Even medical devices need marketing help.

That's where StoneArch Creative comes in. When the Minneapolis-based health care marketing agency turns 30 next spring, it will have launched or marketed more than 500 medical devices from big and not-so-big clients that include 3M, Baxter, Medtronic and St Luke's Hospital in Duluth.

Founded as a video production agency in 1984 by Medtronic corporate grad Judy Kessel and behavioral analyst turned filmmaker Jerrold Gershone, StoneArch has evolved into an agency with a staff of more than 40 and an eclectic stable of clients that ranges from the Make-A-Wish Foundation to the Minnesota Department of Public Safety (for its high-visibility DWI campaign).

"Storytelling has always been a core part of what we do," said StoneArch President Jessica Boden. "It's beyond just products. We're seeing the need to provide consultative solutions to our partners for their customers." Boden talked with the Star Tribune last week about the art and business of medical device marketing:

Q: What is the background of StoneArch?

A: StoneArch began 30 years ago next May as a video production company dedicated to health care and medicine. Medtronic was one of its first clients. We supported everything from the company's national sales meeting to surgical techniques. Over time, the agency found that there was an unmet need for providing the full scope of education of marketing for ­medical devices and it added people with a grasp of that category.

Q: You've been at StoneArch since 2002. How has device marketing evolved over that period?

A: It's gone through cycles in alignment with the economy from more pure marketing direct to the physician with a reliance in print media to a more integrated manner that looks at the different audience segments and markets to them. We do a lot of marketing direct to physicians, which drives the sales force, and we do a lot of marketing direct to the patient and that drives the consumer. It used to be from the sales rep to the physician but that has changed direction to the hospital administrator and the procurement specialist as well. It's not just about physician preference anymore. We want to help clients get nimble in communicating. It can't be one message fits all.

Q: Who are some of StoneArch's key ­clients?

A: We've had a long-standing relationship with St. Luke's Hospital in Duluth, 3M, Medtronic, Walgreens on the business-to-business side. There are technology-based clients who are more product-specific, like dictation software for ensuring accuracy in note taking.

Q: Who is your target audience? Do you market to providers or consumers?

A: It's a balance. For something like a drug-­eluting stent, it's pure marketing direct to the physician. That is not something that consumers have a preference with. You want the physician to own that decision. But for something like an insulin pump, it's equal with the consumer because they are the ones using it.

Q: How do you market a device? By cost? Efficiency? Complexity?

A: It depends on the goals of the product. You look at best clinical outcomes. There is so much confusion in the market. We have a learning and education division that we can tap into to provide product training across all audiences from the user and the patient to the sales force and the clinician. It's a blended approach.

Q: How do you market devices in a highly regulated industry?

A: With regulation comes discipline and the tools to keep clients out of trouble. There is a claims matrix about what you can say and to whom you can say it before you even launch marketing. Marketing, at its very core, is about getting emotional responses. Every client has its own legal and regulatory team and we work directly with those teams.

Q: How do you market the humanity in a device?

A: Humanity is the holy grail of what we do: How we create the connection that draws people in and emphasize the benefit of the product. We keep connection with that end-person to help see beyond the technology.

Q: As consumers pay more for health care costs, does that change marketing strategies?

A: We help communicate clarity and education wherever possible. Everyone is being asked to do more with less. There's a lot of confusion out there. We've seen an empowered patient making good decisions. Ultimately, we hope to see more emphasis on prevention. Forty years ago, your doctor would say, 'Here's what you need to do.' The whole dynamic has changed. We have a more engaged, active participant now. The goal is better quality and better health at a lower cost.