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COVID-19 Conversations Series: How Nebraska Med Became a Trusted COVID-19 Information Source

Date: May 15, 2020
Frank Lococo discusses how Nebraska Medicine became a trusted information source for COVID-19.
COVID-19 Conversations Series: How Nebraska Med Became a Trusted COVID-19 Information Source
Frank Lococo, MBA
Frank Lococo serves as the vice president of Marketing and Communications for Nebraska Medicine, the primary hospital network affiliated with the University of Nebraska Medical Center, located in Omaha, Nebraska. In this role, Frank oversees marketing strategy, creative services, media relations, internal communications, digital communications and outreach activities.

Prior to coming to Omaha, Frank spent 14 years with Froedtert & The Medical College of Wisconsin, an academic health network located in Milwaukee. Frank graduated from Marquette University and received his Master’s in Business Administration from the University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee.

Introduction: The following SHSMD Podcast is a production of

Bill Klaproth: On this edition of the SHSMD Podcast, we talk truth, we talk transparency, and we talk timeliness when it comes to COVID-19 messaging with Frank Lococo of Nebraska Medicine plus what a dimmer switch has to do with reopening the country. Hmm. That and more coming up right now. This is the SHSMD Podcast, Rapid Insights. For healthcare strategy professionals in planning, business development, marketing communications, and public relations. I'm your host, Bill Klaproth, and in this episode we talk COVID-19 and how Nebraska Medicine became a trusted COVID-19 information source with Frank Lococo, Vice President of Marketing and Communications at Nebraska Medicine, the primary hospital network affiliated with the University of Nebraska Medical Center. Frank, welcome to the SHSMD Podcast. As you know, we start every episode of the SHSMD Podcast with rapid insight. One quick tip someone can use to make their marketing communications better today. Frank, give us your rapid insight.

Frank Lococo: I would say my rapid insight is develop a plan, practice it, and practice it, and practice it because it is really hard to navigate a crisis and build a plan on the fly as it is evolving. It certainly can be done, but similar to a lot of other industries, the more you can have a plan and practice it, the easier and the better the execution and therefore the outcome.

Host: And that is your Rapid Insight. Frank, thank you so much. That was really good. Make a plan and practice it. Make a plan and practice it. So that leads me right into my first question. When you shifted into COVID-19 mode, what was your plan? What was your strategy?

Frank Lococo: So we have spent a lot of time building and fostering collaboration between the hospital system and the university. We've built the teams, we've tried to break down barriers, and we established guiding principles that we could jointly get behind. And the principles that we had come up with,again, even prior to the whole COVID pandemic, really mushrooming, and it did early for us, were the principles of communicating the truth, being transparent and being very timely with information.Host:I like that it's the three T's, truth, transparency and timeliness. So knowing that going into this, you kind of already had that plan and framework in place. So when you did shift into COVID mode, you already kind of had a roadmap of what to do.

Host: I like that it's the three T's, truth, transparency and timeliness. So knowing that going into this, you kind of already had that plan and framework in place. So when you did shift into COVID mode, you already kind of had a roadmap of what to do.

Frank Lococo: Absolutely. And it made things a whole lot easier because we already had a lot of crisis communications planning, especially given our history with infectious diseases for Nebraska Medicine and the University of Nebraska Medical Center. And so because we had a solid foundation to build off of, it madeit really easy to start to kind of build on top of that and figure out who do we need to talk to, what is our communications matrix, who are the experts, and really take inventory. And tap into the inventory of our communication channels that we had already identified leading up to us.

Host: So I want to ask you about this Frank here at Nebraska Medicine, which is the primary hospital network affiliated with the University of Nebraska Medical Center. As I said in the open. How has this affected your relationship? I know a lot of people have this same kind of relationship of being a medical center, but being associated with a university. Tell us how that relationship has evolved through this.

Frank Lococo: Over time, this has really brought us even closer than we already have been and that's really not typical when it comes to academic medical centers or academic health networks because there are sometimes competing interests. There are sometimes competing people that we need to work with and because we've established and really invested in building confidence in each other, we've earned mutual trust of each other and we have really been able to figure out a way to jointly communicate and participate and make shared decisions in a way that's made us more nimble, that's made us more efficient and therefore much more effective with our key leaders, with our physicians and faculty.

