Health Care Marketing Right Now: Good for Patients, Communities and Hospitals

Health Care Marketing Right Now: Good for Patients, Communities and Hospitals

“COVID’s impact has been devastating in many ways—and it’s been incredibly inspiring,” said our October 9th Campfire guest John Looney, MSM, Vice President of Marketing, Communications and Public Affairs at Newton-Wellesley Hospital, Mass General Brigham. 

“On the devastating front, our organization and the entire system have been hit hard financially,” said John. “It has taken an enormous toll on our staff and our providers. On the other side it’s been unbelievably inspiring to be part of this work. I’ve seen teams rally in ways that I never could have envisioned.”

Watch our Campfire Session, Peer to Peer: Make the Case for Marketing Investment. Or read below for key takeaways from our webinar event!

On 10/09/2020, John Looney, MSM, Vice President of Marketing, Communications and Public Affairs at Newton-Wellesley Hospital, Mass General Brigham was gracious enough to join Stephen and Mike for a Q & A on marketing investment during COVID. The session was packed with: 

  • consumer sentiment polling and research
  • a sample of a patient recovery campaign that is now in market 
  • Q1 planning advice 

Here’s what was discussed:

  • Why investing in advertising is the right thing to do for patients and for the health system
  • How Mass General Brigham, one of the world’s most respected health system brands, is coming together like never before to engage patients, employees and providers
  • Why John is encouraging hospital staff to share key messages in the community
  • How the hospital is leveraging new community outreach strategies to keep at-risk populations safe and well

Consumer Sentiment Polling and Research

John shared that Mass General Brigham providers, like those of other systems, were reporting seeing patients delaying care to the point of creating an emergency or crisis situation for themselves. 

This spurred the system to conduct robust consumer sentiment polling and research surrounding why patients were delaying care and when they planned to return to care.

At the beginning of the study, patients were polled on a weekly basis; since then, polling has shifted to bi-weekly.

Findings from the poll include:

  • 50% of participants indicated and still indicate that they have either delayed their care individually or that their provider has canceled their care. 
  • Although procedures are being rescheduled there has not been a lot of movement week-to-week in patient sentiment surrounding seeking care.
  • The reasons given for not returning to care include: 
  1. the procedure or condition wasn’t perceived as urgent 
  2. a concern about contracting COVID-19.
  • 77% of those polled indicated they are putting off routine care. 
  • 30% are delaying screenings.
  • When asked when they thought they would return to care, 50% of patients indicated they would delay routine care and/or screenings either 1 to 3 months, 4 to 6 months or until after the pandemic is over. 

The Right Thing To Do

The fact that patients would delay routine care and screenings for months or even until after the pandemic was over was deeply troubling to the health care system.

“When we saw a glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel, our attention and the attention of the system did start to shift to recovery and bringing patients—and quite frankly business—back,” said John. “A lot of those initial conversations were thinking about, how do we bring back our elective cases? But the research really pushed us in a different direction.”

The system became much more proactive and deliberate around a greater calling.

“We needed to reassure these patients that it was safe to come back and get them to return not only for what they perceived to be routine care but also for screenings,” said John.

The research allowed the system to pivot and recognize what its patients needed to hear. And for it to do what was right for its patients—including escalating its efforts to connect with communities that needed additional support.

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Research-Driven Messaging and Marketing  

John also shared research about how often patients want to be communicated with and where they want their health care provider or system to make that connection.

  • 1 in 3 people want to hear from the system once a month, an indicator that there is an appetite for more information.
  • The preferred mode of communication—email.
  • Research also indicated that patients trust information from their doctor or provider the most, even above that of the CDC.

Interestingly, our own Hailey Sault consumer sentiment research conducted at the beginning of the pandemic and later into the crisis showed similar findings in different markets across the country.

Specific Messaging to Patients

John talked about the newest campaign efforts by Newton-Wellesley Hospital and Mass General Brigham and how providers were used in that effort as a way to connect with patients and encourage them to come back to care. 

