SPEAKER: Could you please state your job title and the kind of organization where you work?
SPEAKER: I am a marketing manager for a healthcare system.
SPEAKER: Great. How long has it been since you graduated from undergrad?
SPEAKER: Ten years.
SPEAKER: And how long have you worked in your current field?
SPEAKER: In my current position or in my current, just areas–
SPEAKER: In my current position for four years, and i n healthcare marketing for eight years.
SPEAKER: Okay, perfect, okay. Could you provide just a brief description of your primary job functions?
SPEAKER: Sure. I manage marketing for again, a health care organization, and I manage service line marketing. So what that means is there a specific area within a healthcare organization that I’m assigned to manage all of their marketing, advertising, branding, and promotion.
SPEAKER: Gotcha. Could you estimate, in an average week, what percentage of your job requires writing?
SPEAKER: lot. Probably I would say maybe 60, 70 percent. A. lot. Yeah
SPEAKER: Okay, okay. What forms or types of writing are you asked to produce?
SPEAKER: Everything from advertising – so advertising copy – so that can be print advertising, radio, out-of-home like billboards, metro ads, things like that, to outcomes reports, which are very clinical in nature, to patient education materials, which are very black and white. So something like, “You’re coming to the hospital for X procedure. Park in this parking garage, go to this entrance, check in at this desk, bring this with you. “
SPEAKER: Interesting. Okay.
SPEAKER: And then e-mails of course [chuckle].
SPEAKER: Right okay [chuckle]. Can you walk me through the process for maybe a recent project, or a type of project even, starting from sort of how that assignment or task comes to you, what do you do to prepare the writing, and any steps of like revision or editing after that?
SPEAKER: Sure. Well every job is a little bit different. Typically what happens is my marking department typically kind of functions as kind of an in-house agency for our clients if you will. So my clients will come to me and they’ll say, “Hey we want a brochure on this new service that we’re going to launch. ” Sometimes they will have already provided that copy for me and all I do is refine it and make it a little more user friendly. Sometimes I get bullet points of what they want to highlight. Sometimes I get nothing. So it really, really just depends. A recent example we did just a quick little just trifold brochure on a new program that s launching as part of our Women’s and Children’s Services focused on breastfeeding. Didn’t have any particular copy that they wanted to cover, so I literally sat down and I Googled facts about breastfeeding, kind of reworked those into some user friendly language, sent them off to my clients in the clinical realm, had them review, tweak as needed. Then I take their revisions back and kind of finesse them a bit for readability, and then repeat that process again until everyone’s happy.
SPEAKER: Gotcha. Okay. All right, that’s great. How did you know how to perform these types of writing?
SPEAKER: I didn’t, to be quite honest with you. It was a lot of trial by fire. It was a lot of kind of learn as you go. It’s always helpful when the clients that I work with at least have some kind of idea of what they want to say, and they don’t always provide that to me in writing. Again, sometimes they will lay out all of this text for me and they want me to print that verbatim which we can’t do, or sometimes they’ll give me like three or four bullets, or sometimes they’ll just say, “I think we should talk about this. ” And whenever I get a little bit of direction that’s always more helpful, because I feel like it streamlines the process. But a lot of times I don’t, and a lot of times I’m just kind of again, I’m literally Googling medical conditions and trying to webmd my way into something that’s readable. So there was a really steep learning curve when I joined the organization of how do I write this correctly? How do I write it succinctly, and how to w rite it at a reading level that consumers who are exposed to it will understand? Because especially in healthcare it can get really, really technical and really a high level really, really fast.
SPEAKER: Yeah, and that makes me think about this – so it seems like your audiences are pretty varied?
SPEAKER: Can you talk about maybe some different types of audiences that you’re writing to?
