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Budgeting, Getting Buy-In, and Measurement


It’s hard to find a more perfect person to be on our healthcare marketing podcast than today’s guest, Noah Locke, Director of Marketing, Technology, and Analytics at UW Health in Madison, Wisconsin. 

Jenny and Noah begin the show talking about marketing budgeting. Noah discusses how budgeting at the beginning of Covid was not as difficult as it is now that the overall economy is finally feeling the effects of two years of Covid disruption. One thing that he recommends that is easy and significant help in the budget is to review the cost for things large and small to see if they are needed, or if could they be doing the same job with a lower cost or even a free alternative. Jenny talks about how organizations can get stuck in old ways and not look for more affordable, more efficient choices.

The conversation then turns to measuring results and Noah explains how UW Health they are dedicated to tracking results that support their strategic plan, which has the goal of providing the best patient care possible. In order to do this, you can’t just track the areas that connect directly to patient care, but all the other supporting areas.  And as many of our listeners know, in healthcare it can take a lot of time and effort to make a change and get the tools you need. Noah expresses the importance of creating relationships with as many people and departments as you can and how to craft proposals in a way to speed up the process.

They also dive into analytics and how using both business and marketing analytics in tandem can help make the best decisions possible. Noah also gives some insight on what’s new that he and the team at UW Health are working on and plans for the future, and how he decides on the prioritization of these initiatives.

Watch their discussion below or listen to the podcast, We Are Marketing Happy – a healthcare marketing podcast.

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Full Transcript:

JENNY: [00:00:00] Hi, I’m Jenny Bristow and I’m the CEO and Founder of Hedy & Hopp, a healthcare marketing agency based in the Midwest. We started the, We Are, Marketing Happy podcast because of our passion for improving patient’s access to care. And understanding the innovations and shifts in the healthcare industry are key to making that happen.

Please follow share, and let us know what topics you’d like for us to cover next. Enjoy.

Hi friends. Welcome to the, We Are Marketing Happy podcast today. I am super excited to have with me Noah Locke. Noah is the Director of Marketing Technology and Analytics at UW Health. Noah, I’m excited to have you. 

NOAH: Hey, Jenny. Thanks for having me. I’m excited to be here.

JENNY: Let’s dig right in. Some of the things that I wanted to chat about with you today are topics that people often are [00:01:00] uncomfortable talking about in public, which is perfect for this podcast. 

Marketing budgeting. The first big question I want to talk to you about is how you’re handling budgeting post pandemic. Clearly your system, like everyone else’s, was impacted pretty severely with COVID.

How are you handling budgeting post pandemic? Are you back to normal? Have you had a ramp up period? How are you and your team thinking about it? 

NOAH: Yeah, I think like you said, everybody had a challenging couple years. I feel like we’re starting to really see the impacts right now, whereas, a lot of people might expect that right in the middle of the pandemic, finances were super tough.

There was a period of that in the very beginning, but actually it wasn’t as bad as we all thought. But now as the global economy, I think it is catching up to the effects of the pandemic. We’re actually starting to see more of that hit our [00:02:00] organization. So it started really tough. This year was a tough year for budgeting.

But I’ve found, and this was true, not just during the pandemic or now, but since I’ve been in really business is being a cost savings junkie really helps. In what I’ve experienced in healthcare is there’s a lot of this attitude that we have to keep using certain systems because we have to keep using them because that’s what we’ve always done.

Therefore we have to keep paying for them. and I’ve gotten really comfortable just saying, no, we don’t. we’re gonna stop using that system and we’re going to use a spreadsheet instead, or we’re going to use this free tool over here. and that’s, that’s really helped. I mean, I wouldn’t say we’ve been able to move mountains with it.

But we really take a hard look at everything we’re using and not just during budget season, but just throughout the year, every time I get a credit card statement, I’m combing through it. [00:03:00] I’m like, do we still need that? Do we still need that subscription? Do we still need this thing? I actually canceled a WordPress plugin this morning.

It was a subscription that no one even knew we still had and I’m like get rid of it. You know? So it’s little things like that that can go a long way and helping to kind of ease the pain.

Another one that I thought of was just ask early and ask often. A lot of times we wait till budget season to start to talk to our next level leader or our finance partners about things that are coming up and things that we need. I like to ask the minute I need it. Even if we just started our new fiscal year and there’s no hope of getting any extra funds. Cause what I’ve found is that’s not always true. Things are constantly shifting and even though our next fiscal year budget’s been improved a lot of times, and this is even true for my own team, we discover that maybe this technology we budgeted for, we discovered [00:04:00] after the fact that we actually can’t implement it until the next year. So we got the funds approved and now the funds are available. And so we can redistribute those to be used elsewhere. 

JENNY: It’s kind of funny. Whenever you start your career, you think all of the rules that you’re told are set in stone, but they really aren’t. Right. There’s so much gray and you have to be willing to ask.

NOAH: Especially in healthcare. I think healthcare suffers a lot from, and I think it’s part of both good and bad people stay in their careers a long time.

