Public Relations Tactics

Nick Ragone on Articulating Your Vision as a Leader

November 1, 2017

As the senior vice president and chief marketing and communications officer at Ascension, a St. Louis-based health care organization, Nick Ragone interacts with a wide range of stakeholders. He talks with Tactics about integrated marketing, the difference between corporate and agency work, and more.

You’ve led from both sides. Were there any agency experiences that prepared you for corporate leadership?

The agency experience is invaluable preparation for an in-house position in that it trains you to develop and articulate a point of view and socialize it broadly to gain acceptance. It also exposes you to many different business models, ways of doing things and situations that become useful in corporate life.

How is leading at a corporation different?

Leading an integrated marketing and communications team inside a large organization such as Ascension requires different skills. It puts a premium on stakeholder engagement, focused listening, socializing a vision for the future, and collaborating with others to bring it about. It might seem simple, but it takes an enormous amount work to do so. We have 150,000 associates in 22 states. I spend a great deal of time engaging them in this shared future vision.

What did you do as a leader to win the support of others at Ascension?

In addition to the aforementioned vision and collaboration, it was acknowledging that most great marketing and communications begins from the inside-out. I spend more than half my time on the road visiting our market leadership to constantly engage in dialogue about our brand vision and evolved marketing strategy. Every time I travel I learn something new that only improves on our brand development and consumer-focused marketing model.

What’s most challenging about it?

The only challenge is reminding myself not to fall into marketing or brand shorthand when having a dialogue with market leaders and others about the future of our integrated brand or data-driven marketing model. It’s easy to slip into shorthand and assume we’re on the same page. That’s why travel and face-to-face conversations with senior leaders are so critical to success. The more I can share, and the more feedback I receive, the more engaged our senior leaders become to help bring about our brand and marketing transformation.

In the future, it’s likely that more leaders will be asked to lead an integrated marketing effort rather than lead advertising, PR, digital or other disciplines. How should they prepare?

I absolutely believe that future leaders will preside over a completely integrated marketing [plan] that includes advertising, earned media, internal communications, social and digital, and even experience, since a great experience speaks as much to the strength of a brand as anything else. The skills required for this have less to do with subject matter competency and more to do with leadership skills, being able to articulate a vision and inspiring people to follow that vision.

Are there leadership decisions you’ve made that, with hindsight, you regret?

I’m not sure I’d change any decisions per se, but I wish I had become a more attentive and focused listener earlier in my career. I find that listening is now my most important skill. I suppose that comes with maturity, but you’d be surprised at how much you learn when you attentively and thoughtfully listen. I find myself doing less and less talking and more and more listening. 

You're an author and presidential history buff. How does that avocation help your vocation?

Believe it or not, writing history books helps me cope with stress. It’s comforting (and dare I say rejuvenating) to bury myself in esoteric presidential minutia from centuries ago as a way to clear my mind. Plus, there are so many wonderful lessons to be learned from presidential leadership, which was the topic of my last book, “Presidential Leadership: 15 Decisions that Changed the Nation,” that I can usually apply to my current position. Our great presidents had one thing in common: They were amazing at articulating their vision. That’s a good skill to have, no matter the position or industry.

What leaders do you admire?

I greatly admire Ascension's CEO, Tony Tersigni. Being able to witness up close how he leads and inspires 150,000 associates every day is truly extraordinary. My philosophy on leadership — articulating a vision and inspiring others to believe in it — largely stems from seeing him up close. I also admire my former boss at Ketchum, Rob Flaherty, because even as global CEO, he still engages with clients each and every day.

Do you have another book in you? If so, what will it be about?

I’d love to write a book on the Gettysburg Address. Not only is it the most powerful short speech in U.S. history, it’s also one of the bedrock documents of our Republic. I believe it’s as important as the Declaration of Independence. I’ve done most of the research. I need to seclude myself for a few months on a lake somewhere and put my thoughts to paper.


Ken Jacobs

Ken Jacobs is principal of Jacobs Consulting & Executive Coaching. Visit his website ( and contact him by email ( or Twitter (@KensViews).


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