September 21, 2021

What Do Healthcare Clients Want From Their Media Agency?

We are delighted to share some very exciting news: We have officially launched our new healthcare media agency -- and we do mean new. As someone with years of experience, first in the healthcare industry and then as a consultant, I saw what many were afraid to acknowledge: the old agency model is broken. So we made the decision to create a healthcare media agency that would bridge the comprehension gap between agencies and clients.

The result? OpenHuddle.

With a fresh approach to the agency-client relationship, OpenHuddle works with you to deliver more unified, inventive and influential campaigns. Our diverse team of experts knows that we can make the difference in your marketing campaigns. We bring the same empathy and effort to your marketing that you provide to healthcare professionals and patients.

Creating OpenHuddle was not a spur-of-the-moment decision. We did research, and we saw a growing need for something different. Pharmaceutical marketers consistently identify the same problems with traditional healthcare media agencies, their relationships falling short of their hopes and expectations.

While 92% of pharmaceutical marketers rely on their healthcare agency partners to execute instructions, only 56% feel they can turn to them for strategic insights. This leaves marketers feeling unsupported and like they are always having to push their healthcare agencies to act on their behalf, which could explain why many marketers feel ambivalent about their agency partners.

I have experienced this myself firsthand -- I worked in the healthcare industry for over a decade, and I saw where agencies fell short. When I became a consultant, I was able to work with clients and understand their needs, since I had been in their shoes. That got me thinking: what if every account representative at a healthcare media agency had the experience to understand their clients’ perspectives?

At OpenHuddle, we make a point of placing experienced brand managers on every account, ensuring that healthcare marketers can always turn to us. We are partners every step of the process, from planning to execution to reporting and follow-up.

We are proud to lead the way on delivering strategic marketing campaigns to the healthcare industry. Read on for how our journey started and what we see as the future of the healthcare media agency.

How Things Are Now: The State of the Industry

The traditional healthcare media agency structure is, in a word, bureaucratic. What they lack in transparency, strategy, and flexibility, they try to make up for in connections and buying power. That used to work, but the healthcare media landscape has drastically changed, and agencies need to transform with it or risk losing clients -- or worse, losing their clients money and time.

Now more than ever, adaptability is key. Deloitte reports that C-Suite executives agree, with 41% saying “the top outcome they hoped to achieve by implementing more digital technologies and platforms was to react more quickly to customer needs... 2021 requires a new playbook: Pivot to an agile digital channel strategy that meets customer needs as they unfold or risk losing relevance in an already tight marketplace.”
According to Association of National Advertisers CEO Bob Lidoce, “Traditional agencies are becoming increasingly challenged as marketers move more work in-house while encouraging their external agencies to provide differentiated services and increased value.”

CMOs are bringing their media buys in-house for a variety of reasons, including cost effectiveness, customer data concerns, and transparency, with the IAB reporting “nearly half of marketers manage programmatic advertising in-house.” If trends continue, in-house marketers will soon be responsible for a majority of the $46 billion programmatic advertising industry (82% of all display ads). As for traditional healthcare agencies? Their reduced buying power, coupled with a failure to adapt to changing circumstances, is leaving them vulnerable to a new rival: the consultant.

Rather than engaging in a competition for clients with the traditional agency, consultants have simply focused on offering healthcare marketers services that the agencies have not. In fact, successful consultants provide what a rigid agency structure cannot: a focus on user experience and strategic planning, all underpinned by adaptability. Of course, the advantage of a healthcare media agency is that they have a team, scalability, and institutional knowledge, but those serve no purpose if they are leaving client needs unmet.

Currently, the more complex or strategy-based a healthcare marketer’s needs are, the less satisfied they are with their healthcare media agency. 78% complained that their healthcare agency waited for direction, rather than helping identify solutions and opportunities. There is a consistent gap between what clients are looking for and what they’re receiving.

How Things Should Be: Meeting Customer Needs

When I worked in healthcare, my team had to coordinate the details of media campaigns, typically extensive, expensive, and exhausting to plan. Working with agencies alleviated some of that burden, but strategic planning generally fell on our shoulders. In turn, that led to more responsibilities, as we had to coordinate our campaigns and give direction to the agencies. This is a recurring complaint among healthcare marketers.
71% of healthcare marketers say they want a healthcare agency that understands and is involved in brand strategy. Nearly half say they would like additional strategic support. They want to be able to partner with an agency, discuss tactics, and ideally, learn from the expertise of the agency and its team.

