Diversity, Inclusion and Health Equity: 15 minutes about how to take action

Diversity, Inclusion and Health Equity: 15 minutes about how to take action

At Hailey Sault, we believe in better. It is our purpose.

Part of believing in better is an absolute belief that health care is a right—that no matter who you are, where you live, or how much money you make, you have the right to care that will allow you to live your healthiest life.

During a recent Campfire webinar session we had the opportunity to discuss the topics of diversity, inclusion and health equity—topics we believe are so important to the health of all people that we pulled that discussion out to share here.

In this almost 15 minutes of video, our guests discuss concrete actions health care organizations—and we as communicators and marketers—can take to begin making health care more equitable for all.

Joining us were:

  • Toni Midderhoff Miller, Director of Brand Marketing, NorthShore University HealthSystem
  • Carl Maronich, Marketing Director, Riverside Healthcare

The incredible thoughts and insights shared by both Toni and Carl are best summed up in the following quotes:

It starts with talking (and listening)

“The most important thing is first of all to talk,” said Toni. “We need to talk and listen.”

“That is one of the overriding issues today in America, is the inability or unwillingness to listen to what’s going on out there,” said Carl. “People think they already know, so they don’t need to listen.”

Learn more about your community

“Learn more about who is in your community,” said Toni. “You’re serving a community and if your community is 50 percent of color and not of color, or 75 percent, whatever that is, whoever those individuals are—are you doing enough to understand what they need?” 

“We know there are certain things that run consistently with ethnicity—diabetes, heart disease, comorbidities—and different things for African Americans than Hispanic Americans and Asian Americans,” said Toni. “So know what that is in your community. Understand how it impacts that community and how they socialize it.”

Build relationships

“Sometimes people forget that there is a negative connotation [to health care] with some ethnicities, based on historic experience,” said Toni. “You have to understand that there is a relationship that has to be built in these communities because the historical relationships have not been there.”

Be relevant

“The information needs to be relevant, it needs to be adapted to what is important to them,” said Toni. “How they look at it and speak to it, which may not be how mainstream America does it.”

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Where does your organization stand on diversity, inclusion, health equity and social justice?

“The things we’ve seen in the last six to eight months in the country should wake us up to the need to reexamine where we are on this topic. Health care as an  organization—any organization, that size with that much longevity—systematic racism is part of that,” said Carl. “I don’t think that can be denied. So how do we look at our own part in the overall health care continuum and world and see where we can check in with our own organization.”

Toni explained that the Diversity and Inclusion Committee at her organization is conducting a listening tour to understand the systemic racism issues they may not even be aware of. “A lot of questions come up around—’I don’t know how to have that conversation, or start to understand how to have that conversation, when you are a person not of color.’”

What about your employees?

“The other important thing is on the employees’ side,” said Carl. “What is your makeup from an employee standpoint? And how are you addressing their needs and how are you making opportunities available?”


1. Begin talking

2. Listen … listen … listen

3. Learn

4. Then take action

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

The Next New Normal in Health Care Marketing

The Next New Normal in Health Care Marketing

Thanks to this pandemic, the next new normal in health care marketing is a constantly evolving, constantly moving target. But that’s not all bad. We (meaning all of us in the health care marketing business) have been forced to continually pivot, to think in new ways, to be more creative than we’ve probably ever been, to meet challenges head-on and to accept change whether we like it or not. It’s opened up new avenues of collaboration throughout health care systems and it’s created opportunities to connect with patients on a much more human level.

Watch our Campfire Session, The Next Normal in Health Care Marketing. Or read below for key takeaways from our webinar event!

On 10/22/2020, Steven and I welcomed back, for a second time, two Campfire guests we admire: 

  • Toni Midderhoff Miller, Director of Brand Marketing, NorthShore University HealthSystem
  • Carl Maronich, Marketing Director, Riverside Healthcare

We had a captivating discussion around:

  • Business recovery
  • Changes in patient attitudes, preferences and care journeys—and why it matters
  • Planning challenges
  • Leading during the pandemic
  • Diversity and inclusion

Business recovery and community needs

  • Carl and Toni told us that business recovery—and the return of patients to most areas of care—is moving faster than expected, especially in areas where patients may be experiencing pain that they are no longer able to manage, like the hip and knee pain associated with joint replacement.
  • More good news: Carl told us that women who put off their mammograms during the early days of COVID are rescheduling their screenings.
  • Both Carl and Toni say their organizations are focusing on heart care right now. Both found that a lot of folks were terrified to come in for care during the beginning months of the pandemic.
  • “We noticed that the number of people coming in for heart attacks and heart related issues had dropped dramatically,” said Toni. “So we knew we had a lot of unfortunate fatalities as a result. So that is one of our key focus areas.”
  • “Our primary focus is really business recovery from the standpoint of which are the most critical things that are going to help make our patients safe?” said Toni. “What are the community’s needs? And then, how are we going to make sure that we are going to keep those individuals safe once they come into our facility?”  

