[Video] Lauren Smith of UT Health on Teamwork & New Marketing Ideas During COVID-19

What Did You Learn? Episode 5

The ability to shift gears in a moment’s notice is crucial for successful healthcare communicators. That’s one lesson Lauren Smith, manager of marketing communications at UT Health San Antonio, MD Anderson Cancer Center, learned during the COVID-19 pandemic.

She also learned the importance of teamwork across a massive health system, open-mindedness to new marketing channels like video and webinars, and much more.

Watch this episode of What Did You Learn to hear more about Lauren’s experience working in hospital marketing communications during the coronavirus pandemic — and what she’ll take with her long-term.

Ahava: Hi, I’m Ahava Leibtag, Welcome to What Did You Learn? I am very excited to have here with me my colleague, Lauren Smith. Lauren and I just finished a big project together at, and it’s a long name so I have to look at my notes, UT Health San Antonio, MD Anderson Cancer Center. Lauren is the manager of marketing communications. Lauren, welcome so much. Thank you so much for joining us.

Lauren: Thank you. Happy to be here.

Ahava: Yeah, It’s really great to have you. So, it’s been 700 days plus another 1000 since quarantine started. Did you bake anything or learn to bake anything?

Lauren: Uh, no. No, I’m not a baker. No, I just picked up extra outdoor activities.

Ahava: Like what?

Lauren: I got into road biking, actually.

Ahava: That’s so fun.

Lauren: Yeah, so normally I’m a runner.

Ahava: Oh you’re a runner?

Lauren: And I decided that I wanted to do biking, so now I’m trying that.

Ahava: That’s awesome. Did you have to buy, like, a new bike? Did you have one?

Lauren: I did have to buy a new one, but I bought a new to me one.

Ahava: Okay. Gotcha. That was smart. Did you learn any TikToks?

Lauren: Uh, no. No. I started watching TikTok, which I never did. But I did, actually, I’m not, I’m not a video maker, no.

Ahava: No, me neither. I had to learn the bougie, ratchet, nasty, that one, but I don’t really know it, but teenage girls around the house will cause you to do that.

So, you’re in a unique position because you’re doing marketing at a cancer center. But you also have a relationship with a larger hospital system. And so, I think healthcare marketers and marketers in general actually will be really fascinated by how you handle this communications crisis. Talking to a population of patients who really can’t stop treatment or can’t delay things versus a population of patients who really maybe feel that there could be a little bit of time between. So, I’d love to hear what you wish you had known before this started. And then we’ll talk about what you think you’ve learned since then.

Lauren: So, I wish I would have known how fast it was going to escalate. I also, you know, I was just on a plane a couple of days before I went remote, and so going from thinking everything was fine, to we’re going home, was a lot to take in.

But I also really wish that we would have known the downstream effect that COVID was going to have on our cancer patients. So, um, due to COVID, a lot of people, and especially our patients some discontinued treatment. They thought that they couldn’t continue their treatments, They didn’t get their cancer screenings. They weren’t seeing the doctor because they out of fear catching COVID. And unfortunately, you know, we’re seeing across our practice and I think it’s across the nation, really, um, this lag and actually diagnosing cancer patients with cancer because they’re not, they weren’t getting their tests and they aren’t, they were not getting…

Ahava: The treatments that they…No, I mean, I have a friend, my husband has a friend whose father died and he had a really aggressive cancer, and they knew he was probably going to pass away in the next six months. But the fact that he couldn’t get his treatments, COVID accelerated what happened to him. I mean, he probably would have lived a little bit longer, but he didn’t make it because of that.

Lauren: Yeah, Yeah, we’re, you know we never stopped. So, our patients, I mean, we communicated to them right off the back. We’re continuing your treatments, we’re not stopping. We’ve put in safety protocols in place to keep you safe, we implemented a drive through parking lot for radiation oncology patients so that when they arrive for their appointment, they texted, I’m here, and then they waited in their car until they were able to come up for their treatment. So, we were really trying to be innovative in how we take care of our patients and make sure that they’re safe.

Ahava: But what was that like to handle all that in-stream of information and then having to output it literally working from your beautiful home, but working from, like how do you do that?

