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How They Did It: Launching Ohio State Health & Discovery Site

On today’s show Jenny is pleased to welcome William (Skip) Hidlay, Vice President and Chief Communications and Marketing Officer for the Ohio State University, Wexner Medical Center, to talk about the exciting things he’s been doing in the world of content marketing.

Skip has been in his role for over two years and in that short time, he’s already accomplished some truly impressive things. When he arrived, the Ohio State University, Wexner Medical Center was dealing with the winter surge of the pandemic, and as part of their outreach and branding strategy, Skip positioned the physicians and scientists of the center at the forefront to help counteract the misinformation that was spreading.

As he got to work, Skip realized that there were 11 different websites with no unified storytelling strategy. He envisioned a new website that would bring together the brand, storytelling and messaging into one cohesive platform. In just 9 months, Skip and his team built and launched Ohio State Health and Discovery which launched in January 2022 and is a true labor of love for everyone involved.

Skip’s team strategy was to create an integrated organizational design that blended traditional disciplines to create a brand marketing and content strategy to create a hybrid of a content marketing agency and a traditional newsroom.

His passion for marketing and his ability to bring people together to achieve great things are truly inspiring. His work at Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center is a testament to his expertise and passion for content marketing.


Connect with Skip online:

Connect with Jenny online:

Read the show’s transcript:

Jenny: [00:00:00] Hi friends. Welcome to today’s episode of We Are Marketing Happy. Today I’m so excited to have William Hidlay. He goes by Skip. He’s the Vice President and Chief Communications and Marketing Officer for the Ohio State University, Wexner Medical Center. Welcome, Skip.

Skip: Thank you, Jenny. I’m so elated to be here.
So I’m William Skip Hidlay. I’m the Vice President, Chief Communications and Marketing Officer for the Ohio State University, Wexner Medical Center. And I love talking about marketing and things that make marketers happy, so I really am honored to be here with you. So thank you for the invitation.

Jenny: Of course, and you’ve been doing some really wonderful things.

I specifically wanna focus and talk about content marketing today with you, Skip. I know that you’ve been in your role for less than a year and you’ve accomplished some really impressive things with content marketing. So talk to me about what the content world was like whenever you joined the organization.
You had mentioned to me before that there were 11 [00:01:00] different websites, but no unified storytelling strategy. So talk to me about your approach in evaluating the state of the state and the strategy that you developed.

Skip: Well, thank you, Jenny. Yeah, I actually have been at the Wexner Medical Center at Ohio State for a little over two years.
And so when I arrived in November of 2020, it was right as we were starting into the winter surge of the pandemic, really into year two of the pandemic. So it was a really interesting moment in time and provided a lot of opportunities for amplified storytelling using our experts at Ohio State. Our physicians, our scientist, to help sort of clear up what I would say was a rampant amount of misinformation that was going on. And so we really, as part of our outreach and branding strategy, we positioned our physicians and our scientists out front, and we did regular news media briefings. Our top leaders appeared regularly [00:02:00] with the governor of Ohio on his news briefing.
So we did everything we could to really counteract misinformation, and that really was part of our public service as well as our continued work to build our brand. So while I was doing all of that work, I had to sort of take inventory of where I had landed. And you’re correct, there were 11 different websites in the space of medicine, health, science, and wellness.
And each of them had, you know, reasonably sized audiences, but there was no unity. It was sort of, everything was kind of balkanized into silos. And of course in a large complex university and academic medical center setting, very difficult to merge websites. People liked having their own websites. And so I came up with the idea to create a brand new website that focused on uniting the brand storytelling and the brand messaging from all of the platforms into one platform that would sort of sit above the other [00:03:00] 11 websites, so was able to make the business case for this, was able to get the capital needed, and in nine months we built and launched what we call Ohio State Health and Discovery.
And the URL and for your listeners is Again, I’ll say that and I, you know, encourage everyone to go take a look at it.
We’re really proud of it. It’s been a true labor of love for everyone involved on the team. We launched it in January of 2022, so just a little bit, almost a year ago, a little under 11 months.

Jenny: That’s wonderful and we will put that you URL on the show notes as well to make it really easy for folks to be able to visit the website.
So talk to me a little bit about your team strategy. So the strategy as far as creating this new website so that each of the individual groups did not have to give up their existing websites absolutely makes sense. But you also had internal teams that [00:04:00] were working in silo. So how did you develop a communication process internally, and how did you get everybody working in the same direction to be able to successfully launch this website in that short of a timeframe?

