Clarify Your Brand Message and Break Through The Market Noise with Dan Donovan, Vice President and Creative Director at Backe

Clarify Your Brand Message and Break Through The Market Noise with Dan Donovan, Vice President and Creative Director at Backe

Hey Outcomes Rocket friends, thanks for tuning in to the podcast once again. As a leader in health care, you have big ideas great products, a story to tell, and are looking for ways to improve your reach and scale your business. However there's one tiny problem. Health care is tough to navigate and the typical sales cycle is low. That's why you should consider starting your own podcast as part of your sales and marketing strategy. At the Outcomes Rocket, I've been able to reach thousands of people every single month that I wouldn't have otherwise been able to reach if I had not started my podcast. Having this organic reach enables me to get the feedback necessary to create a podcast that delivers value that you are looking for. And the same thing goes if you start a podcast for what you could learn from your customers. The best thing about podcasting in healthcare is that we are currently at the ground level, meaning that the number of people in healthcare listening to podcasts is small but growing rapidly. I put together a free checklist for you to check out the steps on what it takes to create your own podcast. You could find that at Check it out today and find a new way to leverage the sales, marketing and outcomes of your business. That's

Welcome back once again to the outcomes rocket podcast or we chat with today's most successful and inspiring health leaders. Today I have an outstanding guest for you today. His name is Dan Donovan. He's a Vice President and Creative Director with nearly 20 years of agency experience overseeing content design user experience and social media. All these things are super crucial to what we do in healthcare today getting our message to our customers has never been so important in the lousy, loud and noisy market. He began his career as a copywriter and has worked with global brands such as Eli Lilly, Genentech, AstraZeneca, Sanofi and Target Pharmacy as well as some consumer brands like Apple, Microsoft, Nissan and Sony probably some names that you recognize there. Dan's coming to us with a wealth of knowledge in this space. And the purpose of today is just to get his thoughts on what we could do to clarify our message and increase our effectiveness in navigating health care so it's a true pleasure to have you on the podcast, Dan.

Well thank you. Good morning and thanks for having me on.

Absolutely. Now did I leave anything out in that intro that you want to share with our listeners today?

Well I think there's probably just one thing that I try to kind of talk and or remind people and it's really just that I personally am a firm believer in giving back and having a larger purpose in life. So I find myself often volunteering mentoring both personally and professionally. So I live my beliefs and I just try to use every opportunity I have to remind people of the power of giving back and volunteering and kind of just helping other people and thinking more altruistically and so that can lead to communications as well and more the tone that you take.

That's pretty cool Dan and I'm glad you brought that up. I find that the organizations and people that have giving at the center tend to have more fulfillment in the work that they do. I think it's a good reminder for us and maybe the reason why you got into the medical sector to begin with. Maybe you could tell us why you know you're in the communications space but you a lot of your work has focused in healthcare. Can you tell us how that happened?

Yeah it was so it wasn't really a perfectly or major life event like some folks but it happened kind of organically. I was working in consumer brands and communications for this large package goods or technology brands and I relocated to Columbus Ohio to work for an agency called GSW and their focus was really on health and wellness and had a particular focus on pharma and really since then that's probably about 15 years ago I had a pretty strong focus on just that health and wellness and farmer and really started to develop more of an appreciation for the value of communication when you're dealing with your own lunch. And that sound can sound sort of trite sometimes but when you're buying shoes or buying an airplane ticket or buying a beverage the considerations aren't as critical. The impact is not as critical but if you're diagnosed with a condition for taking care of an elderly family member and you don't have the information that you need to get them the care that they deserve or need at that very moment you're kind of lost a lot of people have talked about or chronicled the mental fog or medical illiteracy because it's overwhelming and you have all these emotional reactions to decisions that you're being told of or diagnoses. And so it just is very powerful for me to kind of think back on my very beginning in communications and health care at GSW and just the value of clear and effective communications helping patients health care providers care teams to make sure that people have the information that they need. And I think as important that they understand it and can act upon.

