 20 years, and routinely participate as thought leaders in publications and technology panels like Crownpeak. We were the digital natives who launched the very first branded pharma initiative on social media—ever, globally—and we are honored to be in contention for 2021’s crop of MM+M awards.
So, please, feel free to set up a time to chat with us about all things innovation by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. Then, read on to get the scoop on value.
Value means so much more than getting the most bang for your buck.
We’ll repeat that because it’s worth repeating. Real value is worth so much more than saving money. Real value means partnering with a firm that has values, and ensures that every action they take aligns with the values of the brands entrusted to their care. Real value means exponentially extending the impact of paid and organic media with publisher relationships that can catapult earned content to the stratosphere, while providing not only AOR and digital AOR services, but also first right of refusal (FROR) services, process enhancements, and first look access to all the raw data used to inform strategy decisions.
Choosing the right agency, with the right values, can mean successfully launching a first-in-class therapy during a once-in-a-generation pandemic, through campaigns designed, tested, and published entirely remotely. Other choices could mean a flop.
Compounding the problem, it is notoriously difficult to know which signs a healthcare company can point to, when trying to figure out whether its prospective partners will go the extra mile in extraordinary circumstances—or even add value by being self-critical, empathetic, and upbeat in more normal circumstances, such as weekly check-in calls or medical-legal reviews (MLRs). And this puts tremendous pressure on procurement & supplier teams.
In our experience, there are some tells that organizations can track. When looking for your partner, of any size, pay particular attention to the firms that take the time to explain their mission, vision, and values, with extra credit given to the ones who enthusiastically describe how each of their business decisions and teams support something greater than themselves.
As a follow-up, feel free to ask about the things an agency does really well, and give them the space to acknowledge areas they are actively trying to grow into. For any prospective partnership, try to discuss both the facts and figures that will drive the contract and the poignant topics that can elucidate something more lasting—if less directly tangible—about the marketers you want to do business with.
Of course, every business should obsess just a bit over its numbers, so the way that an agency owns their knowledge can tell you a lot about their values. If they routinely add ~ 10% value to media buys, increase the performance of legacy content and campaigns by ~ 30%, and negotiate rate savings of 15-20%, then they could be a good candidate for a second-round pitch. If they do all of that, proudly, without charging additional planning fees and while pushing themselves to do better in the future, that would be even greater.
If that seems like a lot, take heart in the fact that the end goal is really pretty simple. You’re looking for a well-managed agency who has performed well in the past, and has plans to perform even better in the future. Another half to your internal marketing teams, who brings a complementary skill set, a compatible mission, and a fantastically diverse, inclusive, and equitable set of perspectives to top-level enterprise discussions. Luis Di Como, EVP of Global Media at Unilever, contextualizes it like so.
“Unlocking growth that is responsible, profitable, consistent, and competitive, must become the number one metric going forward to drive the right behaviors across our marketing ecosystem and have all aligned behind a common goal. It’s imperative we focus jointly on the purpose of what marketing is meant to drive, and jointly unlock value and growth. This should not just be the goal but also the mission and purpose of marketing procurement teams of the future.”
At the end of the day, if you still want to talk about your marketing & procurement goals, GTO Group is here to help. We are part of a full-suite agency that gets probably a little bit too excited about philosophically grounded, values-based discussions, wherever they end up going. We are happy to walk anyone through the processes that we consider to be better practice and are proud of bottom-line performance which—to cite a personal best we are now excited to top—saved one recent client $1.45M while boosting campaign performance by 52%.
And, yes, those numbers can be better. Believe it.
If that sounds like something you would like to hear more about, please email our strategy group directly at email@example.com. If you want to start a conversation about any of these topics, we are happy to jump on any email, phone, or social media channels that you can procure & supply.
All in all, thank you for reading. We hope you enjoyed this first article in our Procurement Plus Series. Please stay tuned for our in-depth look at the nuances of Cost Savings and more.