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6 Ways OSU Wexner Medical Center Scores at Healthcare Marketing

Analysis  |  By Melanie Blackman  
   February 13, 2023

Chief communications and marketing officer, Skip Hidlay, shares successful marketing initiatives on key areas to advance the organization's strategic and operational goals.

Editor's note: This article appears in the June 2023 edition of HealthLeaders magazine.

Healthcare marketing has experienced a paradigm shift due to, in part, the pandemic, critical staffing issues, and changing consumer expectations.

"Right now, every marketing, communications, and digital strategy professional in healthcare would undoubtedly say we're in uncharted territory right now," says Skip Hidlay a healthcare marketing executive. "This is an unprecedented period of time. … Those of us in marketing leadership roles … have had to pivot and serve the organization in different ways and modify our playbooks."

Hidlay is the chief communications and marketing officer for The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center (OSU Wexner Medical Center) in Columbus Ohio, the Ohio State Health Science Colleges, the Arthur G. James Cancer Hospital, and the Richard J. Solove Research Institute.

The organization, which is halfway through fiscal year '23, has had a lot of marketing and brand success so far this year. The team has focused on numerous initiatives and campaigns, which start at top of funnel and run through 30- and 60-second TV spots, YouTube pre-roll, and digital tactics.

Hidlay recently spoke with HealthLeaders about successful marketing initiatives that have helped advance the organization's strategic and operational goals.

1. Recruiting staff

"We got into the work of recruitment marketing in partnership with our HR talent acquisition team well before the pandemic began; we began in this work nearly five years ago. That put us in a very good position to expand that work and accelerate the ability that we have to create strong marketing campaigns [to help] recruit more nurses [and] clinicians, as well as frontline staff, environmental services, security, food service, all very pressure-packed positions. We tripled the amount of spending that we've put into recruitment marketing this year. We added two additional staff members, so we have three full-time marketers devoted to recruitment marketing, also supported by our creative services team.

"We created a 30-second TV spot that we ran aggressively in the market, interspersed with other brand marketing that we're doing. We leaned into the idea of what we call 'Ohio State Buckeye pride,' encouraging people to join a great team. We improved the employer branding content across all of our web and social media platforms. We built dedicated career pages and optimized them for both paid and organic Google search traffic. We launched a digital marketing campaign that produced 6.1 million impressions and 62,000 clicks to our website's careers pages, and then nearly 14,000 clicks into the application section of our HR system. As part of the campaign, we produced more than 25 video testimonials from nurses and people in all kinds of different roles about why they like to work at Ohio State and the value that they get from that.

Nursing hiring in the first six months of the [fiscal] year is up 15% and it's at its highest point in eight years. We're still challenged with retention and so we're hiring more and more nurses and the slope of the curve is coming down."

2. Communicating internally

"We've continued to build internal faculty and staff engagement. [There is] a lot of effort on instilling what we call "Buckeye pride" in the entirety of the faculty and frontline staff and continuing to build strong line of sight from the office of the CEO down to the front line."

3. Promoting service lines

"We also want to focus on what we call our big three service lines: Cancer, heart and vascular, and neurosciences. We developed and launched a new cancer campaign to promote the James Cancer Hospital and the Comprehensive Cancer Center at Ohio State. We got that done and launched right at the start of the new fiscal year, in the fall. We always try to bring out new creative [ideas] around the start of football season because we are obviously a major advertiser on Ohio State football. We have a new heart and vascular campaign that launched [the first week of February] for heart month, and we're putting the finishing touches on a neurosciences campaign that will launch in March. We're delivering big brand building around these marquee areas for advanced care with Ohio State being what we call 'the clear choice' for advanced care in these areas."

4. Supporting the health system's ambulatory growth

"In the summer of 2021, we opened a 250,000-square-foot multi-specialty clinic in the growing suburb of New Albany, Ohio, on the northeast side of the Columbus metro area. This year, we opened a 270,000-square-foot multi-specialty clinic in the suburb of Dublin, Ohio. Our team has been deeply focused on building comprehensive multi-channel campaigns to support the opening of both those facilities, as well as the continued growth of all of our outpatient services. Our goals were the system's goals for growth in net new patients. [Approximately] 35% of our net new patients were having their first experience in our advanced immediate care clinics that we opened, so then we developed an advanced immediate care campaign … so that growth is continued."

5. Creating and maintaining a presence on Google and social media

"January 24, 2022, we launched a brand new brand storytelling and content engine website called Ohio State Health & Discovery. We've built an expanded brand storytelling team, involving creating multi-immersive multimedia content. [It has] writers, photography, [and] videography working together, and we've had some tremendous success in that. Through the end of December, we had achieved 3.9 million users/visitors [and] 4.9 million pageviews. Nearly 70% of that traffic has come from Google organic search, so we designed the whole site to be uber optimized in Google."

"The other thing we've been experimenting with is the new digital-first global storytelling platform at Google called Google Web Stories. It's sort of an extension of Instagram reels. The beauty of those is they are forever at Google, and they're prioritized in search."

"The other piece that we've been doing is expanding our video content because now Google search is showing images and video content in addition to written content. A big trend we are trying to stay up on is what is changing in Google Search and make whatever modifications or pivots we need to our own processes so that we can make sure all of our content is immensely findable in Google."

"We have a strong social media team and we're active on all the platforms you would expect. In 2022, we did launch our first two Tik-Tok channels for the Wexner Medical Center [with 11.3K followers and 163.1K likes] and for the Ohio State College of Medicine [with 606 followers and 7659 likes], and we've had some great success there."

6. Keeping a strong focus on strategic marketing imperatives

"My whole high-level philosophy is that highly effective marketing, communications, and digital teams should always focus on four strategic imperatives."

Building the brand. "Constantly building the brand locally, regionally, and nationally so that you're a trusted brand and a brand devoted to creating a world-class patient experience."

Growing business volumes. "Even at a time with capacity constraints, there are things you can do to grow business volumes."

Creating engagement among key audiences.  This includes "patients, their families, prospective patients, general healthcare news consumers, philanthropists, government. Your internal audiences are your physicians, nurses, other clinicians, [and] frontline staff."

Advancing the strategy of the organization. "[This] sometimes may be very different [from] building brand or growing business volumes."

"Every year, what I do with our team is we develop an annual operating plan that aligns with the organization's long-range strategic plan and its annual operating goals. Our work has to be completely aligned with the strategy and the organization's operational goals. Our role is to advance that."

“This is an unprecedented period of time. … Those of us in marketing leadership roles … have had to pivot and serve the organization in different ways and modify our playbooks.”

Melanie Blackman is a contributing editor for strategy, marketing, and human resources at HealthLeaders, an HCPro brand.

Photo credit: Columbus,Ohio-USA April 25, 2020 Ohio State University-Wexner Medical Center Eye and Ear Institute. / Eric Glenn /

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