Yeah. It's such an interesting perspective Dan and listeners the one thing that's really neat about Dan is that in his breadth of experience he did spend some time at a provider system at Penn Medicine. He spent about three years there. So he's he's got a really unique perspective and sort of how are tackling issues here in the healthcare space as time has gone by. Dan what would you say today is a hot topic that needs to be on every health leaders agenda and how are you guys approaching it?

So I won't try to oversimplify I just kind of how many things are at play because I think you mentioned earlier the hardest part is figuring out how to navigate the health care space and as it relates to communications making sure that you understand the channels the content the information that your various audiences need. But I also try to use kind of my position as a vice president creative director. To counsel people on the questions that they should ask before they dive into a really big project or engagement because what I find or I saw it sometimes a pen and sometimes in other large organizations is we have a fixation on the final product or the shiny object because that's the thing that is tangible and we say we need that saying we need that social media channel we need that and we need that wearable technology and people kind of jumped the gun a little bit and just kind of get into executional mode before they ask a couple key questions about why they weren't that way. And so what I try to do is dispel some of the myths kind of I'm on a project by project basis of what people are trying to do and whether or not that channel or that tactic is the thing that they need. So I'll get I'll give you an example. People will often come to us and say they'll get kind of a buzz word or somebody will put a bug in their ear that they need to do more SEO or they need to do some PPC or they need to do social. Right.

Or webinars or whatever. Filling the gaps.

Exactly. Yeah insert the channel here again really I think if you just pause and say OK you want me to do something because it's either trendy or popular or effective is it right for me and for my organization for what we're trying to communicate who we're trying to reach. And just the way that their content is delivered. And it seems like a very basic thing. And it is what people often don't give themselves the permission to just pause for a minute and say What do I need to know and what do I not know and who can I rely on to help you navigate those channels, those tactics, those decisions. And I think that's where you know sometimes you have that expertise in-house which is great because you just walk down the hall and you ask a couple million questions or sometimes you need to go on a house and rely on agencies or consultancies or independent contractors to help you ask the right questions. Right. Like if you remember the Einstein about that "solution being essentially 50 percent of it is defining the problem". I think if you ask the right questions you define the problem or the need in the right way and then you can correlate the right tactics as a result.

I think it's so poignant that you bring that up because a lot of us will jump on the hamster wheel and you know go into execution mode like you said Dan and we feel like we're being productive we feel like we're doing something we haven't peeled back the onion and really understanding why we're doing it. And this is something that we all fall prey to. I do it, we all do it. So listeners if you're thinking about your next project right now before you hit the go button take a step back and give it some thought. You ask those questions as thoughtful questions that Dan as is pushing us to ask about the projects that we have at hand before we dive fully in. Give us an example Dan of maybe how you and your organization have have created results by doing things differently in this way.

Sure. So I'll give you two quickies. I should mention by no means am I saying because in my experience I know everything or ask all the right questions all the time. So that being said.

Totally. Yeah yeah.

I'll give you two quick example. So one is while I was it and we were working with outside agencies to produce patient testimonials so videos at that point of care or kind of quickly thereafter someone had had a surgery or procedure. We wanted to document their experience and then kind of see how they do in a couple of weeks or months later. The cost to produce those was exorbitant because when we were working with people outside agencies who had to pay for travel and all their costs. But it's also just really hard within a really complex academic medical center like and to get everybody available on the same day same time whatever. So most of it is logistic and administrative which drives up the cost. So one of the things that I worked on really under the guidance of the chief information officer there Roy Rosen It was an idea called me video which is based off of the principles of lean Newarks. Which is essentially how quickly can we "fail, learn from that failure and then continue to refine and improve quickly" to get it to a point where it's typically called a minimum viable product you want and in the case of video. The key thing is to get clean audio and natural reaction and the kind of story that you think will be valuable to the people who are you know kind of watching that video for information in their own experience. So in that case we drastically reduced the time that it took to film a video like that upwards of four five six months sometimes down to a matter of weeks.