Internal Messaging

One of our Hailey Sault insights—from the beginning of the pandemic and even now—is that employees need to be informed in order to create advocates and ambassadors who can get needed messages out. John’s experience reflected what we have learned:

“The internal communications piece of our effort has been huge,” said John. “In the heat of the surge we had to completely create a whole new communications program and structure to support the needs of our organization. Our goal all along has been to engage our staff. We knew we needed to get the message out and we asked them for their help. We gave them the tools that they needed to have these conversations, not only with their staff, but also with their family members, with their neighbors and with people in their community.”

Coming Together as a System

Before the pandemic, plans were in place to integrate the marketing teams of Newton-Wellesley Hospital and other hospitals with the Mass General Brigham system.

“With COVID, like so many other initiatives, it got put on hold,” said John. “But what was inspiring for me to watch were the leads across the system, even though we weren’t coming together to push that work forward, we continued to come together to rally around this crisis we were all dealing with. It became about, ‘How can we support each other? How can we share what we’re doing? How can we learn from each other?”

“Now coming out of COVID, we’ve been able to accelerate that other work. I think it’s based on the energy and the commitment and the relationship building that was able to take place during COVID.”

Investing in Marketing Right Now

When talking about the campaigns now in market to reassure patients and get them back to routine care and screening, John shared advice on Q1 planning and financial recovery:

“But at the same time for us, we’re moving into Q1 of our next fiscal year. We are also moving forward with a lot of our other patient acquisition campaigns and strategies and really doing both. Because it is important to not only reassure patients, we also have to be very deliberate about bringing patients back.”

Quick Last Bits of Advice

On testing: John shared some tips about testing a campaign’s messaging and a campaign’s look by easily using input from patient groups or patient advisory councils.

On media/news outlets: He also told us about leveraging media relations by being accessible and having experts trained to be thought leaders and able to answer questions when media outlets call. He told us at the peak of the surge his hospital was getting two or three inquiries a day from the media.

On the skills needed to thrive in health care marketing now—and into the future: John said above all else being the voice of the patient and collaborating, building alliances and relationships across the organization—including operations—were the skills needed to thrive.


1. Leverage your care providers as much as possible across all channels of communications with patients right now. They are the trusted source of information for patients and patients want to hear from them.

2. Patients and the media are hungry for information from you. Be that source for them. 

3. Communicate internally, create brand ambassadors, give them tools to communicate with friends, family members, neighbors and the community at large.

4. Keep the energy and collaboration going that has brought you together through this crisis by continuing to support each other, share resources and learn from each other.

5. As you hit Q1, continue to reassure patients that it is safe to come in for routine care and screenings but also begin the patient acquisition work that needs to be done for the financial health of your organization.

Join Us for Our Next Campfire Session

We started the Campfire webinars in the early days of COVID-19 so colleagues could discuss the issues and opportunities impacting health care marketers. That was when we thought COVID-19 would be “here today, gone tomorrow.” Clearly, there’s still a lot to discuss. Join us and your colleagues for an upcoming fun and informative session soon. Click the link below to view past Campfires and to be notified of future Campfires.


Mankato Recovery Campaign info

I am the most sought-after health care persona. And it’s not all it’s cracked up to be.

I am the most sought-after health care persona. And it’s not all it’s cracked up to be.

By day I am the creative director at Hailey Sault. By night I am one of the agency’s living, breathing COVID-era personas.

Let me explain. When this all began—just a few short months ago—Hailey Sault researched and developed several comprehensive generational COVID-era patient personas. I am the Gen-X persona. 

(By the way, I’ll share links to our Campfire Session webinars about Hailey Sault’s COVID-era personas and links to other helpful patient acquisition insights and strategies at the end of this blog.) 

Persona detail image

As a Gen-X mom, I help manage the health care decisions of four people:

  1. my 11-year-old daughter 
  2. my 88-year-old mother 
  3. my husband
  4. myself (of course)

My husband would argue that he doesn’t need help managing his health care, but it’s my nature to lovingly “help” when I can.

Can you say “stress”?

It is an understatement to say that it is stressful at times, and now, in this new reality—everyone’s “new normal” thanks to COVID-19—that stress has intensified.

My daughter

My daughter’s health is fine right now, thankfully. She’s had some pretty big issues in the past with an aggressive benign tumor in her ear that needed several surgeries to completely eradicate. We needed to go to Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, as they didn’t have the level of specialization in Duluth, Minnesota that the tumor required. I’ve never been more thankful to live only four hours from that type of specialized care.

