For the past 24 years, Judy Winkler has watched the marketing department at OSF Saint Francis Medical Center grow and expand. After receiving her bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, the Metamora resident went straight to work at OSF as a writer. Today, Winkler has become so steeped in her organization’s culture, she can’t help but bring up all of its wonderful accomplishments in this interview! As the Director of Marketing for OSF, the Illinois Neurological Institute and the OSF Saint Francis Heart Hospital, communications are her primary effort. In addition to scrapbooking and gardening, Winkler also enjoys serving on her church council and on the board of Snyder Village. She lives with her husband Scott, son Matt and daughter Jenny in rural Metamora.
Tell about your background, schools attended and family.
I was born in St. Louis and moved to Metamora with my family when I was in 5th grade. I have to say I was blessed with a wonderful childhood and loved the small-town life of Metamora. I remember riding my bike up to the library and getting six books at a time and returning them by the end of the week for more. I also remember playing kick-the-can with neighborhood kids until dark. It sounds a little corny when I write about it, but it really was an idyllic life!
Once I hit high school I became involved in everything I could—clubs and organizations, pom-poms, marching band, school musicals, yearbook staff and youth group at church. It was in high school that I became aware that I had the ability to write well (and prolifically). It was probably from all of that reading! Carole Ronane, my English Lit teacher, opened my world to British literature and history, and I’ve been an Anglophile ever since. She was also the yearbook advisor and helped me to develop my organizational and creative abilities. By my senior year I decided to go to the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and major in journalism.
I graduated from Illinois in 1983 with my journalism degree and experience in giving campus tours. By that time I had greatly developed my writing skills, but I had also determined that I did not want to be a hard-core journalist. So I returned home to Metamora and started searching for a position in the publications field. Late that summer, I was hired at then Saint Francis Medical Center in Peoria to do some freelance writing for Mission, their new magazine. They liked my work and placed me in a new position where I continued to write part-time and served as a seminar coordinator for “Investment in Excellence,” a new program for managers. Six months later I was hired full-time as a marketing assistant. During the next 15 years I stayed within marketing, changing my job description to marketing specialist, then senior marketing specialist. In August 2000, I applied for and was awarded the position of Director of Marketing.
Twenty-four years later, I am living in rural Metamora with my husband Scott and two children, Matthew, 18, and Jennifer, 15. Scott is a self-employed bank internal auditor and also a native of Metamora and alumnus of UIUC. Our backgrounds are very similar, but our career choices very different. We always say Scott is responsible for the financial aspects of our household and that I am the family public relations person. We are blessed to have two terrific kids. Matthew graduated in May from Metamora Township High School and will be leaving for Drake University in the fall to pursue his PharmD while minoring in music performance, tenor saxophone. Jenny is in a whirlwind of activity that exceeds even my high school career, with a special love of vocal music. Both kids are excellent students, which allowed them to be very involved in extracurricular activities. I am very fortunate to be surrounded by family, as both my parents and in-laws, as well as my two brothers and their families, all reside in the Metamora area.
You have spent your career within the OSF organization. Do you or have you had a mentor? If so, how has he or she been most helpful?
When I look back, I have had two mentors at OSF Saint Francis, both of whom are still with the organization. The first is Jim Farrell, who served as Director of Marketing in the late 1980s. He helped me develop my professional strengths, and was (and still is) one of the most positive and encouraging individuals I know. As a father of four children, he demonstrated to me how you can have a career and still be very involved in the lives of your children. It was Jim who supported me when I requested to work part-time after my son was born and during the time that my children were small. Upon assuming my position as director, I have strived to be the same kind of leader for my staff.
My other mentor is OSF Saint Francis Public Relations Director Chris Lofgren. It was he who encouraged me to apply for the director position back in 2000, and guided me through my first year of management in the OSF organization. Since that time, he has been a wonderful person to “bounce ideas off of.” When I am not sure of a decision, Chris always asks questions that steer me in the right direction, yet somehow makes it seem like I came up with the answer myself. Only recently have I realized that I now can do the same for my staff. Chris also has taught me the importance of maintaining a sense of humor and perspective.
What are your responsibilities as Director of Marketing?
I have a highly engaged department of five direct reports, comprised of two marketing specialists, two graphic designers and a marketing assistant. We are responsible for all advertising, assisting with internal and external communications, printed materials, publications and our website. We work with administration and physicians to create marketing plans and strategy, some of which become multi-media campaigns. We are also responsible for coordinating and planning special events, from open houses and groundbreakings, to endeavors such as the 125th anniversary of The Sisters of the Third Order of St. Francis.
When you began your career at OSF, did you envision your current position?
