Tuesday, October 15, 2013

For A Good Lesson On Business Management Go To healthcare.gov

Right up front I have to admit that I am often perceived as a supporter of the Health Reform Act… at least among my business peers that are married to voting Red.

My commentary that the healthcare industry lacks coordination of costs, organization and accountability that are common in other comparative industries is what makes many think I am a supporter.  

Part of my commentary is driven by years working with hospitals, providers, physicians and insurance groups; the other part driven from a patient perspective following my wreck in the MINI five years ago.

As many of you know, I produce and co-host a roundtable radio show every week on health and wellness.   So to stay on top of the news stories and to be relevant on the shows, I have been attempting to … and finally this past Sunday morning… get a first-hand experience with the October 1 premiere of healthcare.gov.

(For those of you who have no idea… healthcare.gov is Uncle Sam’s website where folks can go and purchase health insurance.)

We all have heard in the news about how the vast majority including the then-Speaker of the House did not read the health reform bill before casting a vote.

I contend the same thing is true about the same crew… and add to it the vast lot of news journalists … who have not actually seen nor trafficked through healthcare.gov.

Putting politics aside for a minute…

My expectation would be that the website is pretty similar to the travel sites like Expedia and Priceline where you can quickly key in what you want to do, click on the best options and then click to pay for the ticket and book the trip.

When I go to Expedia to book a hotel or to Delta.com to book an airline ticket, the average time it takes me start-to-finish is about 5 minutes.

After more than two-dozen attempts before Sunday morning to get into healthcare.gov, I thought it would be a breeze to see what my options would be under what the healthcare reform advocates claim is the greatest thing launched in the U.S. since we landed on the moon.

When I finally got into the website, I was quickly greeted with a screen of text. 

Lot’s of text.

Multiple syllable text.

I clicked on what appeared to be the button to press… but I have to admit I had to ponder first if it really was the “click” button.

Next came up a series of questions about me.

I filled them out.

Click to the next page.

Read the text.

Click to the next page.

Yet more text.

Click… and then a host of questions that I had to put in answers so that the system knew it was really me when I came back to the site again.

Okay… I downloaded in my favorite color… and my mother’s maiden name… and my first pet’s name… and my favorite clothes to wear… and my favorite television show… and the best dessert I ever made.


More questions.




Then the system asked me if I wanted to see if I might be eligible for health insurance credits.

Six clicks and lines of text later I got to a point where I would finally see what plan options were available and the cost...


I was told that the system was still “processing.”

I looked at my watch.  I had been on healthcare.gov now for more than 45 minutes.

I got up and grabbed a can of Red Bull from my refrigerator.

When I sat down in front of my MacBook Pro, the screen still posted that it was “processing.”

10 minutes later after taking my dog out for a quick walk, the screen still said,  “processing.”

I picked up my iPhone and called the 1-800-number posted on the page for the help desk.

A nice older woman answered the call.  She was like that grandmother sitting on the front porch of that older house in the farm fields of South Georgia.

I told her what I was trying to do.

She responded by saying… 

“Now darlin’ all I can tell you is that there are lot’s of glitches in this website right now and they have a bunch of repairs to make. My suggestion is you go and enjoy this nice Sunday morning and take a walk and come back to healthcare.gov a couple weeks from now and, the good Lord willing, it will be a bunch quicker.”

I could not have staged this experience nor scripted her response any better.

While many of my friends think that I am this big supporter of healthcare reform, I hope that they take a moment and read this blog post.

Most anything that the government touches is not likely to function efficiently… nor is the government going to be accountable for it if its not working.


Those who are party loyalists actually believe that their politico can do no wrong.

Happens with those on the left.  Happens with those on the right.

No question that moving forward I will promote the heck out of Obama and his team and showcasing what was created and launched under the banner of healthcare.gov.

I want both supporters and critics to experience it first-hand.

I would not be surprised if much of anyone on the outside of Obama loyalists actually came in and were asked for counsel and perspective.

Probably never considered actually “beta testing” the product.

Sure that any thought of having those who were most critical should be invited into a focus group and exposed to the system and the way it was designed to work to hear commentary and suggestions. 

Oh there is no question that who ever got the contract to do the site design, pick out the pictures to post and the fonts to use delivered on their end of the deal. 

The pictures are pretty and nice.

The fonts are also pretty and nice. 


Well shoot… I can hear it now… that’s not in my job description.

If the website healthcare.gov is a clue as to what awaits us all with the operational mechanics of the Health Reform Act, I will borrow the Obama campaign tagline… Forward!

And I hope that smart businesses and aspiring entrepreneurs-alike… and especially the clients I work with now and at least in the next ten years… watch and jot down key insights about what to avoid doing and what to ensure is done.

What I’ve learned over the years is that if my clients are facing a lack of cost control, organization and accountability that are common in other comparative industries… I should start generating some leads because that client will not be my roster long.  

Sunday, October 6, 2013

History Repeats Itself

Over the weekend, I got a chance to have coffee with a guy I got to know back in my High School days. 