Skip: So, it’s a great question. Yeah. So my role was really a new role that was created to unify three previously separate teams, the Wexner Medical Center team, the James Cancer Hospital team, and the College of Medicine team. And then we have collaborative relationships with Ohio State, six other health science colleges.
So the way we did this was I first created an integrated organizational design that created one structure out of previously three structures. I did some blending of traditional disciplines, so, the traditional name of communications really didn’t appear, you know, so we created a brand marketing and content strategy, like, like to call them ecosystems rather than, We had our digital strategy and [00:05:00] marketing team, and then our growth marketing and reputation team, and they sort of intersect with each other.
And then we created a number of collaborative team-based meetings at which we would start to operate like a hybrid of a content marketing agency and a traditional newsroom. So it’s kind of a blend of the two approaches. And then in terms of the building of the website itself, I was the executive sponsor of that project, but I attended and directed every single meeting.
We had weekly meetings, and we involved all of the key stakeholders, both the leaders of marketing communications for the seven health sciences colleges, the Wexner Medical Center and the James, but also providing regular updates to the senior leadership team of the organization, the deans of the health sciences colleges to really create buy-in and a feedback loop as we are creating the new website.

Jenny: That’s wonderful. Talk to me about how you were able to get physicians and other subject matter experts excited about [00:06:00] participating in the content strategy.

Skip: Well that is a great question and you know, again, we have well over 2,000 expert physicians, scientists, different areas
And so what you have to do is find, what I like to say, Jenny, is we work with the willing, so we try to find those experts who are willing to invest some time, go through some media training, and then work with us to, you know, share their expertise. Ohio State is a land grant mission-based organization. So the good news is that the large majority of our physicians and our scientists willingly make their time available to really help educate the public.
They consider that a key part of, you know, of their personal mission and the organization’s mission. So it’s really not hard. The biggest challenge is they’re very busy and we have to sort of, you know, create our calendars to fit with their calendar. The other thing that we did to make it easy for them is [00:07:00] we actually built a video studio right in the heart of the medical center campus.
We expanded the size of our video storytelling team, and we created a professionally designed TV set right on campus. You know, with branding for both the Wexner Medical Center, Ohio State and the James Cancer Hospital, and so it makes it easy, they can just walk out of the hospital, not even a half a block away, and all of a sudden they’re in a really professional video studio.
So we can. Record interviews for the news media if we get particular video, you know, news media interview requests. We also record our own programming for Facebook Live and for YouTube. So it’s just a another little asset to have in our, you know, in our arsenal of media assets.

Jenny: Yes, that’s so brilliant to do it, to make it so easily physically accessible.
Talk to me about measuring results. Whenever you talk about content, so often people just talk about clicks and views. How are you measuring results and how are you communicating it to the rest of the leadership team?

Skip: [00:08:00] So, great question. So for we, we measure everything we do in many different ways and we’re constantly measuring it.
So one of the things that with particular focus on the new website, Ohio State Health and Discovery, there we measure your traditional, you know, sort of input. So we look at, you know, how many visitors, how many users are we attracting, you know, what’s the number of sessions and what’s the number of page views?
And I’m happy to report that we just earlier this month, crested 3.1 million users since launch.

Jenny: Congratulations.

Skip: Thank you. At 3.8 million page views. And I will say they’re, it is for me, the fastest growing website I’ve ever, you know, been involved, you know, with helping to create. And the team, you know, huge credit goes to our extended digital strategy team.
And in particular we have a very strong, small, strong, and mighty team. And so we really went into this, when you build a new website, really heavily focused on the optimization and how to make this [00:09:00] really visible in Google search. And what’s really interesting is 70% of our traffic, and it’s held constant since launch, 70% of our traffic has come from organic search.

Jenny: Wow.

