Interview w/ Kathryn Hughes

“To withstand stiff competition for patient mindshare, organizations must develop a cohesive brand strategy — one that differentiates you from the competition, addresses key research findings and accelerates growth and demand for your key product lines and services.”

Q: Describe your experience as a marketing leader within a hospital/system or organization that offers a multitude of products or services targeting several unique markets and/or different demographic groups. How did you effectively target each of them while simultaneously successfully communicating a common, overarching brand?

Kathryn Hughes: As consumers continue to take a more active role in selecting where, from whom and what type of healthcare services they choose to receive, organizations must understand and actively monitor consumer perceptions.

Kathryn Hughes - Strategic Healthcare Marketing Executive Consultant

Before Kathryn Hughes could make a name for the Arlington Hospital that hired her, she had to decide which name to give it.

In today’s competitive healthcare climate, providers can no longer sit back and just expect to maintain market share. To withstand stiff competition for patient mindshare, organizations must develop a cohesive brand strategy — one that differentiates you from the competition, addresses key research findings and accelerates growth and demand for your key product lines and services. For organizations without a plan, loss of market share, lower margins and loss of loyalty are their fate.

I served as the senior marketing executive for several leading national and regional healthcare providers, including Prospira PaincareTLC Laser Eye CentersHealthSouthVirginia Hospital Center, and Halifax Health each of whom had a multitude of target consumers for various products and revenue streams.

No situation is the same; At HealthSouth, acquisition and integration of independent, regional brands into a uniform HealthSouth national experience was the right strategy. At TLC Laser Eye Centers where each of the company’s local centers were making their own marketing investments, strategies and media buys, consolidation and a roll-up of initiatives and investments meant the company could now (with a lower marketing expenditure) could take advantage of its market position as the nation’s largest provider and build a recognized national brand. It also meant massive change for those who had owned marketing decisions locally and who didn’t see the competitive environment and opportunity to scale the company nationally. At Virginia Hospital Center, I came into an organization perceived as a small community hospital, Arlington Hospital, which did not have the physicians or technology to handle the most complex and difficult cases when, in fact, Virginia Hospital Center most certainly could. I initiated a complete rebranding initiative that addressed consumer research and over the course of several years generated a 70% growth in market awareness and record growth in existing service lines and overall patient volume.

In each situation, the process is the same in that you need to leverage market insights to understand the competitive position, develop a differentiated brand strategy and then create breakthrough marketing creative to educate the market place and influence consumer preference for key services – the strategy, however, may require different approaches.

Each organization, through my leadership, recognized the need to create an overarching brand to appeal to a wider audience while simultaneously driving attention and demand for specific product lines or programs targeted to different target audiences. Once the current market position is well understood, then the right marketing strategies, media mix, PR initiatives and events can be developed to create the intended outcome whether it be procedure or volume growth or high-level awareness.

Q: What has been your experience in the development of strategic and marketing plans from conceptualization/visioning to execution? What impact has your work had on volumes and additional product / service development and market share growth? How did you measure the results?

Kathryn Hughes: Research and data are key components to developing a strategy and marketing plan. In each organization I have conducted qualitative and quantitative research to benchmark consumer, physician and stakeholder attitudes, awareness, preferences and the likely use of services.

Most recently, I developed the brand strategy to differentiate Halifax Health in Central Florida region that resulted in a 1.1% increase in market share in less than 10 months.

I also created a product development framework for Halifax Health to identify ‘signature’ centers of excellence to offset impact of uncompensated care and increase demand, trust and loyalty for higher margin services. In short order, this proprietary strategic process generated record increases of 15% YOY in orthopedic services and 11% YOY growth in cardiac services.

Within the first two years of my tenure at Virginia Hospital Center I developed a strategy to increase consumer and provider market

Kathryn Hughes - Virginia Hospital Center Rebranding

The rebranded logo and signage greets patients and visitors at Virginia Hospital Center, formerly Arlington Hospital.

awareness by 70%. I transformed consumer perceptions of local community hospital to a regional health center by launching a new hospital name (formerly Arlington Hospital), market positioning, brand identity and numerous integrated marketing campaigns.

At Virginia Hospital Center, I was responsible for record increases in medical/surgical admissions of 20% YOY from 2004 to 2005, and adjusted admissions of 14% YOY from 2004 to 2005, 9% YOY from 2003 to 2004 and 5% YOY from 2002 to 2003 as a result of volume and product line development strategies.

I also initiated and launched a ‘Centers of Excellence’ program to capture new growth opportunities within cardiology, oncology, neurosciences and women/infant health product lines. Patient volume for pulmonary function increased 74%, gynecology grew 19%, radiology and diagnostic imaging rose 17% and neurosurgery jumped 14%.

All results were measured by post campaign research, admissions, volumes and market share data.

Q: Describe your success in communicating and integrating a brand strategy and promise throughout an employee population and the community. What obstacles or resistance did you encounter, and how were you successful in overcoming these? 

