Pro Tips for Flu Shot Marketing in the COVID-19 Era

For most hospitals and health systems, flu shot marketing is a staple on the seasonal content calendar. This year, the stakes are much higher, and the flu-related content shared with your community can have a major impact on avoiding a “twindemic” as COVID-19 continues to spread.

Here are the ways we’re guiding healthcare clients in creating effective flu shot marketing content during the COVID-19 era:

Follow the Guidelines

With so many theories surrounding the pandemic, content related to the flu should adhere to CDC guidelines and be tailored to unique needs within your local market. Your website and social pages should offer guidance on why, how, when and where to get a flu shot and what to do if you currently have COVID-19 or were previously infected.

Here are a few considerations when creating your flu-focused content.

Timing — For the general public, the CDC has not changed the recommended timing for flu vaccinations this season. Like most years, September and October are ideal. However, vaccinations should continue in January or even later as long as flu viruses are still circulating. If you haven’t already, we highly recommend creating blog and social posts optimized for local keywords and offering calls to action that encourages consumers to get a flu shot. Make it easy with explicit direction on where and when the shot will be available, and how to pay for it if not offered for free, so they can plan accordingly.

Topic — Along with addressing the basics around why a flu shot is important, it’s important to touch on the impact of COVID-19 and other areas your consumers are concerned about this year. For example, the latest CDC guidelines suggest COVID-19 patients should delay getting a flu shot this year.

Here are a few of the most common flu-related topics we’re helping healthcare organizations develop for their blogs and social media channels.

  • How flu shots can help in the fight against COVID-19
  • Flu vaccination could help avert COVID-19, influenza 'twindemic'
  • Five reasons to get the flu shot—especially this year
  • Flu vaccine for children in the time of COVID-19

Answer the Most Common Questions

Using search engine optimization (SEO) tools like SEMrush, marketers can research frequently asked questions and trending topics related to the flu and include these topics in your content strategy. This will ensure your community gets the clarity and confidence they need when searching for credible information to prevent infection.

Here are a few of the most common flu-related questions consumers are seeking answers for:

  • Does the flu shot protect against the coronavirus?
  • Can I have COVID-19 and the flu at the same time?
  • Can COVID-19 lead to a false positive flu test?
  • Is the flu shot going to be effective against COVID-19?
  • During COVID-19, when should you get your flu shot?
  • How would a flu vaccine now help to not get COVID-19?
  • If I have the flu vaccine, am I immune to COVID-19?

Examples to Inspire Your Flu Content

As they have throughout the pandemic, healthcare marketers are rising to the challenge and keeping their communities safe and well informed through timely, relevant content.

To inspire your flu shot marketing efforts, here are a few examples of how leading hospitals and health systems are addressing the topic this season.

Flu vs. COVID-19: Can You Tell the Difference? from Cleveland Clinic

Diabetes and the Flu: A Dangerous Combination from Emanate Health

Are Vaccines Needed If School is Virtual? from Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital

4 Ways to Get Ready for Flu Season from Methodist Health System

Why You and Yours Need Flu Vaccinations This Year from Vanderbilt Health

Why You Should Get Your Flu Shot from Weill Cornell Medicine

We Can Help Guide Your Community

Our team of healthcare marketing experts understand how to connect with consumers around flu and other seasonal health issues.

3 Things We Learned from Holly Sullivan of Spectrum Health and SHSMD

We always come away from conversations with Holly Sullivan feeling smarter and inspired, and our recent interview for the Healthcare Insight podcast was no exception.

Here are three things we learned or confirmed during a lively discussion with the senior director of strategic marketing at Spectrum Health and president of the board for the Society for Healthcare Strategy and Market Development (SHSMD) as we discussed the overall healthcare response to COVID-19 and what this means for the future.

Content has been critical to the COVID-19 response at Spectrum Health.

Holly and her team gleaned consumer insights early in the pandemic that made it clear: Spectrum Health had a leadership role to play in guiding the community on COVID-19. They immediately responded by developing a content strategy that offers clarity on where and when to get help, celebrates recovery wins and shares inspirational stories of hope. She says the organization’s commitment to creating content that educates and engages all Spectrum Health audiences is thoughtful, inclusive and fluid.

“We continue to think about how we can deliver messaging not only to our consumers and our patients but also to our 35,000+ employees and community organizations,” she says. “We’re always asking how can we be that source of truth for them, and deliberately get those messages out to our Spanish-speaking communities and other diverse audiences.”

Virtual care is rapidly shifting from novelty to the new normal.

