Hospitals & Facilities

How Cleveland Clinic CMO Paul Matsen keeps up with the latest in healthcare marketing

The key is to “embrace the change,” he said.
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Paul Matsen

5 min read

The healthcare industry has seen its fair share of upheaval in the last few years, with the Covid-19 pandemic prompting a push toward virtual care, an increase in unionization, and a greater emphasis on health equity.

For healthcare marketers like Paul Matsen, chief marketing and communications officer at the Cleveland Clinic, the last few years have been about keeping up with industry trends while also navigating marketing in the pandemic.

“Over the last three years, everybody’s world changed in healthcare,” Matsen told Healthcare Brew. “Our team has had to be extremely nimble and responsive to the changing landscape.”

Matsen has weathered the transformation in both marketing and healthcare while overseeing some of his health system’s largest projects to date, including its centennial campaign in 2021. He said the key has been to “embrace the change.”

From hospitality to hospitals

In his role, Matsen said he oversees an international team of 250 staff members spread out across Cleveland Clinic’s 22 hospitals in Ohio, Florida, Nevada, Canada, London, and Abu Dhabi. Since his team is so spread out, he said one of his primary responsibilities is fostering a sense of connection. “We really want to keep people connected to the work and the mission, as we work in predominantly a virtual environment,” he said.

To do so, Matsen spends a lot of his time talking with marketing department heads to discuss their strategic priorities, bringing everyone together in virtual meetings and meeting with his leadership team in person at least once per month, and traveling to Cleveland Clinic’s various locations.

Likewise, more employees and patients are able to complete tasks virtually these days. At Cleveland Clinic, patients can book an appointment online, and use their electronic health record to reorder medications and see test results.

“Digital in both industries plays a huge role,” Matsen said. 

Getting the message out

Matsen said healthcare is about “building a trusted relationship and providing trusted content to patients.” He said Cleveland Clinic’s main marketing strategy is content development, writing SEO-friendly articles, and investing in paid search to ensure it’s reaching the right patients, Matsen said.

“We have over 100 campaigns for specific diseases and conditions that we target into geographies where we know patients are likely to need that care and want to travel to Cleveland Clinic,” he said.

This year, he anticipates that the Cleveland Clinic website will reach more than 1.2 billion visits, adding that it’s “been growing at a very rapid pace” due to interest in the clinic’s health library and Health Essentials content, which helps people understand topics ranging from sugar substitutes to gender identity.

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On top of that, Matsen said his team is “very active” on social media and in podcasting, while also investing in its newsroom team to put out organic promotional content focused on research, innovation, and patient care stories that then “get covered around the world.”

Looking ahead, he said he, like many other marketers, is keeping an eye on the possibilities that generative artificial intelligence (AI) could unlock—and not just in search algorithms but also in content creation.

“We’re working on a roadmap because you don’t want to grab every hot idea that comes along,” he said, adding that his team is looking at things like, “Where can generative AI help us the most? Is it in creating and editing podcasts? Is it creating social posts? Is it in drafting press releases? Where can it make the biggest impact on the business?”

Breaking the mold

One of the challenges of being a healthcare marketer, according to Matsen, is breaking away from some of the conventions that have become standard in the industry.

“In the healthcare space, a lot of the advertising looks identical,” he said. “It’s often been referred to as ‘a sea of sameness.’”

Matsen cited Cleveland Clinic’s “unadorned facts” campaign from 2011 as one that broke the mold using line drawings, bold colors, and facts about the Cleveland Clinic, like how the health system was conducting one lung transplant every three days at the time.

“It was such a radical departure that it really captured people’s imagination and attention,” he said.

More recently, Matsen said he’s proud of the work his team did on the hospital system’s centennial campaign in 2021, which they started planning before the pandemic. The campaign included a print, digital, and audio book about the Cleveland Clinic’s history, as well a partnership with CNN’s brand studio, Courageous Studios, on a series of documentary films, a photo book, virtual events, and an interactive history wall visible at the hospital system’s main campus.

“I’m just so proud of the fact that we were able to execute that campaign in full,” he said. “We’ve created a lot of incredibly valuable assets that will keep the Cleveland Clinic history alive and vibrant; we’ve made it more accessible and digital, and connected a whole new generation of caregivers to the clinic’s history.”

Navigate the healthcare industry

Healthcare Brew covers pharmaceutical developments, health startups, the latest tech, and how it impacts hospitals and providers to keep administrators and providers informed.