SPEAKER: Sure, sure. My audiences vary from physician-facing pieces which again are very, very clinical, that have these huge like 25 cent words that I don’t know how to say or spell o r anything, all the way down to again, that straight up patient education of, “You’re going to go in for this surgery. This is where the cafeteria is located. This is the parking garage you need to park i n. This is what you need to bring with you on the day of surgery. ” So it really kind of runs the gamut and especially in an area as diverse, as this where English is not everyone’s first language, we always try as an organization to be super, super mindful to keep that reading level at a place that’s accessible for a lot of people.
SPEAKER: That’s great. So that’s sort of a conscious, or like explicit conversation, when you’re–
SPEAKER: Absolutely. And I talk a lot with folks in my organization, especially that are clinical, who are very, very head down into what they do and sometimes that’s a tough conversation to say, “This is all great, however we really, really need to broaden the scope because a layman isn’t going to understand these terms. “
SPEAKER: So I always I say to them, “Dumb it down for me. Something that like a fifth grader would. understand “
SPEAKER: Right. Gotcha. Interesting. Can you describe a time – you talked a little bit about this – but can you describe a time in your career where you felt unprepared as a writer at work?
SPEAKER: I think it kind of goes back to that– and mine’s very specific because it’s such a specific niche, but a lot of the health care writing that we’re asked to do can get really, really technical, and I don’t have clinical background, my colleagues that I work with don’t have clinical background, we’re all marketers. So again, it goes back to us trying to kind of decipher these huge medical terms and these huge medical words, and figuring out a) what it means, how do we make it user friendly? And that’s because I don’t think I was ever trained to do that. It was just kind of something that I had to figure out on the fly.
SPEAKER: Okay. Were there certain strategies or things that you did to try to get up to speed in doing those?
SPEAKER: I would typically just, I would bug people to be honest with you. I would knock on doors, I would say, “Hey I’ve got this content here, this is great. Can you explain to me what you mean by this sentence? Can you tell me this? ” And a lot of that was just I kind of absorbed it through osmosis, if you will, to kind of get up to speed really quickly on what these people were talking about. And that’s hard because it’s really, really technical. But it was a lot of kind of in your face, “I don’t understand this. Help me understand thi s so I can write about it. “
SPEAKER: That’s. And this is going back a few questions, but I feel like I have to ask a followup question. So let’s talk about this breastfeeding brochure.
SPEAKER: So when you’re tasked with this, and you’re not given any of the information, what is the client hoping to achieve if it’s– because when I hear, “Oh I was tasked with creating t his like breastfeeding pamphlet for presumably new families and others, ” I think, “Oh there is some information that specific that they want these people to have. ” But it doesn’t sound like that’s the case. So what do you think the intention was from your client?
SPEAKER: Well, you know, and that’s really on a case by case basis. So again, some of these materials can be physician-focused, for the purpose of driving referrals, saying, “Hey I have a new physician coming in offering this service, refer her new moms to me who are having trouble breastfeeding. ” And sometimes it’s, “Oh hey, your a new mom, you just had a baby, you’re leaving the hospital, here’s a pamphlet if you ever have trouble. ” The challenge there is you don’t always know what their goal is. So I always try to make it a point to say, “Hey, do you envision this being a piece focused on physicians as your audience, or patients as your audience? ” Sometimes the answer is both, which makes it a little more tough, because you want to try to get those high level clinical things that a physician will respond to while keeping it as accessible as you can.
SPEAKER: Gotcha. That’s really complicated.
SPEAKER: Yeah, okay. Is there anyone who specifically oversees your writing?
SPEAKER: Not anyone in particular. There is not like a dedicated editor or a dedicated copywriter that funnels all of our work. The approval process typically goes, I will draft the content, I will send it back to the clinical person, or whoever my point of contact for this particular job is, for their review. They will typically make edits depending on the person or the job that– those can be pages and pages of edits, where they basically rewrite every hing or to, “Oh hey I think we should add this line in. ” So it just, it really kind of depends on the day and what the job is. After that’s done, I mean it’s really me. I’m proofreading my own work, I’m looking at things. We work with the graphic design department who are also in-house; those folks will proof sometimes, but again that’s not their primary role, but you know they’ll catch things, you know like, “Oh hey, you know this sentence doesn’t make sense. Can you check it out again? ” But again, there’s nobody dedicated to proofing that.