For those of you who are reading this, that was more than 35 years ago… for me.  My friend, Steven is a couple of years older.

When we met up for coffee, he gave me a gift.  He said he found it in one of the antique stores down in what is now his “hometown,” Jackson, Mississippi.

The name of the book is Advertising published by The Alexander Hamilton Institute in New York back 1914.  That’s now 100 years ago.

The author is a Mr. Harry Tipper who was the advertising manager of the Texas Company, president of the Association of National Advertisers and a lecturer of the Men’s League of New York.

The first chapter gives a recount of the history of advertising.  It’s eleven pages long.  Back then, there was no television, no radio, limited outdoor and Lord only knows… no Internet or social media.

What I find fascinating about the book is its length…430 pages. 

There are very intriguing chapters. 

The first chapter of a section titled “Planning The Campaign” is named “Preliminary Investigation” and it talks about things like “important considerations” and the “consumption capacity of territory.”

Sounds a lot like what I do now 100 years later. 

My bet is here in the midst of the information age, it’s just as important for businesses to read that chapter as it was back in 1914.

Times might change, but the human element does not. 

There’s also a chapter titled “Advertising Agencies” with part of the chapter dedicated to “where the agency sometimes error” and the “weaknesses of agency services.”

As the author writes… “Although the advertising agency is generally able to furnish the manufacturer with valuable ideas, it will not as a rule afford much help with regard to marketing methods.”

Sounds like something I often relay to clients.

The author concludes the chapter with this… “Nor must it be forgotten that the interests of the advertising agent as advertising counsel, on the one hand, and commission man, on the other, are always diametrically opposed to each other.”

As I share with many clients, you can call it retainer fee or project fee, but if you don’t think that agency is working with 15% commission on the media and 20% mark-up on the production, run those numbers and see how close they are to what that annual retainer totals at the end of 12 months.

There’s a chapter on “Reason-Why Copy” followed by “Human-Interest Copy” as well as a chapter on “Copy As Affected By Display: and “Copy As Affected By Mediums.”

I share with clients something similar to the latter when I say, “the medium is the message and the message is the medium.”

There’s even a chapter on Advertising Research and the tracking of results including keeping a tally on who responds to the advertising and where they are residing. 

Back in those high school days, I had no idea that I would one day end up doing what I am doing today from a business perspective, but I was very much centered around understanding creativity and how it could be generated and developed.

I know what many of you are thinking.

When you think of your high school days, I would wager few share that common ground of remembrance.

Update time.

This past couple weeks, my very first client that I landed, an academic healthcare medical center, is breaking with a new campaign created by a New York ad agency.

Over the course of the five years in which we worked together, we moved their brand forward with a super brand platform that was anchored around the emotional experience of medical advancement and innovative options that patients had who came to their centers for disease treatment.

Just like the Advertising book addresses in what it terms “Human-Interest Copy,” the brand platform raised the mechanics of research and academic perspectives into a context that the “man-on-the-street” got excited about and desired to learn more.

Perhaps its because my second home is now a country get-away located adjacent to a town that is totally driven by a university campus, I can say what I next will say… or, its because I have taken the time to teach a few courses myself…

…But academics live in a very separate world than the rest of us.

Its one where ad agencies seem to intrigue many, and there are limited control points in place to avoid agencies coming in with limited perspectives of the dynamics of the market and “selling in the sizzle.”

I can see it now. 

The posh, well-scripted ad agency flew down from their New York City digs and spoke with a few of the academics and became intrigued with the academic perspective of the impending changes of the Health Reform Act.

Those New York ad slicks probably also were very much taken back by some patient perspectives that the Medical Center team might even be perceived as aloft… even arrogant… in their personality and bedside manor.

Something they concluded as bad for the brand image.

So… out of their New York offices, they produced the new campaign that replaced “Advancing The Possibilities” with “We’re All In This Together.”

A campaign that is driven by “Fixing Healthcare,” “Family” and “Big City Healthcare.”  All nice, warm scenes of extended families, smiling doctors and pretty pictures of the countryside. 

Be still my heart.

Be still the market too. 

Be still that person diagnosed with cancer and told that conventional avenues are not likely going to work.

Be still that person diagnosed with advanced heart disease in which future activity will be severely limited.

And be still that physician that after 20 hours of surgery has found a way to get a person put back together again.

Ahhhh… but those new ads are all anchored is the Shangri-La of feel-good… the beautiful filming and the thrill of the New York ad agency.

They say that age does breed wisdom. 

While I might want to scream when I see clients do really, really dumb stupid things, it seldom means much to the business with the bucks… at least for now.

When I read the pages of a book written 100 years ago, I quickly realize that I am not alone in the observations.

Sometimes, looking back in time and re-connecting… like I was lucky to do with my friend Steven… helps to anchor us in our trials of surviving the here and now. 

I will elect to stay positive. 

Another good friend of mine who is a psychologist said to me one night... trust me, they will come back.