What Did You Learn? Episode 8

As much as you can plan for a pandemic or any communications crisis, living through it is a different story.

But pre-planning and having fluid relationships between departments does help — at least it did for marketers Jennifer Balanky and Jennifer Price of Sharp Healthcare. Their team band together with PR, internal communications and other departments to create content and self-assessment tools overnight, making the marketing approach to COVID-19 look easy.

Watch this episode of What Did You Learn? to hear more about Sharp Healthcare’s digital marketing approach to the coronavirus pandemic — as well as what the two Jennifers hope will last for years to come.

Ahava: Hi. Welcome back to What Did You Learn? I’m Ahava Leibtag and I’m thrilled to have with me two Jennifers, just for fun. Jennifer Balanky and Jennifer Price from Sharp Healthcare. I’m going to let them introduce themselves and tell you a little bit more about their careers in healthcare.

Jennifer Balanky: Thanks so much for having us here today, Ahava. We are thrilled to be here and share what we’ve learned. I’m Jennifer Balanky, I manage the digital content strategy team at Sharp Healthcare in San Diego, and I lead our team through content strategy across sharp-dot com, our public site, our employee Intranet, um, email and CRM strategy, social media. And I’m sure I’m forgetting something else, but that’s that’s the top of the waves.

Jennifer Price: I’m Jennifer Price and I also work on the digital content team very closely with Jen Balanky, working on sharp-dot-com and our content strategy and UX and all the fun things that roll into that.

Ahava: Let’s, let’s just either one of you can answer this question or both of you should answer this question. But did you learn any TikToks during the pandemic?

Jennifer B: That is one thing that we both agreed, we did not make time for. We did not have time for, we did not make time for. Our kids probably made some time for it among their various ages. But we did not.

Ahava: Good for you. Good for you. I only learned one, and that was because we were on vacation. So Okay. And did you bake anything?

Jennifer B: Jen, you go first.

Jennifer P: Yeah, I can. I baked a lot of bread. In the beginning, I was always been a big bread baker. And in the beginning, when things were really crazy at grocery stores we baked lot of bread. We’ve since gotten into making a lot of ice cream, which is not quite baking, but equally delicious. And that has been getting us through this summer quarantine, week by week.

Ahava: Did you pick? Well, it sounds like you didn’t have time to pick up any new hobbies. I didn’t either. My daughter learned how to make friendship bracelets, but I just tried to keep my head above water.

Jennifer P: But oh, that’s fun. I think my biggest is that I never drank coffee before quarantine. Maybe once in a while, usually decaf and I have become such a coffee drinker.

Ahava: What do you wish you had known professionally before this thing started seven thousand days ago?

Jennifer B: I think one thing that we learned only recently is that we wish we’d known earlier how important it would be to share the message of it being safe to get care at the hospital. We know that people aren’t coming in for very serious symptoms such as heart attack or stroke. And we’re just now launching a campaign around it being safe to get care at Sharp because people are so afraid to come to the hospital. So, I wish that we had known that. I wish that we had been able to make a stronger difference from the beginning there. And I hope we are able to make a difference now.

Ahava: Yeah, absolutely. There have been some really sad stories about doctors who were administering telehealth and they were like, “You need to go to the ER immediately,” and people ignored them and unfortunately, passed away. I definitely think something that the hospitals need to think about and quite frankly, from a revenue perspective, like people need to be able to come back in and get the care that they need. So, we don’t want another public health crisis on our hands. I think we’re already dealing with a big enough one as it is.

Jennifer B: Right and I think this is really a not only a healthcare need, it’s also a business need like you mentioned. There are declining revenues, there is loss of volume overall and so encouraging people to seek the care, not put their healthcare on hold, I think serves a dual purpose.

Jennifer P: I feel like we do so much preparation, pre-COVID, pre-quarantine pre-craziness, for crisis crises, planning and disaster planning. We have quarterly workshops with various members across our division where we’re like, you know, putting in, you know, pretend this happened. And how do we respond? And we do so much planning. But I still feel like you can plan as much as you want for a pandemic but living through it is just completely different when it’s affecting us all personally as well as professionally. It’s a very different matter, and it’s gone on, of course, much longer than most things we would plan for.

So it’s, we’ve really had to be very fluid in our response. And maybe that’s something we kind of knew as much as you can plan for something, never really there until it’s really happening. But we’ve, we’ve had to, of course, work nights and weekends and work very quickly to turn things around. And I think we knew we had that in us, but it’s definitely, it’s definitely been a huge learning moment and a big thing for our team this year.

Ahava: So how did you figure out how to try to put some semblance of process and normalcy around it? And it’s OK to just say it’s chaos. But from the content I see you producing, it’s clearly not, so what did you, what can you tell our audience that will help them figure out how to wrap their arms around it in more efficient ways if they haven’t figured it out already?