Kathryn Hughes: An internal brand launch is critical as the first step in a brand strategy execution. In each organization I conducted a series of town hall meetings, employee forums, executive leadership training, department manager discussions and educational sessions. I presented the brand strategy at MEC meetings, Board meetings, general medical staff meetings, nursing leadership meetings, auxiliary and volunteer meetings to ensure all constituents understood the future direction and the promise the strategy would deliver with their buy in and support.

For community members, I have held public town hall meetings, public events, including groundbreakings to unveil the initial brand, community forums, legislative briefings as well as an online webinars, podcasts and videos.

Change is difficult in any form and leadership is critical to the successful implementation of a new brand strategy. Often times, people misunderstand the intended direction or don’t see the criticality of changing something as sacred as the organization’s name and logo. Community buy-in and stakeholder support is critical, but when resistance comes, and it will inevitably will, the leadership must stand strong in the face of vigorous debate and move forward because if executed properly the right marketing strategy will result in tremendous growth and in some cases, a consolidation and reduction in the total overall system marketing spend. The marketing executive cannot do it alone and must have unwavering support from the CEO, Chairman and Board. They must all be on the same page or the strategy will fail.

Q: Describe your experience in managing widely distributed teams in multi-layered organizations.

Kathryn Hughes: As Director of Marketing Operations for HealthSouth, the nation’s largest provider of outpatient rehabilitation services, led and managed more than 50 regional and local directors of business development and marketing based all over the US. I also served as consultant to regional vice-presidents, CEOs, CFOs and national business development staff in all 50 states.

As VP, Marketing at TLC Laser Eye Centers, the nation’s largest provider of Lasik eye surgery, I led 15 corporate marketing personnel located in Bethesda, MD along with 20 regional Directors of Business Development representing 62 surgery centers across the US and Canada.

Q: What role have you played in the successful implementation of government relations strategies? Please share a success story. 

Kathryn Hughes: Virginia Hospital Center is the designated trauma/medical center for the Pentagon and Washington/Reagan National Airport. I initiated the crisis communications plan and served as the lead spokesperson for the Pentagon’s September 11, 2001 attacks. I handled the coordination between the top Pentagon officials, the White House and the Secret Service with our medical center who had the majority of the patients to allow government officials to be on-site, for the President and First lady to visit and all family members to have visitation. We had Time Magazine conduct a full spread following the attack highlighting our medical center and the care our patients received.

I also planned and executed two successful groundbreaking ceremonies engaging the Governor of Virginia, the AHA President and the Governor of Florida to serve as the key attendees and spokesperson.

Q: What role do you play in the strategy development for PR/Communications? Describe your experience developing relationships with the local media and the impact you have had on the community and media perception of the organization. How did you measure this? 

Kathryn Hughes: In each of my previous positions, I have directed and led the PR/Communications strategy and team. PR/Communications is not a standalone function; it must be deeply integrated with the organization’s overall marketing strategy and messaging.

Leveraging national, vertical, and local media to get the overarching message to market or promoting specific product lines through patient success stories is a highly effective aspect of an organization’s overall brand value. But PR/Communications is also an important tool in ensuring all of the organization’s employees and stakeholders understand the ‘vision’ and plan.

Having worked for several large organizations with employees geographically dispersed across the country or in regions, communications is also a vital element for ensuring employees are not just spoken to but are also listened to whether it be a company-wide in-person employee meeting or a podcast featuring the CEO presenting his weekly message.

I have used various techniques within a PR/Communications strategy to support an overarching brand position. In TLC’s case, I signed Tiger Woods as our national spokesperson to build instant credibility for Lasik surgery which at the time (2000) was perceived by a majority of consumers as unproven and not safe. At VIRGINIA HOSPITAL CENTER, I developed close relationships with local media representatives and anchors in Washington DC to supply a stream of clinical subject matter experts (physicians) on various health topics and national trends or to introduce new clinical techniques, surgeries and outcomes that would support the overall marketing strategy and market position.

The success of such programs can be measured in two distinct and important ways. Any organization making significant investments in marketing should be constantly measuring several important key performance metrics, including consumer/physician awareness, mindshare and perceptions as well as patient satisfaction and experience measurement. Baselining operational performance and understanding current market position will be important input into the organization’s overall go-to-market strategy. Measuring these attributes can be achieved by leveraging qualitative and quantitative research methodologies and techniques.

With regard to press coverage, measurement can also be ascertained by monitoring ‘hits’ or coverage and stories. There are several monitoring services such as Bacon’s, Lexis, Vocus and PR Newswire that offer PR coverage measurement services to enable marketing executives to see how many mentions, stories and types of coverage they are receiving on a daily, weekly, and monthly basis.

Q: What types of healthcare organizations are most attractive to you and what qualities do you look for in them?

Kathryn Hughes: It is essential that the organization truly understands and values the critical role of marketing in improving the financial viability of the system or company; an entity where collaboration, collegiality and support are cornerstones of its culture; an environment and culture completely dedicated to improving the lives of its patients and being a good corporate citizen to its employees, physicians, stakeholders and community. The organization must also be (or seek to become) forward-thinking, market-driven, and progressive in everything it does from clinical care and procurement to marketing and information technology. On this foundation, the likelihood of success in creating long lasting brand differentiation and sustainable growth can be achieved.