Manny Rodriguez, Chief Marketing and Experience Officer at UCHealth, said UCHealth interacted with a lot of great agencies, but they never really told the story the way UCHealth would tell it.

Manny Rodriguez

“The agencies just couldn’t understand our brand,” he said. “They couldn’t understand who we were, who we wanted to be.”

So he and his team started pushing for an internal agency and he ultimately sold the concept to their CEO.

Rodriguez talked about their experience during The CMO Club Virtual Roundtable, The Why, How, Challenges and Possibilities of Bringing All of Your Marketing In-House.

Their journey began with the team taking smaller projects in-house, while having external agencies handle the larger projects, he said.

Their internal agency was structured to model an external agency, adding ten staff people that included account, creatives, production, videographers, and photographers; at the same time creating in-house capabilities for recording, radio and video editing and producing. Three years later, everything is done in-house.

And it’s done well: they’ve won more than a half-dozen Emmy Awards, and are nominated for another half-dozen this year.

For those considering this path, Rodriguez recommends the UCHealth approach in starting small. This gives the team time to get comfortable with the idea that it can do the work. Hire people with the talent to do the work, and then build confidence with those small projects, he said.

Three years in, the group is producing an average of 250 projects per week. That can drop as low as the 150’s and, during their re-brand, went as high as 500, Rodriguez said. He’s staffed for when times are lean, but brings in contractors when things get busy.

Using a project management system called WRIKE, their internal “clients” must submit a request through WRIKE in order to be considered – email or phone requests are not accepted. Three dedicated project managers navigate each of these project requests, using the system to prioritize workload and allocate resources, Rodriguez said. WRIKE also helps them manage each employee’s workload – keeping a running tally of who is working on what, and who can take on more work.

While they may have 250 projects at any given time, he said they turn down another 100 on a weekly basis.

“We say no a lot,” he said. “I’m never going to give you what you want, I’m always going to give you what you need.”

A client can’t ask for a new website, “just because,” for example. Instead, the client submits a request asking to address something specific or to solve a problem and the internal agency will come back with a solution.

Within the account team, people are dedicated to a service line, such as oncology. Called “strategists,” their job is to know about everything within that service line, Rodriguez said. Those strategists are then the point of contact for the creatives. Strategists can explain the problem, and the agency can begin to find a solution.

Bringing their marketing in-house wasn’t a move they made for financial reasons, but Rodriguez said he does expect it to pay off.

“There’s a period where you’re winding down (with the agencies) and staffing up at the same time,” he said. “We’re wound down now, and should start seeing the fiscal savings.”

UCHealth now controls everything, whereas changes with an agency might have once meant a change in the scope, he said. It’s also resulted in increased flexibility and agility.

“In this model, we see all the ideas and concepts, and we can interact in real-time,” he said.

It’s important to encourage conversation and even disagreement to keep things fresh, Rodriguez said. While the team can sometimes have a tense disagreement about the direction of a campaign, that discussion leads to a stronger idea.

“Ultimately you come together with a better idea – everybody owns the process,” he said.

Looking beyond marketing and communications, UCHealth now has its own innovation lab which Rodriguez discussed as well.

The lab’s purpose is to partner with individuals looking to re-define healthcare. From large corporations to mom and pop establishments, the innovation lab actively seeks out partners for collaboration.

When it began, the innovation lab was housed in decades old offices and didn’t really scream innovation, he said.

They worked to find a facility in a hot area of Denver, locating a group that was constructing a building that would further healthcare start-ups, he said. Though the UCHealth CEO initially shot down the idea, Rodriguez sold it by getting their name on the building and justifying it as advertising.

The agency is now housed in the space as well, occupying 8,000 of 17,000 square feet.

“We’ve created an environment for the team that’s amazing,” Rodriguez said. “It’s created a culture.”

The work there does tie back to the agency. Those innovations will need to be publicized over time, he pointed out. Already, a dedicated resource from the creative team sits in with the innovation team as it comes up with ideas.

“When we come to fruition with a great idea that can change healthcare, enhance people’s live or just enhance how people do things, the creative agency will be involved in telling that story,” he said.