Thursday, February 26, 2009

Beaucoup Healthcare Advertising Includes Surgical Centers, Medical Tech.

I was at a Houston Wellness Association luncheon, sitting with Geri Konigsberg – she kindly asked me about my medical experience. At first I thought she was inquiring about my cardiological adventures, plumbing and electrical. She was actually checking out my credentials with healthcare and medical marketing. I froze up. It’s been so long since someone asked, my script didn’t default to “Auto.”

So in advance of the seminar tomorrow at Rice, perhaps I ought to refresh myself – and you.

My track record with marketing and advertising healthcare-related products and services falls into four broad categories. Together, they stretch back a considerable length of time.

The patient side of the profession: Medical and dental. That would be clients like St Michael’s Center for Surgery and SurgiCare, freestanding surgical facilities. The Brown Hand Centers. The Barrett Foot & Ankle Centers. Cancer prevention outreach programs for University of Texas/MD Anderson Cancer Center. A retail dental practice for Active Life. MedPlus (a medical clinic system before the name got picked up for an HIS vendor). Some programs are still vigorous and growing. Some are gone. That’s the nature of things.

For employees, I have worked on HR benefits programs for BP and Baker Hughes – I’m grateful for the chance to work on this kind of business ‘cause it opens up a completely different (but quite crucial) part of the healthcare equation.

I have crafted brand communications for medical hardware and software, from digitized mammography to cardiac pacemakers to bioinformatics software. My client list includes Unisys, Intermedics, Medtronics, Global HCA, LifeFormulae.

And there are the building blocks – components of medical systems from Exxon Chemical and DuPont, Abbot Laboratories and 3M (really proud of the flex-circuit ads like the one on the left).

With this kind of rehearsal, maybe I won’t blank again. It’s too rich a record to leave to chance. And thank you, Geri, for your patience.

PS: Feel free (really) to ask for the Richard Laurence Baron Healthcare Experience Sheet – I’ll send it posthaste.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Value Proposition

What’s your word for not-a-lot-of-money? “Value-priced?” “Inexpensive?” “Cheap?”

Despite today’s economic wobblies, there’s still a snooty reluctance to mention actual price in commercials and other advertising media. For years, Walmart’s TV executions, with their animated yellow smiley faces flying around the store like Pong icons with scissors, have been raked up one side and down the other by industry taste fairies. It seems like there’s still something wrong with calling inexpensive goods…adequate. It’ll do. Good enough.

This wasn’t always so, especially in ad examples from America’s Great Depression. In one story, I recall reading a 1930s department store owner put a sign up on a rack of men’s ties:

They’re not very good ties
but at 10¢ they’re good enough.

(Anyone know where I can find the original of this retail tale?) Take another example, from one of inventor John Frier’s companies: Alox Shoe Laces. Like his POP sign says above, there are good sets and better sets.

In any hard economic cycle, “Best is the enemy of good enough.” But for reasons of entitlement or sensitivity, it’s not acceptable to say that some goods are better or less good than others. I wonder if that applies to the scale or complexity of the product.

For example, most people know that a 2009 Beemer M6 costs one hell of a lot more than, say, a 2009 Buick LaCrosse. And for about half the Buick’s cost, you can get an adequate car that’ll get you there and back…we understand the differences in these platforms. On the other hand, tell your friends that you’ve found a superb wine for $3.50 or $4.00 and you’re gonna get laughed at. (I suppose you ought to see what I wrote about Estación, below.)

Most retail conversations never say anything outright about the price-value relationship. Even Walmart has changed its apparent presentation to the world. I say “apparent” because it’s mostly thanks to Walmart that Americans can have such relatively high-quality goods at such low prices.

The company’s slogan these days is, “Save money. Live better.” Nothing wrong with that.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Deutser Preview

Talking in advance of this Friday’s AMA Healthcare SIG seminar, Brad Deutser thinks the new administration approach to American medical care is going to require a fundamental shift in how healthcare institutions communicate with – and market to – their customers.

“But we don’t know yet what the new policies will be,” he says. “The immediate challenges are underinsured and uninsured customers…more proactive recognition of this fact will lead the greatest value while serving a given institution’s mission.”

You can hear his take on what’s ahead when you join us Friday at Rice University. Click here for registration.

Photo: David A Farias/Houston Business Journal.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Healthcare Change?

