Measuring Success: Cleveland Clinic Charts the Newsroom of the Future

March 1, 2018

Let’s start with some statistics: Cleveland Clinic, for the second year in a row, earned the No. 2 spot in U.S. News & World Report’s 2017-2018 Best Hospitals. Thirteen of its specialties ranked in the Top 10, and its heart program has ranked No. 1 since 1995.

These are just some of the proof points demonstrating the strength of Cleveland Clinic’s reputation, impact and continued success in doing well by doing good.

But in today’s increasingly fragmented media world, what’s the best way for the organization to break through and continue to tell the stories that drive and build that well-earned prestige?

Build the corporate communications department of the future, of course.

“We’re very focused on evolving our PR and communication activities into the increasingly pervasive digital world,” says Eileen Sheil, Cleveland Clinic’s executive director of corporate communications.

That process involves not only changing the way they reach their various audiences and constituencies, but also enhancing their technology so they have the capabilities to increase and improve engagement.

“The overall concept is to evolve more as storytellers by self-publishing news that in unique to Cleveland Clinic. We have great stories to share that don’t always get picked up by news outlets. We have to develop the right strategies and processes to share them broadly,” Sheil says.

This multipronged, multimedia approach incorporates sophisticated methods of pushing information out through a variety of media channels, as well as receiving data back, via cutting-edge measurement tools, to help them become more nimble communicators.

While Sheil and her team often work closely with Health Essentials, the medical center’s health-care portal (which we wrote about last month), corporate communication’s content is focused primarily on news, patient stories and information about and related to Cleveland Clinic itself, while the blog features more general health-care information.

“We’re very interested in reaching journalists, influencers and business people, and others who have a strong interest in health care, technology and innovation. Health Essentials is more consumer-focused on health information. We work closely on major initiatives very well,” Sheil says.

The most visible, and visual, element of Sheil and her team’s move to digital is their increasingly user-friendly Newsroom, which has been up-and-running since 2017.

“The [old] Newsroom used to be very stagnant, for lack of a better term,” says Sheil. “It had basic contact information and press release archives, but it wasn’t interactive, you couldn’t download information, and it wasn’t equipped to handle our move toward digital activity.”

Creating online synergies

Working with the marketing and IT departments, Sheil and her team focused on creating a more robust online news experience in conjunction with the reconfiguration of the overall Cleveland Clinic website.

The new mix includes such traditional elements as news releases and op-eds, but also video, social and visual storytelling and infographics.

“The whole idea behind it is to have a place where we can drive journalists for the information, content and resources they need,” says Sheil. “Continually adding new elements, such as improved search capabilities, the Newsroom is a work-in-progress and we will work to refine it.”

The corporate communications reboot also includes increasingly proactive use of social media platforms such as Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. In fact, Sheil and her team are launching a new dedicated Twitter handle, @CleClinicNews, through which they will push out 3-5 original tweets a day, pointed more directly toward journalists and influencers.

“We want to build organic followers who care about health-care news, technology and thought leadership, and who need to receive information quickly and effectively,” says Sheil.

A dynamic example of corporate communications’ emphasis on using its Newsroom and social media to strengthen their positions as self-publishers in their own right took place last September.

“Several months ago, our [former] CEO Toby Cosgrove came out publicly against a proposed health-care bill and its impact on patients,” says Sheil. “We had to figure out late on a Friday afternoon whether we were better off using a more traditional route, such as a national newspaper, to get the op-ed out, or self-publish on our Newsroom and through social media channels.”

With the vote scheduled for the next week, and no time to wait for media outlets to get back to them, Sheil and her team published it on their Newsroom and pushed it out on Twitter. That decision yielded immediate and strong reactions, including 1,700 link clicks to the Newsroom, 3,491 link shares on social and 21 journalist shares with a potential reach of 556,000 from journalist accounts.

“The piece was also retweeted by influential authors such as Atul Gawande, so we got strong amplification of our message but not through our traditional outreach,” says Sheil. “We want to continue to build on that in order to really amplify our news coverage, our position on issues and our influence as thought leaders.”

Measuring effectiveness

As their content output continues to increase, so does the need to determine the effectiveness, reach and influence of that content across traditional and online media outlets.

“In this day and age, you can’t not be focused on measurement if you’re in public relations,” says Sheil.

While strong in media relations, the corporate communications team began to focus more seriously on measurement five or six years ago by working with Ketchum, Sheil says.

“We look closely at reputation research, measuring not just our national awareness, but digging deeper to find out how we are affecting patient-volume levels and revenue,” Sheil says.

For Sheil and her team, measurement tools include a database warehouse (built in-house) through which levels of information are layered over each other to help determine how media coverage may affect patient volume. “We look at this as a journey and still have a way to go,” says Sheil.

Sheil is also incorporating Google Analytics and Twitter Analytics into her overall strategy. “We don’t want to just go out and say, ‘What a great story,’ and leave it at that,” says Sheil. “We want to be able to say who it’s reaching, what the story’s impact is, and whether it’s making a difference to improve Cleveland Clinic’s reputation and awareness.”

As the move to digital becomes more firmly embedded in corporate communication’s strategic goals, a crucial component for Sheil is to help make sure that her team understands why the transition is taking place, and how they fit into the overall framework.

“Change can be a terrifying word,” says Sheil, “so we partnered with our HR team to develop a road map on the necessary steps. The key thing our leadership team wanted to communicate is that we’re not moving away from working with the media by any means, but instead looking at different strategies and metrics to achieve those goals.”

Going forward, Sheil will continue to work closely with her team, marketing, IT and other departments to enhance and solidify Cleveland Clinic’s reputation.

“Our national PR goal is to get people to understand, at a deep level, the innovative health care Cleveland Clinic provides,” says Sheil. “Our research and measurement results show that the more they know about us, the more likely they are to come here for care.”

Learn more about Cleveland Clinic’s content strategy by participating in PRSA’s interactive case-study series, “Case in Point,” on April 4 (3–4:15 p.m. ET), sponsored by ContentOro. To register, visit

Rod Granger

Rod Granger is PRSA’s director of public relations and communications. He previously served as communications editor at Pearson North America and director of corporate communications at VH1.



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