Selected Podcast

Top 5 Lessons Learned from a Children’s Hospital CMO

Date: May 18, 2020
Donna Teach, Chief Marketing and Communications Officer for Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio, discusses crisis communications at the Children's Hospital.
Top 5 Lessons Learned from a Children’s Hospital CMO
Donna Teach
Donna Teach is Chief Marketing and Communications Officer for Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio. With more than 1.3 million patient visits annually, Nationwide Children’s is America’s largest pediatric hospital and research institute and has been recognized by U.S. News and World Report on their honor roll list of America’s Top 10 Children’s Hospitals.

Donna has been with Nationwide Children’s for 20 years and her current role includes oversight of all marketing, communication and digital functions. Nationwide Children’s 56-member Marketing and PR team supports all aspects of the institution and includes brand strategy, consumer, donor and referral source marketing, call center, market research, web, social media and interactive marketing, media relations and corporate communications.

During her 30+-year career in health care marketing and public relations, Donna has gained real-life experience in all areas of the discipline. She currently serves on the national board for the American Hospital Association’s Society for Healthcare Strategy and Market Development and is Chair Emeritus for Goodwill of Columbus.

Donna is a two-time alumnus from The Ohio State University with degrees in Medical Communication and Allied Health Administration.

Introduction: The following SHSMD Podcast is a production of

Bill Klaproth: On this edition of the SHSMD Podcast, we continue our series featuring SHSMD women in leadership and with us as Donna Teach, Chief Marketing and Communications Officer for Nationwide Children's Hospital. She is going to share with us five tips that she has learned along the way, including tip number three, the power of the unicorn. Hmm. What could that be? Hmm. You're going to have to listen to find out that and more coming up, right now. This is the SHSMD Podcast, Rapid Insights, where healthcare strategy professionals and planning, business development, marketing, communications, and public relations. I'm your host, Bill Klaproth, and on this episode we continue to spotlight women in leadership. With me, is Donna Teach, Chief Marketing and Communications Officer for Nationwide Children's Hospital in Columbus, Ohio. In her current role, Donna has oversight of all marketing communications and digital functions and Donna is going to share the top five tips she has learned in her exceptional career. Donna, welcome to the SHSMD Podcast. As you know, we start every episode of the SHSMD Podcast with Rapid Insights. One quick tip someone can use to make their marketing communications better today. Donna, give us your Rapid Insight.

Donna Teach: Right now, one of the things that I am reading is a book called the Daily Stoic. It's meditations on wisdom, perseverance, and the art of living, which I think right now as marketers in this very unusual time, this kind of a read is just what folks should take a look at it. It's a great read.

Host: And that is your Rapid Insight. We start every episode of the SHSMD Podcast that way and I love it when people share book ideas. So thank you. Donna, you suggested we check out the Daily Stoic, so we are spotlighting SHSMD women in leadership, and in this episode we're going to hear the top five tips you have learned along the way. Donna, looking forward to this, and again, thank you for your time. This is going to be fun. So here we go. Tip number one, know your truth.

Donna Teach: Absolutely. Well, this is really fun today because it gave me a chance to kind of reflect on the things that have been important to me throughout my career. And I will not tell you how long it has been, but it is more than three decades. And I think the thing that all five of these tips have in common is they all come from great women who I have encountered in mentorship roles throughout my career. And these are women who may have been senior to me in their experience, but also a lot of the really bright, great young millennial women that I'm getting a chance to work with right now. In this first tip of living your true North and knowing your true North really exemplifies how I've led my career. It came from a woman who's been a tremendous mentor to me. And it's the idea that if you know your true North, you know we have to make a lot decisions with our head and our heart. And I think this idea that as you're making, whether they're professional decisions or personal decisions that you really know what guides you in your life and what's really important to you.

And knowing your true North is so important, especially when you have to make those tough decisions. There's actually another great book that's on this subject about finding your true North and it's really been one of the best pieces of advice that has guided me throughout my career, especially discovering healthcare, marketing and PR. I am a career monogamous. I have spent my entire career in healthcare, marketing and PR. And a lot of that is just because it fuels my true North, my passion for the art and science of medicine and the people who do it and the honor we have of serving people through healthcare. So even though my job has changed a lot over the last three decades, my true North being guided by my passion for healthcare, especially nonprofit healthcare, has really carried me throughout my career very well.

Host: Such great thoughts, Donna. Thank you for that. And you mentioned a book. Can you share that with us?

Donna Teach: Yes. Actually this is another great classic. This book is called The True North, Discover Your Authentic Leadership by an author named Bill George. It's been around for quite a while, but it is a great read and in fact I think he's updated his volume and he has a lot of great online resources as well.

