What's keeping agencies up at night in 2006?

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Staffing concerns topped the list of the biggest challenges facing healthcare agencies in this year's MM&M's agency survey.

A total of 83 agencies reported how their business is faring in 2006, sharing also what they thought would be the key trends and challenges in the year ahead. Although not a scientific survey, their responses offer an insightful reading of the agency climate.

The vast majority (70%) said business is up so far this year, with average growth of 21%,
according to the 71 firms that answered this question. Only one reported a decline.

Given, then, that most agencies claim to be growing, it's little surprise that “recruiting and retaining talent” dominated the list of challenges, with 19 (30%) citing HR concerns (63 agencies responded to this question).

“There is an overall industry-wide talent shortage,” concluded one agency president.
Others are concerned with specific skill sets. Rich Campbell, strategic partner, Regan Campbell Ward McCann, said a shift toward “designer drugs” will favor agencies with “deep expertise in specific disease areas.”

The next six biggest challenges were evenly spread, with 8-10 agencies registering concern for each one. (This is significant, given that the open question did not suggest any responses.)
Concerns over “managing growth” and “agency consolidation by clients” tied for second, with 10 firms citing each.

A further nine agencies identified “helping clients deliver programming via interactive media” as their most vexing issue—good enough for third place on the list.

“In today's environment, any agency lacking these resources must outsource in order to deliver on the multi-media, multi-channel model,” noted Torre Lazur McCann.

Others cited the need to keep up with the techno-savvy doctor. “How can we reach and engage physicians using the new media, from text messaging to podcasts, to interactive online programs vs. live promotional events?” asked Flashpoint Medica president Charlene Prounis.

Others noted that online consumer social networks are an important venue. “[Consumers] are looking for information that is credible and personalized to their specific needs, which comes not only from third party sources but from other consumers,” added Ignite Health co-founder and chief innovation officer, Fabio Gratton.

It seems that while firms covet junior- and senior-level employees with a range of talents, the continued expansion of alternative media is raising the cachet of digital marketing experts.

The final clutch of challenges saw eight firms voice concern for each of “navigating the regulatory environment,” “developing new business” and “continuing to provide good work.”

Elsewhere, many noted the trend of funneling more DTC dollars into DTP and education. Ogilvy Healthworld said this extra attention is “so that patients are more fully informed.”

Other noted themes included Medicare Part D, changing sales force strategies and risk management. These trends “affect everything we are doing and will be doing over the next years,” said Lisa Ebert, managing director at Medicus NY.

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