Healthcare Marketers Say Few Ad Agencies Are Really Good Listeners

To listen to someone is to give the gift of being fully present for that person. It’s hard work and precisely why so few do it well. But in a world where listening is becoming more challenging, those who have honed this skill are a precious resource.

Healthcare advertising agencies need to sharpen their listening skills according to a new survey of marketing executives commissioned by HCB Health. Respondents in four industry sectors — pharmaceuticals, medical devices, biotechnology and medtech — correlated good listening with the ability to understand and meet their business needs but said that only a small percentage of healthcare agencies listen really well. This failure can lead to misunderstandings that produce lower quality work, poor communication, and a tarnished agency image.

The blind survey, conducted by an outside research agency, asked 50 medical marketers how they define listening and how well they think their U.S. ad agencies listen in three categories: to them personally, to target customers, and overall as agencies of record. Respondents were also asked the top attributes they seek in agencies, what they wish their agencies would do more and less of, their main criticisms of agencies, and what qualities lead to long client-agency relationships.

“We have always believed, based on client feedback, that we are a great listening agency,” said Nancy Beesley, partner and chief strategy officer of HCB Health. “But we noticed how surprisingly thankful clients seem when they feel they’re being heard and started wondering if good listening is being overlooked in our field. How well are agencies listening? And what does good listening actually mean in healthcare advertising? To find out, we decided to do what our clients would do — get some real data on the subject.”

What is “Listening” and How Well Do Agencies Do It?

Respondents defined listening in two main ways. The first was how well agencies listen broadly, to inform their understanding of client goals and concerns and their knowledge of client brands, markets, customers, competitors and influencers. The second was how well agencies listen one-on-one, from taking direction and responding to feedback to respecting client expertise.

Asked how well their agencies…

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