Illustration: Jennifer Vandersteen

The New Communications Matrix

At the intersection of communications and marketing, integrated teams are becoming the norm.

Traditionally, there have been clear distinctions between communications and marketing. While that is still largely true, to be an effective communicator today, one has to master the skills associated with both.

The reality is that these functions are closer now than they’ve ever been. We live in a matrixed world, which makes drawing a hard line between the two increasingly difficult.

For more than two decades, I’ve been a professional communicator: first, through my own agency and then in-house at health care organizations such as Children’s Hospital and Health Care (now Rady Children’s Hospital), Catholic Health Initiatives, Kaiser Permanente, and today at Sharp HealthCare. At every turn, my team and I helped our organizations tell a story, building content to encourage people to choose our brand and understand that we have expert physicians, advanced medical technology, and highly trained medical teams to meet their health needs. Enterprises that lack cross-specialty collaboration breed a type of competition and lack of trust that can diminish teamwork, new thinking, creative energy, and productivity.

Today’s marketing and communications leaders need to adapt to new reporting relationships and organizational structures. Teams are becoming increasingly integrated and cross-functional.

In fact, a recent informal poll of senior communicators conducted by the Arthur W. Page Society found that overall net engagement across the C-Suite is up 32 percent from five years ago. This trend must continue.

Integrated teams foster collaboration. As Chief Communications Officers (CCOs) and Chief Marketing Officers (CMOs), we must be interdependent and have regular discussions about projects and future plans.

At Sharp, we start every day with a “mash-up” meeting that is attended by marketing and communication team members from various disciplines — PR, digital, advertising, and creative services — who work at both the system office and at our hospitals and medical groups. We talk about what’s trending in the news and determine how Sharp can meaningfully contribute to the conversation.

We’ve taken this a step further by creating our own online newsroom. We took a number of our team members from various disciplines to visit other online newsrooms and social media engagement centers, looking to understand what other brands are doing and establish our own best practices.

Throughout the year, our ad agency and the Sharp advertising team look for amazing stories. We even hold “stakeouts” in our emergency rooms to capture them in real time — at the permission of our patients, of course. This enables us to develop more authentic stories in an environment where content is now paramount.

Digital and social media have added to the demand for content from all corners of the enterprise. As a result, we need our stories to reach and impact our employees as well as the broader community. We want to inspire San Diegans to trust us to bring the latest medical expertise and technology that can make a difference in their health.

Looking forward, digital tools will increase personalization and allow us to better inform our patients. Case in point, we developed a Sharp Baby app to let new and expecting moms record their pregnancy milestones, count kicks, time contractions — even track breastfeeding times and write journal entries. We realized that moms always had their phones handy, so the app means this personalized information is always accessible.

As millennials grow their families, they will turn to trusted sources for reliable health care information that is at their fingertips. Our customers are demanding that we provide products and services the way they want them. In turn, digital and social give us a profound ability to connect directly with customers.

Leveraging integrated teams and new digital tools is necessary for all businesses to engage stakeholders effectively, both within the organization and in their communities. Working in silos breeds divergent approaches and uncoordinated actions. Both CCOs and CMOs sit at the crossroad where the enterprise intersects with external stakeholders. More than ever, the CCO helps C-Suite leaders have a broad stakeholder view and participate in shaping and delivering on the brand promise.

Diane Lofgren is the Chief Marketing Officer at Sharp HealthCare and a participant in the Arthur W. Page Society Page Jam poll. For more information on the evolving communications landscape, read The New CCO.