The hospital CEO's marketing to-do list: Q&A with Mark Shipley, CEO of Smith & Jones

Among countless forces tugging at a hospital CEO's coattails, there's the responsibility for those at the top to live and breathe their hospital's brand.

Mark Shipley, CEO of healthcare marketing firm Smith & Jones, points to Tony Hsieh, CEO of $800 million e-commerce firm Zappos, as someone who wholeheartedly conveys his company's motto — happiness — from the C-suite to the consumer.

"Behind [Zappos'] drive for exceptional service is CEO Tony Hsieh. He wrote the book on customer service and makes his hiring and firing decisions based on his organization's core values," Mr. Shipley writes in his book, "Under the Influence: The Anthology of Healthcare Marketing Best Practices."

"Mostly, [Mr. Hsieh] leads by example, showing employees how to build an organization that makes customers their number one priority," he adds.

While hospital CEOs aren't selling shoes, they are selling healthcare — and it's on each system's C-suite to ingrain that consumer-centric mentality in the minds of their staff, Mr. Shipley notes. In an interview with Becker's Hospital Review, Mr. Shipley explained why hospital CEOs need to be the ringleader of brand culture.

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

Question: In "Under the Influence," you outline six points on a hospital CEO's marketing to-do list. Among those points is the directive to "engage staff." Who would lead that initiative?

Mark Shipley: Usually it's the senior management team — your CNO, CFO, COO, whoever is in charge of medical affairs. All of those people would be involved in it. Because the idea of delivering on a brand promise needs to be organization aligned.

Q: I'm curious about another point you highlighted, the idea of "being resilient." Can you explain what this means in 2018?

MS: Don't change your strategy just because somebody is doing something new. You have to adapt your strategy to be competitive.

It's not so much of having blinders on. It's more like if you have a strategy, staying true to your strategy, but being aware of the outside things that affect you. Rather than being reactive to those outside forces, try to understand them and the impact they may have. Be able to work those strategies into how you deliver your care or your experience to be competitive.

Q: The to-do list's final point is "know when to take a back seat." Can you talk about how third-party endorsements play a role in this? What kinds of endorsements do you think resonate the most with patients?

MS: I think endorsements from other patients would work best, and endorsements from people who've actually experienced the service. We asked one client we're working with, "Who do you work for?" and about 25 percent of the people said the patient. Which is a really incredible answer, if you can have that level of dedication to the patient ingrained in a culture where people are talking about it that way. You want people to talk about you in a way that makes other people want to chose you.

Q: There's so much rhetoric when it comes to hospital branding. Do you have any examples of hospital CEOs who live and breathe their brand like Mr. Hsieh?

MS: Susan Fox is the president and CEO of White Plains (N.Y.) Hospital. The hospital's brand mantra is "Exceptional, everyday." What the hospital means by that is its employees want to provide both exceptional clinical quality and superior customer service. They don't want to compromise on either front.

About two years ago, we met with Susan and her entire senior management team. Susan showed up almost 15 minutes late for the hour-long meeting. In most organizations that would be viewed as bad. However, her team didn't question her tardiness.  

The reason she was late was she was walking through the lobby and there was a woman who was in hard labor. Susan personally escorted the patient to the maternity unit to make sure the patient was taken care of, knowing full well she had a meeting to go to. She held the patient's best interest in a higher regard than the senior management team's. That's walking the walk.

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