My worries for her in this time of COVID are the same as what I believe most parents are facing. 

  • If she does require care, is it safe to bring her in?
  • Does she really need her wellness check when she turns 12? 
  • What can I realistically put off that wouldn’t be detrimental in the future? 
  • How bad a mom am I to even be thinking about putting off care for my daughter? 
  • I also wonder about the stress this is having on her. She’s an only child and not being able to play with other kids on a regular basis can’t be good for her mental health. 
  • And that’s not even to mention the extra screen time she’s getting on her devices because her summer camp was canceled and I’m working full time from home. 
  • All of this adds up to me having tremendous feelings of guilt.

My mother

My mother lives in a wonderful and much-needed assisted living facility—which she entered exactly one week before COVID struck. Her health was all-consuming before that time, and her progressing mental decline meant that our roles were increasingly reversing. She’s been on lockdown for months and I’m wracked with feelings of guilt about her too, as well as sadness, and surprisingly, relief. 

  • She’s doing ok, she says. 
  • She’s getting three great meals a day, has joined in on the activities, and made some friends. 
  • However, I can tell she’s declining even further because we can’t be there with her. 
  • It is hard for me, missing her and thinking about her being without us in these crazy times. 

My husband

My husband recently had surgery to remove skin cancer and has had some other ongoing issues that I’ve been trying to get him to self-advocate for, but he is not as concerned as I am. (Go figure.) I try not to bug him about it. 

  • He works in health care and I have questions about COVID regarding that also.
  • He must be at a higher risk of contracting COVID-19 because of where he works, right? 
  • Will he bring it home to us? 
  • Or, is he more protected because of the health care safety protocols that are in place? Question, questions.


And then there is me. I’m healthy, knock on wood. 

  • I would be lying to you if I told you I wasn’t stressed. 
  • I am also due for a mammogram, which, you guessed it, I am putting off for now. I know it’s not smart, but wow, these are bizarre times. 
  • I would also be lying to you if I told you I wasn’t anxious and even depressed at times.

First, thank you!

Before I get into everything you can do for me, as the most sought-after health care persona, I want to thank you for everything you are doing for all of your patients—including my family, my mother and me. I can’t imagine the stress you are under at this time.

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Here’s what you need to know about what I am looking for, searching for, even yearning for from you.


Please let me know that it is safe to come into your facility. Let me know what you are doing to make it safe—actually, even use the word “safe.”

In research that Hailey Sault conducted in April, on how the information people were seeking about health care was changing, the words “safe” or “safety” were mentioned 126 times in the verbatim answers.

During our What COVID-era Patients Want to Know Campfire Session webinar, one of our guests, Carl Maronich, marketing director at Riverside Healthcare in Kankakee, Illinois shared that patients are delaying medical care because of concerns about safety. He reiterated the need to make people feel confident that they are safe in your facilities, as well as the importance of ensuring internal, operational folks are able to inform patients about safety protocols and what to expect at their appointments.


If there was ever a time to over-share, this is that time. Let me know everything that you know about the virus and everything that you are doing about it. 

Also, show me the cleaning procedures you’re using and the protocols you’re following. Let me see every step you are taking and what the experience will be like when I enter one of your facilities. 


Another guest on the What COVID-era Patients Want to Know Campfire Session I mentioned above was Mike Dame, vice president, marketing and communication, at Carilion Clinic in Virginia and West Virginia. He said something profound that every patient, including me, needs to know:

“We must remind patients that we treat infectious diseases all the time. This is a new virus that is still very mysterious. We are just adding this to the couple hundred other infectious disease states that we treat on a regular basis.”


It’s important to me that you know where I am on my health care journey and where my child, mother and husband are on theirs. I need you to address the challenges of overcoming the barriers to care that were present for them and myself before COVID and that have become amplified even further during COVID.

As the head of health care in my household and for my mother, please give me tips and answers and ways to make my job easier.

Some great insight on this can be found in a Campfire Session called Deep Dive: COVID-Era Patient Personas and in a blog by a colleague called How Health Care Marketers Can Help Women Through COVID-19.


