Selected Podcast

COVID-19 Conversations: How the UNC Health Marketing and Communications Team Manages COVID-19 Connectedness, Featuring Lisa Schiller

Date: 01 April 2020
UNC Health’s Chief Communication and Marketing Officer  Lisa Schiller describes how her organization is dealing with the COVID-19 crisis and how the communications and marketing team is managing the systematic and timely release of critical information – including a “News Room” concept - while maintaining key relationships with the community.
COVID-19 Conversations: How the UNC Health Marketing and Communications Team Manages COVID-19 Connectedness, Featuring Lisa Schiller
Lisa Schiller, SHSMD
Lisa leads communication and marketing for UNC Health and the UNC School of Medicine. She joined the health system in 2006. She serves on the Greater Raleigh Chamber of Commerce’s Inter-city committee, Raleigh Professional Women’s Forum, Holt Brothers Foundation Board of Directors, Carolina Hurricanes Foundation Board of Directors, Society for Healthcare Strategy & Market Development (SHSMD) Board of Directors, Healthcare Executive Forum, and is an honorary member of Alpha Kappa Psi – Eta Omega Chapter. Lisa was recognized with the Award for Individual Professional Excellence, the highest honor in the field by SHSMD in 2014. Lisa received her bachelor’s degree in communication from James Madison University.
Lisa enjoys spending time with her daughters, husband, and Goldendoodles. She also likes golfing, and attending sporting events and concerts.

Bill Klaproth: SHSMD members play a critical role as to the organizations and communities they serve. This special edition of the SHSMD podcast is part of the COVID-19 conversations series featuring members, stories, and resources in an effort to provide insight into how some organizations are managing this unprecedented crisis.

Diane Webber: Hello everyone. I'm Diane Webber from SHSMD and I'm pleased to have with me Lisa Schiller, the Chief Communication and Marketing Officer at UNC Healthcare and UNC School of Medicine in Raleigh, North Carolina. Lisa, thank you for joining me today so we can learn a bit more about how your team is contributing to the COVID-19 response. So before we get started, maybe you can just paint for me a little bit about your area, what generally is going on with COVID in your community and at your organization?

Lisa Schiller: Sure. First, Diane, thanks for having me. It's great to talk to you today. COVID-19 in the state of North Carolina. As of as of this moment I'm speaking to you right now, we have approximately 1200 confirmed cases in the State. Our governor has issued a stay at home order, which actually goes into effect at five o'clock this evening. But many of our counties and the counties around us where we're headquartered already have these stay at home orders in effect. I would say, you know, a lot of concern throughout the community as there are in communities around the country. Quite a bit of support for our local hospitals. We've got, you know, you see it on social media, you see it on the news. One of our hospitals in Raleigh, we had somebody come and randomly put this big sign out front that said heroes work here. So that, I think that's the mood and the tone around our community.

Diane Webber: That's awesome. Glad to hear that. And we certainly support you and are so impressed with everything that you're doing through the pandemic. So let's talk a bit about your team. You know, tell me a little bit about the size of your team, the major functions that are occluded and paints a picture of how they're contributing to managing this pandemic.

Lisa Schiller: Sure. We have about approximately 46 members of our team and they work in a variety of functions got quite a few more people perhaps on the marketing team than some of the other teams. But internal communication news. We started to build, this year we started to build an insights and analytics team and I'll talk in a little bit about some of the work that they're doing. But three members of that team right now, we've got our community relations crew that's been really busy and I could talk about some of the work that they've done. But that's the size of our team. We have evolved, you know, of course internal communication and news. But internal communication has been probably would say the busiest as we've gone through the past few weeks. Ensuring that we are getting through and communicating to all of our audiences. You know, early on it was communicating about policies and procedures and different things we were putting into effect.