Host: And if you find your True North, do you also find more satisfaction? Do you find more joy? Do you find more success?

Donna Teach: Oh absolutely. I honestly believe that you are going to be successful at anything you do if you are pursuing what you're truly passionate about and pursuing with people who share your common passions.

Host: So know your True North. Very important. Alright, tip number two, Donna, know your style and embrace who you are.

Donna Teach: I think kind of building off of that idea of understanding your True North is also understanding your style. I am a huge fan of kind of revisiting these ideas of your personal leadership style, whether you're a Myers Briggs kind of person or a Disc style. The idea of being able to understand what are your natural tendencies as a leader? And what was taught to me, which was a really important tip was there is no such thing as a bad style. Every style has strengths and every style brings something wonderful to the discussion. I think that the idea, one of the best tips I got is that by understanding your style and more importantly helping to understand the styles of others, you can be very adaptive and responsive in your communication, and really just feeling comfortable when you're going into a situation, understanding how you're embracing who you are and bring everything that's great about your style to a situation. And if you're dealing with an especially kind of maybe challenging relationship or a challenging issue, I think understanding and having empathy and respect for what other people's styles might, how that might affect their perceptions is incredibly important. So I use that a lot in my role, especially when I'm working with other leaders or trying to build coalitions and new relationships. I think being able to embrace and understand your style is so important and also your style can change as you grow. You may have one particular style that is your dominant, but there's many ways that we grow and evolve and also our ability to flex towards other styles is really important. So I'm a huge fan of understanding, embracing what your style is.

Host: Looking back over your career, how important has it been for you to reevaluate your leadership style as it has evolved?

Donna Teach: I think it's been really important. I think both in my workplace I'm thankful to have always worked in organizations that have invested in professional development. That's not the case everywhere. So that's where organizations like SHSMD can be so helpful because they offer these types of opportunities for leadership development, and kind of understanding more about your work style. But I really try to do a Disc assessment. We do them, where I work at Nationwide Children's Hospital every couple of years. And I try to do them, definitely whenever I bring anybody new onto my team and we're very transparent about sharing and talking about our different styles. I think that's another thing that's really important. Is it something that is, it's really important to share with others so they understand how you communicate and what your natural style might be. So I think it's something you should revisit often.

Host: I think that's such a good point. And the other thing I really liked what you said was having empathy and respect for other people's styles. Just because their leadership style might be different from yours doesn't mean that it's bad or wrong. So I think that's really a good point you made.

Donna Teach: Oh, absolutely. And diversity always makes us stronger. I think the best decisions are decisions that are made from multiple points of view when they're taken in consideration. So I think that's another way that styles, if your styles can be so helpful as you want to get that diversity of thought and perspective.

Host: So taking the time to learn and understand your leadership style can really pay dividends when it comes time for you, managing yourself, but also in managing other people. All right, Donna. So this one caught my attention. Tip number three, the power of the unicorn.

Donna Teach: No, I think this is one of my favorites. I think that as healthcare marketing strategists, a lot of times we're the unicorns of our organization. You know, we are surrounded by medical professionals and, or researchers or very operationally focused folks, and a lot of times I don't know about you, but sometimes I feel like I'm the unicorn in the room. I may be the one who's there and we're making an operational decision and I'm bringing in voice of customer data, or I'm trying to raise the voice of the digital native. When I'm talking to a group of physicians who are making a clinical decision that may not necessarily have that customer point of view at the front of the table. And sometimes you have to be courageous to be the unicorn. But I think the idea that we bring tremendous value to our organizations. Again, a great piece of mentorship advice that I got was from someone who's like, you need to embrace the different perspective that you have and you need to know that the organization values that you have that different perspective. So I think as healthcare marketing and strategists, and again this is the beauty of SHSMD cause we can all come together as a group of unicorns, is that we have a very important, unique perspective and voice. And it's very important that we feel confident expressing it within our organizations.

Host: Hmm. That's so good. So do you have an, can I put you on the spot for a minute? Do you have an example of how being a unicorn has helped you in your career?

Donna Teach: Well, I think it's actually where we are right now, Bill. That's a great question. Is at the time you and I are recording this, we are sitting in the middle of one of the most unprecedented times of our, not only our lifetimes but probably in recent history helping our organizations navigate through COVID-19 and this pandemic has been something I have never experienced in my life or my career. And the idea that probably just about every day at 7:30 in the morning, I am on a call with 30 of my colleagues and we are making operational decisions about how we're going to navigate our organizations through COVID. And I'm there representing a lot of times the sort of external voice of the patient. Really topically right now we're making organizational decisions, but we're constantly listening to the voice of our patients. And a lot of the ways that we're doing that is by tracking social media. So when we started this conversation and we started presenting social media data people were like, why are we looking at this?