Jennifer B: I think as Jen mentioned, the planning was integral to our process that we have such a well-oiled machine of a team and the relationships that we’ve built over the years with our PR team, our internal communications teams, the scripting we’ve developed for social media scenarios across the board, from natural disasters to executive scandals to Ebola, um, never anticipating a quarantine like this. But some of that scripting really helped us lay the foundation for what we needed to say in response to the rising volume of social media inquiries and questions and fears that we were getting from the public, from our patients.

We meet daily to talk about a lot of the issues that are going on around our system. I was part of our highly infectious disease steering committee for four months, starting several months ago on a daily call to kind of kind get the pulse of what’s going on in the system and what’s going on at the hospitals and with the CDC and everything like that. So that information then was shared kind of across the team. Here’s what we’re looking at today. Here’s what’s changing today. Here are the items we need to update on our coronavirus sub site that started from a single landing page of FAQs to now a multi-page subsite explaining where people can get testing. What are the latest symptoms? How can they self-assess using a tool that we built?

I think just having those relationships are really, really important. And you hear that a lot about developing relationships and strengthening relationships. But in this case having those contact numbers, those cell phone numbers, being able to help on the phone, hop on a call right away and get more information, having the understanding from our PR team that we needed to get approvals right away from senior leadership and their understanding the importance of that has really helped us out.

Ahava: Jen P., do you feel like there’s a skill set that you wish you had had going into this? That now you know, is like, really critical, not just to running, marketing or communications during a pandemic, but all the time?

Jennifer P: That’s a great question. I would kind of stay in line with what Jen B. was saying that having that integrated teamwork among all of our teams and that really, really heightened collaboration, I think even, you know, going in, we had a lot of those things kind of in place or, you know, dotted lines between teams and we’ve really just firmed up those relationships.

Even within our own digital marketing department. We have three teams that have worked somewhat separately and somewhat closely together over the years, and this has absolutely strengthened those relationships among our product, UX and content teams.

We, you know, Jen mentioned earlier we had to turn around a self-assessment tool very quickly for our patients to be able to go to our website and take a COVID-19 self-assessment tool they can enter if they’ve what kind of symptoms they might be having if they think they have been exposed and then the tool will let them know kind of what those next steps will be. And that was something we literally had to turn around overnight. And I think because our teams were able to very quickly collaborate and be very creative and innovative, we were able to do that very quickly. And before I feel like something like that would have taken longer.

Ahava: It’s so great what you said about. Listen, we were seeing pressure on, our, our call centers. We were seeing pressure on answering social media questions. We designed a content tool, a product to try to take that pressure off, and that’s exactly what content strategy is designed to do. It’s like the perfect example of how you satisfied both of those core issues.

Five years from now, we’re having cocktails at a conference. No masks. What’s the one thing you feel like you took away from this and will never leave your skill as a marketing communications content UX professional?

Jennifer B: The speed at which we can develop. I hope that I can carry that forward with, with the tremendous amount of stress we’re all feeling personally and professionally, and some of the business pressures were feeling, too. I’m hopeful that we can kind of just continue to balance and still be able to provide products that meet people’s needs, their health care needs, their family needs, in a very direct and clear and kind of fast way. I mean, things can get bogged down by bureaucracy, by contractual situations, and we’ve been fortunate that we’re able to build over buy a lot of the time.

And we haven’t really dedicated team, so I’m hopeful that I can continue to be at this place where we are so supported that we can we can create and integrate rapidly.

Ahava: Right. You sound like you’ve adopted a little bit of the Silicon Valley attitude which is done is better than perfect. Obviously, healthcare doesn’t really like to do that. But watch. We’re watching a vaccine trying to be rushed through because of how important it is to do it. And I think there’s probably a metaphor there.

Jen P., you and I are not going to have a cocktail. We’re going to have ice cream. So, tell me what we are going to talk about in five years from now.

Jennifer P: I think we can have both, right? Like a beer float with ice cream in it? Come on, don’t cheat me out of my cocktail here. Um, I would say the collaboration and innovation that we have just improved on and that we’ve seen, you know, work kind of. We’ve been able to work so quickly, we have been able to innovate. We’ve been able to do so many things that before would have taken a lot longer. There would have been a lot more red tape for us to cut through. And I really hope that that continues that we’re able to continue to move quickly and think outside the box more often and be encouraged to do so.

Ahava: I thank you both so much for being here. This was for me such a great learning experience. And I really appreciate all the feedback that you gave. And I know that people listening are really going to learn a lot as well. So, thank you so much.

Jennifer B: Thank you, Ahava. Thanks so much for asking us to tell our story.

Jennifer P: Absolutely. Thank you for having us, it was great to see you virtually.

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