An Open Letter to Healthcare Marketers From CEO Ross Toohey
Thursday, November 30, 2017
On October 19, 2e was named “Small Healthcare Agency of the Year” by MM&M for the third year. In a row. Since that moment, hundreds of people have asked me one of two questions: (1) “How long are you guys going to still be considered small?” and (2) “What’s the secret?”
The answer to Question #1 is simple: As long as we need to. We’ll grow until we start to lose our soul, then we’ll stop. Too many people in this business judge an agency’s success by the amount we bill or the number of people we employ. I know plenty of large, rich, awful agencies (For the record, I know lots of great ones too). A successful agency is one that has built a reputation for producing great work by attracting people who know what “great work” means, and are obsessive about producing it.
The answer to Question #2 is more complicated.
The cliche move for me now would be to say, “There is no secret.” But that isn’t true. There is absolutely a secret to being named the best of the best with a frequency that defies coincidence or luck.
The secret isn’t some fantastic tech platform that claims to generate cheap, potent, 100% traceable audience engagement. These tools rarely deliver perfection as promised. And it isn’t some branded, proprietary process we’ve developed that hacks the science of consumer behavior to inform mystically superior creative. Fact is, no agency has a magic success bullet, yet we work tirelessly to make clients believe we might. There is no alchemy to this thing we do, and any agency who tells you otherwise is leveraging hope to win your business.
So what’s the secret? Here it is:
Seriously. That’s it. At 2e, we endeavor to remain authentic in the face of an industry that often rewards inauthenticity. As agencies, we need to stop pretending that we’re somehow smarter than our clients, and embrace the fact that we exist to prop them up and push them forward. We exist to transform the healthcare conversation with clients, not despite them.
On October 4 of this year, the one and only Larry Dobrow wrote a piece challenging agencies to put forth what they believe represents truly great culture. He asked what — beyond ping-pong tables and PTO gimmicks — we think truly makes us special. Or better. Or different.
I posit this reply: A truly great agency culture is one in which individuals feel comfortable taking calculated risks and failing — without fear of being fired, ridiculed by colleagues, or crippling their career. I’m not talking about dishonesty or dumb mistakes. I’m talking about the kind of bravery required to throw a vulnerable, naked idea to the mercy of subjective critique, then watching and learning from the outcome.
Too many agencies these days suppress this kind of thinking for fear of losing profit or position. These agencies are rarely considered exciting places to work and as a result rarely produce brilliant thinking. It’s hard to blame them. Agencies often live in fear that if we don’t do what the client wants, they’ll take their business to someone who will. Because there are plenty of agencies waiting in the wings to say, “Yes.” But this produces garbage. Noise. Money, time and effort wasted on the promises of the next glitzy new business team.
We have to be comfortable making mistakes and taking responsibility for them. We have to be okay asking for more time. Or watching our ideas withstand the punches of client perspectives. And marketers, you have to be okay with us being human. An agency’s name is only as good as the people behind it. When a great agency crushes its people, they leave, and what remains is little more than case studies and empty desks.
Our role as agencies is to connect people with ideas and other people. That’s what we do. And some of us are pretty damn good at it. But to be great at it, we have to be real. With our clients. With our people. With each other. I promise 2e will continue to be focused on being relentlessly real. We’re going to try new things, make investments, grow from mistakes, build on successes, and continue to give clients as much unbridled brainpower as they can possibly stand.
If that sounds interesting to you, let’s talk. We’d love to show you what working with the three-time Small Healthcare Agency of the Year feels like. I can’t promise you every single moment will be cozy and comfortable. After all, that isn’t real. What I can promise you is that as a 2e client you’ll dive into a culture of beauty and bravery, frustration and focus, all carefully curated to bring your brand ideas unlike any you’ve experienced before.
And that’s when the real fun begins.
President & CEO