Marketing execs describe inter-department collaboration at Cleveland Clinic, Ascension & more

To craft successful strategies, health system marketing and communications teams need to be well-informed about their organizations' holistic operations and maintain collaborative relationships with other departments.

Below, eight health system marketing executives describe what inter-department collaboration looks like at their organization.

Editor's note: Responses have been edited lightly for clarity and style.

Sue Omori. Executive Director of Marketing Account Services at Cleveland Clinic. Marketing is definitely not a solo activity. At Cleveland Clinic, we have the privilege of working with almost every department in the organization at some point. We rely heavily on partnerships with clinical teams, IT, finance, operations and community outreach, for example.

One recent example is our COVID-19 response. Every department within the division of marketing and communications was involved in helping inform and educate internal and external audiences about frequently-changing COVID-19 updates. This involved almost constant communication with clinical and operations teams — from facility signage logistics to media outreach and interviews to executive communication to IT and contact center coordination. It continues with disseminating messages on the importance of maintaining care and working with the community outreach team on supporting vaccine distribution and messaging.

This "team of teams" culture and practice is entirely consistent with Cleveland Clinic’s 100-year history, present and future.

Nick Ragone. Executive Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer at Ascension (St. Louis). At Ascension, our marketing team collaborates closely with stakeholders across the organization, including our patients, employed and affiliated physicians and clinicians, our sites of care and service lines, and subsidiaries and business units in order to develop and tell our "sharable story" of Ascension. 

This collaboration includes sharing our patients' stories, communicating with them through our national call center and supporting them through online and social media communities. This collaboration is also designed to support our provider practices through a positive consumer experience, seamless care navigation and ongoing relationships with our patients. We work closely with our clinical leaders and sites of care to promote access to appointments, extended availability and convenience of care that differentiates the Ascension brand. 

Through collaboration with leaders across our system — from executive to clinical to nursing — we are elevating voices of trust to ensure safety and reassurance in our communities during this time. And as a traditional marketing model, our team supports the goals of our service lines and business units to achieve market reach, brand reputation and new patient engagement across the organization, such as growing preference for Ascension Medical Group and bringing to market new pharmacy services through Ascension Rx. 

Bryant Larsen. Assistant Vice President of Marketing and Communications at Intermountain Healthcare (Salt Lake City). At Intermountain Healthcare, we have been fortunate to have a seat at the leadership table and to be seen as strategic partners. Our operating model aims to align goals at all levels of the organization from the board of trustees to front-line caregivers. That alignment of purpose drives natural collaboration across functions.

Our marketing and communications team structure is organized around the various organizational stakeholders. For example, we have caregivers at each hospital, who serve on the local administrative council. We have caregivers assigned to each central entity such as finance, human resources and the office of patient experience. Those relationships make it easy to understand business needs and develop marketing solutions.

During the pandemic, like most health systems, we stood up a command structure, using the HICS (Hospital Incident Command System) model. In addition to staffing the public information officer role at the system level, we also embedded members of our marketing and communications team in all the major command sections — operations, planning and liaison. 

That engagement allowed us to anticipate communication needs and turn around communication plans and assets quickly. In this situation we had to work closely with infectious disease physicians, operators, supply chain leaders, etc., responding to issues around personal protective equipment use, visitor restrictions and standing up testing centers. Collaboration across teams was a given.

Jennifer Gilkie. Vice President of Communications & Marketing at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Health (Lebanon, N.H.). Dartmouth-Hitchcock Health’s communication and marketing department collaborates closely with all of our five member hospitals, the Children’s Hospital at Dartmouth-Hitchcock, the Norris Cotton Cancer Center, Visiting Nurse and Hospice for Vermont and New Hampshire and our 24 ambulatory clinics to grow our integrated relationship. Our collaborative working partnership allows us to align our strategies, develop economies of scale and improve overall operational efficiencies. Sharing best practices in each direction is critical to our success and we work to be sure that all voices are at the table especially when we embark on system-wide initiatives.

Because the local communication and marketing staff often wear many additional hats — development, community relations, volunteers, etc. — the system communications and marketing team is able to provide support and direction along with resources, but, importantly, our collective work focuses on maintaining a local voice and culture in their work that aligns with the overall system’s voice. 

My system team also partners with leadership from all our members to share our team's strategic priorities around service lines with leadership and at the same time have a two-way dialogue to better understand the goals and challenges specific to marketing at their organizations. We let collaboration drive our goals, rather than starting from a desired outcome and working backwards. Ultimately, my mantra and my motivation for the entire communications and marketing team continues to be: Think big, innovate and collaborate.

Suzanne Bharati Hendery. Chief Marketing and Customer Officer at Renown Health (Reno, Nev.). For the Renown Health marketing and communications team, our greatest joy comes from collaborating with partners across the health system — including clinicians and leaders in our health plan, clinically integrated network, Healthy Nevada Project (for population health genetics) and other affiliates to create and communicate positive and memorable experiences that lead to lifetime loyalty.

Lisa Schiller. Chief Communications & Marketing Officer at UNC Health (Chapel Hill, N.C.). Collaboration between marketing and other divisions in the organization is key to developing successful growth marketing and brand marketing strategies and executing them. Marketing has a very close relationship with strategic planning, physician leadership, operational leadership and all the way through other support services and to the clinic level. These relationships have been built over time and have grown stronger through reaching goals and sharing positive outcome metrics.

The relationship and collaboration occurs through both formal and informal meetings. The chief communications and marketing officer serves on the system executive council and academic council, the health system’s top leadership groups. The vice president of consumerism and insights also serves on key organization committees and boards, including the board of our primary care network and our top system information technology committee, among others. Together, they have constant interaction with key system leaders. This provides key insights when developing annual marketing goals and strategy, and quick pivot points for new health system opportunities.

Manny Rodriguez. Chief Marketing, Experience and Customer Officer at UCHealth (Aurora, Colo.). When we’re talking about UCHealth’s marketing team, this is a broad group that includes patient experience; translation services; marketing strategists; internal, executive and external communications; brand; patient education; creative; digital services and more. All of these individuals coordinate with employees, providers and leaders across the healthcare system to create seamless strategies that support our patients, clinicians and staff. We help create, support and advise on hospital-based and system initiatives as well as service-line specific strategies. And importantly, we collaborate on sharing the incredible stories of our patients’ extraordinary journeys and raising awareness for the unique, innovative technology and care offered across UCHealth.

Catherine S. Harrell. Chief Marketing Officer at Franciscan Missionaries of Our Lady Health System (Baton Rouge, La.). Collaboration is one of the most defining characteristics for my marketing and communications team. Even as we've evolved over years through different structures, we've relied on relationships and mutual goals to create organizational success. We earn strong partnerships by being good partners. 

I'm particularly proud of our long-standing collegiality with the human resources, information systems and mission teams. Today, our partnerships with the operations team hold huge opportunities as the health system recognizes that value for our unique brand requires both the presentation and the experience to be authentic. Recent experiences of COVID-19 have certainly highlighted the power and necessity of collaboration both in and out of the organization and we're all excited to see that continue.

In the big picture, everyone can contribute their expertise and skills to meet the needs of those we serve — patients, communities and one another. "If we want to just go fast, we go alone and if we want to go far, we go together."

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