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May 15, 2019 Shownotes:

What sets Sharp HealthCare, a leading provider in the San Diego area, apart from the rest? They design lobbies that don’t feel like hospitals, they deliver flowers to patients that don’t have any, they create an expectation and a level of care that’s different. That’s #TheSharpExperience, which is used not as a marketing campaign but as the ethos of the organization. Find out more about this consumer-first experience on Part One of The 19: Healthcare with Sharp Healthcare’s Chief Marketing Officer, Jim Nuckols.


Host Intro:

Hi, this is Michelle Torr, Account Director at Orange Label. Today on The 19: Healthcare, I’m joined by Jim Nuckols, Chief Marketing Officer of Sharp Healthcare. Sharp is a leading healthcare provider in San Diego with four acute care hospitals, three specialty hospitals, three affiliated medical groups and a full suite of services and facilities. Now what really sets Sharp apart is a progressive and prioritized approach to the patient experience, which puts the consumer first and foremost at all times. From the very first Google search to one-to-one patient-physician interactions and nurturing the patient relationship beyond just a single episode of care. In today’s Part One with Jim Nuckols, he shares how the Sharp Experience guides the health system’s marketing strategy, from media to messaging to measurement. Hi Jim, thanks for joining us on Part One of this series on The 19.

Jim: Great to be here. Eager to talk about marketing and healthcare, my two favorite subjects.

Host: One of the things that you started talking about is the Sharp Experience. How would you describe that Sharp Experience?

Jim: So, the Sharp Experience is a combination of kind of the technology and clinical expertise, the level of extraordinary caring that really sticks out to people, and it’s a culture that’s been created over a long time. There’s no instance fix, but about 17 years ago, the leadership of Sharp at the time mobilized around this idea of completely transforming the healthcare experience to be the best place to receive care, the best place to practice as a physician and the best place to work as an employee, but that involves a lot of different projects and a lot of different ways to transform the culture, ultimately with the aim of transforming the care– what people experience when they are at Sharp. In the last 17 years, we have grown market share every single year. It’s almost mathematically impossible, but we have done it and the Sharp Experience is known in the community. I looked at some data that we had run a couple of years ago and over 70% of San Diegans recognized the Sharp Experience. And what does that mean? Well, there’s a few must-haves at Sharp. For example, when you are talking to someone and finishing conversation, it always has to be like this: “Is there anything else I can do for you? I have the time.” Now, how often do you get that on the phone with your credit card company, a bank or whatever problem.

Host: Never.

Jim: Exactly. So, it really stands out and if you’re getting help from a Sharp person, that needs to be what happens. Another simple thing is we never point. We always take. There’s a famous story… our corporate headquarters is not near one of the hospitals, but our CEO Mike Murphey was out in front of the corporate office and this woman pulled up who was going to have a baby and she was looking for Sharp Mary Birch, which is our big birthing hospital, and he drove in is car, had her follow him to Sharp Mary Birch, which is about five miles away. So, you know, you don’t point someone to the bathroom or point someone down the hall. I had a visitor yesterday and after our meeting, I walked him downstairs. Simple things like that, but that all kind of adds up and there’s many other must-haves to a different kind of care, how we organize. We also focus on what we call the Experience Economy, which is sort of the next level of differentiation and everything from lobbies that don’t feel like hospitals. In our Coronado Hospital, the volunteers are baking chocolate chip cookies most days. So, the smell that you get when you go into the hospital is chocolate chip cookies. At Grossmont, the gardeners they had the idea—they got these extra clippings from the flowers, once they gather them, they go in and they give bouquets to patients that don’t have any. You know, those kinds of things happening all around the system, create just an expectation and a level of care that’s different and it gets expressed how we treat each other as employees, as well. Once that was established as we could really deliver it and shown in satisfaction scores and those kinds of things, it really became the central part of our marketing campaign, which was really—it’s not our marketing campaign, it’s our ethos as an organization. And we created a documentary, called Stories of the Sharp Experience, initially just for employees to show amazing stories of care and to demonstrate, “here’s what the Sharp Experience means to us. Here’s how you deliver the Sharp Experience.” It’s usually a half-hour documentary, it has three to five amazing stories of healing and caring, and it was so good that we decided to start airing it on television. So, we actually now run that documentary on local television and this last year actually, the ratings on it, I mean we get better ratings than the network programming that’s going up against us. It’s way different than a 30-second ad, we look at kind of the minute-by-minute ratings and how well people stay in and it’s pretty impressive. So, we’re getting some big audiences learning about the Sharp Experience. So, it’s the core of our brand, it’s the core of our message. Yeah, we need to keep freshening it, we need the consumer element of it now. It’s who we are.

