Spring is in the air. That means the 6th annual Healthcare and IT Marketing Conference (HITMC) is just around the corner! From April 17-19, hundreds of healthcare B2B and B2C marketing and PR professionals will converge in Boston, Mass., to enjoy presentations, networking, keynotes, and the ever-popular “unconference” sessions.
This year, MERGE Atlanta’s own Natalie Joslin will join Solutionreach’s Lea Chatham to present, “From Vendor to Partner: Strategies to Build Strong, Successful Client/Agency Relationships.” From their perspectives as Senior Account Manager and Director of Content Marketing, Joslin and Chatham hope to share some of the lessons they’ve learned while cultivating their own successful working partnership.
Here’s a brief Q&A to preview the session, along with a few thoughts from conference host John Lynn:
MERGE Atlanta: Why is it important for healthcare marketing, PR and communication professionals to attend HITMC 2019?
John: It’s difficult to describe what makes the HITMC community and conference unique. Once you attend, however, you see that it’s clearly an exceptional community of people who truly care about each other. The value of coming together with hundreds of your healthcare marketing peers in an environment where everyone wants to help each other succeed is an irreplaceable experience.
MERGE Atlanta: What would you like attendees to know about HITMC 2019 before they arrive?
John: The big change this year is that we’re going to start conference sessions on Wednesday rather than Thursday. We also have an amazing keynote speaker this year, Dan Heath, who is going to really blow people away. Boston is a great location for the event, with lots of wonderful restaurants and places to go after hours with the community. Plus, it’s right on the waterfront, which will make for a great experience.
MERGE Atlanta: With so many insightful sessions at HITMC 2019, why is “building strong client/agency relationships” a beneficial topic for attendees?
John: The reality for most marketing and PR professionals is that they can’t do everything on their own. They need the support, experience and expertise of outside agencies in order to be successful in their work. Understanding how to build a good client/agency relationship is key to being able to get the most out of your agency investment.
Lea: From my perspective, the more closely you can work together with your agency, the more successful you are. You get into a groove with a partner. You know how to best use each other’s strengths to set—and to reach—your goals.
MERGE Atlanta: Why is it important to try to create real agency/client relationships? What benefits does it bring?
Lea: You’re able to produce more significant results, in my experience. One of the biggest payoffs for us, for example, comes from strategizing together to raise our level of earned media placements. When you work together to achieve a strategic goal, you have more natural conversations—which sets in motion a “cycle of success.”
Natalie: Having a real relationship opens up clear channels of communication and fosters a culture of transparency and trust. You understand each other’s motivations better, which leads to easier conversations—even if they’re hard ones! Time breeds understanding, so that even as business goals change, you achieve better long-term success.
MERGE Atlanta: What happens when the relationship between marketing agency and client is NOT one of true partnership — i.e., it’s just another “vendor” arrangement?
Lea: If my marketing agency were simply another vendor, I think we’d be more reactive and problem-focused. We’d be less fluid and big-picture in our approach.
Natalie: Partners can anticipate each other’s needs better, which lets you elevate from tactics to strategy. Without partnership, you typically end up executing on tactics within a silo. The output just isn’t as strong as it could be.
MERGE Atlanta: What’s the most difficult aspect of developing a partnership relationship—and how do you overcome that challenge?
Lea: It’s a challenge when you’re not working in the same office every day. Really, it’s very similar to when you have employees who work remotely. You can’t stop someone in the hallway and say, “Hey, by the way …” It puts extra onus on everyone to communicate.
Natalie: I agree! Communication and engagement on both sides is the difference between being a vendor and being a strategic partner. But it’s also challenging because we may have varying levels of priority for the same thing. For example, at any given moment my top priority for a client may not be my client’s top priority within the larger context of their work; I need to be able to read the situation and be flexible. Over time, that helps ensure quality and develop trust.
MERGE Atlanta: What do you hope people will learn from attending, “From Vendor to Partner: Strategies to Build Strong, Successful Client/Agency Relationships”?
Lea: I want people to know that it does take work, especially at first, to develop a great relationship. But it pays off! You can certainly do OK with a task-based, check-the-box approach. When you open up the lines of communication, though, that’s when you start building strategic oversight into all you do. That’s what makes your whole program successful.
Natalie: I really hope this session shows people what a true partnership looks like, as well as the impact it can have—not just on work product, but as a personal motivator, too! You know, you can just feel when you’re a partner vs. a vendor. It’s more fun when you’re working with a “collective we” mindset.
MERGE Atlanta: What are you, personally, hoping to do and to learn while you’re at HITMC?
Lea: Network and see my peers in person. This conference is so great because everyone checks their ego and competitive instinct at the door. Plus, the “unconference” sessions—which are basically facilitated open forums—are the coolest thing! It’s wonderful to share successes, failures and ideas.
Natalie: It’s my first year at HITMC, so I’m really looking forward to the comradery. It’s all about relationships, right? Relationship and connection; they’re at the heart of both public relations and healthcare.
MERGE Atlanta: What do you hope this conference will help accomplish for attendees?
John: We’ve asked each speaker to include a list of actionable takeaways in their presentation. What’s great is that we compile all of these slides into a package, so attendees will go home with hundreds of actionable takeaways they can share and implement to get real value from the sessions. That’s powerful! Plus, beyond the learning that happens at the sessions, there’s a wide variety of opportunities to connect and network with peers. Whether it’s the extraordinary breakfasts and lunches, the unique “unconference” sessions, or the fun social events, those who attend the conference will come away with new friends who can help them in their jobs throughout the year.
MERGE Atlanta: What would you say to anyone who’s still sitting on the fence about registering for HITMC 2019?
John: To quote a famous old commercial, “Try it. You’ll like it.” If you don’t believe me, connect with some people on the #HITMC hashtag on Twitter. You’ll learn first-hand what makes HITMC special: the community.
We hope to see you at HITMC in Boston and be sure to stop by our booth!