Lauren: So at first it was like a fire. We’re drinking from a firehose. It was everything coming out, you know, and we’re an organization. we’re a large academic health center, and so we have not just my cancer center, but there’s also a physician practice. There’s academics, there’s other schools that are involved, and so it took a lot of coordination across all of us to come together. We developed new websites. We, like, within days, we had new websites, we had new newsletters coming out, we were creating videos, we were creating educational videos, I mean, the amount of teamwork it took from our team to put all of this together and to make it easy to understand and easy to digest, it is incredible. I mean, honestly, when you look back and think, wow, we are six months into this, and at the time you’re like how are we going to get through it? And we did.

I mean, we now, just what you hear from leadership about the marketing team and how valuable we really are — they’re really seeing that now, and it’s incredible. I mean, I’m excited about it. I’m not excited about COVID, but I’m excited about what came out of COVID, and it really put our team to the test, and that’s what’s great.

Ahava: So that’s a good segway into what you think you’ve learned because you’re not the first person who has said to me, I think that now they get what we do. But what else have you learned?

Lauren: Well, I have to take deep breaths. I’m constantly reminding myself take a deep breath, uh, you’ll figure this out. It’s not the end of the world and you have to be nimble. I mean, you have to be flexible. Things change by the day, sometimes on the hour, especially at the beginning. I mean, by the hour we’re getting messaged we were going one way and ended up having to go a completely different way within a couple hours.

So, I mean, truly, you just take it as it comes and, especially, right now we’re in the middle of a huge surge here in Texas, where we just had over a thousand cases diagnosed yesterday. Now we’re just working on our external PSA campaigns, and we’re just really pushing that wear your mask, wash your hands with soap and water, remain socially distant.

Ahava: So, let me ask you a question because I think this is an interesting turn. You do all this content, we write all this content, we create these videos, we do all this stuff and then people don’t listen. How do we like? I don’t know. I never know what to do with that stuff. Do you know what I mean? It’s like we’re giving you the information you need to make the right decisions. Are we not giving it clearly? Is it that there’s conflicting information? I think this is such a good micro case study on healthcare communications in general.

Lauren: We’ve given, we know that everybody across all healthcare, anywhere, that people take information in different ways. And so, like you said, we have been implementing many different avenues for people to get information, and they’re still not listening. And then, yeah, you know, it’s their behaviors.

Ahava: As a healthcare communicator and a marketer, what’s the number one thing you want to hold onto and say like, this is something I’m going to keep in my practice, in my toolbox. I’m going to reach in and touch it almost every day.

Lauren: I would say video. The addition of video in our toolbox is extremely helpful, and I think that even just the quick, you know, they’re so concise. A quick couple minutes done on a cell phone doesn’t have to be, you know, full production. Just being able to do those and get the message across quickly. I think it’s something that I will definitely take forward. I mean, we’ve been, you know, in a world of writing all the time, and we obviously will continue to write, but I think the addition of having videos to explain it in a faster way will stay with us.

Ahava: I think the videos are really critical for things like that. I think what it also makes you think about is how are people getting this information? So, when you’re reading about cancer, that’s a very different learning experience than when you’re actually trying to get information about how to get in for your COVID appointment. And I think that’s really where I hope this opens up our eye to the idea of using different kinds of content because of where they are in what they’re looking for. Are they pushing for the information, are they pulling the information, that kind of thing.

Lauren: Yeah, another thing that we’ve done is we’ve taken on webinars, and we’ve done three now, we have a fourth one coming up. We’ve been doing one every month.

Ahava: Do you get a pit in your stomach right before?

Lauren: So, I’m actually just running on the back end. We have amazing providers, researchers that join us, and they talk about everything from self-care, from whole wellness, from meditation, cancer prevention and screening, the importance of cancer prevention screening, and then just they just general questions about COVID. We had some of our infectious disease doctors join us. So, we’ve had a lot of a good experience with those, and they’re going to continue because they’re important and they’re well-attended. And when I see the YouTube views, they’re doing well, so.

Ahava: Yeah. Yeah. No, absolutely. Absolutely. Anyway, Lauren, it was really great to have you. Thank you so much.

Lauren: Thank you, it was a pleasure, I really appreciate the opportunity. Take care.

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About Ahava Leibtag

Ahava Leibtag, MA

Ahava R. Leibtag has more than 20 years of experience in writing, messaging and marketing. She is a well-recognized content expert and writes thought leadership about content strategy and content marketing. Ahava is the President and owner of Aha Media Group, a content strategy and content marketing consultancy founded in October 2005. She... More >

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