Ironically, marketing in health care has a bit of an image problem. In the age of Amazon and high customer service expectations, marketing has become critical to an organization’s success. However, health care leaders often view marketing as an extra that helps keep patients and referral sources happy but doesn’t substantially contribute to the core mission of the organization.

At the Radiology Business Managers Association (RBMA) PaRADigm conference in April, Janine Walker, business development and marketing director for Radia Inc., shared how she made her department a recognized asset within the 163-radiologist Seattle-area practice, while at the same time earning a spot in board meetings.

“I’m lucky because our organization recognizes the value of marketing, but it didn’t always,” she said. “When I first came on board, I was just the marketing girl they had hired to make people happy and our president would literally pat me on the head.”

Changing this culture took time and a lot of relationship building, but it has led to the practice becoming stronger, Walker said. She advocated for other marketing departments to do the same as there are many good reasons marketing should be at board meetings and part of strategic decision making. One of the biggest reasons is that marketing brings in the voice of the customer. Boards tend to be focused on operations and metrics that reflect revenue, but there is a much broader world of information out there that marketing has access to. Without marketing being included, boards run the risk of becoming somewhat isolated in what Walker called “the board bubble.”

“My team is in the trenches talking to the referring doctors all the time and our board needs to know what people are saying about them, and they are not going to know unless people are telling them,” she said

The other reason board members should include marketing is that the marketing budget is the shareholder physicians’ money and they need to understand and help guide how that money is spent.

“Your marketing people should be the face of your organization and you want the face of your organization to know what is going on,” Walker said.

But respect is a two-way street. Marketers also have a responsibility to earn respect by proving the value they bring to the organization. Walker describes herself as an “over sharer” and emails the market data and reports her department generates to a broad range of practice and hospital leaders so that they have access to the same information as she does. In one example, she started bringing the website traffic data to her regular meetings with the CEO and president of the practice because she found the data exciting. Even though they at first said they didn’t want that data, soon they were interested in it too and came to understand why spending money on things like keyword marketing actually paid off.

“I never ever go to a board meeting with a problem without offering a solution, so if you are a marketing person who wants to be at the board meeting, don’t go in without a solution,” she said. “And if you are on the board, think about what marketers are saying because your marketing person should be thinking about the global picture and how are you going to solve that problem.”