Host: So it sounds like it's kind of enhanced your relationship between medical center and the university.

Frank Lococo: Absolutely. I mean it is really in talking with peers, almost unprecedented where the university in our case has deferred to our lead media person, which happens to be on the hospital system side because they have known this person, they've established and earn that confidence in them and they trust them. And so that person does a phenomenal job of being communicative, being transparent, being timely. You know, going back to the guiding principles, really embracing them and demonstrating them. When they say actions speaklouder than words, all of our actions with each respective team really go to support each other and in achieving what our common goals are.

Host: Well, it's nice when it works out that way when you're enhancing and supporting each other like that. So I'm really glad to hear that and thank you for sharing that story with us. Let's talk about your community then as far as your plan, truth, transparency and being timely. I know that you have reworked portions of your website. It looks great. Tell us about your plan to, you know, for truth, transparency and being timely on your website and social media surrounding COVID-19.

Frank Lococo: So as part of the whole planning process, we had really looked at who are the key stakeholders? And we looked at those both internally and externally. And then we developed the whole communications matrix and those guiding principles really served as our foundation. So we wanted to make sure that we were providing information not only to our providers, our staff, but also the community. And when I say community, there are multiple layers, especially for us because it really has to do with kind of our local primary service area or secondary service area. But because of our affiliation with the University, we are looked at as the defacto experts for the State of Nebraska, and to some extent into Western Iowa, given our geographic proximity to Iowa. But our faculty and experts really have had a long history in infectious diseases, even predating our recognized expertise when it comesto a Ebola back in 2014 this has been something that we have been known for. And so we are constantly sought out, you know, by national news outlets and we've been able to engage with those outlets in a both reactive yet also proactive way in providing that expertise. So that we can be transparent about, you know, what is COVID-19 and the latest developments and really providing that source of truth in a very timely way.

Host: So you mentioned stakeholders internally as well. So the stuff on your website is great. All consumer facing. What else have you done internally to help keep the staff up to date and communicate important messages with the staff?

Frank Lococo: So with regard to the staff, we understood what our limitations were. So we are undergoing an internal communications audit and we're going to be rebuilding some of our internal communications channels. We knew there was a gap in people being offsite and trying to access information. There was a lot of friction in doing so. So what we decided to do was with our externally facing website to put information out there that not only is appropriate for the consumer audience, but also our staff. So it made it a much less cumbersome way to get information. And there are other hospital systems and health systems we can point there that can understand some of our best practices. So again, we want it to be fully transparent with our internal audiences but also other health systems within the State, given our position.We also have moved to pretty much our intranet front page being very much our COVID warehouse for information once you are on campus. We also implemented doing weekly zoom town hall meetings that we've done for the last nine weeks very early on where our executive team and our infectious diseases physicians and nurses have been providing very timely information to keep people informed. And we've received amazing feedback on how staff is admiring the transparency and the timeliness in the communications. We are providing them almost real time because there are daily emails that go out, but then the town hall where we're fielding questions via zoom for the hour and a half town hall we're doing on a weekly basis.

Host: Wow, that's a great idea. And then how about the feedback from the community about all of your COVID-19 outreach and how you're presenting it on your website?

Frank Lococo: So we have received tremendous feedback, not only from the website again, people are really appreciating the transparency. We're making real time updates to the website. We've been making continual enhancements to the website in terms of the information but also the user experience based on feedback and traffic patterns and whatnot. And really doing so has been great to leverage our expertise. And by and large, we are looked at as the source of truth for our community and our State. And the traffic numbers play it up and it really has been amazing to see because it is very practical information, but there's also very personal information. We've had some blog posts from some of our physicians and our staff that have performed amazingly well and very personal and poignant stories that have resonated with the general public. And I think it's really that transparency and truth has really gone towards helping to demystify and again earn the trust of people because we are providing open and timely information.

Host: That could be your fourth T Frank. Truth, transparency, being timely and trust. I like it. So let me ask you about social media. What are examples of truth and transparency and timeliness on social media since that's a big component to a lot what I was healthcare marketers are doing as well.

