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Disrupt Together, Win Together: Lessons from Healthcare Events

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Author: Matthew Briggs, Senior Vice President, Healthcare at PAN Communications, headshot
Matthew BriggsSenior Vice President, Healthcare

Business as usual, no more. 

As we turned the page on 2022 just over two months ago, we were coming off a year in which the nation’s largest payers, retail and technology disruptors continued to pour billions into healthcare in the spirit of transforming the field.  

Healthcare has undergone significant innovation and advancement over the past decade driven by an overall need to modernize and digitize, create efficiencies at scale, and improve experiences for all. There is a solid foundation in place across the spectrum and 2023 should see the continued merger among technology, business, clinical operations and workflows to further address many of the challenges that have become glaringly apparent in the years prior.   

Companies are vying for market share across the care continuum — primary, specialty, acute/post-acute, telehealth, emergency, mental/behavioral health — and expanding footprint through greater integrations – pharmacy benefits management, diagnostics and therapeutics, practice care management, care coordination and interoperability 

Healthcare has undergone significant innovation and advancement over the past decade driven by an overall need to modernize and digitize, create efficiencies at scale, and improve experiences for all.

As they do, we are also seeing greater convergence around a singular message dominating the healthcare narrative in these early months of 2023, one that was front and center at the larger healthcare conferences last year and that we predict will likely dictate the tenor of shows the remainder of the year:  

A business-as-usual approach won’t cut it. 

We look back at how this embrace for a fresh approach emerged rather unexpectedly at HLTH ’22 and JPM ’23 and what this means for brands looking to maximize their investment during the healthcare conference circuit this spring, such as ViVE and HIMSS. 

HLTH ’22

The November show followed a similar theme with its flashier presentation of technology innovation across healthcare. In his opening remarks, Jonathan Weiner set the stage for the fifth-annual event with a renewed charge to “unite the healthcare ecosystem” and “tackle its most complex challenges.” A little vanilla but hey, we ran with it. After all it was Vegas.  

PAN was on the ground at the Venetian staffing client media briefings and speaking engagements, networking with colleagues and taking in sessions led by some of today’s top voices and emerging innovators. The colors were vibrant, the interlude music was loud, and tchotchkes were abound. But for all the glitz and glamour, one sentiment seemed to eclipse the entire conference: cautious optimism.  

As we came off a record-busting 2021 in terms of private funds and financial investment, 2022’s event was bookended by this feeling of measured optimism, not unlike the general sentiment across the wider digital health landscape. What emerged instead were conversations around collaboration, compromise and commitments, all in the spirit of reassessment and evaluation. The vibe was palpable: what got us to this point certainly wasn’t going to get us to the next stage. That recognition found its way into main-stage remarks with from Xavier Becerra (HHS) and David Feinberg (Oracle), to backroom meetings and invite-only sessions off the exhibition floor. 

Closing the books on HLTH, we also couldn’t help but feel a resounding recognition that to enable care — equitable care — we must commit to accessibility, affordability and trust. We were proud to support so many clients using this digital health innovation stage to promote what they are doing to make their mark and counter the business-as-usual mentality. From patient engagement to clinical workflows, we heard from so many founders, executives, officials and clinicians working hard to make a difference in how we improve care delivery and even the playing field for all. If the red eye back to Boston gave us any clairvoyance, it was this message of partnership.  

J.P. Morgan ‘23

Everyone agreed that 2022 could not sustain the same pace as 2021, a year in which digital health companies saw a massive infusion of capital to the tune of $29.1B (Rock Health). However, founders, executives and funders believed the market would continue to flourish as providers, payers, drug developers and businesses continued to look for ways to digitize operations and processes to provide better patient experiences, deliver better care, improve efficiencies, and reduce costs.  

Just days before J.P. Morgan, Rock Health’s final tally was in: overall funding in digital health in 2022 topped out at $15.3B. That was just over half of 2021’s blockbuster investment. Many believe, however, the untouchable heights of 2021 were an anomaly: a macro funding frenzy prompted by COVID-19. While there is merit to that, everyone was waiting to see the degree to which that bubble would continue to keep the field afloat. What we saw just a couple months after HLTH was a general clenching in anticipation of more turbulence at JPM.  