Our Hailey Sault research in April revealed that people trusted the CDC and their own health care system the most when it came to information about the virus. An even earlier look at consumers in March showed that 93 percent wanted regular information about COVID-19 from their hospital, health system or physician.

I can attest to that. There is a lot of misinformation circulating on social media about the virus, its symptoms and what to do to stay safe—as well as in some mainstream media outlets right now. I have trusted the health of my family and myself to you for years. You are where I am going to turn for trusted facts. Please make sure they are available for me.

The insights and strategies you need

A Kaiser Family Foundation poll reveals that women appear to be shouldering the extra stress and anxiety brought on by the outbreak of COVID-19.

As a living, breathing Hailey Sault COVID-era persona, I know that is true. The way to inspire me and my family to come back in for care is to address my stress, answer my questions, make me feel safe and confident in your care, make it easy for me to know how to get in to see you, and show me what will happen when I or one of my family members comes in.

We (Hailey Sault) have a whole resource page filled with insights and strategies you can use to connect to people like me, as well as Gen-Z, millennials and baby boomers, during this time. 

Thank you again for everything you are doing right now.

Mankato Recovery Campaign info

What’s In Your Fall Health Care Marketing Plan?

What’s In Your Fall Health Care Marketing Plan?

Planning got a lot more difficult for health care marketers when life as we knew it changed overnight. But planning marketing strategy is still essential, despite—or maybe because of—the uncertainty in the air.

Watch our Campfire Session What’s In Your Fall Marketing Plan? Or read below for key takeaways from our webinar event!

On 9/18/20, Mike, Ann and Stephen shared what they’re recommending to Hailey Sault health care marketers, planners and the C-Suite to shore up lost revenue and enter the fall strong.

6 Strategic Planning Frames

Mike shared the six frames or lenses we look through when we advise our clients on where and how to invest their marketing resources. These frames help identify areas of greatest need and opportunity, and provide clarity of focus. 

1. Service Recovery: does your organization need to recover lost revenue when it closed most services to brace for COVID-19 surges? If so, what are the service lines or specialties that will help shore up lost revenue?

2. Service Expansion: does your organization have the opportunity to grow share of market for key services? For example, opening or expanding key service lines? Hiring or affiliating with new providers? 

3. Landscape: what are the dynamics that could positively or negatively impact the organization? The most common three we see and advise on are the competitive landscape; state and local government policies (such as decisions about essential and nonessential services or not containing the spread of COVID-19); and culture/employee engagement. For example: how is your staff morale these days? Do you need a communications strategy to address culture? What about patient satisfaction? Most providers have seen lower patient satisfaction scores due to safety policies to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, which impact patient and visitor policies and masking requirements. 

4. Consumer: what is the mindset, outlook and receptivity to receiving care in the hospital or clinic? Our clients are seeing sicker, higher acuity patients re-entering the ER and hospitals. How is this trend impacting your planning? We’re also seeing exponential growth of digital media consumption. How is this trend impacting your media buys and plans? Last: how have your patients’ journeys changed since COVID-19? We’re seeing our clients achieve results by encouraging patients to seek diagnostics and screenings at stand-alone facilities, versus re-entering the traditional hospital. This is likely due to consumer perceptions that smaller outpatient or stand-alone sites of care are “safer” than entering a traditional hospital. 

5. Brand Impact: consumers today want hospitals and providers to communicate with them consistently for COVID-19 and for other health topics. Is your organization leveraging this opportunity to reinforce its brand and impact? Unfortunately, COVID-19 has had a tragic impact on many health systems’ financial bottom line. While we don’t want to sound opportunistic, do you have opportunities to step more fully into a leadership positioning? 

6. Black Swan Events: black swan events signify situations that we can’t always plan for or envision … like pandemics. Is it time to regroup with your team and speculate, scenario-plan and imagine what might happen in the future so that your organization can move with confidence if the unimaginable might happen?

Dynamic Versus Static Planning

During the Campfire, Ann and Stephen had a fun banter discussing the pros and cons of dynamic (agile) planning versus static (long-term) planning models. Ann was “Team Dynamic” while Stephen was “Team Static.”

Ann led the debate with the benefits of leaning into a more agile, dynamic style of planning.

