Education And Debate

Management for Doctors: The potential for marketing planning in an NHS trust

BMJ 1995; 310 doi: (Published 18 March 1995) Cite this as: BMJ 1995;310:719
  1. Malcolm McDonald, professora,
  2. Christine Miles, general manager, surgery and specialist servicesb
  1. a Cranfield School of Management, Cranfield MK43 0AL
  2. b Redbridge Health Care Trust, Redbridge, Essex
  1. Correspondence to: Professor McDonald.

    No planning procedure can predict the future with complete accuracy. None the less, those managing NHS trusts, like their counterparts in industry and commerce, must somehow try to anticipate it so as to plan appropriately. This is no easy task at the best of times, but during periods of rapid change and uncertainty it is even more difficult. Too much is at stake to rely on good fortune or an irreproachable moral stance as being enough to allow an organisation to win through.

    Learning theorists claim that we learn through our mistakes. In general the lessons from industry were expensive when it came to planning ahead. Companies have been slow to adopt a marketing approach, and those that went under paid the ultimate price. NHS trusts can learn from the collective mistakes which have gone before.

    This article attempts to remove some of the mystique which surrounds marketing. It will consider some of the marketing tools which are valuable in the preparation of a marketing plan.

    What is marketing?

    A delegate setting out on one of our courses suggested, to the amusement of his fellow students, that marketing is “the application of jargon to common sense.” He was visibly deflated when we tended to agree with him.

    As in most professions, practitioners develop a convenient vocabulary which aids communication to insiders, but which is opaque and incomprehensible to everyone else. Marketing, like accounting and medicine, among others, is equally guilty of this charge. As a result, the “common sense” element has become obscured by a combination of mystery, hyperbole, and banter. Let's put the record straight. Marketing is not about selling, nor is it about parting the gullible and unwary from their hard earned money. It is far more mundane and down to earth. Reduced to basics, marketing is the process of matching …

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