When to try a new healthcare agency or reinvest in the one you have

Jack Health Blog

July 20th, 2021 By Melinda Lindland

Out with the old and in with the new. 

One of my favorite things about client relationships is the shorthand that develops over time. In healthcare, that harmony is hard earned through a sea of regulatory realities that can be stormy. I have stronger bonds with the clients that I’ve spent hours with on-site at launch meetings than just about any other colleagues. You know who you are.

So, here’s the thing. That bond is awesome. Irreplicable. And possibly keeping me quite numb to risks I should be taking for you or with you as your agency partner.

Bold of me, right? Admitting that I (or anyone like me) might be very capable of letting you down, because of the many times I have NOT let you down. Play that back a few times.

What I mean is that work and risk go hand-in-hand in the agency/client relationship. To be bold, clients need to take risks. And their agencies need to encourage it and push them out of their comfort zone when it feels right.  That’s scary stuff in the world of healthcare where we tend to avoid it tenaciously.

But it is also a close cousin to unchartered territory that leads to greatness – discoveries and brave, brilliant creative work. The challenge is that when agencies grow to become a key supplier or strategic partner to a client, a co-dependency often results. For instance, to operate at the speed of launch, healthcare clients need a known entity to deliver trusted work with an achievable outcome – done in a way that safely complies with regulatory reviews.

Raise your hand if you wake up thinking about Veeva submissions at 2AM. Just me? Nope. It’s all of us who happily lose sleep for the clients and work we love.

Agencies do their best work when they have a safe space to innovate and take creative risks. Push boundaries; deconstruct agendas; abandon all things with ‘precedent’ and try something new. Clients can benefit wildly from these risks. But they can also lose. Finding a blend of courage, trust and alignment is key.

The question therefor is: Do you and your agency have a safe space to play with risk?

What I mean is that agencies that service healthcare clients know how to operate within compliance. It is table stakes and a reason many of us love working in the industry. Finding a way to be creative within narrow guardrails is more interesting. That said, some agencies are better than others at finding comfortable ways to test paradigms, foster change, and, frankly, move the guardrails.

And some clients are better at allowing these explorations without admonishing the agency for fresh thinking. They are comfortable saying, ‘Great work. We just aren’t quite ready.’

I would argue that there are many reasons to stay year after year with the same partner. I have benefitted from many long-standing relationships, and so have my peers. And so has the universe of clients focused on delivering new medications, surgeries, and therapies.

One reason to change from a known partner to a new one is co-dependency – too much comfort in consistent, proven, templated outputs, so neither partner breaks any molds. For some, this was the status quo for a long time, until Covid-19 hit and upended ‘how we do things’ in every channel. The relationships that held up the best during the pandemic were the ones that tried new things — before they were needed.

Leaving a partner who has failed is easy. Leaving a partner who has done nothing wrong is more complicated. Before you reinvest, try to find that safe space to be unsafe. Invite them to think about your business unencumbered with what they have done in the past. And see if productive ‘risk’ cannot only exist – but excel.

If it can, that’s awesome. Welcome to the next chapter. If it can’t, it may be nobody’s fault. It may be that after so many years of being closely bonded, old ways are too hard to unlearn. We are all capable of letting a client down because we have grown so incredibly accustomed to not letting them down. Oh, the irony.

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