According to Ann:

  • Consumer sentiment and behaviors are constantly changing. Agile planning allows marketers to leverage in-the-moment insights for planning strategy and campaigns.
  • COVID-19 case counts change daily, and spikes in case load and hospitalizations require an agile approach to planning and messaging.
  • Because hospitals closed many services in the early days of COVID-19, financial recovery is still critical for many organizations. Census and capacity is a moving target, which requires an agile approach to planning.
  • Consumer journeys have changed since COVID-19: telehealth is a great example of a way we seek care. Agile planning helps keep pace with new dynamics in the marketplace like consumer journeys.
  • Cultural and social justice movements are happening in cities across the country. Hospitals and health systems are often the largest employers in the communities the organizations serve. Many health systems have chosen to voice their collective sentiments about this moment in history. Planning for messages, outreach and showing support must be agile to account for the fluid nature of this movement.

Stephen, representing “Team Static” or long-term planning, countered Ann’s arguments for an agile model by acknowledging what is not likely to change in health care, despite the uncertainty in the air.

Stephen shared statistics of the predicted number of annual deaths, hospitalizations, disease diagnoses, and surgeries for the United States:

  • Flu: according to CDC, influenza has resulted in between 9 million to 45 million illnesses, 140,000–810,000 hospitalizations and between 12,000–61,000 deaths annually since 2010. 
  • Heart Disease: according to the CDC, about 655,000 Americans die from heart disease each year: that’s 1 in every 4 deaths. 
  • Stroke: according to the CDC, stroke is the leading cause of serious, long-term disability in the U.S. Each year, approximately 795,000 people suffer a stroke. 
  • Cancer: according to the CDC, about 1 million men are diagnosed with cancer in America every year, and 900,000 women are diagnosed with cancer every year. And those numbers are expected to rise. 
  • Orthopedics: according to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, about 790,000 people get a total knee replacement every year in the U.S., and about 450,000 people get total hip replacements every year.

Stephen also noted other factors that are typically “static” and require a long-term view to planning, including:

  • How hospitals and health systems typically make margin—which is most often the basis of where marketing dollars are concentrated.
  • Centers of Excellence and other high profile service lines (like cardiovascular and neurosciences) are still the focal point of health care marketing dollars.
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Though Ann and Stephen had a fun time debating each other, they both agree: health care marketers need both Agile and Static planning to operate in today’s environment. In fact, if there is an “upside” to COVID-19, it’s that it encouraged agile planning and approaches in health care. (Many in our industry have criticized health care for taking too long to innovate best practices in marketing and communication.)

What’s In Our Clients’ Fall Marketing Plans?

Mike, Ann and Stephen ended the Campfire by sharing a few recommendations we’re making to clients these days:

  • Communicate the Fall Trifecta: “Cold, Flu and COVID-19”: many health organizations are suggesting we should expect a fall surge of COVID-19 cases during cold and flu season. Consumers will likely be concerned about their symptoms and will seek health resources, flu shots and protocols to keep themselves and others safe as we head into fall. 
  • Promote primary care and pediatrics in those markets where patient volume hasn’t returned to pre-COVID-19 levels. According to a recent Healthcare Dive article, one-third of primary care docs still face significantly low revenue.
  • Reinforce the “Safe Care” message: even though many marketers and communicators have shared this message to consumer audiences for months, data suggests many Americans are still concerned about contracting COVID-19 in hospitals or clinics. That concern could mean putting off care, which is not good for sick individuals or hospitals. Tenet’s COO recently shared in a press conference: “We have seen into the emergency departments a higher acuity set of patients coming back in with disease progression that’s more than it should have been.” 

We ended the Campfire main session by encouraging attendees to leverage their owned media channels: email, direct mail list, and organic social media accounts. Since the COVID-19 pandemic, we have been polling consumers to identify what they want to hear from providers, frequency of communication, and preferred channels. In our latest research, 93% of consumers would like to hear from their physician and/or health system consistently. Ann shared that one of our clients has seen massive increases in followers and engagement on their owned social platforms since we helped them amplify their owned social media channels:

  • Twitter followers are up 1,700%
  • Facebook followers are up 430%
  • Instagram followers are up 380%

Join Us for Our Next Campfire Session

We started the Campfire webinars in the early days of COVID-19 so colleagues could  discuss the issues and opportunities impacting health care marketers. That was when we thought COVID-19 would be “here today, gone tomorrow.” Clearly, there’s a lot to discuss. Join us and your colleagues for a fun and informative session soon. Click the link below to view past Campfires and to be notified of future Campfires.


