Digital Trends in Population Health Drive Custom Magazine for Children’s Hospital

After publishing Checkup magazine for more than six years, Cook Children’s Health Care System took a leap. The risk was worth the reward.

They shift­ed beyond brand build­ing to a com­mu­ni­ty pub­li­ca­tion focused on at-risk com­mu­ni­ties. This focus on dig­i­tal trends in pop­u­la­tion health allowed the hos­pi­tal to tap into a crit­i­cal audience.

Overview and Objectives

Cook Children’s Health Care Sys­tem, a not-for-prof­it health­care sys­tem based in Fort Worth, Texas, had a unique prob­lem. While its Check­up mag­a­zine was extreme­ly pop­u­lar, the pub­lic rela­tions depart­ment knew its tar­get audi­ence was already inter­act­ing with Cook Children’s in myr­i­ad oth­er ways, main­ly through its Check­up News­room website.

They decid­ed to see if a com­mu­ni­ty pub­li­ca­tion could be a use­ful tool for the at-risk, low­er income pop­u­la­tion served by the Cook Children’s Neigh­bor­hood Clin­ics in the company’s six-coun­ty pri­ma­ry ser­vice area. After review­ing exam­ples of pop­u­la­tion health cam­paigns, the process began to shift the magazine.

“We reached out to the Cen­ter for Children’s Health [the divi­sion of Cook Children’s that is home to the organization’s com­mu­ni­ty health pro­grams] to learn if Check­up would be a use­ful way to reach that audi­ence,” says Kel­ly Woo­ley, mar­ket­ing spe­cial­ist with Cook Children’s. “Lar­ry Tubb, exec­u­tive vice pres­i­dent and exec­u­tive direc­tor for the Cen­ter for Children’s Health, thought it was worth a try, and we start­ed the new for­mat with the fall issue in 2015.”

Revised Content Strategy for community publication

“When mak­ing a change like this,
it’s impor­tant that you think about
what your audi­ence needs—not just
want you want to tell them—and
the right way to get that infor­ma­tion
to them. We’ve done that with Check­up,
and the read­ers appre­ci­ate and enjoy
the mag­a­zine.”
—Kel­ly Woo­ley, Mar­ket­ing Spe­cial­ist
at Cook Chil­dren’s Health System

Because the new ver­sion of Check­up was intend­ed for a com­plete­ly dif­fer­ent audi­ence, every aspect of the pub­li­ca­tion had to be reimag­ined to focus on pop­u­la­tion health ini­tia­tives and research.

The con­tent focused more on pre­ven­tion than the pre­vi­ous ver­sion, expand­ing on cur­rent dig­i­tal trends in pop­u­la­tion health.

“When we talk about our com­mu­ni­ty edu­ca­tion and out­reach ini­tia­tives, you’ll often hear senior lead­er­ship say we don’t want to see patients in the hos­pi­tal or the doctor’s office, because pre­ven­tion is our goal,” says Kel­ly, point­ing out that the arti­cles focus on the sev­en children’s health issues iden­ti­fied in the health system’s Com­mu­ni­ty-wide Children’s Health Assess­ment & Plan­ning Sur­vey (CCHAPS). “We want to be seen not just as a med­ical cen­ter or a doctor’s office, but as a real health resource for our patients and our community.”

Instead of the eight-page for­mat the med­ical cen­ter had used since True North Cus­tom launched the mag­a­zine in ear­ly 2009, Cook Children’s worked with its True North Cus­tom team to cre­ate a 16-page bilin­gual com­mu­ni­ty pub­li­ca­tion with a flip format.

The out­side front cov­er and the first sev­en pages are in Eng­lish. When the mag­a­zine is flipped, the out­side back cov­er becomes the Span­ish cov­er, and the sub­se­quent sev­en pages are in Spanish.

“We know that the audi­ence for this mag­a­zine isn’t all Eng­lish- or all Span­ish-speak­ing,” Kel­ly says. “The house­holds we serve are often blend­ed or extend­ed fam­i­lies where grand­ma or mom might speak Span­ish, but the kids might speak English.

“How­ev­er, we also know that when it comes to med­ical information—even if a par­ent is pret­ty flu­ent in English—they like to receive it in Span­ish because it’s more com­fort­able to them,” Kel­ly con­tin­ues. “That’s why this for­mat works so well.”

The arti­cles, writ­ten at a third-grade read­ing lev­el, tack­le rel­e­vant top­ics like domes­tic abuse and spank­ing. The arti­cles are high­ly visu­al, and they’re typ­i­cal­ly short and con­tain a vari­ety of lists, charts and pull quotes that help read­ers break down con­tent into eas­i­ly digest­ed infor­ma­tion. A puz­zle page was added to pro­vide an activ­i­ty that par­ents and their chil­dren could work on together.

While the ear­li­er for­mat of Check­up was mailed to homes and well received in the com­mu­ni­ty, the new audi­ence for this pub­li­ca­tion is more tran­sient. A new dis­tri­b­u­tion mod­el had to be devel­oped. Today, the major­i­ty of Check­up copies are dis­trib­uted via the wait­ing rooms of the Cook Children’s Neigh­bor­hood Clin­ics and the med­ical cen­ter, as well as through com­mu­ni­ty part­ner orga­ni­za­tions with sim­i­lar goals, such as the Boys & Girls Clubs, local school dis­tricts and the YMCAs. It is also mailed to the system’s CCHAPS respondents.


The response to the new Check­up has been outstanding—both from the com­mu­ni­ty publication’s audi­ence as well as from inter­nal stake­hold­ers, who rec­og­nize the much-need­ed shift to align with dig­i­tal trends in pop­u­la­tion health.

“When you change the for­mat of a mag­a­zine you’ve been doing—especially when you’re hap­py with the mag­a­zine and its results—it’s a gam­ble,” Kel­ly says. “But this is one case where we feel like it’s been worth it. It’s been so pop­u­lar that every­one won­ders why we didn’t do this earlier.”

To mea­sure read­er engage­ment, Cook Children’s used True North Custom’s sug­ges­tion of a con­test that read­ers can enter to win a $25 gift card. Kel­ly esti­mates she receives more than 100 entries each issue—an over­whelm­ing response con­sid­er­ing the mag­a­zine isn’t mailed to most homes.

Cook Children’s has also per­formed sev­er­al read­er­ship sur­veys that yield­ed these strong results:

  • Half those sur­veyed read the issue from cov­er to cover.
  • Every­one sur­veyed read at least half of the issue.
  • Eight in 10 used the infor­ma­tion learned from the pub­li­ca­tion, and near­ly 7 in 10 shared the infor­ma­tion with some­one else.
Sign up for updates!

Sign up for updates!

Get marketing tips delivered straight to your inbox.

You have Successfully Subscribed!