Host: Well that is a large philosophy and it’s admirable and I would imagine at times when the pressure’s on, when things are feeling more difficult that it would be easy for that to fall and slip through the cracks, so how is it that you and your team has managed to keep that ethos alive and so strong, even when the pressure’s present?

Jim: That’s a good question, but it’s been exemplified, you know from leadership on down. I will say Sharp also has a very strong financial discipline. I mean we are very disciplined that way and we’re kind of the most healthy financially of all the systems here in San Diego and even in California. I think we’re only one of two systems that have kind of a “Double A” rating from standard to poor here in California. It’s not like we do a lot of fluff and lose money, we’re very focused on financial discipline. But that actually is one of our pillars. The Sharp Experience has seven pillars. One of them is finance, but it’s also service, safety, quality. And I think that it’s just, from the top there’s a commitment, we’re not going to relent on this. We bring all 18,000 employees together once a year down at the convention center, I mean that’s a couple of million dollars, it’s a big expense, but we do it. We bring all 1,500 of our leaders together every quarter down at one of the big hotels in town and it’s a big commitment of time and expense, but it’s a signal that you know, this is important and we’re not going to relent on it. A lot of people, hospital systems from around the country, come to Sharp and say, “the Sharp Experience thing, we’d like to do that.” And we give them the whole run down, we’re very open about sharing and our Chief Experience Officer has a whole presentation she does. We’re always thinking in the back of our heads, “they don’t realize how hard this is.” I mean, they’re not going to come in, it’s not like a year-long thing. It’s totally transforming the way you do things and we’ve stuck to it. So, we need to keep renewing it.

Host: From a marketing perspective ensuring the Sharp Experience, what marketing strategies have you found to be most successful in sharing that message?

Jim: The most successful is sharing the stories. Be a storyteller. We have become really good storytellers. In fact, Rich Badami, he and his group are master storytellers. They’re the producers of the Stories of the Sharp Experience. Now obviously, with all of the digital options that there are, short snippets of these stories, but it’s really about storytelling. Now, there is a risk. You’d see a lot of hospital advertising that’s talking about the great cure and things like that, I think our documentary gives us kind of a unique platform that you really don’t see anywhere else. It’s kind of an immersive experience, but even in our shorts, our thirties, we’re telling stories. This last year, it was basically, what we were looking for was a physician and a patient that had a moment together that really was defining for them and we got these physicians, we picked about six physicians and we asked them to think about a patient where they had a moment like that. And then we just got them talking for about a half day and it was all authentic, not scripted, but it always came to a point where there was just this incredible connection between the patient and the physician. And Rich and his team, Mike, his son and his team now, were able to capture it in just an incredible way. But it’s all about the actual story, authentic storytelling, we believe, is the best way to communicate the Sharp Experience. Television and video are such a good way to tell stories, we used that more than anyone else in the market and we’ve continued to invest in it pretty heavily and feel like we need to. But we have to do all the other things. I would say another way we try to make it very personal is we do put a big emphasis on getting people in front of our physicians. So, “come have your own Sharp Experience,” you know. Are you experiencing knee pain? And so, we have knee pain seminars for joint replacement, hip pain, AFib, whatever it might be, and we bring them in. We’ll get 50-60 people, and we have one of our top physicians talking about all of our different options, they have a Q&A with the physician afterwards. I mean, it’s not something you usually can get.