SPEAKER: Got it. I’m sure this varies project to project, but how long do you typically have to complete a writing project?
SPEAKER: It does depend. Typically I want to say, maybe depending on the job, like a week or two?
SPEAKER: Okay. Thinking back to college, what kinds of writing do you remember being asked to create as a student, and in what ways do you think your college writing experience has prepared or did not prepare you for this kind of work?
SPEAKER: Very good question. I mean did a lot of– I mean always kind of the standard like, let me write a paper on this book that I read, which is fine. And then specifically in comms class it was a lot of –
SPEAKER: Were you a communications major?
SPEAKER: I was. It was a communications major. Okay. It was a
SPEAKER: It was a lot of papers about communication styles and different – again communication styles – ways to communicate, even like I took a PR class where we drafted press releases and those formats are always so different no matter where you go, that, I mean, it was good to kind of have like a good skeleton of what one looked like. But again, every job I’ve been in, it had a different format.
SPEAKER: Interesting. That’s fascinating to me. Sorry I’m just going to digress for a second [laughter]. I think the thing that’s so interesting is, I think we theoretically know that, and yet I think most business writing classes, or like tangentially related to business writing classes, still teach like, “This is a form, and you’ll be asked to write this form in the workplace. ” And we know t hat some of those are outdated, like the memo. Or the memo at least looks very different than you know, most people are taught. But so even in a pretty explicit PR class, the forms that you learned didn’t match up with what you found in the workplace?
SPEAKER: N o it didn’t match up exactly. And I think that varies from organization to organization. Everybody tries to put their own mark on a standard press release, for example, just because I can speak to that better than anything else. I mean there’s standard, you know, insignia and protocol that go on those, but even that is changing. And again, it was helpful to kind of have a little bit of background on it, like I remember my first job out of college when my boss said, “Hey, draft me a press release on this. ” Like I knew basically what I was looking at, but again, it wasn’t a carbon copy of it. I could kind of fumble my way through it, but I had to really kind of get in the groove and learn specifically from organization to organization.
SPEAKER: Perfect. Are there things that would have been useful for you to do or learn as a student that would’ve prepared you?
SPEAKER: I think, and I don’t know if this would have been an appropriate part of my major but I think having more discussion in school about relationship building with your clients, because I feel like, you know, in any industry you have a client of some form. And I was never really taught how to manage those people and how to kind of set expectations and goals immediately with those people who I’m have working for.
SPEAKER: Yeah, yeah. T hat’s interesting. What is at stake in your writing?
SPEAKER: Well depending on who you ask, I mean, well and actually no, I take that back, because depending on what we’re drafting, I mean a lot I can be at stake. I mean, you know, I even get as granular as like NPO guidelines for presurgery. And what that means is like–
SPEAKER: What’s NPO stand for?
SPEAKER: It’s like food and water, like nothing by mouth prior to X amount of hours before your surgery. And while t hat’s supposed to be communicated to a patient through their clinical person, whether that’s a nurse, or the physician assistant or whoever, you know, oftentimes they get a booklet, and they’re like, “I’ll look at this later, ” and then it’s the night before their procedure, and they’re like, “Oh yeah, when was I supposed to stop eating or when was I supposed to stop drinking? ” So getting those really kind of clinical things right is really, really important. And in my line of work we really rely on our clinical counterparts to provide that information accurately to us. And I mean stuff has slipped before, in you know, in my experience and you know, you just correct it as quickly as you can and move on. And then I can get it very very frivolous too. I mean it can get, you know, you put an extra letter on the back of someone’s name and you know, the world has fallen apart But I mean, and that, again that goes down to proofing
SPEAKER: Okay. What would you say is the most difficult thing about writing in your specific position?
SPEAKER: I think the most difficult thing is – I mean, can I say two things?