Mankato Recovery Campaign info

How are you talking about COVID?

How are you talking about COVID?

I’m a copywriter, so it’s my job to obsess over words. And, ever since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, I’ve been obsessed with the words and phrases we as health care marketers are using surrounding COVID-19. I’ve been carefully thinking about their meanings, their impact, how they can capture an audience’s attention, motivate action and—if we’re really good and doing our job correctly—provide hope and inspire people.

What people are feeling 

COVID-19 has upended our home and work life—and it’s brought an economic slowdown that is extremely worrisome along with it. 

What our audiences are going through right now has triggered some very strong emotions, including feelings of being:

  • angry
  • burned out
  • numb
  • out of control 
  • anxious 
  • fearful
  • depressed
  • lonely
  • hopeless

People are hungry for information that can help

A recent Pew Research Center survey revealed that 44% of U.S. adults said they discussed the coronavirus outbreak with other people most or almost all the time, whether online, in person or over the phone.

93% of the people Hailey Sault polled recently said that regular information from their hospital, health system or physician about COVID would be of value to them.

People want to feel:

  • confident
  • in control
  • cared for
  • safe
  • hopeful
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What to say (what not to say) 

Right now, empathy and compassion are critical. 

Our audiences want us to:

  • offer support that doesn’t minimize their experience
  • let them know we’re here for them
  • be calm and reassuring
  • inspire hope 
  • be forward thinking and solution oriented
  • show our human side 

Our audiences don’t want us to:

  • add to their panic
  • be overdramatic
  • overpromise

They want to hear words like:

  • navigate
  • cope
  • respond
  • support
  • understand
  • protect
  • safe

More research findings

One of the questions we asked in our Hailey Sault COVID research was: What would you ask your hospital about COVID-19? Verbatim answers included:

  • How can I get tested?
  • How do I know when to be tested?
  • How do I treat it if I get it?
  • What is the current local status?
  • How clean is the hospital?

Out of 800 responses:

Where + How + Tested were mentioned 407 times 

How + Treat were mentioned 345 times

Medical provider in PPE

Woman running during sunrise

My advice:

Come from a place of service. Make sure your audiences know that you are committed to answering their questions, educating them and serving them the best way you can.

Child bundled up in cozy jacket

If COVID has taught us anything, it’s that what we knew yesterday may not be true tomorrow. 

Be nimble with your messaging. Reflect the ever-changing situation and your audiences’ state of mind. Be humble, be honest, be true to your brand promise. And above all else, keep providing the information the communities you serve are craving from you right now.

Mankato Recovery Campaign info

Leading Your Community Forward

Leading Your Community Forward

During COVID-19, people are looking for trusted messengers and they’re turning to their health systems, hospitals, clinics and providers as never before. Herculean efforts are being made by health care marketing departments (many of them two to three people strong) to work with local partners and public health organizations in the creation of unified messaging for the communities they serve.

We were fortunate enough to be able to grab a little time with two hospital leaders to discuss how they’re re-imagining the role of their organizations during this pandemic and how they’re helping their communities thrive forward.

Watch our Campfire Session, Leading Your Community Forward. Or read below for key takeaways from our webinar event!

On 08/21/20, Marsha, Stephen and I were joined by:

  • Rebecca Lamberty, Chief Administrative Officer at Winona Health in Winona, Minnesota
  • Miranda TerBeest, Director of Marketing and Community Relations at Black River Memorial Hospital in Black River Falls, Wisconsin

The discussion included:

  • a look at Rebecca and Miranda’s roles in their organizations during the pandemic
  • the communication tactics and strategies they have used to reach and engage audiences and stakeholders
  • the role of the community hospital moving forward
  • how to manage adding COVID messaging to the other marketing work that hasn’t disappeared at this time

What is the pandemic like in rural communities right now?

As national numbers have climbed, the number of coronavirus cases in rural communities has ebbed and flowed—typically remaining much lower than in the rest of the country. Both Rebecca and Miranda addressed the challenge of creating messaging that balances what their communities hear through national news outlets with information that is more pertinent to their local communities.

