[VIDEO] Kathy Divis and Mike Schneider of Greystone.Net on the Value of Healthcare Marketing During the Pandemic — and Beyond

Posted on October 5, 2020 by in Digital Strategy, Healthcare/ Hospitals

What Did You Learn? Episode 17

Healthcare marketers have a crucial role in communicating the information people need to know throughout the pandemic. Between educating the public, sharing knowledge with frontline workers, and providing health and safety protocol information to all staff members, hospital marketers have never been stretched as thin or have a more important role.

“For the first time, maybe, the C-suite is understanding this strategy behind marketing and communications, which perhaps they didn’t in the past,” says Kathy Divis, President of Greystone.Net.

During this episode of “What Did You Learn?” Mike Schneider, Executive Vice President and Principal of Greystone.Net and Kathy Divis share why the C-Suite’s appreciation for marketing has grown because of the pandemic and why that respect is likely to last long-term.

Ahava: Hi. Welcome back to “What Did You Learn?” I’m Ahava Leibtag, and I’m very excited to have my good friends and colleagues here today from Greystone, Kathy Divis and Mike Schneider. Welcome, both of you.

So, Mike, why don’t you start us off.

Mike: Okay, great. I’m Mike Schneider. I’m Executive Vice President and Principal at Greystone. Gosh, I’ve been here for almost 25 years, which is hard to believe, but I’ve been in healthcare marketing for about 30 years. I worked for a healthcare system in Ohio for a while, and I also worked at the National Home Office of the American Cancer Society for a while. So anyway, healthcare marketing has been here a long time, I have loved working at Greystone and being involved with the Healthcare Internet Conference and doing a lot of consulting work related to healthcare.

Ahava: And you just published this amazing survey that you gave this webinar about. That was incredible. So we’ll definitely put that in the show notes for people to check out that link because I learned so much during that webinar. It was fantastic.

Mike: It’s amazing how healthcare marketing has changed during the pandemic and how people are pivoting to be able to meet the challenges that are out there.

Ahava: Yeah, we’re going to dive into that. But Kathy, just tell us a little bit about yourself.

Kathy: I’m president of Greystone.Net. I have been here since the beginning, which is a little over 25 years now. I’m really involved in everything from our product development to our conferences like HCIC, which of course, this year is going virtual like all of the conferences, to our consulting practices. And before we were Greystone, I was actually responsible for marketing at three academic medical centers. So I’ve been on both the provider side, and on the consulting side and the vendor side for 25-30 years now.

Ahava: Wow, that’s a combined experience of half a century. That’s quite impressive. So just tell us a little bit about how you spent quarantine? Kathy, I’m friends with you on Facebook. You have a lot of great hobbies. And so did you do anything special or take up anything new while you were in lockdown?

Kathy: You know, not a whole lot of new. I mean, I do a lot of gardening, so I’ve really enjoyed that. So I’ve spent some time on that. I have learned to be a very good banana bread baker, like so many different people. And I think the other thing that I’ve tried to do is just try to put as much funny, humorous stuff as I can on Facebook.  Because I’m so tired of everybody else’s political posts and COVID posts, so I try to pretty routinely put something on there that’s humorous or that gives people a relief.

Ahava: Yeah, you have a ton of great memes about 2020.

Kathy: Yeah, I steal them all. But that’s okay.

Ahava: And Mike, how about you, you did you learn anything new or bake a lot?  Yeah. I mean everybody’s routine is pretty much upside down. And I have three kids and a wife who are all, were all out of the house every day. And now they’re all in the house every day, and they’re in school and she’s at work. And so anyway, that’s a long way of saying there’s a lot of noise going on in our house at any given point in time, there might be five Zoom calls going on at the same time. So it’s kind of managing the chaos, getting better at cooking family meals at home and then one of those fringe things that I don’t think anybody would have ever guessed that I would do is that I discovered Duolingo during quarantine. And so I’ve been brushing up on Spanish and Portuguese in the in-between time to kind of take my mind off of everything.

Ahava: That’s awesome. That’s great. I’ve played Settlers of Catan, and obviously continue my jigsaw puzzle obsession. What would have prepared us all for this a lot better? And Kathy, we can start with you.

Kathy: Well, you actually kind of took my answer because I was going to say, I wish I had known that it would last this long, but I think in a lot of ways, that’s one of the things that I really do wish I knew. Because had we known back in March that we would still be at this in August or September or later, you might have made different decisions about a few things, but I think I really wish that I would have understood how dramatically it was going to change everything. We thought this was going be a two- or three- week hiatus. And, it’s not. And so I think the world’s changed dramatically now. And had we known that then, maybe we would have made little different decisions. But I don’t even know if we really could have.

Ahava: Yeah. This is unfolding situation every day, right? I mean, I used to ask people, “What 6 words would you use to describe this time period?” Mine are, “What fresh hell is it today?” There are literally moments where you’re just, like, wait a second.

