February 14, 2019
Welcome to the Corner Office, our Q&A series with Aria President, Scott Collins. This year, Aria is celebrating its 20th anniversary, so we sat down to get Scott’s take on the last two decades of Aria Marketing, healthcare, and public relations.
MS: Looking back at Aria’s early days, and the past 15 years you’ve spent working with the company, how has Aria changed over the years?
SC: Aria has a lot that’s changed and a lot that’s stayed the same. For example, we’ve always focused on the healthcare niche, and by doing so, established an institutional knowledge and history that is now a significant asset and differentiator for us. Our industry learning and expertise continues to be passed down from Aria team member to Aria team member, which gives us a perspective on healthcare that is valuable to our clients as they talk to audiences with the same long tenure in healthcare.
We’ve also experienced significant changes: originally the company had a very small focus on public relations, and instead provided advertising, research, surveys, brochures, and other collateral. Now our core business is public relations, strategy, messaging, and thought leadership. That realignment of services is partly due to my own bias in marketing and the people I’ve surrounded myself with, but I think it is also related to public relations and strategic thought leadership being such a good fit for what’s happening in the market today, especially for B2B healthcare clients.
MS: So Aria has grown and changed to meet the needs of our healthcare technology clients. How have you seen those needs, and the industry in general, evolve over the past 20 years?
SC: Well, so much has changed in the industry, both in terms of the issues and technologies we are talking about, and in terms of the media landscape. The parade of acronyms stretches back endlessly. When I started at Aria, only about 15% of providers were using EHRs, which were replacing CPOEs and ADT. We have been through P4P, MU, ACA, ACOs, HIEs, and a bunch of trends so big that they get whole words, like population health and precision medicine. When you look at the media landscape, my career at Aria began with a total focus on print magazines. Today, some of those titles are still thriving, but we also have this whole new ecosystem of online pubs, blogs, podcasts and social media influencers. So it’s a brave new world out there.
MS: How have you seen public relations and marketing change?
SC: It’s really changed a lot in the course of 20 years. The landscape of vectors you can use to reach your audiences is becoming increasingly dynamic. It’s always been evolving, but now its happening faster and faster every year with publications coming and going, and new media channels popping up and disappearing.
I think another big change is that audiences are increasingly savvy. We’ve moved on from the days when people would unreservedly believe what they read in magazines, and now our target audiences are much better at evaluating content and vetting a source’s credibility.
Today, as a result, we have to answer the questions of how to earn, establish and reinforce trust, when there is so much scrutiny on the validity of news, media outlets, biases, and the influence of corporate or political sources.
MS: How does Aria go about establishing credibility in this new era of journalism and public relations?
SC: Healthcare has always been a battleground of ideas, and our target audiences tend to gravitate toward good ideas, largely based on their merits. Other industries may put more emphasis on style, design, flashy slogans, or catchy tunes. In healthcare, it’s about catchy ideas—the ones that stand up to the intellectual scrutiny of the credentialed, discerning leaders of healthcare organizations. The tools we use to reach our audiences have changed, but our reliance on big, innovative ideas has only deepened.
Today, when we look at thought leadership strategies for our clients, we’re taking those core ideas and stories and finding the best format for them—from 280 characters on Twitter to 2,500 words in print. There are many different formats, levels of detail, and messages to customize for different constituencies to accentuate those core ideas.
MS: What do you foresee changing in the next 20 years for healthcare, public relations, and Aria?
SC: The healthcare industry, media landscape, and economy are in a continuous cycle that has big impacts on us. Aria has evolved over the years to adapt to changing demand, and we’ve sharpened our skills in new areas to meet new opportunities and challenges. We’re bigger now than we’ve ever been and I think we have a stronger team and client base than at any time in the company’s history. However, I see my challenge as being able to differentiate Aria from other agencies as a really unique and high-value solution for companies in boom times like today, but also in leaner times in the future, so that Aria can continue to be successful and thrive even when the markets tighten up. A nice thing about healthcare is that it is much more insulated from growing and bursting bubbles, because no matter what happens, people get sick, people get old, people go to the hospital, and they all need doctors to treat them. It does make us a little more recession-resistant than other industries, which is a great benefit.
MS: This is a big year for Aria, as the company celebrates 20 years of providing healthcare clients support. What do you think is the most exciting thing going on in Aria’s world right now, and just ahead?
SC: I’m excited about the success Aria has continued to experience these last few years. We’ve built a great team and a solid client base, and have a lot of efficient processes to get new team members up to speed and smart about healthcare. Our clients really value us for that, which is rewarding. I’m excited I’ve got such influential leaders working with me and that we’ve got more coming up the Aria ranks. Our younger generation of professionals is stepping up at Aria to take on the mantle of our values and embed them in every aspect of Aria life. It’s incredible to see a culture, work ethic, and set of values – that I’ve worked to build – take hold and grow.
It’s also exciting to look out into the healthcare world at the big ideas and policies we’re discussing. The ACA was a big idea that had massive ripple effects, and still does through the industry, and this Medicare-for-all debate that’s going on right now may never happen, but regardless, it will generate really interesting ideas and policies, creating more grist for our thought leadership mill. There’s also really exciting healthcare technologies coming out. AI and machine learning are much-abused buzzwords, but still provide really exciting core technology and business opportunity.