“What Did You Learn?” Episode 1
There’s no denying: The coronavirus pandemic taught healthcare communicators (and marketers in general) a lot. This is especially true when it comes to COVID-19 content marketing.
We learned to listen. We witnessed the importance of timely, credible information written in plain language. And while we should’ve been doing this all along, we learned to pause or shift our marketing plans to put our audiences’ needs first.
That’s why I’m so excited to introduce Aha Media’s new video series: “What Did You Learn?” This series will follow me as I chat with content marketers and copywriters about what they went through during the COVID-19 pandemic — and how we can all learn from it.
Please join me in welcoming my first guest: Amanda Todorovich, Senior Director of Enterprise Digital Content at Cleveland Clinic. Watch the video or read below for the full interview transcript.
Ahava: Welcome to What Did You Learn? A new series that explores how marketers are handling the challenges of the pandemic. Today I’m so excited to welcome our first guest, Amanda Todorovich, who is the head of content at Cleveland Clinic. I’m going to allow Amanda to introduce herself and give us her full title.
Amanda: I’m Amanda Todorovich, I am the Senior Director of Enterprise Digital Content. So basically, I’m responsible for the team that manages all of our digital content for our website, our blog, social media, email newsletters, pretty much anything that’s consumer/patient-facing.
Ahava: Awesome. So, we’re going to do a series of rapid-fire questions just to get to know you a little bit, Amanda. My first question to you, and I’m laughing because I already know the answer to this. But what’s the first thing you baked in quarantine?
Amanda: Oh, my goodness. Um, I think it was a cake for my daughter’s birthday, actually.
Ahava: And what hobby did you take up?
Amanda: Nothing really crazy. We’ve done a couple of puzzles that were fun, and then I actually started really writing notes, handwritten notes and mailing something to somebody every day. Just kind of a practice of gratitude.
Ahava: So great. Which TikTok dance did you learn?
Amanda: Oh, I actually haven’t learned any of them, to be honest, but I have watched my daughters to a million of them literally every night. And the songs get stuck in your head, and it’s seriously so annoying.
Ahava: So annoying, so annoying. But fun. I’m glad they have that. I wish they would do their school work instead. So, let’s get into what you learned. If you have to reflect back on the last 700 days, what is the thing that you wish you had known before this started?
Amanda: You know, I think the biggest thing is how amazing my team can be remotely under pressure. You know, before all this, we were 100% in the office all day, every day, physically together. And you thought that that was the reason why the team was so great or why there was so much chemistry between the team and things like that. But literally overnight we went to 100% working from home, and we haven’t been back in the office yet, and we have, I think, delivered some of the best work we’ve ever done and remained really close as a team.
I wish I would have known it before because I think the way we worked would probably have been different, because I think that we’ve been more effective and more efficient in this way.
Ahava: Why, why specifically?
Amanda: Because, honestly, we were really meeting aggressive before, we spent a lot of time in meetings, and this way we do less of that and a lot more doing. And we’re using different tools to stay in touch. You know, just because we’re not physically in the office sitting together and having those meetings doesn’t mean we’re any less connected. Things like Slack have been game-changing for us. I feel like we’ve been able to just really focus more and to just have more constant, steady flow of communication instead of the scheduled one-hour chunks of time to talk about a specific thing.
Ahava: What have you learned about your specific practice that you would like to communicate with other people who are in your boat, or want to be in your boat? Because you’ve produced some of the best content that anyone has produced across the world about this pandemic. So what do you want to say to the community of marketers and content creators?
Amanda: Thank you for that, first of all. You know, I think the biggest, most important thing that I’ve learned during this time is that we didn’t shift our strategy in a big way. We have always been committed to what our audience wants, being useful, helpful and relevant to them. And that is true during this time even more so.
I think the biggest takeaway for me is how critical content is under duress. You can use content to calm fears, to really educate people on brand new things that they know nothing about, that they’re hungry for information about. You build trust in a way with content that is impossible with any other marketing tactic.