Frank Lococo: Well, if we just look at the data from some of our social media outlets, including the website, because we do some blog posts there. Our traffic numbers are out of this world. When you look at January 1st, 2019 to March 18th of 2019 we had about just under 300,000 total users on the site. And this year, because of all the attention of COVID, because of our position, because of our social media posts, again, they always drive back to the website for more complete information. So if you recall in that first quarter of 2019 about just under 300,000 total users from January 1st, 2020 through March 18th of 2020 we were at just over 4 million total users.

Host: That is a big increase. Frank, that's amazing. So when you speak of truth, I'm just wondering about this. Can you give us an example of that? Is that sharing whatever information you have, just the unvarnished facts,what is the truth component? Can you give us a better idea of what that looks?

Frank Lococo: Well, I think we really try, again being a guiding principle, we try to have that factor in all of our communications and all of the decisions we're making. And sometimes the truth means we have physicians or staff or even executives saying, I don't know, this is still a dynamic and evolving situation. And sometimes we don't know. And instead of putting information out there to try to sugarcoat something or to try and artificially alleviate concerns, it's just disingenuous. And I think people can understand when you say, I don't know, but the science indicates this, or based on past experience, we think this will be happening. And so that transparency and truth really provides a lot of credibility.And I think a lot of respect internally and externally because this is a fluid situation and this is something that we're literally learning new information every single day. And we're trying to make those updates to the site. We're trying to make updates and communications to our consumers. Even taking our monthly newsletter that we had been putting out there and repurposing it, really pretty much to communicate different dimensions of COVID and increasing the frequency weekly. We have seen amazing engagement numbers because people are looking for credible sources of information. And sometimes again, the answer is, I don't know, but let's just be truthful about it.
Host: Well, people may say, well, truth and transparency, it's kind of the same thing. So what's the component of this?

Frank Lococo: Not withholding the information or putting filters on it as much as we can. We very much put the information out there. You know, we have daily update calls internally where we do talk about, you know, how many caregivers are exposed to COVID-19, how many physicians, how many residents? We are very transparent in putting those numbers out there because that is the reality and there is no upside of trying to withhold that informationor try to, you know, push it into a corner or not put it out there because then it looks like we're hiding something. And when you're hiding something, it goes towards really degrading reputation, degrading trust and leadership and it serves no purpose atthe end of the day.

Host: And then timeliness, giving the information as you get it.

Frank Lococo: We are really taking a look at who does this most apply towards? Is this an internal message? Is this an external message? And then we take a look at our communication channels. How do we get this out there in the appropriate amount of time? Sometimes it'sokay to wait a day or it's okay to include the information and say the weekly digital newsletter. And sometimes it's not. So if we know that the newsletter is not going out say till Thursday or Friday and we have information on Monday, do we use social media to get it out there more immediately? Do we take it to the news media with one of our physicians to communicate it out there? Do we make the update to the website? So we're constantly really taking a look at who's the audience, how important is this, what is the timeliness of this, and then what communication channels should we utilize or what communication channels should we utilize to communicate this information to the right people at the right time.

Host: Some really good tips, Frank, truth, transparency and timeliness. So we still have a long way to go with COVID-19 and as of this recording in early may, I just want to ask you, what have you learned or what has stuck out to you up to this point?

Frank Lococo: We have learned a number of takeaways already. We have learned that taking the timeliness concept, we're already starting to do debriefs and deconstructing situations now. Usually something happens, we resolve it and then we do a debrief after the fact because this is an ongoing situation and it's an evolving situation. We didn't want to get too far away from the start. So for us, this started back in January and so we've already had some debrief meetings on what were our key learnings, what do we need to evolve, what could we have done better? And so we've been doing some of that work already and instead of waiting until COVID is completely gone cause we really don't know when it's going to be gone. And this has really forced us to be even more nimble than we normally are nimble because we're getting inquiries in real time and we want to be timely, we want to be responsive to media inquiries or consumer inquiries or internal inquiries. And so it's really accelerated our ability to be nimble. And I would say the one other thing is I think it is really underscored how important it was for us to plan and practice. And I think people have seen the performance internally and externally and are very supportive from an executive leadership from both institutions.