Skip: So part of what we do is we really pay attention to what is trending, not only on social, but what is trending in terms of queries related to health topics in Google. And we use those to design content. And then the other thing we do is we’re constantly looking at older content that performed well and looking for opportunities to update that content, you know, for whatever moment in time we are in.
And then the final piece that we do is we really lean into our physician expertise and our scientific expertise, and we’re trying to humanize who these folks are. So we do a lot of deep profiles and content packages that I would say is kind of a hybrid of a personality profile and an explanatory science story.
And then we actually spend a lot of time [00:10:00] looking at the individual views those stories get time on site, how long are people spending with the content? And then from those, we continually are running little experiments to say, okay, well we shorten this if we add more photos. What we’re trying to do is make our content very accessible, both on a desktop and a mobile environment, either a phone or a, or a tablet.
What’s really interesting, we’re doing a lot of experimentation with immersive multimedia storytelling, so lots of photos, videos on page, breakout quotes, so that you can either deeply read the content or you can skim it and scan it and you’ll still get a lot of, a lot of value from it. And so lots of different ways we’re monitoring it.
And then in the social media space, we’re obviously always pushing our content out on all the social channels. And then we monitor. The one we really like to monitor is engagement and followers, and really try to grow the number, the size of the audience that [00:11:00] across all the platforms is engaging with us and following us.

Jenny: So the holy grail question of measurement is have you been able to develop any sort of tie-in driving new patient appointments?

Skip: Yeah, we have, uh, we have just implemented our second generation CRM system.

Jenny: Nice.

Skip: And so we track everything we do to make sure that in terms of particular growth marketing means, you know, as opposed to sort of pure brand building campaigns, we really put focus on both types of market.
We’re able to track and get to the point where we’re coming close to true ROI. Not quite there yet, but we’re being able to determine exactly how much volume we’re driving to particular locations. One thing I will note, we open, we’re on a huge expansion clip, and so we’ve opened two very large multi-specialty ambulatory clinics, and when I say large,
The first one was 250,000 square feet, and the second one was 275,000. So they’re almost like mini [00:12:00] outpatient medical centers. And those, we really hyper-focused on multichannel, omnichannel growth tactics, and both are far exceeding the goals the organization set for them. And the marketing team has derived a huge amount of credit for helping to really drive those volumes through the campaigns that we’ve been running.

Jenny: That’s wonderful. Skip. It’s great to hear all of the progress you’ve made in such a short period of time, of bringing together only all of these different dispersed marketing teams, but really having a net positive impact for so many different locations and patients. So kudos. So what’s next? What are you gonna focus on next?

Skip: Well, that’s a great question. What we’re working on now are some omnichannel campaigns to first grow. Actually, one we’ve already launched is to grow our, you know, cancer, our brand as a comprehensive cancer center, as well as our volumes in cancer. So we’re really spreading that not only in central Ohio, but down into southwestern Ohio.
So it’s almost not quite a statewide campaign, but pretty far. And again, [00:13:00] starting, you know the manifesto, 60 and 30 second spots. We’re doing some real experimentation now with ten second pre-roll across YouTube highlighting in particular areas of the cancer program. So that’s so far done very well.
And now we’re in a little bit of a rinsed repeat. And we’re actually right now as we speak, producing similar campaign for our heart and vascular service line. And then next up after that we’ll be our neuroscience service lines. So those are kind of the big three. The other thing that we’re really hyper focused on, as are many people in the healthcare space, is recruiting more and more staff members, nurses, surgery, operating room tech, technologists, what they call surge techs, environmental services, you name it, we have openings.
So we actually, our team, in partnership with our human resources team, we run all of the recruitment marketing. So we have some very creative campaigns in market. Leaning into our brand as Ohio State [00:14:00] Buckeyes and why people are proud to work as a Buckeye in healthcare. And so there’s a lot going on social channels.
It’s very creative where we’re using our own employees and staff members to really help recruit other folks to the organization. So that’s done very well. And we again, receive a huge amount of credit tracking how many, you know, how many applications we’re bringing into the environment. And then obviously it’s up to the recruiters to try to convert those new employees.
But we’ve been very successful in that space as well.

Jenny: That was wonderful, Skip. Thank you for sharing all of this information. I’m sure our listeners are gonna be excited to dig into the website to be able to learn more. Again, I’ll put that in the show notes. Then I’ll also put a link to your LinkedIn profile in case anybody’s interested in reaching out directly for more information.
But thank you for being on the show today. Skip. It was a joy.

Skip: Thank you Jenny. It was really fun. As I said, I love to talk about marketing and communications and digital strategy at any time, so thank you so much and thank you for the great work you and [00:15:00] your agency are doing because it’s important to, to help a lot of different folks in a lot of different spaces get better at this work.

Jenny: Thanks, Skip.



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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