And we've learned along the way, we've learned and we've tried to be agile and we've altered our communication. We've come up with a specific communication schedule for when people can expect to receive information for the day. Specific communication for managers and leaders and another one for all of our coworkers and colleagues. So that's been a super busy function. News has also been busy. At UNC Health we're fortunate to have some, not just national, but international leaders in certain spaces. I would say our infectious, we have infectious disease physicians who are world renowned. Dr. Mike Cohen Dr. David Webber has been featured on news stories all around the country, and then we have Dr. Melissa Miller who actually developed, we were one of the first hospitals in the country to have our own test. And Dr. Melissa Miller was responsible for that. So the news team has been busy there.

Community relations has also been busy. We've had many needs in the community. One, of which we have a blood shortage and so they have been very successful in working on blood drives that keep people appropriately, physically distanced from each other but to help us try to build back up the blood supply. And then another really big effort that we worked with and have collaborated with our supply chain colleagues, is on donations of equipment. We've also worked with our colleagues at our other hospitals here in the triangle on those efforts. And we've been pretty successful. Now I understand we have received over 700,000 donations of various items. I know that's incredible. Now I know the team we've got physicians and other people who are going through everything and making sure that if something's not usable, we obviously don't, we won't be using that. But the total number of items donated is over 700,000, which is just incredible to think about.

And we've had, gosh, I could go, I could list of the, I list a coupled of them. We've had some of our colleagues over NC State University have donated a lot of equipment to us. The State Department of Cultural Resources, which the science museum comes under have donated. We've had construction companies donating N95s. We had a company or I'm sorry, a nonprofit organization called Samaritan's Purse that donated 10,095 to us last week. And so the community has really stepped up in a big way for us and our community relations team has stayed busy with that. I'll take a step back and talk a little bit about our consumer insights and analytics team. That's part of our marketing group. And they have been busy doing a lot of work. What I'll talk about, which I've shared with a couple of our colleagues is every week they send over to us consumer insights and analytics and primary research report. And I've got, for example, I've got the last the report I received last Friday from them sitting in front of me right now. And what they're doing is they're scanning the web, they're scanning social media, we're doing some original research ourselves and then they're presenting that to us.

So some of the findings that they have, one of them specifically deals with emotional wellbeing. So across the nation and illustrated by consumer behavior, across our websites and social media, our, you know, our owned channels the pandemic and associated economic crisis increase and affects of mental health and people need to stay connected. And so they dig into some of that data and I, and I'd be happy to share this last week's report so that our members could see the type of data that we're pulling every week. Yeah, I'd be happy to send that across. One of the other things that they looked at last week specifically was around the terminology around social distancing versus physical distancing. And we have in the school of medicine, we have a, our department of psychiatry is wonderful, has a great reputation and they brought to our attention pretty early on. I guess it might be the World Health Organization talked about, you know, we really don't, it's, it's really perhaps not helpful to talk about social distancing because we need people to stay connected and so physical distancing.

And so I had them do some searches on this and when they looked at it at the beginning of last week, there was almost no mentions online about social distance, I'm sorry, physical distancing. But then as the week went on the data that you could see that they reported on those, that physical, physical distancing is gaining traction. So how did we use this data? We asked the team, as we're producing content for at least the next couple of weeks, start using the terminology, physical distancing, put social distancing in parentheses, and hopefully we'll be able to ultimately move away from those parentheses. But that's some of some of the work that they're helping us with. They're also helping us by guiding our content team and to the types of content that people are searching for online and how, how we can be quickly creating content that is what people are searching for and what's most helpful to them.

Diane Webber: Okay. That's great. So you're doing a wonderful job of actively listening to your community and then more so to really identify what are the issues that they need to learn more about? So what's an example outside of the physical distancing, of something that you, you weren't already communicating about but that you added in based on what you had listened to in these consumer insights?

