What I Learned This Summer

By Jaime Collins, Director of Marketing and Communications

Southwest Health, Platteville


Summer comes in like a great friend, wraps its arms around us, and says with a grin, ‘”This is going to be fun.” But far too soon the days grow short again, and all we’re left with are some good stories. Or, as our grade school teachers preferred: the lessons we learned.


Like a summer that just keeps going, my long career story is full of twists and turns, the inevitable setbacks, and many wonderful triumphs, all of which have enriched me with valuable lessons. As of today, here are my top 10:


  1. First things first. Time is eternally inadequate, so your first priority is always prioritizing. What you focus on is what you get, so train your sight on what drives your organization forward. While some things can be done by feel, this one requires critical thinking. Learn to rank your tasks and projects using a variety of factors, including organizational drivers (e.g. strategic plan relevancy, culture, brand, clinical reputation, capacity, etc.). I have a simple tool for everyday tasks and a separate ranking system for service lines. Both serve as a compass for where to reliably invest my time.


  1. Know and represent your consumers. I work with what I consider one of the finest health care teams in the nation. Among our responsibilities as communicators is to help our excellent people make great decisions by enlarging and deepening their understanding our communities and the people we care for. But don’t stop short. Know your customers better than anyone else. Do the research and networking necessary to really know the diverse people who depend on thoughtful stewardship of our health care resources.


Additionally, many of us have largely homogenous workforces and even more homogenous leadership teams, making it essential that we speak up to ensure all our constituents are effectively considered. From transparency to population health to content creation to health care literacy, we operate at the intersection of health care and consumerism and should be experts capable of helping ensure our brands’ grand promises are not just words but deeds fulfilled.


  1. Invest in your writing. When I arrived for my first day on my first marketing job 30 years ago, a typewriter sat on my desk. A couple years later the first video I produced was deliverable strictly by US Mail on VHS. My point is not to disqualify myself from being relevant but rather to put in concrete terms why despite massive and continually accelerating change in the tools of our trade, writing is a constant. No matter what happens in media and technology, your message is only as good as your ability to articulate it. Learn to write great copy because it is the foundation of great strategy. Because your organization needs SOMEONE who can. Because it will help you translate health care into something everyone will understand. And because the value of that ability will endure.


  1. We are privileged. Every other Monday when I get my 15 minutes to talk with new employees, I spend the first few sharing how incredibly thankful I am. “Many marketers are selling toothpaste or hamburgers,” I tell them. “Instead, it’s my privilege to be here, introducing you to a truly great organization that’s serves our communities like no other can.” Truth is, gratitude opens the door to our true power, to wisdom, and to creativity. It shifts your perception and helps you respond to people and issues rather than react. And it pulls you into the present, which is where you really need to be at any given moment. We WHPRMSers are the lucky ones. So, even if your next hour is to be spent working on that colonoscopy piece, stop for a moment to be grateful for who and where you are.


  1. Innovation is difficult. This is especially true in healthcare because the brain trusts of our organizations are so intensely focused on repeatable quality. Their daily goal is to never ever fail (not exactly a path to innovation). In health care communications, on the other hand, you’re likely asked each year to do things better and faster. As a result, your greatest opportunities for achievement will be in how you accept responsibility for creating the future.


I grew up believing I was adept at science and unskilled in art, not understanding creativity is as much process as anything. It took years for me to hone sharp creative skills, but doing so made me bolder and gave me the confidence to push beyond the ordinary when all anyone asked for was what everyone else was doing. My advice is to practice innovating diligently and persistently as you would any craft. Think like you’re learning to play the guitar or speak a new language and your life depends on it. Don’t simply renovate old stuff. See every project as your new chance to do something that hasn’t yet been done. Don’t settle for being good. Defy imagination.


  1. You’re never going to be fully ready for #5, by the way, so never mind being ready. Just go start doing it. You are a work of art. Life is a work of art. Making art gets really messy, so be prepared for that. The status quo is your biggest obstacle to excellence in marketing and communication. Sameness is just a kind of hell, and if that hell is a natural part of your corporate culture, don’t make it part of your personal culture.


  1. Learn to sell your heart out. ‘Sell’ can be construed as a four-letter word with evil connotations, but your best and shiniest new idea is going nowhere unless you get it approved. Don’t let politics trump your great ideas. Collaborating with others to secure their ownership early on surely helps your chances when it comes to getting the nod from stakeholders, the admin team, or the board. Other times that’s not an option; some things have to be sold. I’m not talking about some slick form of coercion. Instead, what’s in order is a confident, no-holds-barred show that simply puts your ideas in their best light. Never simply count on everyone seeing your brilliant concept, and don’t shun selling because it’s beneath you. Your great work deserves due consideration. Help your great ideas see the light of day by learning how to expertly unveil your genius.


  1. Consistently place others’ interests above your own. You’re a WHPRMSer, so I’ll just assume you’re a values-driven professional. Honesty and integrity are a part of how you operate. Now, take your organization’s culture of service and run farther with it than the rest of the crowd. Be the precedent setter. You’ll build stronger relationships. You’ll foster trust. If you’re always thinking about what you can get from someone else, or even thinking that stale old win-win cliché, what you’re really doing is keeping score. Your relationships shouldn’t be tracked on a balance sheet. In regularly tipping the balance in others’ direction, you’ll find greater influence while making a powerful impact on your organization’s culture. Not to mention, #7 above will come a lot easier.


  1. Be authentic. Someone’s mom once said, “The most valuable gift you have to offer is yourself.” And she was so very right. A few of us are naturally ourselves both in and out of the office while others have to work a little to let go of who we think we’re supposed to be. Embrace who you are because in a world full of imitation everything, there’s tremendous honesty and joy in being the real you. And in doing so, you serendipitously free others to be their authentic selves, too. No matter what your position, rank, or role, you have an opportunity to be a great leader in your organization, and this otherwise seeming benign “skill” will make or break your leadership ability.


  1. Say thank you. Every chance you get, let someone know you’re thankful for what they do. Beyond an expression of your gratitude, “thank you” says you understand. Every Thursday, I set aside a few minutes to write thank you cards to deserving co-workers. In fact, if your organization hasn’t already hardwired this action into your culture (maybe by tasking HR with mailing completed thank you cards home to employees), you now have something for the suggestion box. In a world that so values clicks and shares, making a sincere and specific thank you is a powerful gesture.


I welcome every lesson offered by my continued long, warm, wonderful summer. I’m also eager to know what you discover, too, and I invite your questions and thoughts. Please share your comments below, or email me at collinsj@southwesthealth.org.


By Jaime Collins, Director of Marketing and Communications

Southwest Health, Platteville