A Picture Worth A Thousand Agencies (Well, Almost): GE's Healthy Approach To Consolidation

GE’s motto may be putting imagination to work, but GE Healthcare Global Director of Operations, Advertising and Promotion Katherine Patterson left nothing to the imagination while presenting a case study of the division’s agency consolidation initiative.

She began with some pretty powerful numbers, showing a slide of the healthcare unit’s roster heading into the effort. While she couldn’t say the actual number of agencies on the roster, she put the number 341 on the slide and said “it is in the hundreds.’

The other numbers on the slide:

1,500 = number of “marketers” in the healthcare operations.

40% = the amount that GE corporate earmarked to reduce its budget by.

120 = the marketing communications workforce, worldwide.

She then put one more number up on the screen -- a zero -- and said that was the amount of resources GE Healthcare had internally to support the initiative. Despite that, Patterson said the team began rolling up its sleeves. She noted that the head of one division offered to do a $1 million professional-quality new product launch photo shoot in his “basement.” Other team members said things like “my wife knows Photoshop.”

I was struck by Patterson’s presentation for a number of reasons. One was that I had no idea that just one division of a big marketer like GE could have so many agencies, but the other reason was that we had just had a panel discussion at OMMA Chicago about ad blocking and the increasing amount of advertising -- and brand clutter -- in the marketplace. So I asked Patterson whether she thought we were entering a period of marketing “deduction” after an accelerated period of marketing induction (you know, the hyper-fragmentation of media).

Her candid response surprised me just as much as her candid presentation did.

“I think there is going to be a big movement toward deduction and getting rid of the clutter,” she acknowledged, and then cited GE Healthcare’s recent marketing effort during the annual Radiological Society of North America conference, which she said is one of the company’s biggest trade events of the year.

“Let’s just not advertise,” she said she recommended to our colleagues, adding that “nobody noticed.”

While the anti-trade advertising initiative saved “a million bucks,” Patterson said the real benefit was for its target audience: the radiological trade professionals attending the show.

Patterson said GE scrapped the obligatory “room drops” and the net effect was positive. If they had done an ad, she said it would use the copy: “Give your eyes a rest, radiologists.”

In other words -- stop looking at ads like this one.

1 comment about "A Picture Worth A Thousand Agencies (Well, Almost): GE's Healthy Approach To Consolidation".
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  1. Judith Brower fancher from Brower, Miller & Cole, October 28, 2015 at 3:56 p.m.

    Great article!  I hope when they decided not to advertise at that conference, they spent that million on something like social media, publicity, Google Adwords, a great conference giveaway for the radiologist's kids, a steak and martini dinner for the top docs, etc.  Marketing budgets are not savings accounts - they are meant to be spent wisely, but spent.  

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