Lisa Schiller: Well, I think one of the things I'll mention first, cause I've got it in front of me right here is it is the preferred methods of how people are wanting to consume information. And we've got it broken down. And this is based upon a survey that the team conducted between March 13th and March 21st with 630 North Carolina consumers. And the question was, which ways are your preferred methods of taking in communication on topics like COVID-19? And so this is broken out by age on here, but for example for consumers who are 65 plus, video is how they primarily want to receive information. And then for the age group of 18 to 34 and for the age group, 35 to 54 infographics is the number one way. So that's, you know, helpful to us because then it guides our team in terms of exactly how should we be presenting this information to people.

Lisa Schiller: Yeah. And then in terms of research, something else that we're doing is we, you know, knowing that internal communication is as important as it is. We wanted to also make sure that that people were feeling informed that they, we wanted to make sure that the communication they received were receiving, was clear and effective. We wanted to understand in terms of the communication that we were sending out, which was most useful to them. And so we conducted an internal pulse survey around, around UNC Health and received very good information from that. So not only we focused on the external audience in terms of, of surveying and listening, but we're doing that on an internal basis as well. And again, that's something else I'd be happy to share with our members. It was a really short, quick survey monkey that we sent around. But I think it's important to understand, make sure these messages that we're distributing, are having, you know, people are hearing them and understanding them.

Diane Webber: That's great. So now that you've been through several weeks of preparing in different stages, and as you said, you've been learning as you go and you're learning to be agile. What are some things that you did early on and other things that may maybe you have shifted into that you started to do differently? What have you learned in the process?

Lisa Schiller: I would say early on we were sending out way too many communications. It was almost a little scattered, I would say it was not our you know, was definitely something that we needed to improve upon. And so now we have a structure in place for communication and we really stick to it. We have communicated our deadlines to everyone in the organization that needs to know. And we're sticking with those. We've also created, so we we've embedded two of our communicators. We've embedded with human resources because that's a busy work stream for us. We've embedded some our communicators in with the ambulatory group. They do a lot in terms of our patient communication with My Chart and other things so that we're helping right. And make sure that any message that goes out considers the voice of the patient in them. And then most recently, one of the things that we've done is to change how what we're doing, is we've created what I would call more of a news room type of structure. And we've had this, it's funny to think it's, you know, since our days, our days seem to fall together half the time, I don't know what day of the week it is.

And this has only been a few weeks. It feels like it's been months already. But we've created a structure that, you know, we're like, let's not reinvent the wheel. Newsrooms are 24 hour operations. Let's behave more like a newsroom. So the evening before from our internal team and then from our external team, I'll call them our News team. I get a chart that lists the content links we have it in a headline. Who's working on it? Who's the subject matter expert? When is it going out? I have a have a whole chart because then in the morning, at eight o'clock in the morning, I sit with our leadership team, including our CEO to go over what we're doing for the day and then I'm able to bring, let them know what it is we're working on. If for example, there's something that we need to push off or we shouldn't be working on in addition to additions to the list, I get them in that meeting and then when that meeting is over, then I have a phone call with our leads in internal and external, and I'm able to say, yep, go forth. Everything on the list is good. Hey, let's add. This is going to be something that we're working on at leadership level. Let's add this to our list. And it's really a much better organized structure for us to be working through it. Not only good for our team, but it's good for the organization as well. I'll say, I think there's, I'm trying to think of some other helpful hints and one of the things we learned, so as we have gotten.

Diane Webber: So real quick on the news room situation, so is that newsroom model is it a daily scenario? Where in the evening. Things are being prepared. Yeah. Okay, great to know, and sounds like a successful approach for you there I didn't want to keep you too long, but please feel free to continue your thought there. But I did want to get some insight on YouTube from you too as to how, how you're sustaining through all this and how you're sustaining your team in terms of support and encouragement and how is your team doing through all this?