In 1957, Parke, Davis felt that public perception of the high cost of a prescription was so negative, the drug company created and ran ads like this one. The dad on the left is shocked – shocked – that his buddy “…paid $9.00 to get that one prescription filled? Wow!”

Today, if you can get a prescription filled for $9, you feel like you’ve hit the jackpot. Today, we get a new administration in Washington that’s pledged to “do something” about healthcare in America.

So next week, AMA-Houston’s Healthcare Marketing SIG is putting on a big seminar: “Marketing Healthcare under a New Administration.” If you have anything to do with marketing, selling or advertising healthcare services and products, you better be signing up here.

The day and date: Friday, 27 February at 7.30 AM – the SIG’ll have a coffee-and-pastry bar set out for you. The location, Rice University’s Anderson Family Commons (Rice Blvd and Main, Entrance 20), is exactly the right venue for what we hope’s going to be a provocative mixture of marketing and public policy.

The seminar panelists include marketing executive Brad Deutser of Yaffe Deutser; Houston Wellness Association president Jonathan Lack; Lewis Foxhall, MD, President of the Harris County Medical Society; and Tim Schauer, Memorial Hermann Healthcare System. They are going to help us envision the policy changes and marketing challenges that healthcare marketers will have to face in the next four years.

One point we made in the event’s write-up is that American medicine is a business (the Parke, Davis drug ad underscores that). But it’s a business that’s significantly affected by national healthcare policy. Marketing is “downstream” of policy; it’s critical on an operational or tactical level. You don’t think so? Check out Parke, Davis’s ad copy: “…you appreciate what good value you’re getting.”

That’s a hard, hard case to make 50+ years later. Today, nobody feels they’re getting bargains. Sign up now. Maybe you’ll find out how to change your prospects’ thinking.

Parke, Davis & Company is now a subsidiary of the pharmaceutical company Pfizer. Ad #MM0340, Medicine and Madison Avenue On-Line Project, John W. Hartman Center for Sales, Advertising & Marketing History,Rare Book, Manuscript, and Special Collections. Thanks.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Montgomery Brewpub

On the trip back from Atlanta, it was simple enough to program an address into the Tom-Tom: 12 West Jefferson Street, Montgomery, AL. That GPS thingy took us directly to the door of the Montgomery Brewpub just in time for lunch – with beer.

I don’t want you to think that every time Barbara and I go on the road, we navigate by microbreweries and pubs. Nothing could be further from the truth*. (We actually load the Tom-Tom with the addresses of Starbucks stores – Atlanta and Newnan, GA; Montgomery and Mobile; Slidell, Covington and Baton Rouge, LA…and so on. It’s easy: There’s a mapping function on the Starbucks site.)

Actually, we end up depending on AAA TourBooks more often than not. How come? Well, most microbreweries and brewpubs would rather leverage their “fan base” to build repeat business, rather than use relatively expensive classic advertising. True, this’s a generalization. But word-of-mouth can pay off big over time. Outlasting passing fads is a huge deal; being in the AAA TourBook for Alabama for years does pay off.

The Montgomery Brewing Company opened in October, 1995, in a building right in the heart of the city’s old Central Business District. The structure itself was built in 1913 by the Gulf, Mobile & Ohio Railroad to store heavy equipment. We’re coming up on this pub’s 14th birthday…and it’s hung in there.

We’re glad we showed up because we got to try a rarity: “Velvet Elvis” is a dark lager created by brewer Jamie Ray to bridge the gap ‘til it’s time to produce the next batch of stout. Classically, schwarzbier is a medium-bodied, malt-accented dark brew, colored a deep brown, with a chewy texture and a firm, creamy, long-lasting head. That’s what the German Beer Institute says and I’m sticking with it. The Montgomery Brewpub version was real good and so was the food. The staff seemed a bit distracted but served us well.

Sometimes you’ve got to search out the product – it won’t come searching for you. I know, that’s not supposed to be advertising’s role. But so many marcom roles have already shifted over the past decade. With WOM, you can put your advertisements where your (fans’) mouths are. Earlier this week, ours were in central Alabama. Filled with “Velvet Elvis.”

*Why yes, we did stop in Abita Springs for dinner. Why do you ask? Thanks to AAA (again) for roadtripping aids.