When Spectrum Health closed all offices in March, they quickly moved all primary care physicians and specialists on a virtual platform. By April, they had ramped telemedicine volume to the point where a single day in April saw 2,000 visits.

Moving into the fall of 2020, Holly says the organization continues adding functionality and promoting virtual care as offering the same level of excellence in experience and outcomes as in-person care. This shift to virtual care as a differentiated platform is one of the organization’s highest priorities, especially for younger demographics who are just starting to form a relationship with the health system. Similar to the transition of using a mobile app to deposit a check rather than going in-person to a bank, she sees this digital evolution as having long-term effects in healthcare.

“It’s like banking,” she says. “When you’re banking online you don’t say, ‘I’m going to my virtual bank.’ It’s just going to the bank.”

SHSMD is committed to helping marketers navigate the future.

As president of the SHSMD board, Holly works closely with Executive Director Diane Webber and the organization’s leadership to deliver value to members. These efforts have been redoubled during the pandemic. From creating a clearinghouse for COVID-19-related ideas and examples on the SHSMD website to pivoting from the annual in-person conference, Holly and her team are constantly seeking new opportunities to help members connect and advance their careers.

She says SHSMD materials like Bridging Worlds: The Future Role of the Healthcare Strategist, which is designed to help members adapt and develop skills for the future, are more relevant today than ever before. Considering these resources along with the support and expertise that strategic vendor partners bring to the table, Holly is confident healthcare marketers will continue rising to the occasion.

“Our organizations are looking to us as marketers to help navigate through this,” she says. “We’re facing some new situations and the lack of predictability will continue as we move into 2021, so keeping that agile mentality at the forefront will be key.”

Listen to the Full Interview

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Find out how our team of healthcare marketing experts can help guide your brand and revenue growth strategies.

Vanderbilt Health Marketing Leaders Illuminate the Path to Population Health

In these highlights from our healthcare marketing podcast, Megan Pruce and Mallory Yoder from the business engagement strategies team at Vanderbilt Health share insights on their journey from a small, siloed department to a leading voice helping advance the shift to value-driven care.

The marketing and communications team at Vanderbilt Health is instrumental in advancing the organization’s population health initiatives. We recently spoke with Vice President Megan Pruce and Senior Manager Mallory Yoder for our healthcare marketing podcast, and among other insights they offered the following guidance for peers who are championing value-driven care.

Marketing and communications is a critical piece of the population health puzzle.

When developing public health initiatives designed to change behavior, Megan says strategic marketing and creative teams like hers are uniquely qualified to help package and present critical ideas while connecting the dots across multi-disciplinary teams.

“If you had marketing and communications professionals at the table for the design and rollout of these change management programs, you’d get much more buy-in from the audiences,” says Megan. “So much of the success with these initiatives is based on the first impression, and marketing will ensure it is interesting, compelling, memorable and clear.”

Finding the right people is critical to building an innovative team.

Megan says the most important thing she looks for when hiring is not one of the typical traits associated with a healthcare marketing and communications team. She points to Mallory, who is working toward her master’s degree while working full time at Vanderbilt, as a great example of the skills and mindset required to move the organization forward.

“We want people looking for a professional challenge,” she says. “We are naturally very curious and creative, we contribute in meetings, we raise our hands and take on stretch projects. We’re really careful about the types of people we welcome on the team because it’s not for everyone.”

Megan notes that a key to her success in building a high-performing, innovative marketing and communications team is an often-overlooked part of the hiring process.

“One of my secret approaches [to hiring] is cover letters,” she says. “If you don’t take the time to pitch yourself in a cover letter, you’re probably not going to take the time to get invested in a product and a solution. If you are truly interested in doing this work, you will take the time to write a cover letter or email to me that is very specific to what you’re trying to do and what we’re trying to do.”

Success takes talent, tenacity and time.

Megan and Mallory encourage their peers that like any successful initiative, it takes people willing to challenge the status quo—and a healthy dose of resilience—to lay the foundation for a successful population health strategy. Over the past two years, their team has evolved from a small group that was primarily focused on physician communications to a highly valued strategic partner.

To follow this path, Mallory recommends starting small and finding ways to demonstrate value along the way.

“You have to present short-term wins,” she says. “To get a seat at the table from writing newsletter communications to where we are now was not an overnight success. You have to prove yourself by keeping up with what’s going on with the clinical side and being able to speak their language. Eventually, those short-term wins stack up and you’ll find a partner who’s open to trying something new and different than what’s been done before.”