But I think now people realize that the power of social media data is one way we can stay on the true pulse of what our patients and families are feeling. And more importantly, what they're saying right now. And we're actually using that data to help fuel a lot of our operational decisions. And so that's an example of being the unicorn at the table where, you know, especially as our organizations are making critical operational decisions and they're trying to look at epidemiology data and they're looking at PPE availability and they're looking at impact on finances. That being able to put the voice of the customer in the center of the table and being able to use data like social media analytics and social media trending and tracking reports, is a perfect example of being a really I hope, helpful and powerfully unicorn in a very important time for all of us.

Host: Yeah, I really like that answer. So knowing your value and that your perspective has value, how important is it for someone to be a unicorn and to speak up if they share a different opinion or perspective?

Donna Teach: Absolutely. And you know what, that's a great segway, using your style and leveraging your style and understanding the style of those around you, can make you so much more effective. So, for example, if I came in, I work with a lot of people who are very analytical and so I know that if I'm going to bring a perspective to the table, how can I back it with data? So I think in order to be effective, especially as a Marcomm communicator or Marcomm strategist, you need to understand your audience. You need to understand relationships within your organization and how to be effective in your communication and how you fit within the system in which you operate to be effective. I think a lot of times that's how we struggle is we work so hard to get to the table. And then once you're at the table, how do you make your voice heard in a way that you can be effective and impactful, and a sister organization moving forward?

Host: Yeah, that's great. Understand your audience to be most effective, really, really important and great point Donna. Thank you. Okay, here we are. We're at number four already. The power of lifelong learning.

Donna Teach: Absolutely. And this is one of my favorite young millennial mentor piece of advice is that this day and age, you know, we all went to college and I went to college a long time ago. I use absolutely 0% of what I learned at that time. Academically, obviously every life lesson was so important, but I think if I had gone to college 10 years ago, things are moving so fast that we need to be in a constant mindset that we need to be learning new things all the time. And I can tell you for me and where I am in my career, being able to learn from digital natives, you know, I was not born in a time of being a digital native. So for me, a lot of my lifelong learning is around spending time with my young digital natives who are helping me to think digitally first. Now for all of us, lifelong learning can show up a lot of different ways. It may be how you focus on leadership development. It may be on how you focus on understanding new technologies and marcomm technologies. It may show up a lot of different ways for people, but I think the idea that there are so many opportunities for lifelong learning. Again, I at SHSMD, because I think organizations like SHSMD, whether you're prescribing to a listserv or attending a conference or so many great ways to stay plugged in to be constant learning, listening to podcasts like this one. And obviously for folks who are listening to this, you probably are all those types of lifelong learners, so I commend you, but I think it's really so important that we are constantly learning and growing because things are just changing so fast.

Host: You're so right about things changing fast and having that mindset that's open to new ideas and new learning is so critical and thank you for mentioning podcast. This is the go to podcast for healthcare marketers, by the way. All right. Tip number five work is all about the relationships and the reservoir of trust.

Donna Teach: Yeah. This was actually a wonderful piece of advice that was given to me from a very early mentor of my career. And I actually remember sitting across the table at lunch and getting this piece of advice. And this person described obviously the importance of relationships. You know, when you sit and have those difficult conversations, not only understanding style, but being able to come to a conversation, whether it's an easy one or a difficult one with a strong relationship in place and how your ability to grow and maintain strong relationships of trust is all about the reservoir of trust. And this person described relationships and trust as a reservoir of water. That when the level of the reservoir is very low it is easy to be drained. It's quick to drain that reservoir of trust. People may jump to conclusions, they may be less trustful when you're trying to convince them of something. But when the reservoir is full, ripples on the pond aren't necessarily felt so deeply. You have the opportunity to navigate conversations, and even if there's a misunderstanding or a mistake, people are quick to restore trust. And so this person talked to me about how you build reservoirs of trust with people.

The idea that you're accountable to your word, you're responsive and when you have issues or problems, you come to them and let them know versus them being surprised or hearing from somebody else. I mean, it's very simple principles of investing in these deep reservoirs of trust and always kind of measuring the depth of the water, knowing if you need to have a contentious or difficult conversation. Where is that reservoir of trust? And not that you can't have that hard conversation, but understanding that you may need to spend more time with that person. And it's a two way street, you need to be finding ways to build reservoirs of trust that you have with other folks as well. So the power of the relationship and the reservoir of trust are kind of two themes that I've taken throughout my career, whenever I'm approaching relationships and deep reservoirs of trust feel great. I mean, this is how you build mentorship relationships with people and it just makes people wonderful to work with when you have that deep kind of reservoir and trust in place. And when you're at the table, like I just described in these days of COVID, to be able to have those relationships as you're coming in and having some pretty difficult conversations.