Host: Yeah, that makes sense. Okay. Now that I've asked you to look back, I'm asking you if you could pull the crystal ball out of your drawer looking forward. As far as opening up and we talk about people delaying care and obviously elective surgeries have been put on hold, although some are opening up, but you know, maybe at 50% capacity. How will you market in the coming months to try to get that business back?

Frank Lococo: So we are in the initial stages of this. The State last week has allowed elective surgeries to resume. We've started to ramp up as of last week. This week we're starting to ramp up ambulatory. A lot of people say it's, Oh, we're flipping the light switch back on. The analogy I've been using is it's more of a dimmer switch. It's not an, it's not going from off to on. We're not going to snap back to what it was December. And so we need to again, have very clear guiding principles that we have worked with operations to develop, to understand, and to use as we communicate, making sure there's the right amount of testing, making sure there's the right amount of PPE. The right amount of med surge beds, ICU beds, ventilators, etcetera, and using that information as the foundation. At the same time, we're about to field some consumer research to really understand consumer mindsets. Alot of my peers have been talking about, you know, well, people are afraid to come in because of COVID.I think it's more complex than that because you've got situations where yes, are people concerned about COVID. Absolutely. That said, we are in unprecedented times and people are facing uncertainty with their jobs. They may have been furloughed or laid off. They may have reduced benefits. They may look at our visitor policy and say, well, I've been deferring the surgery. I can't have visitors. I don't know if that I want to be in the hospital for three or four or five days with no visitors. Maybe I'll defer it. Maybe consumers are thinking about, well, you know, there's a lot of uncertainty with work. If I have this surgery and I'm out on medical leave and they're downsizing, I will be an easy one to downsize. Or it could be very simply, people are looking for elements of control and nobody likes uncertainty. And right now, why would a consumer inject a lot of uncertainty into their life if they've been able to hold off on that surgery or procedure or their visit until things settled down a lot. So really trying to understand the consumer mindset and then trying to create strategies and messaging that go towards mitigating what those concerns are.

Host: And then will there be a preferred platform to get that message out? I don't know what you currently use, but will you, you know, TV, radio, social media, blogs, podcasts, etcetera. Where are you at once you figure out what that message is, how will you deploy it? On what medium?

Frank Lococo: Well, I'm of a firm belief that there is no silver bullet. I am all about integrated communications and it really needs to be integrated. It needs to be across all channels. We need to be consistent. We need to hit the right people at the right time, at the right channels. So the plans that we're developing right now are going to be a cross channel because we need to make sure that people have the information and then can use that to make the best decisions for themselves.

Host: And as we wrap up, Frank, any final thoughts you'd like to share with us on marketing communications during our current pandemic?

Frank Lococo: You know the final thoughts are communicate widely and honestly make sure you're providing accurate, timely, transparent information, preferably delivered by an expert. Nobody wants to hear me as the head of marketing come out with information around COVID. They want to hear it from a trusted expert and provide visuals whenever you can, so know your audience, make sure you're delivering that accurate and timely transparent information to the right audiences in the right channels.

Host: Frank, this has been terrific. I have a notepad full of notes here. I have planned in practice. I have truth transparency, timeliness. I have pay attention to integrated communications and of course last but not least, we're not flipping the switch. It's more like a dimmer switch. That's a great one. Frank, thank you so much for your time today. This has been terrific.

Frank Lococo: Thank you for having me. I really appreciate you taking the time and providing this information because we're all, we're all learning, we're all in different situations and this is great to be able to share what we've learned and take from others, key learnings and apply here as well.

Host: Sounds great. Frank. Thank you again. We really appreciate your time.Frank Lococo:Thank you.Host:That's Frank Lococo and to see some of Frank's work, please visit And to learn more about SHSMD, please visit, that's and visit our education page to learn about other educational programs at And if you found this podcast helpful and please come on. How could you not? Please share it on all of your social channels. Also, subscribe to get every episode. This has been a production of Dr Podcasting. I'm Bill Klaproth.