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How AdventHealth’s Revamped Digital Marketing Strategy Prepared the Organization for the Pandemic

Just a few short years ago, hospital giant AdventHealth didn’t have a centralized digital marketing team and the organization was in need of a strategy refresh. The Orlando, Florida-area health system decided to reinvent its approach by creating an entirely new department in 2016 that has since grown substantially.  AdventHealth added a number of new functions — including reputation management, digital strategy, SEO and content strategists — and tapped industries outside of health care for new leaders, with a strong consumer mindset.

Previously, the system’s efforts were more decentralized and focused around different regions, but its new structure is just the opposite, with a digital-first mindset. “We decided to reboot everything, bring in a team of subject matter experts and build out a new department that would service the entire company in a very efficient way,” said Anthony Cadieux, AdventHealth’s executive director of digital marketing, who joined the system after previously working for Ritz-Carlton.

Cadieux and colleague Brandi West, head of digital brand and content strategy, are slated to share their story as part of SHSMD Connection 2020 Bytes, a virtual event scheduled for Oct. 26-28, that will also be available on-demand beginning in November.

During the session — titled “Digital Marketing: Planning for the Unplanned” — the team will explore their methods of building out the team from scratch, its various components, and how the work helped prepare them for today’s crisis. They’ll also delve into some of the critical marketing technology tools (including social media monitoring and consumer segmentation software), digital strategies and results from the first four years, providing a few “thought starts” to guide your own process.

A New Digital Marketing Mindset

At the beginning of their journey four years ago, AdventHealth leaders quickly determined that they needed to restructure their digital marketing to align several key disciplines that included data analytics, content development, media relations, reputation management, SEO, social media, strategy and the web.

Hiring outside of the health care realm was one of the key success factors, Cadieux said, as was gaining early C-suite buy in. “We realized that the necessary digital marketing SMEs didn’t exist at the organization. Within the digital marketing space in 2016, health care was pacing behind other verticals,” he said, pointing to industries such as retail and hospitality, which Advent targeted for talent.

Centralizing Health System Marketing Key to Success

Before the restructuring process, all of the health system’s marketing teams were “largely decentralized,” West added. Having that guiding hub in the middle has meant much tighter communications throughout the system that includes nearly 50 hospitals and 80,000 caregivers. It also allowed AdventHealth leaders to quickly identify any trending opportunities across content and media so they could deploy tactics for “maximum impact across the enterprise.”

Back in January, when COVID-19 began emerging in the U.S., AdventHealth was already tracking data and building out its potential strategy. When the World Health Organization declared a pandemic, the system activated its digital response, immediately building a Coronavirus Resource Hub on its website.

“That really solidified our presence as a thought leader and resource for consumers around everything COVID at a time when there were so many unknowns,” said West, who comes from an e-commerce background.

As part of staffing-up a few years ago, AdventHealth also added experts in search engine optimization, and that’s empowered the system to constantly track trends during the pandemic, Cadieux added. With an early reading of the tea leaves in March, marketing leaders were prepared for the impending explosion of virtual care. Ultimately, they created a dynamic set of messages that addressed various consumer segments to help meet their current needs and drive them to the best option of care, West said

Pivoting to Telehealth

“We made a very intentional pivot — and I think many organizations are now there today — around our telehealth marketing strategy when we saw the trend coming, before it really spiked,” Cadieux said. Since then, it’s gone on to become one of the most successful digital marketing campaigns in the hospital system’s history, “significantly” beating prior benchmarks, including a more than 40 percent conversion rate in paid search.

“I really think that’s because of the structure that we had in place, which allowed us to very quickly activate something like this, based on the trends we were seeing in the marketplace,” he added. Many consumers, they noticed, were not even sure where or how to seek care, so AdventHealth shifted its content approach to educate patients on the best pathways to find the information or services they needed amid the pandemic, West said.

Absent having that centralized infrastructure, AdventHealth likely would have had all of its scattered regional teams attempting to respond to the pandemic on their own in piecemeal fashion. When the situation began to snowball, online mentions of the system quadrupled. Without that foundation, West believes their response likely would have been challenging.

“If we didn’t have the structure in place to be able to quickly advance those conversations, do service recovery and ensure that our brand was represented well online, then we wouldn’t have been able to handle that influx of volume,” West said.

Lessons Learned

Here are a few lessons learned that West and Cadieux shared from their experience:

  1. Hiring digital subject matter experts is a key to success. Within or outside of health care is less relevant, but in their experience the talent was found outside of health care.
  2. Executive leadership buy-in and support is crucial, both for the building of the team and adoption of the tactics and strategies across the system.
  3. Futureproof your tech stack and recruit SMEs who can optimize the tools for maximum potential. Often organizations either don’t invest in the tools or don’t know how to use them. 
  4. Build resources with contingencies in mind, knowing crises can and will occur, so you can remain flexible to accommodate future unknowns. 

This article features interviews with:

Brandi West
Executive Director, Digital Brand and Content Strategy
Altamonte Springs, Florida

Anthony Cadieux
Executive Director, Digital Marketing
Altamonte Springs, Florida

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