In many ways, that same undercurrent of collaboration and compromise we reported from HLTH found its way to this show: as investors pulled back and the flow of VC dollars started to dry up, health tech and digital health startups shifted focus from dealmaking to partnership. Look no further than the CVS-Carbon Health deal, which generated a significant amount of attention. And rightfully so: a merger of retail and urgent care is the latest in a string of examples where brands are looking to consolidation and partnership to improve care delivery.  

While JPM reported fewer deals and was quiet relative to years past, we’re poised to see a boom of success built on “strategic relationships” centered on the premise that success isn’t born of a linear expectation of who holds the capital and who brings the expertise, but rather that these qualities come from all corners of the ecosystem and carry equal currency. 

Shifting the Narrative for 2023: Partnerships

Those who showed up at HLTH or at JPM looking to pitch a solution and ink a deal may have been sorely disappointed. It’s what we at PAN have come to define as missed connections: when brand marketers fail to read the room and continue to tell inauthentic stories. It’s why so many great brand stories don’t connect with a target audience. Likewise, success at these shows would be dictated not by inking deals, but by locking arms. 

We’ve all been there. You spend weeks planning your content, building the story, designing creative elements, and distributing it across channels. And it falls flat. Brand stories are the most important tool a healthcare marketer has in their arsenal. But sometimes, a good story alone isn’t good enough.  

Download: Missed Connections: Why Stories Don’t Find Their Audience and How to Fix It”

For all the healthcare marketers out there, there is no greater moment in time to reassess why your story might not have landed as well as it could have during 2022 events circuit, and how you can maximize your message in 2023. 

Spring Awakening: ViVE + HIMSS   

Looking ahead to the spread of spring conferences, we’re unpacking several dynamics when it comes to healthcare marketing and PR in direct response to this move toward strategic partnerships. In an industry that often lacks clear ROI or that longs for a standard set of KPIs, brands will need to think carefully about how they metric success and the perception that creates in their ecosystem, especially as the market corrects and as they use proceeds for product development, M&A, scaling technology, customer acquisition, or talent recruitment. How are you adapting your message to play into this trend?  

For digital health and health tech startups preparing to head to Nashville’s Music City Center for ViVE (March 26-29) and to Chicago’s McCormick Place Convention for the HIMSS Global Health Conference & Exhibition (April 17-21), each show presents a unique moment in time to push a differentiated message in what we believe will be the year of the partnership. As we ourselves partner with clients to help prepare for these shows and creatively tell their story through integrated marketing campaigns and proven PR strategies, many brands must reconcile their place in the whole arena: consolidation is inevitable, and success will be driven by – yet again – by a commitment to doing things differently.  

We can expect the big headlines at ViVE and HIMSS to strike a similar tone set against some of the prevailing trends of our time: digital health transformation, artificial intelligence, data privacy, interoperability and telehealth. Relationships take root in messages that resonate. Take a good hard look into your talking points and empower your team to connect your brand to a bigger network effect. That goes for your onsite crew staffing the booth to the closed-door meetings staffed by executives to your digital content creators building momentum before, during and after the show. To that end, if you’re taking advantage of ViVE’s Hosted Buyer Program — a 1:1 matchmaking forum – use that opportunity to drive this partnership message home. Tighten up the pitch and point to metrics that address mutual success.  

Partner For Success

The last thing any team wants is to adopt “constant pivoting” as a strategy. But if HLTH and JPM taught us anything, it’s that values can shift just as quickly as the markets. What was important yesterday may not be a priority today. The more frequently brands assess their story, measure its reach, and gauge its impact, the less an adjustment will feel like a pivot, and the more effectively they will be able to capture and hold the wandering eye of curious customers. Data are critical, and so is finding and using your unique voice. Look at your conference metrics coming out of 2022 and let them dictate how you show up at this year’s events.  

What that also means is, defining your marketing model around wanting to win through an ecosystem or network vs. wanting to competitively win a market. For some, that means setting a strategic narrative in 2023 rooted in partnership. And that may differ from the past.  

But again, no more business-as-usual, right?   

Learn more about PAN’s healthcare expertise and how events integrate into our service offerings to driving meaningful connections. Traveling to a show this spring? Contact us to set up a time to chat. We’d love to hear from you. 

In the meantime, download PAN’s inaugural Brand Experience Report to understand how marketers across the B2B tech and digital health landscapes can better connect with and engage their audience. 

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