Host: And when you build that reservoir of trust, aren't you also elevating your personal brand and putting yourself in position for bigger projects, more responsibility and personal and professional growth?

Donna Teach: Absolutely. And I think people are more open to giving you feedback. I think when people care about you, they will give you coaching, they will give you feedback, they will give you advice. And candidly, that's also a great way to build a reservoir of trust is to call someone, ask for their advice, ask for their input, even when you may not need it on an immediate issue. The idea that you value and seek out someone's perspective, especially people who think differently than you are, then you might. Because sometimes those are the hardest folks when you have to have those difficult conversations. Like some of them, my folks I work the most on building these reservoirs of trust with, my super analytical people because I am not the world's most analytic thinker. I'm more intuitive in my style, but when I'm sitting down with folks who are very linear analytic. I have several folks I will tap into to tell me, you know, am I thinking about this the right way? Give me your input. And not only does that make my thinking better, but it sort of builds that reservoir of trust, especially if I'm going to be coming back to that person and involving them in the decision I'm trying to get through. You know, what's fun during a project or something I'm trying to do. So, absolutely. That's a great question.

Host: So as we build that reservoir of trust for someone listening, how do you do that? Is it by taking responsibility for your actions, treating people with respect, admitting your mistakes, being a person of integrity, all of those types of things are things that build the reservoir of trust.

Donna Teach: Absolutely, and I think a great way to tap into that within your organization is looking at your organizational values, and I know at Nationwide Children's where I work, our values really are a True North for us. We do the right thing, we value diversity. All of the values that your organization puts out there, how are you exemplifying those? And I think you just gave a great list. I think one of the fastest ways to erode trust is not being accountable for what you say you're going to do. I think it's much better to under promise and over deliver than to be one of those folks who over promises, but then under delivers. I think that is so important.

Host: And there you have it. Five important things that you've learned along the way. Thank you Donna. Number one, know your True North. Number two, know your style and embrace who you are. Number three, the power of the unicorn. Number four, the power of lifelong learning. And number five, work is all about relationships and the reservoir of trust. Donna, thank you for sharing that list with us.

Donna Teach: Well it came from some great women, so I've been very blessed to have and wonderful male mentors too. But since we're talking about women today, these were just some of my favorites that have really helped me over the years.

Host: And just a couple more questions, Donna, and thank you so much for your time. First, can you go back to that college age student? Is your career everything you hoped or wanted it to be when you were envisioning your future life back then?

Donna Teach: Oh my gosh, that is such a fun question. I am actually a third generation almost doctor. So I ended up doing what I'm doing because I had a lot of experiences with healthcare. I had an ill brother, so I was around hospitals, and my grandfather and my dad both were almost physicians. One ended up going into pharmaceutical medicine and the one ended up going into a completely different business. But I've just had this generational passion and closeness and interest about healthcare. So I was premed in college and I was going into my junior year and I loved healthcare, but I was minoring in journalism because I love the storytelling elements of it, and I love the whole art and practice of medicine. But one of the best things that happened to me, I don't want to say was one of the most difficult things was I had a professor who came to me and said, Donna, I know you're passionate about this, but you should not become a physician. He understood that for me it wasn't as much about the practice of medicine as it was the art and science. And he said, you're this amazing writer. You're minoring in journalism for goodness sake. And at the time I was going to school on the East coast and he referred me to the Ohio State University where I ended up getting my undergraduate and graduate degrees in medical communications and healthcare administration. So that act of that professor to give me that difficult advice really sent me on the true course of my True North for the rest of my career.

Host: Really interesting how career paths shift and change. So thank you for sharing that story with us. Okay, and then question number two, knowing what you know now, what advice would you give your younger self?

Donna Teach: Wow. Oh my gosh, that there's never been a better time to do what we do. And I have to tell you, being able to work in healthcare right now, to see the transformation of the industry has been such an exciting and wonderful journey. Just to enjoy every second, find your mentors, listen to your True North and just enjoy the ride.

Host: Enjoy every second, find your mentors, listen to your True North and enjoy the ride. Sage advice from a healthcare marketer. Donna, thank you so much for sharing your wisdom and your story and your time with us today. Thanks again.

Donna Teach: Oh, this has been great. Thank you for the opportunity. Happy to do it.

Host: This is our women in leadership series and that was Donna Teach, chief marketing and communications officer for Nationwide Children's Hospital in Columbus, Ohio. 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 again, how could you not? Please come on Share it on all of your social channels and make you subscribe to get every episode. Please. You don't want to miss any of these. This has been a production of DR Podcasting. I'm Bill Klaproth. See you.