At HCB Health, we take great pride in being the listening agency. Listening to our clients, consumers, and the broader marketplace helps us get perspective about where things are headed in our industry. And from what I’m seeing and hearing, there is a storm brewing in healthcare (HC) publishing. The storm is disruption, and it’s the same storm that’s been pounding consumer media for many years. The similarities I see are shocking. The outcomes will be very similar if the HC publishers do not make the necessary adjustments to weather the storm.

Shift to digital spending only is increasing in speed and mass

eMarketer tells us that B2B print spending growth has come almost to a standstill. Clients continue to increase spending in digital tactics and less in traditional trade print titles. We’ve had multiple clients pull completely out of print and run all digital campaigns. Some healthcare categories have far too many titles to sustain the actual amount of print spending over the next few years. This will eventually force titles to either fold or consolidate with other publications in their publishing family.

Another force against print is basic demographics. Media planners are getting younger—and more importantly, physicians are also getting younger. This age shift results in media planners not familiar or comfortable planning print placements and doctors demanding content in digital formats.

Agencies add tech to reach their targets more efficiently

It’s not just the print publishers that need to prepare for the storm. Even digital HCP media vendors have major change coming their way. I recently talked to a media vendor that offered targeting to very specific HCP audiences for a “fraction of the cost” of what industry trade publishers charge to reach that same target. When I informed him I can do the same thing through our agency demand-side platform (DSP) at a “fraction of the cost” of what he wanted to charge our clients, he was flabbergasted. He could not believe a mid-size healthcare agency figured out how to do this on its own. We’re not the only ones.

Technology enables agencies that have the digital literacy to take advantage of the programmatic world without relying on outside vendors looking for their piece of the transaction. This technology allows marketers and brands to leverage the advancements of data/audience targeting to target the same physicians, but in different environments—often at a fraction of the cost of endemic trade publications.

Content is always key and tracking its consumption is critical

Trade publishers need to find new ways to engage with their target audience while creating relevant content that will drive engagement with HCPs. We do deep social media listening exercises with every target audience we engage. This allows us to quickly understand where the target sees value and what types of content they consume by looking at their social media interactions. We see what publishers, reporters, and columnists the target is engaging with and what types of content they value enough to share with their communities. This enables us to look beyond third-party syndicated research and understand where our message should appear to get the most bang for the buck.

Time for reinvention

Unless publishers understand this and create valuable content that encourages engagement, they will find themselves on the losing side of the equation. Do I think trade print is going away? Definitely not! But I think the days of charging exorbitant CPMs and a mentality that “everyone needs to be here” are long gone. For many years, the trade publishers had a corner on the market. Now there are many more corners to the market. The smart HC publishing groups fully recognize the shifts in the media landscape and are working hard to pivot, reinvent themselves, and create new relevance.

The winners in this disruption game will be the buyers, our clients, and brands. As they say in the real estate world, it’s a “buyers’ market.” Clients will no longer have to pay $200 CPMs to reach their targets through specialty-specific publishing groups. They can reach them through a combo of very endemic and personal content. This will not only drive down the rates of ads appearing in industry-specific content, but it will also drive down the average CPM across campaigns.

It will be very interesting to watch this unfold over the next few years. I know HCB Health will continue to listen and observe and make all the necessary adjustments to stay at the forefront of the ever-changing media landscape. We’ll also push the market to evolve in a way that brings more engagement to our clients’ advertising budgets and more effectively reach our HC target audiences. But to weather this storm, we’re all going to need to work together, agencies, publishers, and clients, to ensure we are serving the target audiences. We need to make sure we bring solutions to the table that not only reach the target but engage them in new and different ways.

 

Dave Russell is the VP of Media Strategy at HCB Health. Connect with Dave on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/russelldave/