As a healthcare marketer, I spend a ton of time on the road working with hospital clients. I try to explain to my staff and colleagues that all the travel is not glamorous, but it never seems to sink in. The truth is that I love my work and enjoy being on-site with my firm’s clients, but the travel is a grind. Think of all the delayed flights, endless hours in airports, and nights away from family.
For those of you out there who still think the life of a marketing consultant may be glamorous, here’s a quick story to dispel that belief:
Yesterday I traveled to one of my clients that is within a four hour drive of my office. No airplanes involved. No need for a hotel – so no need for packing. I just jumped in my car and headed out first thing in the morning with my Starbucks latte in hand. As fate would have it, the project I’m working on became very involved once I arrived at the client’s facility. When it became apparent that we would not be wrapping up until late in the evening, and knowing I would need to be back at the crack of dawn the next day, my wife convinced me that driving back and forth did not make any sense, so I should just get a hotel room for the evening; she was looking out for my health and well-being – something I don’t do. That’s terrific except I had no change of clothes, no shaving supplies, no deodorant, no nothing. I didn’t even have the charger for my iPhone. Fortunately I can charge my iPhone on my laptop (and in my car), so that’s not a problem.
Here’s where the glamour comes into play. I left my client meetings late that evening just in time to get to the local shopping mall prior to closing. The first store I ran across was JCPenney. I needed boxers, undershirts, socks, a dress shirt and a necktie. When I got to the men’s department I was faced with the realization that you can’t just buy one undershirt or one pair of underwear. Everything comes in six packs. I guess men like their underwear packaged like their beer! Even socks come in large packs. I ended up buying enough underwear and socks to clothe a small town in New England! Then I picked out a dress shirt and headed for the neckties. Let me tell you, picking out a necktie at JCPenney was a challenge. They were overpriced and not very attractive. I struggled with my choice and was running out of time. Finally a young sales associate approached me and offered his help. Here I was in JCPenney at 9pm buying neckties and getting advice from a teenager with pimples. He was my fashion consultant! I was tired and cranky and wanted to tell this kid that I have been buying neckties for 30 years and could manage on my own. But I was polite and together we found the perfect tie. Didn’t I say that I lead a glamorous life?
I made my clothing purchase and headed to the hotel. The people at the hotel were very nice and gave me shaving cream and a disposable razor. The hallways and public spaces in the hotel (a Hilton), booked at the last possible moment, wreaked of cigarette smoke. Fortunately, my room was non-smoking and smelled fine. After catching up on a day’s worth of email, I managed to get six hours of sleep before heading back to my client’s facility this morning – Starbucks in hand. One of the challenging things about business travel is that all of your regular work doesn’t get done during the day, but still has to get done. That typically means late nights working in the hotel room to knock things off the to do list. That’s one reason I’m always scrambling to keep up with my email throughout the day. It is also why I love airports that have free wireless Internet access (Charlotte Douglas Airport and Boston Logan Airport are two examples)! Of course I am also a fan of hospitals with free guest wireless. Internet access makes my work life so much easier. And the ultimate innovation has been the advent of wireless Internet access on airplanes. Hallelujah. Now, as long as the battery in my laptop holds out, I can be amazingly productive and connected while in transit.
So there’s a snapshot of the glitzy life of the healthcare marketing consultant. As a hospital president recently said to me, in this line of work we are the “roadies” and the doctors and surgeons are the rock stars. And I’m just fine being one of the roadies. That makes me think of the Jackson Browne song “The Load-out Stay.”
“Now the seats are all empty
Let the roadies take the stage
Pack it up and tear it down
They’re the first to come and last to leave
Working for that minimum wage
They’ll set it up in another town.”