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Ahead of our recent Sydney summit we caught up with VetPartners’ CMO Penny Parkinsion about data analytics and data science, how to lead a marketing team in today’s ever-changing world, and what delegates can expect from her talk next week…
Can you describe some of the unique challenges with marketing in the veterinary industry?
At VetPartners, our philosophy is ‘Join Us Stay You’, and each veterinary hospital operates under its own brand.  We don't re-brand; my team works with over 120 brands.  When we buy a clinic or enter into a partnership, generally the practice has been running for 20 to 30 years as a small business and in most cases is operating at a basic level of marketing. We've had some situations where websites haven't been mobile optimised, or no website at all (I know right!).  A challenge has been to focus our veterinary hospitals around the importance of their digital experience. We're making some real strides here, especially around online booking. Another strategic focus is to work through how we scale campaigns and activity for over 120 brands. We've launched a self-serve client communications hub, with campaigns and stationery, it pre-populates all their details, and it has helped us deliver work to market more quickly and efficiently.
I work for an organisation that is inherent in the help it provides to people through the care of animals. Another challenge is to educate clients that veterinary care comes at a price and that unfortunately, it is not funded by the government as human health is (i.e., Medicare). The cost of veterinary care is a hugely sensitive subject for customers. Veterinarians are four times more likely to commit suicide than the general population* due to higher levels of negative emotions, some reasons cited are working 50 hours per week and dealing with difficult clients. It is a horrifying statistic. Anything we can do in this space to educate customers to support veterinarians and nurses as a collection is vital.
My goal is to help our veterinary hospitals improve their client experience; it's been a fantastic journey so far with lots of opportunities ahead.
*Source: Australian Veterinarian Association
What have been some of the biggest changes you have seen in marketing strategy within the veterinary care industry in the past year? How has this benefitted the industry?
The veterinarian hospitals have started to get interested in the customer journey and are looking at providing the best experience possible. I’m also seeing clinics taking their digital footprint seriously, not just their website, but reviews, online surveys, and their social presence. Recognising that today's consumer has changed and to stay relevant, they must change too. It's an exciting time for veterinary care!
With the role of the CMO changing and a greater implementation of data and technology, what would you highlight as the main qualities for leading a marketing team?
- A passion for the customer is vital – whether that be business or end consumer. Putting the customer first and at the centre of what we do is imperative.

- Having curiosity and energy in abundance, being passionate about data and technology, especially around the stories that data and insights can tell, and then role modelling this with the team.

- Strong communications skills, being able to collaborate with your team and broader stakeholders, as a service function and an influencer is important to ensure buy-in and delivery.

- To have a growth mindset and being open to feedback, we should be consistently asking for feedback to grow and develop, from our teams and broader stakeholders.
- Creative and flexible, we are in a continuously changing world, and it’s essential to have the ability to pivot when needed to provide imaginative solutions from the physical look and feel of something to creatively problem-solving.


What are some of the main challenges faced when implementing data analytics and data science into your marketing strategy?

I’m a massive data fan. When a veterinary hospital joins the VetPartners family; they come with their practice management system. We currently have over ten platforms that are supported by the business, which brings challenges of consolidating data into one place. Luckily, we have an incredible group of people in IT who are forging ahead with this, and every week brings a small tweak. It’s all about those 1% improvements! The marketing managers in my team are very data and digitally literate. A key challenge for us is the volume of different businesses we have and finding efficient ways to source data and insights that are scalable.
What do you think our delegates can take away from your participation in the upcoming Forward Marketing Summit in Sydney?
Being brave, courageous and working hard pays dividends. I’ve got a lot of experience spanning many different industries and countries from FMCG, hospitality, finance and health, the UK, Europe, Australia and New Zealand. Don’t get locked into being known as ‘financial marketer’ or an ‘FMCG marketer’. Different experiences across industries and countries give you the ability to see opportunities and challenges in different ways. Be open to new opportunities and say yes. Sometimes you need to slide backwards/sideways to push forward. Don’t be afraid of those moves either.
Know that it’s OK to speak up. If you speak up and don’t feel heard, find another way to get your point across, own it.
We have one life, so make sure you are working for a business that aligns with your values and that you love your job!

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