Just What the Marketer Ordered

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Beth Fagan has had a lot of jobs in a lot of places. After the Connecticut native graduated from Dickinson College in Pennsylvania, she was an investigator for the Federal Election Commission in Washington and then spent six years as a public relations executive at an assortment of large agencies in New York, including Ruder Finn. 

But when her husband was offered a desirable professorship in the art history department at Washington University in St. Louis, she left the East Coast for Missouri. “I miss the ocean,” she laments, with a slight look of nostalgia. Despite feeling a bit landlocked, Fagan continued to prosper and landed a job as vice president of public affairs at Brown Shoe, bringing her Manhattan experience to the Midwest-based retail company. “I found myself doing mostly investor relations because I was working for the corporate entity,” she remembers. However, it wasn’t until she scored a position as director of communications and marketing at Missouri Baptist Medical Center that she finally felt fulfilled. 

“I have worked in a lot of places, and this has been my favorite job,” Fagan explains, over her early Monday morning coffee. Why? “Heading marketing at a nonprofit hospital in a great healthcare system means that a huge percent of what we do is really aimed at making people healthier. It is all about delivering information to the consumer that can make them healthier while at the same time promoting your services. I love that.

“Missouri Baptist Medical Center is a top-notch hospital. But when I arrived here five years ago, we didn’t have an identity in the marketplace,” she continues. “Nobody really had anything bad to say about Missouri Baptist, but they had no idea the care was this excellent. So there was a real opportunity to do fundamental and sustainable branding work. That has been my passion.”

As a result, the hospital was a “marketer’s dream.” She explains, “The challenge became to define our brand attributes and develop marketing that captured them. It is like holding a mirror up to that care. It was just a good fit. I had an intellectual and emotional passion for branding, and it was an opportunity to build a brand.”

For a little more than four years now, she has been living the dream. Her accomplishments since arriving at the hospital include the creation of a logo; a complete redesign of Missouri Baptist’s publication, M; and an updated advertising campaign that includes billboards, radio, newspaper, and television commercials. “At every step, my philosophy has been, first, do no harm,” she says. “Even today, I won’t take a step without doing research first. We must know what the consumer thinks and then test it internally to make sure our people believe in it. If it doesn’t ring true to our staff, we should find an approach that does.”

Fagan adds that implementing a full-scale CRM solution is on her to-do list, but laments the obstacles she’s been facing. “When I first came here, I quickly realized HIPAA made it difficult to do CRM,” she says. Right now, the hospital is using a Barnes Jewish Christian Healthcare (BJC)–specific electronic medical record system. In addition, the entire Missouri Baptist community is given access to MyBJC, a secure online portal for doctors and patients to communicate efficiently. All BJC system patients can view test results and reports online, and, depending on their doctor, take part in other communication, such as scheduling or canceling appointments. 

It hasn’t even reached 9 a.m. (Fagan usually arrives by 8 a.m.) and several members of her marketing team have already visited Fagan’s office seeking guidance on a multitude of projects. “Graphically, we have established a much more professional look,” she says in between visitors. “In everything we do, we visually capture the warmth and the emotional connection of our physicians and staff with our patients.”

Although working at a healthcare organization is quite different from the corporate world, Fagan draws on her experience often when planning and executing Missouri Baptist’s marketing campaigns. “We owe a great debt to what has been done by big consumer brands, because they have really have allowed us to use their lessons and apply them locally,” she says. 

Missouri Baptist gathered feedback from 18 focus groups to ensure customer satisfaction, according to Fagan. “We really needed to hear the voice of the consumer because when you are working on a brand, people across your organization have lots of opinions about what should be your tagline and how you should be positioned,” she explains. “But our consumer research showed that internal healthcare jargon would mean something totally different to the consumer. It actually could hurt, rather than help, your image.” 

In addition, feedback from all levels of the hospital’s staff was valued. “Making sure your staff not only buys into, but also has a chance to give input [into your decisions], is such a critical part of a chief marketing officer’s role in a medical institution,” Fagan maintains.

She quickly says she only has a couple of minutes until her first commitment of the week, adding, “It came down to the two tenants of our brand are: Doctors call it world-class medicine, you’ll call it MoBap. We once again gave consumers permission to call us by our nickname. It really says you’ll feel so comfortable here, you’ll call us by our nickname and we’ll take good care of you.”

This morning, Fagan visits the emergency department at 10 o’clock to meet with Tim May, the ER’s nurse manager, to review the results of a recent ad campaign. To uphold Fagan’s promise to always “tell the truth,” she continually checks in with the department pre- and post-launch of all advertising campaigns. In addition, the department now staffs physicians in triage during its busiest time: from 8 a.m. until midnight. The hospital has been touting that patients now can relay their problems directly to a physician “usually within 20 to 30 minutes.” Fagan points out, “Some 94 percent of patients are seen by our physicians-in-triage within 30 minutes so that they can start tests and other treatment. It’s truly an innovation that no other hospital in the area is doing. When people come to an emergency room, they want to see a doctor. They don’t want to sit in a waiting room.”

The ER’s summer advertising campaign launched the week before, and it has not taken long for the staff to feel the effects. “The advertising is working,” May says. After showing Fagan a packet of spreadsheets listing numbers of walk-in patients, it is clear the community is choosing Missouri Baptist’s emergency department for its medical needs in greater numbers. Fagan requests that May keep her informed about the patient volume and wait times, explaining that the advertising must be “truthful and reflect what you deliver.” 

