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How Healthcare Marketers are Innovating to Address Workforce Struggles

Analysis  |  By Melanie Blackman  
   July 11, 2022

Marketing executives shared creative strategies that their teams have used to address workforce issues during the recent Healthcare Workforce of the Future roundtable event.

The evolution of healthcare marketing is driven by the creative innovations that marketing teams adopt to keep up with the ever-changing demands of consumers. Those same factors and innovations come into play when addressing workforce shortages.

Hospitals and health systems are experiencing what's being called the Great Resignation, and they're facing new competition in recruiting needed staff. While clinical care staff has been in short demand, the marketing departments have also experienced turnover.

During the recent HealthLeaders Healthcare Workforce of the Future roundtable event, chief marketing executives— Sandra Mackey, the chief marketing officer for Bon Secours Mercy Health and William "Skip" Hidlay, the chief communications and marketing officer for The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center—had a candid discussion about the creative innovations their organizations have created to address workforce issues.

Collaborating With Human Resources on Recruitment

At Bon Secours Mercy Health, a Catholic health system headquartered in Cincinnati, Ohio, the marketing and HR teams came together to collaborate on external recruitment efforts and internal messaging.

Building on a strong relationship between the CHRO and CMO, The HR recruitment team approached marketing initially for help with digital recruitment. What the teams quickly agreed upon was a more comprehensive effort by appealing to candidates who would be attracted to the mission of the organization that were called to serve, Mackey said.

"What we recommended is that we use some of the consumer-driven strategies to attract HR candidates," Mackey said "We took a lot of our consumer marketing plans and adapted them into the HR environment. We built storytelling campaigns around it."

"There was a division of labor," she added. "What we recognized is that we could be way more efficient if we own different components. We took over the messaging and the campaign development aspects of the recruiting effort. The recruitment teams then focused heavily on throughput, on engaging candidates, getting them through the pipeline quickly, and making offers quickly."

Demand for staff, especially nurses, quadrupled the HR team's work, Mackey said. By dividing up the work between the two teams, HR was able to focus on onboarding more employees while marketing took over campaign development and insights.

By using insights from current employees, the marketing team was able to develop consumer-driven campaigns by focusing on what was important to the employees. 

"Then we converted those key findings and messages into our campaign message and that built a lot more traction," she said. The team also developed KPIs and had tracking mechanisms to understand how the campaigns were performing, and what adjustments needed to be made.

"The tracking alone became an incredibly important tool to HR, and so with us focusing all of our efforts upfront on the campaign development and execution, while allowing them to work more on the operational aspects, it created greater accountability in terms of how we were spending our campaign dollars," Mackey said.

"We were able to see daily and weekly where the most effective strategies were being deployed market by market, and also be able to shift dollars as campaigns were more successful or less successful," she added. "That, in and of itself, was a tremendous benefit to HR and allowed them to be a lot more efficient and effective."

Due to those efforts, the organization saw a dramatic increase in the number of candidates that were engaged, and the number of recruited candidates also went up exponentially.

"HR gave us a lot of credit for being able to take those consumer-driven principles and apply them to the workforce, using the same type of insights to drive our campaign activity," Mackey said. "In fact, HR deserves much of the credit for their bold approach to exploring new ways to tackle recruiting and flexibility in making real-time adjustments." 

Engaging Employee Needs and Wellbeing

At The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, an academic medical center in Columbus, Ohio, the marketing department is focused on more than just the organization's patients and consumers, it's also focused on its internal audience: the employees.

During the pandemic, the marketing team got larger, Hidlay said, and played a vital role in the organization's pandemic response.

Currently, the team works around 80% remote, 10% hybrid, and 10% in the office.

"I'm in the office every day, but we're trying to meet people sort of where they are, and we've had to be very innovative in how we lead the team, because we've been subjected to the great resignation," Hidlay said. "What's interesting is we lost 17 people within a six-month period all to higher-paying, 100% remote jobs."

A back-to-the-office plan was in the works with a proposal to spend two to three days in the office during the week, but Hidlay changed the plan. "Coming off of the holidays, I rethought that whole approach because I felt if we forced people back into the office in an artificial way, we would then accelerate more turnover," he said.

At the same time, he acknowledged how important in-person engagement is for building network and teams, especially for new hires.

"What we've implemented, and we've had two of these now, is we're doing monthly mandatory in-person staff retreats," Hidlay said. "[Staff] can choose: do they want to stay primarily remote or do they want to work several days in the office? No matter which they choose, we require them to attend the monthly in-person retreats."

The retreats happen in different locations on campus, he said. "We involve tours, we involve lots of socialization time, as well as communicating updates about our strategy, our priorities for the coming fiscal year, and we often bring in at least one guest speaker."

Following the monthly retreats, the marketing team is surveyed and has an opportunity to give feedback.

"The first two were 95% to 98% overwhelmingly positive," Hidlay said. "People love the interpersonal connection, they love the ability to connect with teammates, but they also appreciate that we're being progressive in allowing people to make their own decisions about what works in their own space in terms of work location. I think this will open up for us a world of recruiting and retention possibilities as we lean into this new model."


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Melanie Blackman is the strategy editor at HealthLeaders, an HCPro brand.

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