Kathy: Yeah, and my six words would be, “learn to become an optimistic warrior”, because I really do, I mean, I worry all the time, and I try to be optimistic, and I try to balance those two things together and it’s really tough some days.

Ahava: Mike, what do you wish you had known?

Mike: Yeah, well, I want to hit on the time thing, too, because I’m sure that’s everybody’s answer right? And I mean, where I go with that is that it has to do with anxiety. You know, I think if you had some sense that if that the beginning, somebody said, this would last through the end of the year, you could adjust your expectations properly. But just like you said, Ahava, it’s a different change every day. So we went from, we might not be back in the office for two months and then it was going to be four months. And then there’s a point where we said, “Thank God we at least have the Healthcare Internet Conference in November. Because by then surely things will be back to normal.” So it’s like the timeline changes every week or every day, and that was really a big one. I would like to have realized how much of its toll it was going to take on healthcare marketers. I was on a call today with somebody who worked all through Labor Day and is going be in the office tonight until 8, and half the stuff they’re doing is the kind of thing that they weren’t doing before the pandemic. So it’s taxing on all of us and over a long period of time.

Ahava: So let’s talk about that because I think this is really fascinating. You have seen this industry for a very long time, and one of the radical things that I think that this brought about that I really never thought I would see in my career in healthcare marketing is, that healthcare marketers have more respect than they ever from the industry, particularly from the C-Suite, which really saw them rally. And I feel like some leaders are like, “Now I know why we have marketing communications department. I always kind of thought that it was like a call center we should get rid of.” When you’re looking at this from the historical perspective that you both have, what are you, do you think that’s going to last? Do you think that there’s going to be, like you’re saying, people are asked to do more things, I find there’s a lot more customer service and marketing now, do you think that will last? Or do you think when this is over, it will just go back to being the least respected, but most important thing we have in the hospital?

Kathy: I think that marketing has moved to a very strategic level where it’s historically been a little bit tactical in many organizations. Run this ad, developed this brochure, build this site.  I think, for the first time, maybe a lot in the C-Suite are understanding this strategy behind marketing and communications, which perhaps they didn’t in the past.

Ahava: Well, that will be exciting to see. So here’s my next question for you, because your survey revealed that people expect their budgets to drop. So if the C-Suite finally has come to the realization that this could actually not just be a call center but a revenue center, like you said Kathy. If we know that this respect is there and it’s going to last, do you think that they’ll get the budgets that they need? Because I have never seen them been asked to do more with less, and they’re typically asked to do more with less. So this is like it was rice paper thin. Now it’s almost non-existent, the resources that they have. So how are the C-Suite going to balance the problem with falling revenue because of the pandemic? But also the need to feed money into this, what they previously perceived as a cost center?

Mike: I’ll say I think it’s, a short-term and long-term answer to that question. In the short run, the budget is not related to the value that people see in marketing these days. That’s not the issue. The issue is they don’t have the money. We had a bad year. I mean, the worst year, probably ever in most hospitals and healthcare systems. So that’s why you see the short-term drop on the budget. But when the world goes back to, whatever … I hate using the word “normal” but when we’re not going to be wearing masks anymore, then you know there’s going to be a moment in time where we really can seize the day in healthcare. And I feel like it, percentage wise, based on whatever that current budget is going be back in, you know, in the future. Percentage wise, I think that there will be an increase in the percent marketing budget because organizations are going to be looking to leverage that opportunity.

Ahava: I like that answer a lot.

Kathy: And I do think there’s going to be a point in time where at least more contemporary CEOs, they’re going to realize that they have to spend money in marketing in order to drive volume back into the organization. So again, I don’t know if we’re going to see that rebound in 2020 but I think in 2021 we will begin to because people will understand that they’ve got to put the resources behind the demand generation. There’s so much more integration of marketing with hospital operations, and so, now, on your website, you can pay your bill and you can schedule an appointment, and you can do a variety of things that you couldn’t do before, and those things aren’t going away. We’ve just accelerated the transformation from the digital perspective. So, you know, I’m going to be optimistic again that this is going to be something that is going to be for the good and will stay.

Ahava: Yeah, no, I like to say that in 20 years, marketing will be called customer experience. It will still be marketing, but I think it will be underneath this new umbrella, thinking it through in a very different way. Mike, do you see that from talking to your clients that they feel this newfound respect? And do you think it will last?

Mike: I mean, definitely. First of all, you referenced the survey that we did, but that was one of the moments of greatest, you know, an “aha moment,” if you will. That’s one of the things that folks said, you know, as a silver lining coming out of the pandemic, the most commonly noted item was that there is so much more respect for marketing and communications. And when you read into some of that and you really talk to folks that are in the industry, that are, you know, feet on the ground, one of the things that you’re seeing a lot is not only the C-Suite understands marketing communications better, but their also helping to drive a more dynamic definition of what marketing and communications is.