Megan encourages her peers in healthcare marketing and communications to realize the value they bring to the table when designing and implementing strategic initiatives.

“We don’t have letters after our name as some people do, but we are equally as valuable when it comes to putting together really good plans and strategies—and that’s the dream that we all wanted in our careers.”


Listen to the Full Interview

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Find out how our team of healthcare marketing experts can help you engage physicians and advance value-based care initiatives.

Measuring the Impact of Competition on Healthcare Marketing Efforts

We envision our future roles as healthcare marketers as more about driving population health initiatives forward. In reality, we’re all chasing high-value patient volumes.

Competition is fierce due to both traditional and non-traditional players, showing the impact of competition on healthcare marketing efforts in real-time. As a result, it’s becoming increasingly both challenging and critical to stand out as a healthcare brand.

Here are insights and best practices on differentiating your organization based on our work with hospitals and health systems nationwide.

What does it mean to say the market is competitive?

In our view, highly competitive markets have a few key characteristics. Typically, there are at least 2-3 health system providers. These include local or regional brands with at least one flagship hospital and, often, a number of additional specialty and outpatient facilities. Today, there’s increased competitive pressure from retail health brands, freestanding urgent care providers and emergency centers, telehealth options through employer-sponsored insurance plans, and more. For healthcare marketers, we’re often thinking about how to capture as much of the commercial volume as we can in our local markets. This is particularly true for high-value services like joint replacement, bariatric surgery, maternity, cardiovascular, oncology and more.

Standing out in competitive markets

To overcome increased and evolving competition, create horizontally integrated campaigns that connect consumers with the right messages. These campaigns must go through the right channels, at the right time and with the right call to action (CTA) to guide your ideal consumer to the next step on the healthcare journey.

For health systems with little or no competition, engaging consumers in your market area via digital-only channels, your community magazine or discrete brand messaging might be effective. That’s certainly not the case in highly competitive markets. A multichannel approach is critical to ensure that you’re not only matching the competition but creating differentiation and preference.

There are a few must-have tactics to master in this scenario:

  • Effective paid search that targets high-value keywords and competitive brand terms. In crowded markets, your cost-per-click is typically going to increase significantly. This makes it critical to hone in on your target keywords and terms, as well as constantly optimizing both your bid and messaging strategy.
  • Paid social media strategies that leverage unique and high-quality content. Social media continues to become noisier and more crowded, and it takes more creativity to stand out. Leverage great content, including blogs, video and infographics to help your content get noticed and generate more engagement. Further, make sure you’re using the right social channels. A few years ago, Facebook was a no brainer for any healthcare service line campaign. While that continues, diversity is critical and we recommend Instagram ad placement (specifically through Facebook Business Manager) for services like OBGYN, primary care, urgent care and pediatrics.
  • Direct mail campaigns that focus on primary service lines. Done right, direct mail continues to be an effective way to drive volumes for services like colonoscopies, discounted heart screening programs, mammograms, primary care and more. We also recommend minimally implementing a new mover program to engage new residents looking for a healthcare home.
  • Content hubs and blogs that promote a variety of content. As a revenue-generating activity, blogging is growing in both popularity and value in healthcare marketing. When planned, created, deployed and promoted effectively, content marketing supports both your brand and your service line growth priorities, becoming a no-brainer for systems in crowded markets.

Beyond these must-haves, we always recommend allocating some of your media budgets to experimental and traditional marketing efforts. A few additional channels we like include Pandora, Hulu, YouTube and native advertising.

The importance of messaging and experience

In any marketing plan you put in place in a crowded market, it’s critical to remember the impact of competition on your healthcare marketing efforts. Your money will only be as well spent as the content you create to support the strategy.

We believe that paid advertising is simply placing content on various platforms to connect with target audiences. Ads are content, and many agencies and digital marketers lose sight of this, focusing instead on the targeting and tools. However, great ad copy and effective landing pages can maximize investments significantly by driving both more clicks and better conversion rates.

To create great campaign content and assets, think about who you’re reaching, what matters to them about their healthcare experience and how to best guide them to the next best action. It’s critical that the entire consumer journey be positive, starting with the first digital or print encounter a consumer has with your brand. Reducing friction from Google Search or ad engagement through to conversion is a must in the modern era, and will drive better lead volumes for your organization.

In closing, holistically consider your brand and service line growth strategies when you’re playing in a competitive market. And with time and budget contraints: Consider working with key agency partners to make sure that you’re everywhere your competitors are, and then some.