Not at all! I was right out of college and really only saw myself as a writer. I watched the gentleman who was director at that time and was in absolute awe of all the work he did and projects he had to juggle. With all due respect, I look back at that time and smile, because the workload and responsibilities in marketing were so light compared to what they are today.
Back in 1983, the only entity we had to market was the medical center. Now, we not only have the medical center as a whole, but also the Illinois Neurological Institute at OSF Saint Francis Medical Center and OSF Saint Francis Heart Hospital. Add to that the complexity of the branding, interacting and coordinating of our marketing efforts with those of Children’s Hospital of Illinois, OSF Medical Group, OSF HomeCare and OSF Health- Plans, and you can very easily understand what a different world it is for healthcare marketing.
How has communication/marketing delivery changed in the past five or 10 years?
Before I answer that question directly, I have to first tell you what healthcare marketing was like back in 1983. When I was first hired there were no computers, of course, so all of my writing was done on a typewriter. When we created the few brochures we had, we typed them on the typewriter and took them to the print shop to be copied onto colored paper. Except for big projects like our quarterly magazine and annual report, that’s about as sophisticated as we got. How things have changed in the past 24 years!
Ten years ago the main avenue for delivering healthcare marketing messages was through print and TV advertising. We also did a lot of special events that brought people in to see our services firsthand and to give them health-related information. It was about that time that we created our first website.
Within the past five years, we had to talk to people differently. There are so many additional avenues for telling our story. Our most effective means of communicating are via direct mail, such as our Simply Women and Building Blocks magazines, and radio and outdoor advertising. While our busy lifestyles don’t always allow for time to browse through the newspaper or watch much TV, we can reach people on the radio as they are driving, and on those billboards throughout the Tri-County. I believe the future of healthcare marketing communication is through the Internet.
Even with all of that said, the most effective marketing for our services comes from patients and their families whose lives we have touched. Their stories and word-of-mouth advertising are priceless.
How does marketing for a not-for-profit hospital differ from marketing a for-profit company?
There are more similarities than differences. We try to let the public know about the accomplishments of our people, what new and improved services we offer, certifications we have won, etc. This is not unlike the for-profit world.
Where we may differ is that we publicize those things that will keep people from using our services. We have screenings and programs on everything from nutrition to exercise to heart care to identifying stroke symptoms. While we are always ready for a disaster to bring dozens of patients to us, we would rather that NOT happen. So we try to get messages out about fire safety or disaster preparedness.
The tools we use are similar, but much of what we communicate is to make the public healthier and thus in less need of our services. You know, the Sisters’ mission is to serve with the greatest care and love. That service means bringing the best healthcare has to offer to our patients. When you think about it, OSF Saint Francis has been known through the years for so many “firsts” in our medical community. Our NICU and helicopter transport program, lithotripsy, MRI, Gamma Knife and Triology, radiosurgery, stroke care, drug-eluting stents for heart and of course, the Children’s Hospital has world-class physicians in more than 25 pediatric specialties. Oops, I am talking about all the great things we do instead of marketing. I can’t help it!
How important is the consumer in driving the direction of hospital marketing (in terms of new equipment, medications, etc.)?
Our patients are central to the Sisters’ mission to serve with the greatest care and love. We are focused on meeting their physical, emotional and spiritual needs. Our marketing communicates this focus to each person searching for quality healthcare services. We want people to know how we can help them.
How involved is the marketing director with development of hospital expansions? You coordinated the OSF Saint Francis Center for Health, the OSF Saint Francis Heart Hospital, and now the largest expansion, the Milestone Project.
While not directly involved with the physical planning of expansions, we help people understand these projects. When it’s a large-scale project, we bring in a committee of staff from marketing, public relations, administration and fundraising and other areas as appropriate.
For example, as we were preparing to open the Center for Health in 2001, we started working on the communications and special events more than a year in advance. The Center for Health was (and is) unlike any healthcare facility in central Illinois, and there were a lot of questions about what this place was all about. A hospital-owned outpatient facility designed and built from the ground up with the patients in mind, whose services include ambulatory surgery, outpatient testing, urgent care, women’s services and physician’s offices, was a whole new concept. People even wondered where it was—remember, the Center for Health existed on Route 91 before the Shoppes at Grand Prairie or any other development had sprung up over the past five years. We helped prepare the advertising campaign but were also responsible for all of the wonderful opening events: blessings and ribbon cutting, as well as open houses for employees, physicians, community leaders and the public.