And the cost to produce it was cut upwards of 50 60 percent sometimes even higher as well because we worked with early adopters within the health system like in the case of Neurology. We found doctors who could nominate a couple patients who were doing well or were comfortable sharing their story. The physicians themselves saw the value in documenting this experience. And so really the people who had the most power to make this project move quickly. We really just tapped into them rather than trying to create this construct around them. And all this sort of speculation about how and when to produce things. So that was really the key in terms of lean video. And I should say in the process also preserve high quality video right.

Oh absolutely.

It doesn't have to look like a movie trailer but it needs to be high quality and clean is good audio so that at least within social you know it renders pretty well and and people can appreciate it. The other on the flip side of things on the agency side I did something similar while I was at digitalis health. So at the time it was many hundreds of people in the Philadelphia office and I saw an opportunity. As more and more consultancies were buying or partnering with digital agencies for us to create our own products or prototypes or processes in a similar fashion in a very rapid. Some people say kind of double diamond or lean or agile methodology shoes whatever sort of term you want to use. I just wanted us to create something within the agency that was in demand that we could either license or possibly resell or just not completely give away quite frankly because agencies are known for coming up with these big ideas and then not being able to recoup the investment that goes into those ideas. So I created this product development group with a couple other smartphone as they're called modus which is just you know are different Latin meanings for. But it's really just the way in which you work. Right. My modus operandi. Yeah. So the way in which we work needed to change in order for us to do these things faster across multiple disciplines but still take advantage of the best thinking. So I kind of got the liberty to handpick about a half dozen to a dozen people as projects came up and just move very very quickly to produce these products are these prototypes and this is I guess probably about four or five years ago now maybe even longer because it was right before Penn and at the time it seemed to me fairly obvious. But I think now when you look at the landscape look at the DeLois and the Ernst and Young's and the Accenture's who have now either created or acquired their own sort of marketing agency The old in-house agency. You know it seems like a little bit possibly a little bit prescient at the time that we were starting to work on something that had yet to really happen elsewhere.

Yeah. So this is a great story again you know and you're implementing these things to really help scale and make it more affordable and really appreciate you sharing these Dan because the listeners we are all looking for a way to increase our impact. We're all looking for a way to achieve the next milestone. Help our patients. And we have to be great at communication. We have to be great at making it affordable and scalable. And the tips that you've provided here are super super interesting and and useful. Folks, Dan is the Batman of communication. We're going to call him Bruce Wayne here.

I will keep my eyes on the sky.

If you need help to shine that bat and Dan's going to show up. Dan, tell us about a time when things don't work out a time when when you experience the setback. We've all experienced that. Tell us about one moment and what you learned from that.

So let me think a little bit because you know I'm a big fan of. There are no failures, there are lessons. And you know.

What are the the biggest lessons?

Maybe one of the biggest lessons I think honestly it's related to the success that I just mentioned to you which is the creation of that product development group at digitalis health. So it's part cultural and part communication. So you have to know what's in the DNA of your organization. You have to do essentially a cultural diagnostic if there are any organizational dynamics. People listening and get a sense of what is right for your organization. Where are you going to find pockets of resistance or adoption and what will it take to change for the better within that organization and in the case of this product development group. I naively assumed that because I had the buy in of the you know executive creative director and chief creative officer at the time that that was essentially enough right. If I could go do it I don't. That was naive on my part because I didn't realize that when people have to you have to win some converts or some support even if they're not directly related to the project itself.


You want people to be aware of what you're doing so that they can if they disagree tell you why they disagree or if they agree they can amplify your story and the value and the project itself. And so I kind of missed out on people who probably would have loved to work on the project more support the project or tell others about what we were doing. And part of that was simply we had to move fast and we couldn't always pause to have a road show but since we're talking about communication you have to have a way to communicate that vision so that people can self select or like I said if they resist you can maybe hear them out and maybe have some good points. Maybe they say we've tried that before. Maybe like in the case of a client who I spoke with earlier this week. You know they have pockets of innovation happening all across the organization and there is not enough cohesion between those different groups. So if if they all kind of connected with each other and found a way to share what they're working on maybe there's a way that they can be more efficient, more effective, more impactful in what they're trying to do and nobody worry so much about the ownership as much as what can we do together. So that's that was I think a little bit of a lesson or a failure if you will on my part to not realize that if you approach that project with some confidence or more confidence I should say greater transparency and greater humility quite honestly because sometimes you feel like you're the only one that gets it. If you approach it I think in the right way and with the right spirit there's no telling what people will get on board with.

