5 Questions with St. Luke’s VP Beth Toal

Every year at the SHSMD annual conference (Society for Healthcare Strategy and Market Development), marketers and branders gather to share best practices, insights from case work and their point of view on the future of healthcare. Whether a system is local or global, its branding challenges are often similar. Each is dealing with an ever-changing landscape, where the marketing team is being asked to do more with less and to demonstrate consistently its ROI.

We had a chance to chat with Beth Toal, Vice President of Communications and Marketing for St. Luke’s Health System, who is a featured speaker at this year’s SHSMD conference in Orlando. Based in Boise, Idaho, the award-winning St. Luke’s is the state’s only not-for-profit health system, with nine hospitals–including Idaho’s only children’s hospital—plus multiple regional cancer centers and clinics.

In her current role, Beth oversees the health system’s strategic communications, marketing, public relations planning, media relations and community engagement programs, internal communications, issues management, and crisis response activities. If you’re attending the conference, you can catch Beth’s presentation, Ignite Your Advocates to Make Change Happen, on Tuesday, September 26, at 8:30am.

Beth, your topic at SHSMD is all about activating various health system stakeholders to become brand advocates. What are the common missteps that marketers make when trying to galvanize the networks around them?

One of the missteps marketers make when we’re trying to galvanize our networks is we take our advocates’ support for granted. The pull of day-to-day planning and implementation tasks can distract our teams from investing time and energy in building and nurturing strong, authentic relationships—before they’re needed. We assume that because we’re able to report strong preference and utilization scores, or deliver awards and industry recognition, our key stakeholders must love us. And, because they love us, they will, of course, step up and serve as strong advocates when we have a need.

How does the old saying go? The time to repair your roof is when the sun is shining. Health system marketers must remember that relationships require tending. Successful organizations prioritize relationship building. They spend the time at all levels of the organization to ensure the people in their network – including their employees, feel valued, appreciated, and heard.

St. Luke’s is focused on being grounded in the community and a trusted partner. How does that mission come to life in the brand experience that you create for patients?

For St. Luke’s, our brand is our promise. It is what we pledge to those we serve. Our brand experience lives in the hearts and minds of our stakeholders, and it is the sum of the experiences they have with us. Our brand can be as intense as a lifesaving surgery, as light as an interaction at a community health fair or as fleeting as a social media post. Every point of contact adds up to form a person’s perception of who we are and what we stand for. As a result, we’re mindful about how we bring our mission and brand to life through these important moments.

Everyone representing St. Luke’s has the ability to shape the brand experience and build trust through their decisions, actions and words. Each member of the team, including members of our various boards and committees, has to be prepared and trusted to represent our brand. When someone joins the St. Luke’s family, he or she agrees to help guide our brand and reflect our organization at its best—delivering on our mission and supporting people to be as healthy as they can be.

Your strategic plan for 2020 is really rooted in your mission, with a goal to evolve and better serve your communities. What do you see as your greatest challenge to reaching that goal?

Our mission is to improve the health of the communities we serve, and it is the foundation of our strategic plan. St. Luke’s provides service across a broad, diverse region. While the distance between facilities in some cases is less than 10 miles and in others more than 200, the differences in the communities across our region is remarkable.

While we are committed to delivering a consistent brand experience across all of our settings, we also work with our local teams to capture and celebrate what is unique to their community. We demonstrate this commitment in a number of ways. For example:

• Through facility design – each facility carries our signature red brick but the design of the building adjusts to meet the aesthetic of the community.
• Through community investment – we have a system-wide community health improvement fund grant program with dollars designated for funding of programs or initiatives important to individual communities.
• Through community health programming – we have a robust community health needs assessment process lead by our community engagement directors and supported by our community boards. This focus and investment of dedicated resources informs our community health engagement at the local level, which helps ensure we are targeting our efforts in ways that are most meaningful to that specific community.

Maintaining brand consistency while celebrating the unique attributes of each community can be a delicate balance. We gauge our progress through regular check-ins with our stakeholders. Through listening and responding to what we hear, we’re able to make adjustments along the way and ensure we’re evolving in ways that help us to better serve the needs of each community.

What do you see as the greatest overall marketing or branding challenge that your SHSMD colleagues are currently facing? Is there any advice that you can offer based on your system’s experience?

At the top of the list for me is navigating change. Our work as communications and marketing professionals continues to evolve at a rapid pace. At the same time, the organizations we serve are changing and adapting to the needs of a transforming industry, and the road ahead is less than clear. For our stakeholders, the magnitude of change can lead to confusion and ultimately risks eroding the connection and trust they feel toward our brands.

Our ability to understand the fundamental impact of change and apply sound change management principles to the work we do every day creates some exciting opportunities. As leaders, we’ll help prepare our teams to thrive and contribute in new and meaningful ways. As counselors, we’ll bring data, information and insights to our organizations that will help inform strategy and keep our brands at the forefront of decision making.

Most importantly, as communications and marketing professionals, we’ll prepare our stakeholders and help guide them through this dynamic time. If done well, we’ll deepen the relationships we have with the communities we serve and ultimately, strengthen the trust and engagement our stakeholders experience with our brands.

This interview originally appeared on brandchannel.


Director of Marketing, InterbrandHealth