The Milestone Project absolutely dwarfs the Center for Health—literally! This $234 million, 440,000-square-foot expansion will allow us to bring the latest in healthcare technology and services to our patients. It will bring all of the Children’s Hospital services to one convenient location. There will also be an expanded emergency department, additional critical care beds, roomier surgery suites and increased cardiac services. I became involved with Milestone more than a year ago when I was responsible for communicating the scope and importance of the project to our own employees and physicians, as well as the larger Peoria-area community. There was a lot of coordination involved, and we worked closely with our Certificate of Need team to make sure we were in compliance with their requirements, but also built excitement for the scope of this project in the community. We all worked very hard, and were thrilled to have full community support for this project, which culminated in receiving Certificate of Need approval from the state back in September 2006. Now that we are getting ready to break ground, it’s important for us to keep Milestone in front of people—to help them understand what it means and how it will improve healthcare for the Tri-County and beyond. And yes, in 2010, I’ll be working on those open houses, tours and opening celebrations. They will be, by far, the most exciting and large-scale events OSF has ever held.
Give an example of the most “unusual” requests for help from both your organization and an outside organization requesting OSF support.
Back in 2002 I was privileged to lead the committee responsible for celebrating the 125th anniversary of the Sisters and OSF Saint Francis Medical Center. This request was unusual in that it really focused on our history in the community rather than promoting our current healthcare services. The year-long process of celebrating this milestone greatly strengthened my appreciation for the Sisters and what they have accomplished from their simple beginnings.
A very unusual project that wasn’t really requested by anyone was the billboard that we ran this past fall recognizing IDOT for their hard work when Upgrade 74 was completed. It was really just a thank-you billboard, but you would not believe the positive feedback we received from that simple message. It was a good lesson in the value of saying “thank you.”
What do you enjoy most regarding your position as Marketing Director? The least?
I most enjoy helping our patient care staff to deliver their information in an effective way and meeting their needs. At one time I wanted to be a nurse but didn’t have the stomach for it. So working in healthcare marketing is a way for me to touch the lives of our patients indirectly. I also get great satisfaction out of coordinating large-scale special events and seeing the joy of those who attend after months of planning.
I least enjoy the overwhelming volume of emails I receive each day. While there are many advantages to communicating via email, the number and expectation for instant response is unreasonable.
How would you encourage young women to prepare for a career in marketing?
Read, learn to negotiate with others and learn to be a clear and concise communicator. Be organized and able to multi-task. Most importantly, learn to be a good writer. No matter what the job, good writing skills are vital.
What are your hobbies and/or what leisure activities do you enjoy outside of work?
My latest hobby started about five years ago when I made a scrapbook for my son’s 8th grade graduation. Two friends of mine got me started and now I am absolutely hooked! I give each of my children a scrapbook on birthdays that commemorates the past year. Right now I’m working on Matthew’s final high school scrapbook and am very sad to realize that I’ll be working on Jenny’s this time next year.
I embrace the outdoors, as we live on more than 60 acres in rural Metamora. As soon as the weather is nice you’ll find me working in the yard and garden, reading in the hammock, walking or riding my bike.
You volunteer on several boards in your hometown. How important is volunteering to your personal career philosophy?
Volunteering is so very important to both my husband and myself, especially in a small town like Metamora. Scott has been on the MTHS board since 1989, and has served as president for the past 13 years. While I work in Peoria and am involved in workrelated activities, my evenings and weekends are very full in my own hometown. I’ve always been involved in my church, whether as youth leader, teacher or in a leadership position. Right now I am starting my second term on our church council and am also co-chairing the search committee for a new minister.
I also sit on the board of Snyder Village in Metamora. This nursing home and retirement community literally sprang from the generosity of Metamora resident Bertha Snyder and I feel blessed to sit on a board that looks for ways to improve the quality of life for senior citizens.
Of course, I’m also involved in my children’s activities, especially the MTHS Fine Arts Boosters and all that goes along with being the parent of children in vocal and instrumental music. I love spending time with my kids and their friends. My husband and I had a great time chaperoning band camp the last two summers and watching our children interact with each other and their peers.
I hope that by living my life with a balance of God, family, work and volunteerism, that I am setting an example for my children for their adult lives.
What personal goals would you like to achieve in the next 10 years?
Professionally, I’m not sure I can see 10 years out right now. I am focused on the next three years and all that the Milestone Project will be bringing with it during that time. On a personal level, I’m just beginning a transition of watching my children leave the nest as they move on to college. So I’m looking forward in the notso- distant future to reverting back to those first years of marriage when it was just my husband and me.
Anything else you’d like to add?
The one thing I’d like to say is that the best thing about my job is the people with whom I work on a daily basis. All of us are asked to do much more in our jobs than ever before. The friendship, encouragement and cooperation of these people make coming to work a pleasure, not a chore. I recognize this every day, and am so thankful for each and every one of them. TPW