And then that's great call out folks. Just make sure you get your your people involved as much as you can. Right. There's also a fine line you don't want to go overboard with it but get the right stakeholders as Dan was calling out involved early enough to help get this thing wings faster. How about the other side of the coin Dan what would you say one of your proudest moments in this communications space within healthcare has been to date?

So one is that it's sort of professionally related and then one that is more purpose driven.


So I could mention that the part about the group is that I continue to look at that as as a signature kind of thing. But really that I've had so many great victories because of the team that I've worked with and the team that I've built. But I'll give you one example and this goes back a number of years. So I was working on Microsoft with Heavey and that came to my agency at the time and they said you know what you guys do X Y Z for us but we have a media buy for TV and we have no creative. Can you guys help us fill that slot. You know I know you guys don't do a whole lot of broadcast but can you produce is is essentially eight or nine weeks. At the time that was an inordinate amount of. Well I should say it's an enormous amount of time. But you look at today's perspective you can produce video so much faster than to produce a TV spot. It took several months. So anyway I just jumped at the chance. It was Microsoft. They had plenty of resources.


And all we really needed to do was come up with the idea. And so I wrote the script with my partner Matt Beiser who's out there in the world somewhere now and Angela Paris and we presented this idea to Microsoft. And they just loved it and so we found the piece to shoot it flew out to L.A. to produce it and in just a matter of several weeks had a finished spot that we were told Bill Gates saw and really liked you know and you can imagine the number of things that get in front of his eyes. Oh for sure didn't at the time whether that was true or not. I think it went. It certainly went up the chain high enough that we pleased Microsoft and we can put a good foot forward for the agency. And that was all just based on. And I can tell the you know they said can you do this. I believe very firmly that we could because I've written two scripts and produced forecasts before and work shy in other places. And so I just said let's do let's just let's make this happen. And it did. And kudos to the team worked on it. But I just love when things like that happen because you have a positive mentality and you just don't say no to things just because you think oh it's going to be hard it's going to take time or it might stretch you outside of your comfort zone.

That's a great great example Dan and it's a reminder to us. It's Parkinson's Law right. It's the idea that work expands to fill the time available for its condition. Right. And you just have to believe you can do it. And Dan you and your team said yeah we're going to knock this out. And this is this is applicable to so many other things as well right folks if you say you've got three months to do it it's going to take you three months. If you say you've got to get it done in three weeks. And there's some exceptions to this right. But Parkinson's Law is real and Dan's team rose to the occasion. And I mean just kudos to you for developing something at the spur of the moment they're getting that check off by the Gates man up there. That's pretty big man. Congratulations on that.

It was tiny and like I said and I believe this as much as I do and giving back The power of we is truly stronger than the power of me. And when you work as a team again that can sound right in the wrong context but teams of people can do extraordinary things. And when you just get the most out of people it's awesome. Those aren't my victories those are our victories and those aren't their failures or their lessons. They're my failures or lessons because I choose to learn from them and try to do better.

You are a great leader my friend. Leading the way. I love it. Dan what would you say an exciting project that you guys are working on right now at your firm?