Your changing patients

  • The way many patients access care has changed. NorthShore University HealthSystem and Riverside Healthcare both implemented telehealth during COVID and are continuing to provide that service for their patients. 
  • “One of the things this experience has created for our patients is some access points that they’re not going to want to see go away if we ever get to post- COVID,” said Carl. “Video visits are very convenient and so no matter the world circumstance, people are going to still want video visits.”
  • The whole emphasis on access and ease of access and making things as easy for patients as possible is something Carl says his organization is making a high priority.
  • “People don’t hold us up to a standard of other health care organizations,” said Carl. “They hold us up to the standard of all organizations. They want us to be as convenient as anybody, not just as the other hospital down the road. So we’ve got to take those consumer needs and expectations into mind as we go forward.”
  • Toni shared that she read that telehealth has probably moved health care forward a decade.
  • “We were all immersed in—how do you do the insurance? What is the risk?—And trying to understand all those components,” said Toni. “And immediately COVID went, ‘Those are irrelevant, you need to care for patients.’”
  • Toni also mentioned that having to wait in a waiting room may become a thing of the past. She told a story about waiting in her car for her most recent appointment and how it gave her a moment to think. She feels this may become something patients appreciate.
  • “That personal kind of feeling that they are taking care of me is being displayed and is showing up in a new way,” said Toni.
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How patients are feeling right now

I asked Carl and Toni what they thought patients were feeling right now, seven months into this pandemic—amid a spike in COVID cases.

  • “They are not only patients, they are people,” said Carl. “So their frustration level is increasing as the restrictions come and go. All those frustrations build and now they are having to deal with their health care institution. They want things to be as simple as possible. So I think we need to be expressing even more humanity now than we ever have.”
  • “In addition to the frustration Carl identified are two other things,” said Toni. “One being a weariness around not having the knowledge and the understanding of when this will change. The second is this interesting reliance on health care partners. People are looking for us to help them. We’ve gained their trust over these seven or eight months.” 
  • “People are constantly aware of their health care now,” said Toni. “‘What is the latest news? Are there new symptoms I should be aware of? Is there something else that is happening?’ And they are looking to health organizations in a very different way than before to help them navigate that space.”

An aside: Your human staff

There was a wonderful discussion around communicating with your health care organization’s staff, the stress that is being felt, the sadness surrounding furloughs, and the need to acknowledge the superhuman efforts that are being made at this time.

Planning challenges

Stephen asked about the challenges and opportunities Toni and Carl and their teams are experiencing during strategic planning for 2021.

Toni’s fiscal year started October 1. So planning started in March when everything was shutting down. She was turning off media and reworking plans surrounding 120 or so community events on the docket at the time. She also had the challenge of her team working remotely through the entire planning process. For Toni, planning involved questions that included:

  • What will the consumer mindset be?
  • What will they need versus what we have to offer?
  • What areas might emerge as a result of the pandemic?

Carl is in the midst of planning; he said his team is concerned about:

  • The budget and how to do more with less.
  • Keeping their eye on how the world of COVID is going and how it will impact how they message to the public going forward.
  • Making sure they are encouraging people to take care of themselves and get in for the care they need when they need it.

Both Toni and Carl talked about the challenge of combining big-picture brand messaging with service line messaging, right now. Carl reminded us:

“Back to the humanity for things—the patient doesn’t care if you’re an ortho person or a neuro person or a cardiac person. They want to be serviced the same way all the way through and to have a consistent patient experience. That was a challenge ten years ago, twenty years ago and it continues to be, and maybe more so now.”

Leading during a pandemic

I asked Toni and Carl what they’ve learned through this time and what they will take with them moving forward. They told us about the importance of:

  • Keeping human connections between colleagues alive.
  • Being careful not to make meetings simply transactional as you work remotely—fostering a feeling of care about what is happening in everyone’s life.
  • With everything happening so fast during this time, Toni likes to say we’re actually running on the bridge as we are trying to build it—so being aware of the toll that can take.
  • The importance of bringing the fun or the happy.
  • Maintaining the unique culture developed with colleagues.
  • The need to be flexible, especially with colleagues who have young kids at home.

Diversity and inclusion

  • In June, NorthShore University HealthSystem, along with other Chicago health care organizations, issued a joint statement to work together to overcome systemic racism and the health care disparities it creates.
  • Toni and Carl shared their thoughts about the importance of diversity, inclusion and health equity with us, in the aftershow—S’mores Break—of our Campfire. 
  • This topic felt so fundamentally essential to us that we highly encourage you to watch this part of the Campfire and find out what we can do as health care communicators.


1. Right now business recovery has to be tied to what the communities we serve need and how we can keep individuals in our communities healthy and safe.

2. Telehealth and other patient conveniences are probably here to stay.

3. Patients have developed a new interest in health care and a new trust in us. They are also frustrated, weary and looking to us for answers.

4. We need to be expressing even more humanity now than we ever have.

5. Planning challenges include doing more with less and keeping an eye on how the world of COVID impacts our messaging.

6. Leading through this pandemic means bringing joy, connection, fun and flexibility into the work space whether that work space is remote or in person.

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

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.


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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.

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