If you look at what we’ve created in the topics that we’ve covered during this, little to none of them had anything to do with our own organization or actual appointments or any of that. And while we handle the logistics and explain things to people, most of it was really trying to help people deal with the circumstances of living at home, 24-7 with their families and their kids, and just trying to be helpful. We didn’t flip a switch and become that because of COVID. That’s what we’ve been doing with Health Essentials and with our content strategy this entire time. It’s just the topics changed to be more COVID-specific and to be almost exclusively COVID for a period of time.
To me, it just reinforced the importance of content marketing and staying true to really impactful and meaningful content for your audience.
Ahava: OK, so I would love to refine something that you said, because I think it’s so interesting. You basically said your core strategy statement, be useful, relevant — what’s the third thing?
Amanda: Useful, helpful and relevant.
Ahava: Useful, helpful, and relevant. Does a piece of content ever cross your desk — or that when your ideating with your team — you look at that piece of content and you go, “no, yes, maybe.” And then what do you do with that piece of content? Because I do think that one of the things we’re dealing with is that there’s a lot of people involved in this pot even now more than there were before. And sometimes they want to do things, and it doesn’t exactly fit our core strategy statement. It does seem to be useful and relevant to the audience right now. So how do you balance those two things?
Amanda: I think one thing that we did really early on that helped make those decisions a little easier was to create this one-source-of-truth landing page that helped us put things that wouldn’t traditionally go on the blog, or wouldn’t traditionally fit on our website in a clinical area. We could put things that were really helpful to patients and to people. They needed the information. It just was a little bit like, “Where does this fit?” Because what we didn’t want to do is force things into buckets where they didn’t belong.
And there were also definitely topics and questions that we weren’t really the right people to answer. While this is a health topic, not all the questions were health-related, and so, we had to think where we could point people to other resources and lean on things like the CDC. There is definitely a place for us that we wanted to be in, and we wanted to be as comprehensive in what we could provide as possible. But at the same time, it’s always good to be able to answer questions in the right places where people would naturally be looking for them. And so the landing page was our one source of truth. We pointed everything there, and you could access literally everything we did that had anything to do with COVID from it.
That’s not something we do all the time, and it really required a lot of collaboration with our incident command to review. So it wasn’t just our call about what to talk about. There’s a lot of people that had to weigh in on that.
I think what’s been interesting during this time is that one of our struggles under normal circumstances is getting approvals.
Ahava: You don’t say?
Amanda: (Laughs) But during this it was, like, immediate. They were on standby and ready to go for us. It was kind of easier to just make quick judgment calls.
Ahava: That’s another question I wanted to ask you. How are you governing this content? How are you keeping track of what needs to get sunset in another 700 days? Or, let’s hope, seven days, maybe there will be a miracle. We like miracles. But how are you making sure that you’re keeping track of everything that you’re creating? Because I assume for the blog content, you’re going to want to keep that up. But what about other types?
Amanda: Yeah. So, the rest of the website, we were very careful from the get-go about the footprint of this and really not wanting to go in to every single clinical area, every single location page. We ended up putting a banner at the top of every single page on our entire website pointing people to the landing page so that we could contain it as best we could and limit how sprawling this was for that exact reason. Because, especially with things like hours and services shutting down, it has paid off huge now as things start to reopen.
So, we really tried to keep service-oriented updates on the landing page, any information related to what people needed to do to get to an appointment or things they need to bring for testing, all of that stuff. We really kept it tight. The landing page as the source of truth is comprehensive in its entirety, but really trying to keep it there so that we don’t have a mess to clean up all over the place. And also because if we had allowed a lot of what was asked of us, the messaging would have been inconsistent as well, because every clinical area had something different to say, and so it really helped us contain it.
The governance piece of it honestly has been a tremendous partnership between my team and our corporate communications colleagues. We have not published a single COVID-related thing without their involvement. They’ve helped us identify the right experts to talk about which aspects of this. They’ve gotten everything approved with us and for us. We’ve definitely shared language across different channels and platforms together. Slack has been huge with that, as well. We’ve created joint channels between departments, which we never had before. It was just our own thing, and that’s been critical. They were really our liaison to that incident command group because our head of internal communications and a couple of the other directors were in there all the time, so they could just put stuff in front of people for us.