They discussed the need to break through the barrage of information “out there” about COVID and keep their communities informed, while being sensitive not to create COVID fatigue. 

Rebecca explained that as schools and colleges begin to open in the Winona area, Winona Health will be keeping an eye on the current state of the virus—expecting there could be a change in numbers and the need to communicate more frequently.

Tactics and strategies that engage—externally

Social media was a tactic that both Rebecca and Miranda leaned into from the very beginning of the crisis, and continue to use today:

Rebecca told us:

“We found a tremendous uptick in our following on our social media during the course of COVID, which was great to see. Our content was simple, easy to read and included a direct link to highly reliable information from the Minnesota Department of Health and the CDC. Our website became a primary source of information, too. 

Added tactics Rebecca and Miranda shared with us included:

  • creating a nurse hotline to answer specific COVID questions
  • producing CEO videos and fireside chats addressing local COVID issues
  • working closely with the Chamber of Commerce and business leaders on messaging
  • creating “reopening safely” materials/packets for local businesses and schools to use
  • using traditional media like print and radio to round out messaging 
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Tactics and strategies that engage—internally

Because Winona Health and Black River Memorial Hospital are both large employers in their communities, internal communications about the virus were equally as important as external communications.

Miranda told us:

“We knew that the way that we communicated with our employees internally was really going to have a direct reflection on what they brought back to the community, to their families and to their social circles.” 

Tactics Miranda and Rebecca shared included:

  • tracking all communications to stakeholders—colleagues, board members, community leaders and community members
  • using incident command and their public information officer to make sure messages were united
  • encouraging service line managers and directors to direct questions from staff to one central internal website page

The role of the community hospital moving forward

Both Rebecca and Miranda shared that their hospitals really found themselves top of mind during the first six to eight weeks of the crisis. 

Rebecca shared:

“I think really recognizing that we are the community leader for this type of information and stepping into that space a little bit more proudly as opposed to just being the humble health care provider in the background—I think that is part of our future.”

Miranda said:

“We did all of this because it was the right thing to do. But as a side effect, it’s really given us the opportunity to develop our stature in the community and really develop trust within our brand and with our stakeholders. And, so really trying to continue to build on that moving forward then by being a bigger voice as it relates to education and continuing to build those strong partnerships as we always have.”

Juggling COVID and this year’s strategic plan

Not much sleep has been had by health care leaders these past few months. The communication needs that come along with COVID have had to be weighed with the strategic plans made at the beginning of the year.

Rebecca said:

“You cannot do it all, so we were forced—like everyone else—to get really focused on high value work. To simply not do things that we would have done before because they weren’t as important today. So, I think it is a matter of a lot of diligence and allowing certain balls to drop and just saying we’re not working on that now.”


The key takeaways for this session can all be summed up in additional words of wisdom from Rebecca:

“We have to be change-ready. We have to be hyper-focused on priorities that align with our mission. So I think in times like this it is always wise to go back to your mission.

  • take a look at what you had prioritized before
  • narrow it down
  • look at it through a lens that makes sense today
  • proceed with what you can manage in an organized way.”

We’re in this together

As we think about this time we’re in, now more than ever, we need ideas, insights and community. We hope our Campfire Sessions are providing the conversations you are craving about the issues and opportunities facing your health care organization and its leaders. 

Make sure to sign up below to receive invitations to future Campfire Sessions and links to past Campfire Session recaps.

Mankato Recovery Campaign info

Bringing Doctors into the Digital Marketing Landscape

Bringing Doctors into the Digital Marketing Landscape

As health care audiences search for a calm, reassuring voice in the storm of COVID information, they are increasingly going online to find dependable, trusted sources of information. And as they do, connection needs to be the mainstay for health care brands. 

A consumer sentiment poll Hailey Sault conducted a few months ago revealed that 93 percent of health care consumers want regular information about COVID from their hospital, health system or physician. 

Our poll also found that health care consumers felt their local provider was one of the most trusted sources of information about COVID.

Watch our Campfire Session, Bringing Doctors into the Digital Marketing Landscape. Or read below for key takeaways from our webinar event!