Saturday, February 14, 2009


Driving to Atlanta from Houston, Barbara and I passed the time by trying to remember the names of various types of clouds. Our combined mental powers were equal to the task. We nailed Cumulus and Stratocumulus, Cirrus, Nimbus, Platypus and Carbuncle.

I don’t know the name of this formation. I use it here to wish everyone Happy Valentine’s Day. Ta from Atlanta…

Photo: “Angels” by Hilleke,

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Darwin’s 200th

“Happy birthday, dear Darwin,”
Birds and bees and beasts all cheer.
If not the fittest yet, you will be.
Happy birthday.

Illustration: “Darwin 2” by Mythopoeikon, courtesy of Photoshop Tennis, 2008.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Guns, Roses

Bless their pointy heads, lobbyists up there in the People's Democratic Republic of Austin [PDRA] are at it again. This time there’s a terrific ad opportunity for some brave company. The Houston Chronicle obtained the data under state open-record laws and has reported on our little problem several times, including today:

For the men, it’s pistols and venison. For the women, flowers and spa treatments. Around the Texas Capitol, gifts are a custom — and lobbyists are buying.

According to the paper, lobbyists delivered 124 flower bouquets; 120 sets of circus tickets (go figure); 70 cookie packets – and 66 pistols. Now let’s ignore two conflicting opinions for the moment. One, our elected officials ought not be taking gifts, lunches or junkets in any way shape or form. The other, an occasional bunch of flowers seems pretty harmless. (But there’s a slippy-slidy slope involved here.) I see…headlines!

“Ruger: The Representatives’ Choice.”

“Give the gift of firearms – Lobbyists do.”

“A dozen roses? A dozen State Senators can’t be wrong.”

I see ads, like the one above. The Texas Ethics Commission says gifting is not a good idea. But since everyone in the Lege thinks it’s okay, let’s make advertising out of it. Ta...

Ad by Prism Design, Inc., with my thanks. Suck UK ceramic gun vase from A+R.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Recessionista Cabernet

Right here in this post, I’m going to wrap the flagging economy around my cheap-assed habits. Friends and acquaintances like John Reeves and Amy Puchot have been chiding my taste for inexpensive wines for years.

Possibly they have used the term, cheap plonk. The tonier sort would refer to Rumpole’s Chateau Thames Embankment, from the eponymous BBC television series. I prefer you consider it a quest.

That’s it – a quest. Not for the Holy Grail but what might be sipped out of it. I seek nothing less than a great wine for as little lolly as possible. That’s not too much to ask, is it? Especially in these parlous times.

Now it just so happens that Burton Tansky is the president and CEO of Neiman Marcus. This knowledgeable expert was quoted in a recent AP article, saying: “The fashionista is now a recessionista.” (If you’re going to cite a retail source, you can hardly do better than that.) That same article mentions a number of well- or very-well-off people who are…downsizing…their displays of wealth.

Of course that’s not Richard – not wealthy, me. Hardly. I simply feel that drinkable wines don’t have to cost an arm and a leg (like, say, a gallon of gas). Believe me, I’ve done that and been there. Spent the bucks. Traveled to wine tastings in Minneapolis, Chicago, Houston, Austin, Dallas. Had the cellar though that was back in Minnesota days when our house actually had a cellar. No more, no more.

Today I can truthfully announce I have not only achieved Tansky’s “recessionista” label. I have found the wine. For $6.50 you can buy a bottle of 2007 Estación Cabernet Sauvignon, from the Colchagua Valley of Chile, at Phoenicia on Westheimer. It is good, good wine – deeply luscious, deeply red and – at 14.3% alcohol – potent enough to make you feel quite excellent after a couple of glasses. $6.50 not including tax.

Along with this high-octane grape juice comes a fine website. You might enjoy visiting it because few of us really keep our eyes on what’s happening Web-wise in the Mercosur, of which Chile is an associate member. (Though in fact, the website is so polished – especially the English version – I wonder where it was created and programmed.) Nevertheless, Vina y Bodega Estampa SA spins a fine yarn.

The Estación brand identity is based Colchagua Station on the Ferrocarril de Palmilla train route, which was built in several segments over more than 50 years. It seems that the 1890 estación (¿Spanish for “station,” si?) borders the vineyards, although it looks abandoned in the website photo.

Every great brand benefits from a great story and Chilean wines have had a strong, inexpensive US market presence for years. Maybe it’s no big surprise that this Recessionista Cab has come along just in time for our slump.