We Can Help Your Healthcare Brand Stand Out

Our team of healthcare marketing experts understand how to compete—and win—in an increasingly crowded healthcare market.

Growth-Focused Strategies for Promoting National Health Observances

The discipline of healthcare marketing continues to progress at a rapid pace. This is perhaps best illustrated by strategic plans and budgets that increasingly reflect lower (or no) investments in legacy tactics, which often create high visibility but low actual value to the organization or community—like national health observances.

The challenges healthcare marketers have been faced with the last few months have driven a more definitive shift in strategy, leaving disparate email blasts, local radio advertising and other vestiges of a bygone era behind as we head into the next decade.

Today, an aligned strategic marketing approach focuses on reducing friction, promoting access across digital channels and using the appropriate traditional outlets that drive engagement. That balance is becoming critical to success. 

Yet, there is still a sacred cow that has remained static on the marketing plan for most healthcare organizations: promoting national health observances.

From month-long celebrations of heart health in February to diabetes seminars and screenings in November—and events tied to dozens of events in between—national health observances often command an outsized amount of time and resources compared to the relative return on investment. With COVID-19 accelerating change in all areas of healthcare, the time to reimagine how marketers approach national health observances to meaningfully engage patients and promote priority service lines is now.

In the wake of the pandemic, declining ED visits and revenue shortfalls are shifting marketing priorities away from tactics powered by inertia and toward growth-focused initiatives. Savvy marketers are challenging the status quo and letting community needs and organizational goals drive marketing priorities.

The imperative to generate revenue applies to all planned initiatives and investments, including the promotion of national health observances. If you're charged with building volume and boosting revenue, here’s how to embrace this changing of the seasons and take a long-term, growth-focused approach to raising awareness and motivating action.

From Seasonal Campaigns to Long-Term Growth Strategies

A hallmark of modern healthcare marketing is the shift away from ad hoc, siloed campaigns reaching a wide audience to horizontally integrated strategies targeting specific consumers.

To apply this model to national health observances, market leaders are moving away from discrete tactics or events tied to the seasonal awareness calendar and creating a marketing flywheel that generates long-term growth for high-value service lines. Defined as a “continuously improving set of repeatable, tactical investments that scale with decreasing friction,” a flywheel typically involves content and search engine optimization (SEO) combined with strategic calls to action to find, engage, nurture and convert ideal prospects into customers and brand advocates.

Here’s an example of a marketing flywheel:

  1. Grow and engage your audience through paid search, social posts and email to grow your marketing opt-in list.
  2. Refine the customer experience and content effectiveness through historic optimization of blog posts and A/B testing for email.
  3. Measure effectiveness of key metrics like traffic, engagement and conversions.
  4. Deploy a new marketing initiative: social campaigns, series of blog posts or podcasts, webinars, etc.
  5. Amplify the reach of that initiative through paid and organic content promotion.
  6. Repeat the cycle through tactics designed to grow and engage the audience as outlined in step 1.

To implement this growth-focused approach to national health observances, there are common threads that apply to each service line represented on the national calendar.


Before: The primary objective was raising awareness of the health issue in focus during a particular period (e.g. Heart Month in February).

Now: Smart marketers are moving consumers from awareness to actions that accelerate the health journey and drive patient volume/revenue for priority services.

Planning and Measurement

Before: Each national health observance was promoted through individual campaigns and content with defined start and end dates.

Now: Market leaders have advanced from one-off campaigns to iterative calendars that continuously integrate and optimize service line content across channels.


Before: Health awareness information focused on evergreen, boilerplate content designed to educate consumers of signs, symptoms and risks.

Now: Content marketing initiatives are simply tuned to promote health observances by promoting relevant topics and targeting the right audience based on goal conversion.

Trending Topics for Priority Service Lines

To shift from steady state to a flywheel, growth-focused approach to promoting health observances, start with researching the topics both your audience cares about and that promote a valuable conversion. This is a proven model employed by healthcare leaders like Cleveland Clinic—the #1 hospital blog in America with 10 million visitors per month—that effectively leverage content and SEO to drive consumers from engagement to conversion for high-value service lines.

Based on both search research and conversion points that typically add value, here are a few suggested topics for engaging patients and prospects for high-value service lines associated with prominent national health observances:

Heart (February)

Trending topics in heart health are tied to diet and exercise, as well as the impact of stress and mental health on cardiovascular wellness. Many health systems focus on preventive care and routine screenings to build their cardiovascular practice.