So it's kind of neat. So Backe we're a fairly small privately held agency just outside of Philadelphia. And when I joined about two years ago innovation was sort of a committee of people working on a number of different ideas and projects but we didn't know how to either commercialize or produce some of those ideas. And so what we've done just in the last several months is identify those ideas or uses of technology or products evaluate them for their business value and then get some of those ideas sort of pressure test them internally and then share them with some trusted external folks or clients to see if it's something that helps us a business or communication that they have. And so I'm just really excited that one, we were able to overcome our own sort of lack of inertia internally to really create some positive momentum on producing something new producing something sort of unexpected and executing it to a level where we can't share it externally and we can get some candid feedback from people who would ultimately want to either license or buy or share that kind of thing. So I'm really excited just about innovation as a practice not as a one time event. And you know I say that because every organization in the world. And then when you look at the Challenger Gray Christmas survey of CEOs or top firms innovation with a capital I is seen as like the club that only the cool kids get played. And it's not that it's not it's you have to have an open mind. You have to look outwards and then think about the ways in which your company or your team can produce something that has value beyond just you know kind of present day. And so I'm just extremely proud wherever I've gone I've been able to build teams that think big that they grow as individuals and that we're able to produce innovative ideas that go on to spur bigger ideas and more than that than sort of the work or the products. There's a saying of great leaders don't create great followers Great Leaders create great leaders.

I agree with that.

I feel like the people that I have hired or trained or had the privilege to work with have gone on to become great leaders in their own right. So that to me is beyond the worst successes. I'm really proud of that.

That's awesome brother. I think it's you guys are doing great things and listeners. If you're curious about what Dan and his team are doing at backy check them out. Go to backemarketing. That's a and you'll be able to find out more about their work or their capabilities. Some of these new insights and innovation that Dan has alluded to definitely a great place to go for checking out maybe your next project in this space and getting close to the end here. Let's pretend you and I are building a leadership course and what it takes to be successful in communicating in the healthcare business today. It's the 101 of Dan Donovan. We're going to write out a syllabus for questions lightning round style followed by a book that you recommend to the listeners. You already?

Yup, let's go for it.

Awesome. What's the best way to improve healthcare communication?

Ask more questions.

What's the biggest mistake or pitfall to avoid?


How do you stay relevant as an organization. Despite constant change. Keep learning.

What's one area of focus that should drive everything in the health organization?

What's good for the patient and consumer or user.

Finally what's your favorite book that you'd like to recommend to the listeners, Dan?

So let me not say a favorite but maybe just some ones that I'm reading now give you your sense of what's topical. So I just finished Hillbilly Elegy which is kind of interesting. Growing up in West Virginia in the coal mining area of West Virginia and Ohio I just finished that and I'm now halfway through. James Comey's book A higher loyalty which either side of the aisle you sit on. I think it's an interesting read about where our country is right now in the role service and loyalty to country.

Love it. Some great recommendations folks if you want to show notes as well as a transcript and links to other things that we've talked about including the books Dan's company go to that's a B A C K E. You'll be able to find all that there. Dan this has been a blast. Before we conclude I'd love if you could just share a closing thought with the listeners and then the back as place where they could get in touch with you or follow you.

So just some I think parting thoughts. Like I said ask more questions and let me give you a six ones that anyone can ask their questions that writers ask who, what, when, where, why and how. I think that if you ask those questions and then answer those questions clearly on just about any project you'll have a really good foundation for where to go next in terms of reaching out to me. You can hit the link that Saul just mentioned. You can go to our website or you can drop me a line at

Outstanding. Dan this has been so much fun and informative. Really appreciate you taking the time to be with us today.

Well I appreciate it. Thank you and thanks to you and listeners I really appreciate it.

Hey Outcomes Rocket friends, thanks for tuning in to the podcast once again. As a leader in health care, you have big ideas great products, a story to tell, and are looking for ways to improve your reach and scale your business. However there's one tiny problem. Health care is tough to navigate and the typical sales cycle is low. That's why you should consider starting your own podcast as part of your sales and marketing strategy. At the Outcomes Rocket, I've been able to reach thousands of people every single month that I wouldn't have otherwise been able to reach if I had not started my podcast. Having this organic reach enables me to get the feedback necessary to create a podcast that delivers value that you are looking for. And the same thing goes if you start a podcast for what you could learn from your customers. The best thing about podcasting in healthcare is that we are currently at the ground level, meaning that the number of people in healthcare listening to podcasts is small but growing rapidly. I put together a free checklist for you to check out the steps on what it takes to create your own podcast. You could find that at Check it out today and find a new way to leverage the sales, marketing and outcomes of your business. That's

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Recommended Books:

Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis

A Higher Loyalty: Truth, Lies, and Leadership

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