For the past several years, companies in a wide range of industries have been assembling “agencies” or agency-style teams and workgroups within their organizations’ existing structures to achieve a variety of ends, from advertising and marketing creative to market research and experience design. The healthcare world recently latched onto this idea as well. Some hospitals, pharmaceutical companies, and other industry stakeholders are on hiring sprees, staffing so-called internal agencies with research and consumer design professionals. 

It’s become a trend to hire creative types in-house rather than outsource that work to outside healthcare insights and strategy firms, and we understand the impetus for this trend. Perhaps you’re tired of turnover at your existing agency partner. It feels like, instead of completing real work, you spend all your time training rotating account reps. You’d surely have more control of internal employees, right? And of course, bringing someone in-house seems less expensive than paying hundreds per hour for agency talent to support tactical execution that will cost a fraction if hired directly. 

All of these, of course, are valid reasons to try to replicate agency dynamics in-house. But none of them address the biggest reason why companies should (and do) hire outside firms in the first place. Simply put, you can’t read the label from inside the jar. 

Even if you recruit top-tier, agency-minded professionals to join your organization, they’re still insular and subject to internal politics and hierarchies. Ultimately, there’s no replacement for an outsider’s fresh perspective. 

Bureaucracy Within Healthcare Organizations Impedes Creative Autonomy  

When healthcare companies look to bring research, consumer design, or other agency professionals in-house, they attempt to emulate agency life. This isn’t a bad thing. In fact, there’s something to be said for fostering the kind of creative, collaborative, inspiring culture traditionally reserved for arty consultancies. 

However, the most creative-friendly culture nurtured within a healthcare company is still just that — within a healthcare company. And healthcare companies are often marked by onerous management structures, red tape, and hard-to-shift mindsets. This isn’t a good or bad thing, it’s merely a cultural difference between newfangled agencies and legacy healthcare organizations. 

All this means that, at the end of the day, those newly minted, capable professionals are subject to the same rules and corporate confines as everyone else. How much autonomy will internal agency members really get? And will it be enough to satisfy professionals accustomed to more boundless agencies?

Naturally Occurring Group Think Unwittingly Stifles In-House Innovation 

Whenever someone is immersed in a group, he or she naturally starts to agree and coalesce around the same core ideas as the rest of the group — that’s group think. This person loses his or her ability to think independently and is often afraid to diverge from the pack. 

Group think isn’t reserved for agencies or healthcare organizations. Rather, it’s a phenomenon we’re all vulnerable to in all facets of our lives. 

In a company, group think propels all employees toward an influencing force, say a VP. When push comes to shove, that VP is the voice employees take direction from. Work becomes biased and favors that leader’s vision. Progress is stalled because everyone (consciously or unconsciously) is thinking the same, stifling ideas. 

Even if employees realize something isn’t quite right, they may not speak up for fear of losing their jobs. After all, it’s always easier to follow the crowd. 

While group think can happen in any company, it is highly unlikely to occur between an external agency and a healthcare company. Hence why an outsider’s point of view, unhindered by internal group think, is paramount — regardless of how strong your in-house agency seems to be. 

External Partners Are Uniquely Positioned to Disrupt Status Quo 

We’ve looked at how internal pitfalls can keep in-house teams from success. But working with an external healthcare insights and strategy agency has advantages beyond avoiding these specific pitfalls. 

For one, people are more likely to at least entertain ideas from an outsider. This applies to healthcare company leaders, too. 

Take an example. Your CMO’s strategy could be rejected over and over again. But as soon as an agency partner validates that strategy, the higher ups accept it, or at least listen with open minds. Why? Because a new voice in the room provides context and clarity, and affirms the CMO’s ideas with industry-wide knowledge from the agency’s other experiences. 

In general, external agencies almost have to present bold ideas to win work over competing external agencies — and internal agencies now as well. As a result, it’s much easier for an external agency to come into your healthcare organization and disrupt the status quo. 

External Partners Streamline Access to Digital Technologies in Healthcare   

Another benefit of working with an external agency is access to technology at a lower cost. Agencies tend to parcel out their tech platforms as part of their service fees. You can then use that tool as you need it without paying the price — and dealing with the management — of a full internal license. This is particularly advantageous for healthcare companies that might only use certain tools for isolated applications. 

What’s more, agencies facilitate your use of their tools, meaning you’ll receive training and assistance to leverage these technologies to their full potential. 

Your Healthcare Organization Can Have the Best of Both Worlds with LIFT

We know we’ve been touting the benefits of partnering with an outside partner for your healthcare insights, strategy, and design needs. While that’s all true, LIFT believes the outsourcing vs. internal agency debate is not a zero-sum game. 

You can — and often should — employ both an external agency and internal creatives. And LIFT won’t stand in your way. In fact, we welcome collaboration with your internal stakeholders. We prefer and almost insist on co-creating with you. 

LIFT employs professionals who formerly worked in hospitals, pharmaceutical companies, and insurers. Not only do we understand, respect, and empathize with the obstacles you’re facing firsthand, we’ve also collectively seen (from the inside and from a client perspective) every type of organization in the healthcare sphere. That deep vertical knowledge enables us to bring countless experiences and insights to the table that you might not have had access to before. If you’re a hospital, that means pharma perspectives and vice versa. 

We mentioned empathy for your job struggles earlier. Empathy comes easily to our team because it’s intrinsic to all of our methods. When we conduct qualitative research, for instance, our goal is to always lift up patient voices and empathize with their plights. Really, to walk in their shoes as much as humanly possible — and affect patient-centric healthcare practices as a result. 

The bottom line? When you work with LIFT, we’ll lead with empathy and expertise as we guide your team, no matter how it’s structured.

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