Host: Mhm.

Jim: And then we do the same thing in the Medicare realm. There it’s not with a physician, but we have experts in Medicare because there’s such a boom of people aging into Medicare now that we try to make that very personal as well, and be there to answer their questions, and make Medicare somehow understandable.

Host: Yeah.

Jim: So, personal and storytelling, I think would be if you were to put a little umbrella around our marketing efforts that’s I’d say, two guiding principles. I will say upcoming is going to be all of the convenience factors. First we have to be able to deliver on them better, which we’re getting to, but once we can, you can believe I’m going to hit that really, really hard because that’s the key barrier for people is, “make it easy for me.”

Host: So, what are the ways now that you’re measuring and tracking the success of your marketing strategies?

Jim: So, we have several key measures. One is in patient discharges. So, what is our hospital volume? And then because we’re a very highly managed care market, so what enrollments do we have in our managed care programs? And that’s especially important in our physician groups. But then one other near measure… our call to action and pretty much all of our advertising, everything we do is, “pick a Sharp physician.” You’re gateway to a Sharp Experience is through a Sharp physician. If you want a “Sharp Experience,” choose a doctor at Sharp. So, our “find a doc” tool has been copied all over the country, it’s very good, most people have them now, but that’s one of the key measures is how many people came to and did a search on “find a doc?” So that’s one of our keys, more near in measures of how effective our campaigns are, and when I say campaign, that includes everything: paid search, social, because everything is driving to that call to action. This last year, we were at like 1.2 million times that someone searched for a physician on So, that’s a lot of people. I mean, there’s 3.4 million people in San Diego, so that’s a big chunk of them that have gone onto and looked for a physician. And then we measure individual campaigns … we have a CRM system in place and so we measure encounters and ultimately downstream revenue for all of our key initiatives.

Host: So, downstream revenue is one of the areas where I’ve seen many hospitals face challenges in capturing a lead in a sense and getting them to engage in your website or steps, but then how to connect that to the financial side and actually be able to track and document the financial ROI in a campaign. What systems or practices have you put into place to allow that to happen?

Jim: So, we have a pretty extensive system in place. We are using LionShare for our CRM. If there’s any campaign where we can capture their basic information, we can track the downstream encounters. I mean, we have the data, we know if they went to one of our hospitals, if they went to one of our medical groups, went to clinic, what they did, if they signed up. So, if we can get their information, we can track the downstream. Now you can’t track the downstream for every ad you’re putting on television, right? I mean, I’ve been 40 years trying to figure out how to do that. So, you really can’t capture that perfectly, but if we get someone’s info, we’re tracking their downstream impact on this.

Host: The implementation of a CRM system in itself is quite a feat. A lot of resources in terms of time and energy. How did you get the buy in to put that system into place?

Jim: Actually, we didn’t find a lot of resistance. I think people recognized how important it was and how much we wanted to be able to measure our efforts and also to organize our efforts and have nurturing campaigns. I mean there’s some pretty good data. We’re already bringing a lot of people in and for example having an effective, nurturing campaign for them afterwards, I mean the returns on those are pretty clear. So, I’d say it was not a very hard sell. Implementation is not easy, and we have some dedicated resources within our digital team that are focused on that. We did get buy in from other parts of the organization that you know – this is the way we’re going to do it; we’re not going to have multiple ones of these. So, I think that’s been a pretty clear sell within Sharp.

Host: Jim, thank you so much for joining us on The 19.

Jim: Thanks, it’s been a pleasure.

Host Close:

Thank you for listening to The 19 Healthcare Part One with Jim Nuckols, Chief Marketing Officer of Sharp Healthcare. Tune in next time to find out how Jim’s background in consumer products and software has propelled Sharp’s transformation in healthcare consumerism.

Recorded Close:

This was The 19, brought to you by Orange Label. If you’re interested in more healthcare response marketing, visit our blog and subscribe to our content, where we share our response marketing expertise on current healthcare industry topics. Visit for all the details.

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