Broader view of healthcare can open new avenues

Diversification in healthcare has become just as much a key topic for PR firms as it has for the medical community and general public. The changing definition of healthcare and a fluctuating market are pushing firms to develop broader client bases for healthcare practices.

Diversification in healthcare has become just as much a key topic for PR firms as it has for the medical community and general public. The changing definition of healthcare and a fluctuating market are pushing firms to develop broader client bases for healthcare practices.

No longer limited to pharma companies, biotech firms, or healthcare providers, these practices are opting to work with clients that may specialize in nutrition, fitness, health technology, medical devices, and public advocacy - all fairly new additions to the healthcare specialty.

"There is a new deepening in the health sector," says Gil Bashe, EVP at Makovsky & Company. "It's a knowledge-driven expansion."

At Makovsky, traditional healthcare clients now make up 60% of the New York-based agency's healthcare practice. The other 40% come from of a wide variety of health-related clients.

Bashe says two reasons factor into the shift: There are fewer mass market brands in healthcare, and working with clients in fields like oncology and cardiovascular disease "gave way to expertise."

"We learned about devices, reimbursements, advocacy alliances, and Web design, and then spun off that knowledge base," he adds. "It was a portal."

Other agencies looked at the larger picture and noted that health prevention, especially in regard to the aging baby boomer population, has become a form of healthcare.

MWW Group, which launched its healthcare practice in December 2007, works with healthcare clients as varied as XanGo Juice, an antioxidant juice brand, Gold's Gym, and an Omega-3 supplements company. Public policy and regulatory affairs, even regarding holistic products, are also playing a more important role in communications.

"As the medical community is looking more at holistic [healthcare], it figures in the public policy environment," says Ame Wadler, EVP and director of healthcare at the East Rutherford, NJ-based agency.

Diversifying the business might lead to geographic diversity. In the past two years, GolinHarris chose to broaden its client base by expanding into other markets that were not typically considered healthcare hubs. It established healthcare practices, or partnerships with independent agencies in cities like Dallas, Los Angeles, Atlanta, Miami, and London. The move into other markets helps the agency stay competitive with bigger firms, says Jeff Burnett, EVP and director of healthcare at Golin. It also helps diversify its portfolio in the case of a fluctuating market or economic downturn.

"Traditionally, healthcare is re-cession-proof," he adds. "There's been some fear and trepidation, but the agency is holding steady."

For healthcare practices, securing the bottom line is a high priority across the board.

"Certainly, there's a business strategy," says Wadler. "That's absolutely part of why we went down this road. [But] as we broaden our vision of what healthcare is, there's a broader relevancy to communications."

Key points:

Healthcare practices are no longer limited to big pharma and biotech companies

A diversified client base, even in a healthcare practice, can help agencies remain stable during harsh economic times

Smaller markets provide new client opportunities

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