So it’s more, which is not surprising to any of us, but it is surprising some people in the organization that it’s more than just billboards and graphics on the website and search engine marketing and that kind of thing. I mean, it’s everything from helping out the people in human resources to craft what the new policies are going to be related to how we get back in the office and building whatever content needs to be built to get that message out there to your employees. So they’re really leveraging the marketing and communications staff to do this wider variety of tasks within the organization. And so it’s whatever marketing communications in a box used to look like. It’s not going to look like that in the future, I think, in the eyes of senior leadership.

Ahava: So this show is called “What Did You Learn?” And you’re continuing to learn, I know that.

Kathy: Well, I learned, I guess one thing I would say is I learned that I could do with a lot less than I thought I could. You know, from a material perspective, I’ve learned that I missed my family tremendously, and the contact of the everyday conversations. But I think what I’ve really learned is it’s more of a personal than a work-related thing is just that you know, when it really gets down to it, you need less than you think you really need to be happy and to persevere and that you have strength inside you to go through all of this and come out on the other end. It’s a very trying time for everybody, but you know, we’re making it.

Ahava: What did you learn besides the fact that you’d like Kathy to adopt your family, Mike?

Mike: I learned that I can escape to the office to get away from them all. No, just kidding.  They’re not watching this so it doesn’t matter. But, you know, I think the three things that are words that I’ve tried to use over and over again are flexibility, patience and creativity. And I’m not going to say that they’re all plentiful all the time because there are a lot of times where I’m really short on patience or creativity or flexibility. But if if you can leverage those three things, it gets back to kind of what Kathy was saying. I mean, you can learn to do with less, you could learn to be more creative with the resources that you have. You learn to make it up as you go along. And maybe I’d even add a fourth one and call it grace, because I think that we’ve all learned to give each other a little more grace. You know, when you’re on a webinar or Zoom call, maybe you’ve got five or six a day and people’s cats and dogs are walking across the screen. You know, that used to be a thing before where you were, you’d have a seizure because your cat came in the room. Now it’s just like you sit there and pet the cat, and keep going with your Zoom call.

Ahava: So true. Okay it’s two years from now. Where’s HCIC going to be in two years?

Kathy: It’s going to be in Florida. Yeah, it’s in Miami. Two days after the conference when both of you have come out of your stupor, sitting around having cocktails floating in the pool, and I turn to both of you and I say, “what have you kept with you? What lesson do you just continue to drive forward with from 2020 and this experience?”

Mike: I know I’m going to say, I think this is a probably unanimous answer for just about everybody is that if we all had to learn one thing, it is to get better at something like this, you know, using virtual communication, and I’ve been sitting in on some webinars about how to present to the small screen instead of the big screen. I have a light in my office to be able to light me up for a conference call. I’ve got a better camera on my computer. I mean, those were things that everybody has now, you know, background. I actually think about what’s behind me now, you know? So I think we’re all learning those kind of, at-home production skills or in-the- office production skills. And it’s going to be great because I wanted to say this is what you call it opposite ends. But on one end, we all do have to get better at using virtual because there is some time, there are some times where it’s a lot better use of our time and energy to do something like a Zoom call than it is to actually be in person.

But the other thing that I’m going to say, which is the opposite, is that it has also taught me that the in-person stuff is so valuable. I mean, sitting in on several online conferences all year, and we’re going to have our own here in a couple of months. People are dying to get back to a real conference and see their buddies and share a beer and shake hands or give you a hug or whatever and actually sit together and have a conversation. And this virtual stuff doesn’t replace that.

Kathy: You know it’s not the same, but, you know, the one thing that I think I have learned is that it’s really pretty good in a lot of ways, because now when I have a meeting, that’s just an audio meeting, just a phone meeting, I feel like I’m missing out because I can’t see that Ahava is shaking her head yes right now. And I can’t understand all the nuances. And so there is really value in this virtual communications, and it doesn’t replace personal, and it never is, I don’t think. And I think as soon as we can get back to live meetings, we all want to do that. But there is real value in being able to connect with somebody virtually without getting on a plane. You know, I mean, we’re having very productive client meetings online and through virtual meetings, you know, maybe not quite as good as if you were in person, but lots and lots of good communication. So I think it is going to be here to stay. I mean, I halfway expect HCIC in 2022 to be a hybrid, event of live activity and probably virtual activity. I don’t see that, I’m not sure I see that going away in the future. There’s going to be some things that’ll be virtual and some things that will be live right now.

Ahava: Where can people find you?

Kathy: They can find us at Greystone.Net or HCIC.net for our conference. Reach out to us, we’re available by email, phone, any way you want to chat.

Ahava: Awesome. Well, for those of you that are listening or watching, you must register for HCIC. I don’t care if it’s from the moon, virtual, hybrid, whatever it is, it’s the best conference of the year. If you’re in healthcare marketing, particularly in digital and strategy, you’ll never learn more. There’s no place to learn more, and I’ll be there.

Kathy: Thank you. That’s very nice of you to say.

Ahava: Thank you, Kathy and Mike, both so much for being here. I really enjoyed it. And I know that our audience is going to enjoy eavesdropping on all our great knowledge.

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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 >