Ahava: What do you think will carry over into marketing practices? So I don’t want to give you an answer, but it’s interesting because one of the number one things people are saying is they believe this will help us continue to break down the silos if they haven’t been broken down completely. Do you feel like that’s the future?
Amanda: I do 100%. And to be honest, it’s not just even about within marketing. We’ve been able to do so much with our partners in ITD, with our partners in patient experience, with people managing our call center — our relationships have strengthened so much. So many standing meetings and check-ins have been put in place that I think will definitely continue.
And it’s also, I think, woken up people to the fact that we need to listen to our patients and give them what they’re looking for. And that’s been awesome for us because that’s what we’re always advocating for. But to get more people to get there on their own and to understand what our team does and how we can help — the exposure of the work that we’ve been able to do during this time has been huge at the highest levels. There are new newsletters coming out from our CEO every week that didn’t exist before, and our team wasn’t involved in any of that, and now we are managing it. It’s just been a phenomenal opportunity for collaboration and relationship-building across a very large enterprise for us.It's woken up people to the fact that we need to listen to our patients & give them what they're looking for. That's been awesome for us because that's what we're always advocating for. @amandatoto @clevelandclinic Click To Tweet
Ahava: That’s incredible. I really hope it’s true.
Amanda: Me, too.
Ahava: Is there anything else that you think when you look back at 2020 — besides wishing it was like in the movie three months later — but is there anything else that you think you look back and say “My practice as a marketer changed because of this thing that happened?”
Amanda: I just think it reinforces our commitment to it. I don’t think it’s necessarily changed much for us other than the volume under, duress and creating things. We published seven articles a day for a while. So the volume is crazy, but it pushed us to understand our limits to know what we could do and how much further could we push our own team ongoing.
And you know, the other thing is that we learned so much more about our audience during this time, right? They all were going under this same emotional, crazy journey that we were and so to see that play out in the data and understand how accurate are the metrics, right? Does it really reflect what people are feeling and doing? And to see, like in March, for example, we were over 11 million visits, to Health Essentials. Previously, our highest number ever in a month was over eight million, so the jump was tremendous and it just proved that when you are there for people in those moments of need, they stay, because traffic hasn’t gone down.
Like I said before, content builds trust and relationships in really powerful ways. And like I said, it’s not new for us. It just reinforces it and makes it, I think, more important to our organization than it was even before.Content builds trust & relationships in really powerful ways. It's not new for us. It just reinforces it & makes it more important to our organization than it was even before. @amandatodo @clevelandclinic Click To Tweet
Ahava: When you create a bumper sticker of six words for yourself about quarantine over the pandemic, can you sum it up in six words?
Amanda: In six words. You know, I don’t think they are necessarily a coherent six words together, but my six words off the top of my head: The first one is intense, this is just intense. I mean, the first two weeks were just a complete blur.
Unprecedented. You know, I think this has just been crazy amount of work and a little overwhelming for everybody — and not just because of the work, but just because of the feelings.
I also feel like as much as there’s been division, there’s also been a lot of uniting. Uniting of teams, uniting of mission and really breaking down silos like we talked about.
Evolving. I think seeing the journey of how people felt about all of this was fascinating. In the beginning, it was all about this hunger for the information of what is this new virus? And how do I know if I have it? Then you kind of got to the point where people were tired of hearing it. And, you know, the COVID-fatigue is what we were talking a lot about. And then they were angry. And now there is like, “OK, now we’re moving on, but it’s not the same.” And so how do I live in these circumstances of evolution of the journey, I think is amazing
And the final word for me — and this more personal than anything else — is just reflective. It was such an amazing time to just see what really matters to you and what’s really important to you and your family, you know? What are you missing the most that you couldn’t do for this long? That to me has been the biggest learning.
Ahava: Well, thank you so much, Amanda, it was great to have you. And thank you for sharing your insight with us. We’re all going to learn what you’ve learned.
Listen to the Podcast
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“What Did You Learn” features a new guest talking COVID-19 content marketing every Sunday. Watch the next episode below.