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A Recruiter’s Perspective on Today’s Healthcare Chief Marketing Officer

Wednesday, November 30, 2016 9:39:00 AM

Rachel Polhemus

by Rachel Polhemus

Being a Chief Marketing Officer in healthcare has always provided its own unique set of challenges. It has been an industry in which competition was subtle and marketing efforts focused on general reputation and long-term results. CMOs weren’t expected to be bold risk-takers.

This of course is changing as patients are evolving into internet-savvy consumers who make healthcare decisions based on a provider’s image, proximity, quality, convenience, and certainly cost. Mergers and consolidation and more heated market competition have increased the urgency for hospitals and health systems to aggressively promote themselves to current and new customers.

The expectations and responsibilities of Chief Marketing Officers are, therefore, expanding significantly. CMOs are shifting their gaze towards millennials and younger consumers, who are far more likely to research their own information online and even trust a stranger’s advice over a familiar brand. In a sense, a hospital’s or health system’s website is becoming more important than its lobby.

The transformation of consumer preferences is most apparent when comparing millennial healthcare consumers to their baby-boomer parents. Younger consumers want more control over their healthcare decisions, requiring information that was once taboo to even ask by their baby boomer parents, such as a physician’s credentials or a department’s outcomes.

Forward-thinking chief marketers harness the power of digital and content marketing as the key to organization growth and patient retention. Information and data are easily accessible to potential consumers, and authentic, two-way communication is provided for current patients. Marketing campaigns focus on patient-experience and preference, utilizing digital platforms more than traditional marketing channels.

CMOs Getting Strategic

In recruiting healthcare Chief Marketing Officers today, I see that clients are asking for much more sophisticated candidates who can play the role of strategists and innovators for their entire organizations. Indeed, providing a consistently positive patient experience requires an integrated, strategic approach, involving everyone from the CMO to the billing department to the customer service staff.

CMOs not only require in-depth analytical skills to understand customer behaviors and market trends, they must be able to explain what they are witnessing and engage others across the organization. This requires soft skills such as the ability to listen to others, build bridges between departments, translate market research for C-suite leadership, and involve others in responding to shifting consumer patterns.

Of course, chief marketers are most successful when these expanded responsibilities are recognized and supported by CEOs and C-suite leadership. As healthcare companies merge and grow, CMOs must be given the green light on creating a strong, dynamic, cohesive brand.

Who Are These People?

Healthcare industry clients that I speak with are also looking for CMO candidates with different backgrounds and experiences than in the past. They are looking for individuals with more executive-like qualities, for instance. The following are some phrases that are often included in position specifications for CMOs today:

• Executive presence
• Visionary
• Highly creative, thinks outside the box
• Has a sense of urgency; is deadline-driven and results-oriented
• Embraces technology and analytics to make informed decisions
• Known for integrity, flexibility, enthusiasm and energy
• Team leader; values the contributions of others
• Possesses financial savvy with entrepreneurial instincts

Haven’t these qualities always been important? Yes, but today’s CMOs are expected to have the entire package. They must be strategic, innovative leaders who also connect with and inspire those around them.

Healthcare organizations are opening their doors to “nontraditional” candidates for marketing executive positions. Hiring managers are now looking to industries such as large consumer packaged companies, blue-chip tech companies, and other non-healthcare businesses for talent. My clients expect a slate with some prominent candidates from outside of healthcare. They still want a CMO who understands where healthcare has been but, even more, who can envision a future that looks a lot different.


Rachel Polhemus is a senior partner with the executive search firm Witt/Kieffer. Based in Bethesda, MD, Rachel recruits for key senior leadership roles in healthcare and the not-for-profit sector, with particular expertise in identifying CEOs and C-suite executives in the areas of strategy, operations, nursing, and marketing, as well as for chair positions.

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