  • The science behind Omega-3 fatty acids
  • Why walking is the most underrated form of heart-healthy exercise
  • What does a cardiac stress test identify and what to expect
  • The link between heart disease and stress
  • Breaking down 5 of the trendiest diets and their impact on heart health

Women’s Health (May)

Top topics related to women’s health reflect opportunities for healthcare organizations to offer guidance on staying healthy while managing family, career and other priority service line topics, particularly for OB/GYN.

  • How menopause can cause heart health changes
  • What vitamins should women take on a daily basis at 40/50/60+
  • The safest ways for women to lose weight post-menopause
  • Your guide to losing weight and getting back in shape safely post-baby
  • Most common health problems faced by working women—and how to avoid them

Mental Health (May)

Mental health was a serious problem prior to the pandemic, and stressors associated with COVID-19—including fear of infection, rising unemployment and isolation due to social distancing—have only magnified these concerns. Content priorities reflect the anxiety, depression and fear many Americans are facing in light of the pandemic. Content often speaks to family and friends who would help a loved one pursue help.

  • Helping a child suffering from anxiety disorder and/or panic attacks
  • Mental health warning signs to watch for in teen and young adult men
  • How to talk about your depression with friends and family
  • How to address mental health concerns during COVID-19
  • Does health insurance cover mental health treatment?
  • Best ways to support a loved one struggling with addiction

Breast Cancer (October)

Like other categories, topics tied to breast cancer appeal to an interest in how lifestyle choices impact risk.

  • Does birth control cause breast cancer?
  • The best diet to prevent—or beat—breast cancer
  • Can men get breast cancer?
  • Is there a correlation between hair dye and breast cancer risk?
  • The link between breast cancer and menopause

Diabetes (November)

Typically, health systems promote prevention, education and medication management when they run diabetes campaigns. Today, coronavirus news is important, too, as the link between diabetes and COVID-19 risk and morbidity becomes increasingly clear.

  • Why COVID-19 is more dangerous for people with diabetes
  • The best prediabetes diet in 2020
  • Can you reverse type 2 diabetes?
  • Building healthy habits in your children when diabetes runs in the family
  • Is a vegan diet right for managing diabetes?

With these topics as a guide, your strategy for promoting national health observances can shift from calendar-driven tasks to an audience-centric model that delivers long-term value for consumers and the organization.

3 Things Amanda Todorovich Wants Every Healthcare Marketing Pro to Know

In this excerpt from our Healthcare Insight podcast, Amanda Todorovich offers her view as senior director of digital marketing and health content at Cleveland Clinic.

Amanda TodorovichAmong other topics, we asked Todorovich how she’s built an elite healthcare marketing team, what her must-have tools are and how the hospital's content strategy has shifted in light of COVID-19. Here are three things she wants every healthcare marketing pro to know.

Flexibility is essential for long-term success

Todorovich's team has evolved a lot over the years. She says the most important skill—no matter the role—is flexibility.

"The channels are constantly changing and we're writing about different topics every day. You have to be able to roll with the punches and have an innate drive to constantly be doing better. Our philosophy is: How do we beat yesterday?"

Embrace agility and data analysis

To plan content for the Health Essentials blog and other channels, Todorovich's team huddles every day to talk about data, trending topics and learnings from conversations with clinical teams.

"We want to know what patients are asking, along with tracking what people are doing on our website and searching for on Google to find out where can we fill a gap," she says. "We log and track everything we do, look back at seasonal trends, such as what happened last year at this time. Then, we determine what we should repeat and what we should do differently."

This approach requires a healthcare marketing pro with an agile mindset to constantly plan and pivot when opportunities emerge.

"We don’t plan too far out. We want to be hyper relevant so it’s a steady drumbeat of keeping up with what’s going on and relevant right now."

Strategy built on audience needs will always be effective—even in a crisis

Throughout the pandemic, Todorovich says she's learned the importance of taking the time to pause and reflect instead of reacting.

"It’s easy in a crisis environment to just keep moving forward and doing what everybody’s asking you to do. We haven’t changed our strategy at all. It’s still about offering useful, helpful and relevant content. The only thing that’s changed is the topics. Now, we’re talking about COVID-19 every single day. But we’re still doing it in the same fashion that we did prior to the pandemic."

Hear the Full Interview

In the 30-minute conversation for our Healthcare Insight podcast, Amanda shares more tips for healthcare marketing pros—including best practices for collaborating with clinical leaders, how the hospital is leveraging TikTok and MUCH more!

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