She says, “When we first launched this campaign, one of the radio stations shortened the message, to the point where consumers misinterpreted it, thinking they could be in and out of our ER within 30 minutes,” she remembers. “It generated huge volume, but created a false expectation. No ER can deliver that promise. So we immediately pulled it. My ER chief was surprised that we reacted so quickly. It built our internal credibility for future campaigns.”

She adds, “A brand is a contract between you and the consumer. If you are building a brand and you are not telling the truth, you are not representing what you are actually doing, and it won’t succeed.”

As Fagan and May proceed to take a walk around the ER, nurses and doctors say hello to their marketing maven. Although Fagan may not have medical credentials, it is clear that she is a member of this team. “I love science and love the medicine aspect of this,” she says. 

May pulls Fagan aside to show her the infamous “Room 8.” He explains that the room is for unstable psychiatric patients, as he points out a window that had been shattered by an aggressive patient one week before. Fagan again asks if the staff needs additional support to handle the increase in patient volume, and May takes the opportunity to commend his team of nurses and suggests getting a few additional patient advocates to handle the load. 

After concluding her visit with the emergency department, Fagan heads upstairs at 10:30 a.m. to Missouri Baptist’s renovated childbirth center to meet marketing colleague Rhonda Veenhuis and nurse manager Charlotte Lewinski. Fagan points out the fresh, deep-stained mahogany wood floor, sleek curtains, and miniature hair dryers found in each private room, explaining that focus groups and surveys showed that expectant mothers wanted their own space, complete with the comforts of home, when delivering. Bedside lamps are in the works, in addition to fleece blankets with Missouri Baptist’s rejuvenated logo that families can take home with their new bundles of joy. “They will treasure this for life,” Fagan says. 

The trio’s brief meeting opens with a discussion about the color palette of these special keepsakes. The group stands over three physical mock-ups, ranging from light beige to deep chocolate. “Let’s face it, the babies are going to spit up and poop on these,” Lewinski says, as the other two chuckle. Fagan adds that the white sheets may wash out certain colors, and the group seems to exclude the lighter option.

The next order of business concerns the logo. The mock-ups feature the logos in a variety of colors, something Fagan characterizes as a “marketing no-no.” She states that the logo must boast its trademark blue-and-green color palette. “We have not constrained ourselves to one look, but you will find us in a color palette and you will find us using our logo and images in a way that’s warm, beautiful, and inviting,” she says of the hospital’s trademark.

Lewinski and Veenhuis agree and they move on to their final order of business. The group travels to check in on the neonatal intensive care unit, which is still undergoing a massive renovation. Fagan seems pleased with the progress. 

“Lunchtime!” Fagan exclaims at 11:30 a.m., as she steps into the elevator. “If I don’t get something to eat now, I won’t eat all day,” she jokes. Missouri Baptist’s cafeteria boasts a variety of food stations, from freshly baked pizzas to homestyle-baked chicken and potatoes to an expansive salad bar. Like many areas of the hospital, the cafeteria also was recently renovated. Doctors, nurses, and patient families crowd each station at this noon hour, and the food seems to be a hit. Fagan heads straight to the salad bar and loads up on fresh greens and vegetables. “I am really committed to good health,” she says. “You only have one body.”

After carefully crafting her salad, Fagan resumes her brisk walk back to her office to compile the agenda for the lunch meeting she will lead with her staff. As marketing team members await their leader’s arrival while munching, it is obvious that lunch can’t come soon enough for this busy group. Fagan passes around the three-page agenda, titled “2011-2012 Marketing Plan—The Big Stuff,” while staffers exchange stories about their weekends, complaining about the St. Louis humidity. 

By noon, Fagan jumps into the first agenda item, an upcoming series of television heart segments for the local St. Louis NBC station and a slated article about arrhythmia in a community newspaper. Em-

phasizing the importance of the opportunities, she says, “We have such an outstanding heart program here. We do more open-heart surgeries than any other hospital in St. Louis County. We really are a heart center.” In attendance are Veenhuis; JoAnne Meives, manager of community health education; Mary Beck, senior coordinator for public relations; Elizabeth White, coordinator of Web services and staff photographer; and James Williams, staff designer.

The agenda’s next items concern the emergency department and maternity ward—“consumer choices,” as Fagan calls them. “We did the research, we know,” she confidently states. The team is redesigning PowerPoint presentations to be shown during childbirth tours for prospective parents. Currently, Missouri Baptist delivers about 4,000 babies a year, placing it in the number two spot for St. Louis–area delivery. “Women have this huge loyalty to the place where they deliver their children,” Fagan says. “So if you convince them to deliver their baby at your hospital and you give them a fabulous experience, you have the opportunity to become their hospital.”

Fagan proceeds to update the group on her morning visit with May in the ER, mentioning that patient advocates might need to devote more time to support the increased volume of walk-ins. Another major topic is the screening and community program, with several events on the horizon. Included are a handful of lectures led by Missouri Baptist doctors, ranging from cholesterol to multiple sclerosis to carotid artery disease. In addition, the hospital will host screenings throughout the St. Louis metropolitan area to ensure that all communities have access to care.

When the group begins to discuss plans for a series of community screenings, tension mounts. Several logistical miscommunications have irritated a few staff members, as Fagan receives a full update on the situation. Responsible for crisis management at the hospital, Fagan finds herself trying to calm her staff and solve problems. By the time the meeting concludes at 1 p.m., Fagan’s staff seems refocused on upcoming projects. 

For now, Fagan is passionate about her role at Missouri Baptist, but she also is aware that she will always be on her toes. “It’s an age-old adage but you cannot forget it,” she says. “Internally, your audiences will get tired of your advertising way before the consumer does, so you want to be very careful when you change campaigns.”

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