I have a lot of people I work with who’ve been here for 25 years. And so with that, you’ve got a lot of legacy culture that’s resistant to change. So just not being afraid to kind of, you know, go a little bit outside the box or outside your comfort zone goes a long way.

Jenny: So when we’re thinking about budget allocation, of course, everybody always thinks about measuring success in KPIs.

How do you determine what success looks like based off the dollars [00:05:00] that you spent both for your own metrics, but then also communicating it both to team members you manage and then leadership above you. 

NOAH: Yeah, that’s a tough one in healthcare. I mean, one thing that helped in 2020 UW helped build out their new strategic plan and it has been actually very helpful.

I think it would come to no surprise. Anyone listening that our number one goal is patient care and providing the best for patient for possible. But not everything we do, especially in my realm directly has an impact on patient care in a clinical setting. And what really helped was our CEO and his leadership team putting together a lot more areas of focus that orbit around patient care.

So things like information management and analytics. A big one for my team. Like we actually have that in our strategic plan. I’m like, we do a ton of that work. Amazing. And so now when we’re putting together our goals for the year and [00:06:00] we’re required to kind of tie our goals back to the strategic plan, and almost everything we do, it’s that bucket.

And to have our CEO say, this is critical and important to the overall mission, which supports patient care. It’s really helpful for my team so that we can demonstrate a return in that domain, even if it’s not directly patient related. 

JENNY: It’s very great leadership to set goals that everybody can tie up to.

So kudos your organization for that. So you already talked about asking early and asking often when there’s something that you need, but talk to me about red tape and bureaucracy for getting things approved because we all know if you’re in healthcare, it’s not as easy as just going and asking for a check to get things done.

There’s the political side of it. There’s making sure that other teams have buy in. If you need to have other teams to work together. 

If you were talking to yourself, just starting out in the [00:07:00] healthcare space, what advice would you have given yourself or somebody junior in their career about navigating that process?

NOAH: I think the most important thing is to know who’s who. Really take the time to get to know people in your organization. That that may seem like an obvious thing, but a lot of us, we join our team and we kind of stay in our lane. As a director, who’s responsible for trying to get money to move initiatives forward, I have friends in finance, in procurement, in it, in all the different areas where I know, oh, I need to get that person. And that person bought in really quick so that I can push this. And then actually one thing I’ve discovered was don’t use email. Email has become the worst possible way to communicate in my opinion.

So I’ll send people an informal chat, like, Hey, how’s your day. Hey, I had a quick question. I’m thinking about asking for some funds for this [00:08:00] thing and you know what I mean? It’s kind of going around the traditional channels to get people’s attention. Another big one is just the SBAR. I don’t know if you’re familiar with the, the term.

JENNY: Explain it for our listeners anyway. 

NOAH: So it’s just a format for writing a proposal. So it’s situation background assessment recommendation. And it helps you as the author really hone in on what it is you’re asking for and explain it in a way that whoever you hand that document to can look at it and very quickly know, okay, this is why they’re asking for this.

This is the problem. This is what they’re trying to solve. It’s really effective. So getting good at writing those and writing them often and then not being afraid to send it to the CIO, for example. Another big one. I used to be terrified to directly go to somebody who was whatever 10 pay grades above me and I just decided I wasn’t gonna do that anymore. And it’s, it’s actually paid [00:09:00] off. To just kind of put yourself out there and not be afraid to ask those questions. 

JENNY: Absolutely initiative is so rare because people are afraid but it probably was really welcome. So you bring up a really interesting point talking about and getting buy-in from the CIO from finance, probably legal.

It’s been really interesting because we work with hospital systems and providers all across the country and the way that they structure their analytics teams is so different from team to team. I’d love to hear how your organization decided on your structure about where marketing analytics sits and why you think it is a good solution.

NOAH: Yeah. So for years, Google analytics was just a thing that sat over here and it was all we really had in terms of marketing analytics, it’s sad to say. When I came on I quickly found myself frustrated with that reality. [00:10:00] Recently we hired a data scientist for our marketing department, but this is the cool part.

He reports into our enterprise analytics data science team. So he works daily with machine learning, engineers and data scientists, and they’re all working together to stand up a really new and robust applied data science function at US Health. So it’s a matrix position. He reports to me, but he doesn’t report to me.

I basically tell him what to work on. I give him direction. I give him guidance, whatever he needs and he gets to work on all of my projects, but he still has that direct line into that team. That’s been awesome because it breaks down silos. It creates a bridge between our two teams that wasn’t there before we find ourselves talking way more often. And what we’re trying to do there – just to get technical for a minute – [00:11:00] He is working on setting up API feeds that will consume all the data from our different platforms. So Google Analytics,. Google Ads, we use form stack, we use Invoca for call tracking. All these different systems, pulling it all into our data lake, where all of our clinical data sits.

The whole point is we want to be able to have a really robust business intelligence platform where we can look at absolutely all of our data. And I’m not just saying this because you’re interviewing me, but Jenny you’re partially responsible because of the talk you gave at HCIC in 2019. When you talked about necessity to move beyond just looking at your marketing analytics and putting together with your business analytics, so you can do true business intelligence.