In line with that, 70% of healthcare marketers say their agency having the “right and necessary” team to fulfill their marketing needs is an important component of whether they are satisfied. And relationships still matter: marketers named the agency account lead as having the strongest impact on their perception of the agency, more so than even creative.

It makes sense: providing a strategy depends on having the knowledge and context to make sound decisions with the healthcare media landscape in mind. Branding, analysis, and planning all require a knowledge of not only healthcare clients’ goals, but how to reach them.

Every client wants -- and deserves -- a tailored plan that incorporates their brand strategy, market analysis, custom target audiences, and measurable results. Otherwise, you risk cookie-cutter media plans that rarely fit clients’ unique circumstances.

Seeing these comprehension gaps as a healthcare marketer, and then later as a consultant, shaped my vision for OpenHuddle. I knew that any agency I started would place experienced brand managers with a healthcare background on every account. We speak the same language as our clients because we have been in their shoes. We use that understanding and our industry knowledge to come up with detailed plans based on our clients’ goals. And then we make those plans happen.

Where We Come In: The OpenHuddle Method

When we transitioned from consulting to healthcare media agency, we made the move with three things in mind:

  1. The purpose of a healthcare agency is -- or should be -- to be a strategic partner. We will always plan ahead and look for opportunities to offer better solutions.

  2. We want to close the communication gap. We set out to build an agency that our clients can depend on, and part of that is making sure that we are all on the same page.

  3. We bring the best of both worlds. Our agency should keep the versatility and accessibility of consulting while offering all of the services of an agency.

We make things simple with tailored plans so that you can reach your audience -- without the headache. These goals helped inform our mission and vision.

Our Mission

Our team at OpenHuddle is embarking upon a mission to raise the standards for industry knowledge and client understanding for healthcare media agencies. We do so by placing an experienced brand marketer at the core of every service team to ensure that we uphold the pivotal responsibilities laid out by the healthcare clients we serve.

Our Vision

We envision the future of healthcare marketing running on more efficient partnerships. By closing the gap between our clients’ plans and our agency efforts, we will execute successful strategies that draw upon an abundance of clarity, inclusivity, and expertise.

What This Means for the Future of the Industry

According to Deloitte, “Times of societal disruption—such as the ongoing pandemic—can be a call to action for companies to rethink their values, operations, and infrastructure. It’s an opportunity to innovate and rebuild the human experience in a manner that addresses our collective needs.”

In the old model, healthcare media agencies were essentially brokers. Marketers told them where they wanted placement and who they wanted to reach, and the agency would place ad buys and negotiate deals. Today’s multidisciplinary world (with multidisciplinary media) requires a different kind of media agency.

Coming from a consulting and healthcare background has been useful for developing a more comprehensive approach, from high-level strategy to real-time analytics. OpenHuddle offers detailed planning and the services to execute those plans effectively.

We combine forward-thinking ideas with a results-driven approach to create bespoke solutions that deliver impressive outcomes. (Come for the brand strategy and media planning, stay for the market research, audience targeting, and competitive analysis.)

Your brand is unique, and your media plan should be, too.


  • OpenHuddle, Pharmaceutical Marketing & Healthcare Agency Professional Relationship, 12/2020

  • Christine Cutten and Libby Cousins (2021), Deloitte Insights, Global Marketing Trends: Find Your Focus (Report)

  • Oliver McAteer (2018), MM+M, Number of in-house agencies rise dramatically, ANA study finds, (Article)

  • Avi Dan (2019), Forbes Advertising and Marketing, The Media Agencies Could Be The Next Target Of The Consultants (Article)

From client to agency to somewhere in the middle, we bring the best of both worlds

Get in touch with us to find out how OpenHuddle can provide you more tailored media solutions based on a better understanding of your healthcare marketing plans.

1 Washington Street # 1010
Boston, MA, 02108
(617) 775-1957

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