SPEAKER: Of course. I
SPEAKER: I think the first thing is again, kind of what we talked about of not always having a dedicated direction or not even having anything to kind of jump off from, and like I’m literally staring at a blank piece of paper again Googling breastfeeding. Like I know nothing about breastfeeding, I don’t know. And I m looking at WebMD trying to figure out how I can regurgitate this in an appropriate way. I think the other challenge is – and this is an internal thing, I don’t know if this is the same way for everybody – but we often have kind of approval by committee, if you will, in a lot of writing that we do. So if you show 15 people, you know, the same piece of collateral, they’re going to make 15 different changes. And everybody’s a writer, everybody does marketing, and that can be tough, kind of trying to juggle everyone’s expectations while still making it the way that I know as a marketer it should be.
SPEAKER: How do you manage all that feedback?
SPEAKER: You don’t always, to be honest with you. I try to kind of pick my battles on that. But sometimes I don’t win. I’ve had many a situation where, you know, I have said to my clients who I really feel strongly about including this or not including it, and I don’t win all the time. And you just have to let it go.
SPEAKER: Okay. Has anyone helped you at your organization with your writing, formally or informally?
SPEAKER: No. No one has helped me [chuckle].
SPEAKER: Okay, very strong answer there
. How do you believe you’ve evolved or improved as a writer over the course of your career?
SPEAKER: I think that I’ve improved greatly since I, you know, since my first job, you know, off the boat, if you will. I think that I’ve learned to do things really quickly but without sacrificing accuracy, if that make sense. Just because, we have, you know, as everybody does, we have a million things f lying at us as a department every day, so you’ve got t o get it done, and you can’t waste you know half a day working on one project. So I’ve learned to really kind of edit myself, in the sense that I don’t want t his to be too wordy, I want this to be to the point. I don’t want to use ten words when four words will do, but I have to get right. So I’ve learned, I think editing is the biggest thing that I’ve learned.
SPEAKER: To what extent do you think writing is valued in your organization?
SPEAKER: lot actually, a lot. A lot of what we do is writing based, whether that’s, you know, a piece of direct mail that we send out or a newsletter that we write or again, a piece of advertising that we do, a radio script. So they put a big kind of value on that from a marketing standpoint.
SPEAKER: Great. And the last set of questions. How would you have defined successful writing as a student versus successful writing now? And would you say that you are a successful workplace writer?
SPEAKER: How would define successful writing as a student – I would say something that would get me a good grade, and something that I feel like I didn’t have the kind of kill myself to understand, if that made sense. Like I feel like writing assignments in college, like a lot of them would come really naturally to me, like we would get a prompt and I was like, “Oh, I know I’m going to write about. I get it. I got it. Here it is. ” And I would usually do alright. And then I would get writing prompts where I’d be like, “I don’t even know where to start on this. ” And sometimes it would go really, really bad, and other times when I felt like I kind of b s ‘d my way through it I would actually do a great job. And I think successful writing now kind of looks like, again, how can I make this as accurate and as accessible as I can while still finding that balance between what I know as a quote unquote marketing professional to be the right way to do this, versus balancing kind of the powers that be politically in my organization and what they want to see. So it’s really kind of about all making sure we, you know, play nice in the sandbox together. It’s a lot of, you know, people kind of all want their own, you know, stamp on everything and want to make sure that their specialty is mentioned, they want to make sure that their name is underlined, and that’s not always the right answer. So just kind of picking my battles there. It’s a lot of like, who has a bigger slice of birthday cake, you know what I mean?
SPEAKER: Okay, yeah, yeah
SPEAKER: And what was your other question, sorry?
SPEAKER: Would you say you are a successful workplace writer?
SPEAKER: I would like to think so. I think that f rom where I started and where I am now I’ve definitely improved. I don’t think that I’m perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but I think that – I would like to think anyway – that I’ve found that fine line of not spending a ton of time on a project if it’s not warranted, but still making sure that the content that I put out is quality.
Tags: health sciences, healthcare, management, marketing