Joseph Chaney | March 05th, 2021

It is no secret that large corporations have a tough time recruiting content marketing executives, regardless of their industry or area of expertise. But for healthcare companies, COVID-19 just made finding such talent that much harder.

Why is this the case?

Well, in the COVID-19 era, healthcare thought leadership is under the microscope by an ever-expanding readership base. That means healthcare companies must ensure their thought leadership is credible and backed by deep expertise; while it also has an approachable (rather than academic) tone that is of broad appeal. That’s a very tall order.

Let us examine the major pain points in more detail, shall we?


It’s a fact of life: very few medical experts become content marketers

Let me illustrate this pain point with a personal story. In graduate school I met an intelligent gentleman who had previously trained as a medical professional. For reasons many of us didn’t understand, he aspired to switch careers and become a journalist. This guy could likely recite the names and specific functions of every heart ventricle in his sleep. Why in the world would he trade the dignity of medicine for the indignity of newsroom politics and getting screamed at by a Bureau Chief for a typo in some headline?

Rather than admire his sacrifice of exchanging a much higher income for a low-paid life serving the fourth estate, I – quite selfishly – wondered how I could (or couldn’t) compete with someone like him for journalism jobs in leading science magazines. I saw the outcome clearly and it wasn’t pretty: Yes, Mr Hiring Editor – I have a degree in humanities and social thought. But don’t worry. My deep readings of Ludwig Wittgenstein and Herbert Marcuse will serve me well in this investigation of why food allergies are increasing in urban populations.

You get the point: in my mind, there was no way to compete… or was there? What I did not grasp until much later was the fact that this classmate was willing to pay upwards of US$50,000 for a master’s degree in journalism precisely because he knew that medical knowledge might not be enough – that maybe he did not have the skills or expertise to write about it with conviction and in an engaging manner.

By focusing on the competition, I had undervalued the editorial profession – refusing to acknowledge that, while it may not require engaging with life-or-death matters such as heart attacks or brain tumors, it nevertheless requires mastery of a particular skill set and a certain level of expertise.

Which brings me to my next point…


The flipside of the expertise shortage is that experts are susceptible to getting lost in the tiny details and may not think like writers and publishers

Most of us know at least one incredibly book smart friend who is, despite his or her intelligence, also socially awkward - someone who obsesses over minutia only he or she cares about.

By the same token, a marketing team might be lucky and find an expert on, say, RNA vaccine technology, but then quickly discover that the expert can’t really write or think in the conceptual manner required to develop compelling thought leadership campaigns. The expert might be too mired in the details of their own expertise and struggle to see the big picture and communicate that big picture to a broad audience in a meaningful way.

Of course, that is not to say that details are unimportant. They certainly are. Insights – backed by credible data – are the core ingredients of strong campaigns. It is how the details are framed and delivered to the reader that matters. In other words, is the tone dry and unengaging? Or is it compelling and convincing?

Now, the good news is there is a long history of heavy hitting writers from the medical community. Anton Chekov and William Carlos Williams to name just two. (Some say writerly talent among doctors is due in part to their proximity to death. Spending one’s days on the edge of the abyss tends to focus the mind).

Even so, such doctor/writer superstars are in the minority. Marketing managers would be well advised to accept the fact that many professional writers and editors are more likely to come from the humanities and social sciences.


Editorial production is a team effort – but it is underfunded and very time consuming

In addition to finding the right talent, there is the matter of workload.

In corporate life, the ‘content team’ is sometimes a team of one reporting into a larger marketing department - which is also responsible for many non-editorial initiatives, such as event planning and sponsorships. Problems quickly arise when business leaders make competing content demands on a single content executive. For example, the Head of Research wants a 3,000-word overview of RNA vaccine side effects, while the Head of Marketing wants an infographic series on the genetic codes of viruses.

The result? Frustration all around. The medical expert / content executive throws her hands up and says it can’t be done – the deadlines are unrealistic. The business heads are frustrated that their requests are denied; and the marketing team wonders if they’ve wasted their money hiring the content executive in the first place.

Although editorial planning and production requires a team, getting down to work on a white paper or infographic or video script is often a solo affair. Door shut, phone off, and headphones on. The problem is corporate life doesn’t really support such solitude. Executives at every level are often required to join teleconferences and group meetings – and those that refuse risk being branded a stubborn outsider.

The result? The content executive grows tired of asking to be left alone; while his or her colleagues wonder what the big deal is and why the content executive can’t join the team lunch like everyone else.

So, what to do? Give up and stop searching? That’s not an option.

At N/N we think it’s best to keep the following principles in mind:

  1. TALENT - Accept that you pay for what you get. If you want the Wall Street Journal’s former healthcare reporter, or a former doctor with writing skills, you must entice him or her away from that exciting life with substantial incentives and rewards. If the choice is between a doctor who struggles to write, or an editorial professional who has some knowledge of healthcare trends (and is willing to learn more), we advise you choose the editorial professional. After all, too many unnecessary details – delivered in an academic tone – can dampen the impact of your campaigns.
  2. WORKFLOW - Allow the content executive to utilise his or her core competency: news judgement. That means they get to significantly influence the editorial agenda. Also, accept that they will likely recommend topics that are ‘controversial.’ They may want to investigate the effectiveness of certain vaccines; they may question the approach regulators are taking with certain healthcare trends. While you can tone down these topics to suit your corporate strategy, the fact remains that asking content executives to churn out corporate pablum about “how we all need to prioritise health” will not work and they are unlikely to stick around.
  3. OFFICE ATMOSPHERE - This one is self-explanatory: let the content executive get on with it -- and accept that they are not likely to have the time to participate in every teleconference or team building event and exercise. It’s not easy writing a white paper on how genes in DNA encode protein molecules. If they absolutely must join each of those activities, ensure they have external resources on call to produce the work while they are pulled away from their desks.

That’s it for now – I’ll leave you with the Content Marketing Institute’s guide to building a content team, which includes far more tips than those outlined above.

Best of luck building your healthcare content teams in 2021 and beyond.

World-class content strategy and execution

Contact us to get started