Lisa Schiller: I will, I'll get to that. I'll, I'll end on that. But real quickly because it's a helpful tip I wanted to share. You know, as we've gotten to the place where we have many fewer members of our team, most members of the team are working from home right now. Of course, you know, we're part of incident command and so we've got a couple members of our team that are staffed in command centers, but for the most part, everybody's working from home. And as more and more of us work from home, what we decided to do was to and we don't have our video people here all the time from our video team. We're starting to use, there's an app, there's an app you can get on your iPad. It's a video teleprompter app and there's a free version so it doesn't cost anything. And we tested it out last week with our CEO. So rather than having someone come in who didn't need to actually be here, we tested it out. It actually worked great. He did, he gave his weekly message with it. And then it's, you can, he can either just talk, you can, you know, your subject matter expert can talk into it or you could run script on it. And it doesn't look like they're reading anything.

And then what I simply did, once we had that, I downloaded it, it downloaded into my photos and then I uploaded it to our video person who put our logo at the end and put our CEO's name under his picture or his face on the first screen. And then the video the company's logo was in the bottom right corner. He kind of took that out. And so that's something if you're looking for a quick way to get video whether it's scripted or unscripted, that's a really good solution. But let me, and I'll end with our team and how our team is doing, and how we're you know, I mentioned that we've got the majority of our teammates on the marketing communications team working from home right now. And so there's a few things that we're doing. We have a daily call with the entire team and it's a 30 minute phone call and we have an agenda for it. And that is one way to keep people connected. Something else that I personally am doing, I'm sending out two emails a week.

I have my Sunday email that tends to be a little bit longer. And then I have another email toward the end of the week. And so they're sometimes they've got subjects to them. Well, one I sent out yesterday to everybody was the subject line was, what gives what gives me comfort? And so I went on about the things that give me comfort during this and then at the end ask people to share there's. One of the things we did on Friday, we did our first virtual happy hour. So Friday at 5:30 I had on my computer screen, you know, pictures of everybody. I was, unfortunately, I was still at work, so I wasn't, I was drinking a bottle of water, but everyone else was at home and we were socializing and having a virtual happy hour. I try to call, every day I try to call at least one person from the team just to check in. Someone I might not normally be working with.

Because you know, during this time it's important to keep our teams engaged and connected at the time that they could feel isolated. A lot of people aren't used to working at home and not having people around them. So I try to say thank you as often as I can and thank people for what they're doing. And also I have found over the last three weeks that I've probably delegated more than I ever have in my career. And now is the time to do that, to trust your teams, we have we have fabulous people on our team and they're also capable. And everything is moving so fast that we just need people to make decisions. And I know they're, I know they'll make good decisions and move on with the work. And so we've been doing that, but it's, you know, you definitely have to be intentional about staying in communication with your teammates. And that's something that's definitely top of mind for me.

Diane Webber: Wow. Well that's a great insight, Lisa. Clearly not only are you helping your community understand what's going on and your internal teams from a clinical and operational and safety standpoint, but you're recognizing there's a bit of humanness that needs to be addressed as well. And I'm sure it's very much appreciated by your team. So let me thank you on behalf of all our SHSMD members and the AHA audiences as well. You took time out of your extremely busy schedule to share with us what you're doing and it's been phenomenal, really useful. So thank you and we appreciate everything that you're doing and we are very proud to be working with you and having you on our board and having you be willing to share these stories with us. So if you have any closing comments, now's the time.

Lisa Schiller: No, I would just say thank you for the opportunity to share some of our learnings with our membership. I would just say continue to appropriately physically distance yourself from people. Wash your hands for 20 seconds. I hope everybody stays well and my thoughts are with, with all of all of our colleagues as we as we get through this time together.

Diane Webber: Excellent. And to our listeners today, please visit where you can read more about Lisa's story and others who are sharing what they're doing to help manage the COVID crisis and please take care and thank you for all that you're doing as well. Bye bye now.

Bill Klaproth: Thanks for listening and know that we are thinking of you during these unprecedented times. For general updates and resources on COVID-19 head to and visit for a collection of specific COVID-19 resources for strategists.