So that’s that’s happening right now.

JENNY: I wanna give you a kudos for the way that your team has structured it because so often we see either a [00:12:00] completely separate team under marketing being formed, where they have an analytics and decision science team. And then a completely separate one that manages all the clinical data or having a marketing person over here on the clinical that doesn’t actually understand the marketing language and doesn’t actually have anybody to report to. So you have created this beautiful bridge that I think is a really cool model for other systems to understand and learn from. 

So on that note, what are you working on right now? What’s something you’re excited about.

NOAH: So, the one I just mentioned is obviously, you know, the goal with the data science work we’re doing is to be able to accurately demonstrate to the organization, the return on our marketing efforts. And that’s a big one for us in marketing. We’ve been, I don’t wanna say flying blind, but we, we do these campaigns an we, can’t always very accurately relay the outcomes, you know? 

Okay. We had X amount of patients fill out a form, how many of them actually had a hip replace? [00:13:00] What was the contribution margin on those hip replacements? That’s data that’s we’ve been able to go get ad hoc on a one off basis, but what we really want is realtime automated business intelligence so we can make decisions. There’s a couple big things coming up for us. I’m on two kind of big initiatives right now. One we’re rebuilding our employee experience platform. So that’s all internal focused, just trying to really level up the way we do work here. 

And then, we are kind of neck deep in the CRM procurement world.We’ve been working on that for a while, so that’s wonderful. And I think what I would say that if you know anyone listening, who’s even going down that road, it’s taken us way longer than we wanted it to in terms to get to an implementation. But the reason is we have done [00:14:00] so much work on what we call the road show, making sure that everyone who needs to possibly know that we’re doing this knows that we’re doing it and how it’s gonna impact their teams. It’s wonderful. So it’s not just we’re doing CRM, just for marketing. We’re doing it for UW Health. It’s really more about patient experience than it is about just acquiring new patients

JENNY: That’s when it’s really impactful. I mean, I was talking actually to another system just a couple of days ago and they actually had their CRM implementation paused because of lack of buy in from other departments because they didn’t do that relationship building on the front end. So it’s very smart to actually get all of the relationships and roadmap the personas, all of that done first.

So kudos to you. So last question, you have all of these different things going on. You’ve been a UW for a while. How do you determine what you’re going to push forward as an initiative and a priority within [00:15:00] the organization, the entire marketing team, and then both for your own career?

NOAH: Those are really good questions.

So I guess the main thing we’re doing right now is my counterpart, our director of digital marketing and I work extremely closely together on our annual roadmap.

I wouldn’t even call it an annual roadmap because we’re updating every week. But I think the most important part of it is what I’d call the roadmap roadshow, which is where we take the roadmap and we go to folks in other departments that we wouldn’t normally ever work with and say, hey, this is what we’re planning to do.

What do you think about this? So we’re taking it to our ambulatory operations team and saying, hey, we’re thinking about [00:16:00] building in these new features on our public facing website. So patients can do X, Y, and Z. And that’s their chance to say don’t do that because that’ll actually negatively impact their experience over here.

And there’s no way we would even know about that. Our organization is way too big and we don’t know everything. So we kind of rely on feedback from other departments to help us decide whether or not an idea or an initiative is a good one. It’s something to put their resources behind. 

JENNY: How is being remote impacting that?

Are you able to still have those conversations that you need? I know you said email isn’t your preferred channel and you can always instant message or text or whatnot. But do you think that your processes are slowed down at all? Because you’re not, you know, down the hallway from your team. 

NOAH: No. So surprisingly, I would say in some ways it’s gotten easier.

I guess, two things it’s definitely impacted the small team dynamic, where we were all staying in close [00:17:00] proximity in our little cube farm, right? To get up and look over the cube wall and have a conversation. But when you have an organization with 20, 20, 2000 people, we were never all in the same place.

There was even a culture of, well, I gotta go drive across town to have a meeting with so, and so, which is really inefficient. So I think the virtual meeting has actually improved our efficiency because we can get together a lot more often with people and some of our staff now live in different areas.

And so the fact we’re able to get together as often as we can, we’re getting a lot more done. I don’t know if everyone had the same opinion, but I think it it’s been a positive thing. 

JENNY: Yeah, I hear you. We’re experiencing the same thing. It’s actually very positive.

I miss people, but in general for productivity. It’s positive. 

Well, Noah, thank you so much for being on today. I’m gonna link to your LinkedIn page [00:18:00] on the show notes. If anybody wants to reach out to you to ask any follow up questions or just to connect with you in general, it will be really easy to do so, but as always, it was wonderful chatting with you.

Thanks for being on. 

NOAH: Thanks so much, Jenny. It was my pleasure.



About the Author

Jenny Bristow is the CEO and Founder of Hedy & Hopp. Prior to starting Hedy & Hopp, Jenny launched, grew and sold a digital agency in Seattle and worked at Amazon. She was named one of St. Louis Business Journal’s 30 under 30, won a Stevie Award for Female Entrepreneur of the Year in 2018 and speaks regularly at healthcare marketing industry events.

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