How a former 'Today' show producer became marketing chief at Hackensack

As a producer for the Today show and later the CBS Evening News with Katie Couric, Dorie Klissas really enjoyed reporting on stories at academic medical centers. So she decided to work for them.

After leaving the news business in 2008, she led media relations for NYU Langone Health and Montefiore Medical Center then took over as marketing chief at Mount Sinai Health System (all are based in New York City).

In 2020, she became senior vice president and chief marketing and communications officer of Edison, N.J.-based Hackensack Meridian Health.

"Telling the story of this network has been incredible and keeps changing," she told Becker's.

Recently that story has included Hackensack's new School of Medicine and Center for Discovery and Innovation.

"I was a journalist, and now I'm able to be a journalist inside-out, sharing the stories," Ms. Klissas said. "When I was a journalist, you might be working on one or two or three stories at a time, and you had to do everything, from beginning to end. Here, what I love about it is, I can come up with 15 stories and then share them with 15 different journalists, and then they're working on the story."

Her recent campaign wins include "We Are Ready," emphasizing how Hackensack can act quickly and nimbly to treat any disease or condition; "Knowledge is Power," providing quality information during the pandemic; a Wordle-inspired game to promote Hackensack's Neuroscience Institute; and "No More Butts," featuring colon cancer-related ads on toilet paper.

Budget cuts have affected Ms. Klissas' department, like the industry as a whole, but that has only helped crystallize her priorities, she said.

Hackensack has been putting more money into search engine marketing, and creating more organic content for its HealthU print and digital magazine. Its marketing team includes podcasters, videographers and analytics experts. Billboards are still a big deal for the $6.8 billion health system, as many people drive in New Jersey.

The 18-hospital system also tries to be "highly targeted" in its messaging to patients (once they opt in) and measure its marketing efforts, Ms. Klissas said. For instance, Hackensack determined a campaign to promote $99 calcium scoring tests brought in 800 patients and $1.5 million in revenue.

Ms. Klissas said the role of health system marketing leader has changed to that of "chief storyteller."

"You have to have digital skills and knowledge and be on the cutting edge of what's happening, so you can react quickly," she said. "My background in journalism has helped me incredibly to tell these stories. And also my media background helps me set expectations with stakeholders and ask them what they're trying to accomplish, but guide them in terms of what the media covers and how to tell that story to garner coverage."

A competitive tennis player, Ms. Klissas said she also enjoys the competition that comes with the job. "Everyone has wonderful cancer programs, so how do you distinguish yourself?" she said. "Our job is to share with our community what we do, how we do it, and what we can offer them if someone does find themselves in a certain situation with a particular condition. It is a creative game and highly strategic."

She said health systems can stand out via thought leadership and becoming "content creators." She also recommends quarterly social media assessments: "how many followers, how are you against the competition, what's working, what's not, should you be using video or photos? This changes constantly, and you really need to be up to speed."

After spending more than two decades in journalism, Ms. Klissas is happy with her decision to jump over into healthcare marketing.

"It's analytic, it's creative, it's media — it's everything into one, so I highly recommend this position," she said.

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