On 08/07/20, Mike, Stephen and I happily welcomed back one of our Campfire favorites—friend, client and three-peat guest—Katie Johnson, VP, Marketing & Communications for Lake Region Healthcare.

We took on the topic of digital connection, especially for rural hospitals. Our discussion touched on:

  • digital marketing in the COVID era
  • the use of traditional and digital media mixes
  • the political pressure in small markets to use traditional media
  • digital strategies for rural markets
  • how dashboard reporting can empower marketers
  • some Instagram strategies 

Jumping into digital with both feet

It’s no secret that I admire Katie and the job she does. She is innovative, thoughtful and resourceful. And, as this COVID crisis became a reality, she embraced an aggressive content plan to provide the information her community needed.

She also rallied her physicians and providers to create videos to share with the community that answered all types of questions about COVID and provided ways to cope during the crisis.

“We had a commitment early on to be where people were talking about COVID and to positively contribute to those conversations. Very fortunately, we have an engaged group of providers who’ve been part of our incident command structure from the beginning. They provided us with credible voices to lend to the conversations and that has made all the difference.”

Because of her actions at the beginning of the crisis, her community continues to embrace the hospital’s efforts and its physicians and providers. Those same physicians and providers figure prominently in a new campaign we shared with viewers at the end of the Campfire session.

See what's working

Traditional and digital: The politics of media in a small community

Two years ago when we started working together, Lake Region Healthcare was making a shift to becoming a more data driven organization. As a result, it was reevaluating its media spend. Katie explained:

“We were very heavily invested in traditional media at the time. Doing a little bit in digital, but not a lot and realizing that we were probably missing some audiences, for one, and number two, missing out on the data that comes along with utilizing digital channels.” 

Katie experienced pushback from stakeholders with the shift away from a more traditional media mix to a more digital mix. Many felt their patients weren’t on social media and that if they themselves weren’t seeing a campaign on more traditional media, it didn’t exist. In answer to that she gently informed them:

“I can’t think of a single service line, honestly, that at least a portion of the target market isn’t online someplace. Maybe they’re not on Facebook. Maybe they’re not on Instagram. But they’re reading, researching, listening to music.”

We also discussed the cost of omission from traditional media in a small market and what that may say to audiences and stakeholders. We talked about the need to sometimes make that investment in traditional media even if the return on investment can’t be measured in dollars and patient acquisition numbers.

Personas, Dashboards and Empowerment

We discussed how empowering the use of human centered personas are, especially in combination with dashboard reporting, and how they give us the ability to: 

  • understand our target audiences 
  • find them where they are 
  • connect with them
  • inspire them to take action 
  • collect data on how our campaigns are working
  • report to stakeholders on our successes

Katie told us:

“It gives you that real life data, but it humanizes it. It’s not just numbers and graphs and charts. It’s a person that you can relate to—what they’re thinking, how they behave, where they’re spending their time. Humanizing that data in a way people can relate to it is definitely great ammunition in showing why and how we need to invest in digital channels.”

She also said:

“Dashboard reporting has been invaluable from the perspective of always being at the ready to answer anybody’s questions—from the CEO, to the doctor, to the board member—about what we’re doing and how it’s performing. It also allows us to make better decisions and be more nimble.”

“Numbers don’t lie. We are accountable to them and we act based on them. Dashboards are both empowering and they lend credibility to myself and the marketing department in general.” 

There was so much more we covered: 

I encourage you to watch the session to view: 

  • our latest campaign effort with Katie 
  • see dashboard reporting in action
  • learn what we have planned for Instagram in the coming months


1. Human connection is key.

2. More people than ever are online. Data Hub–curated research reveals that 50 percent of Americans report they are online more now than before the pandemic. 

3. Health care audiences are looking to local, trusted sources of information.

4. Digital channels are the place to make solid connections.

5. Human centered personas and dashboard reporting are effective and empowering.

We’re in this together

As we think about this time we’re in, now more than ever, we need ideas, insights, and community. We hope our Campfire Sessions are providing the conversations you are craving about the issues and opportunities facing your health care organization and its leaders. 

Make sure to sign up below to receive invitations to future Campfire Sessions and links to past Campfire Session recaps.

Mankato Recovery Campaign info