Hospital Marketing Invokes Heavenly Patient Experience to Face Goliath in Ohio

By Stewart Gandolf
Chief Executive Officer

St John Medical Center Logo

A New Marketing Spirit

What’s your hospital marketing, advertising and public relations strategy going to be with Goliath in your back yard? Here’s the picture…

St. John Medical Center in Westlake, Ohio, is less than eight miles (and under 15 minutes) from Fairview Hospital, a Cleveland Clinic facility. If Cleveland Clinic isn’t a Goliath in the hospital world, it’s formidable, respectable—and decidedly world class—competition. What’s worse, until recently the St. John facility, previously St. John West Shore, had a poor reputation in the community.

That was five years ago. Fairview Hospital is still close, but for St. John, it’s a success story of revitalization and rebuilding. “Today,” according to a news feature, “the hospital is undergoing a $62 million expansion and makeover to keep up with growing patient demand. In a region full of big health systems undertaking shiny new construction projects, St. John has positioned itself as the smaller community hospital with a Catholic spirituality that emphasizes compassionate patient care.”

But, budget aside, what’s the marketing approach? Cliff Coker, President of St. John Medical Center, reveals the strategic thinking: “You’re never going to outspend your competitor, you probably won’t outsmart them and it’s not about being rational,” Coker said. “The one thing you can control is patient experience. The spirituality and culture are now driving the image.”

“The hospital has earmarked $1.5 million to spend on marketing and signage to advertise its new services,” according to “About $840,000 of the marketing budget will be directed toward the kind of advertising area residents have rarely seen from the hospital, including print ads, billboards, direct mailings, television commercials, brochures and radio spots that promote the hospital’s Catholic mission.”

The facility is co-owned by University Hospitals (the operating manager) and the Sisters of Charity Health System (the religious sponsor). In the published report, Sister Judith Ann Karam, president and chief executive of the Sisters of Charity credits the renewed relationship with UH and the hospital’s welcoming patient environment.

“Our employees are very focused on mission, with a very deliberate reflection on the patient as part of our ministry. We’re not just there to run a business,” Karam said. For the 1,300 employees and 300 volunteers, their work is “a call from God” that focuses on compassion, charity care and diversity.

You’ll want to read the in-depth feature, St. John Medical Center’s spiritual mission key to its health care, for more particulars. St. John is calling on heavenly help to differentiate its patient experience.

Stewart Gandolf
Chief Executive Officer at Healthcare Success
Stewart Gandolf, MBA, is Chief Executive Officer of Healthcare Success, one of the nation's leading healthcare and digital marketing agencies. Over the past 20 years, Stewart has marketed and consulted for over 1,000 healthcare clients, ranging from practices and hospitals to multi-billion dollar corporations. A frequent speaker, Stewart has shared his expertise at over 200 venues nationwide. As an author and expert resource, Stewart has also written for many leading industry publications, including the 21,000 subscriber Healthcare Success Insight blog. Stewart also co-authored, "Cash-Pay Healthcare: Start, Grow & Perfect Your Cash-Pay Healthcare Business." Stewart began his career with leading advertising agencies, including J. Walter Thompson, where he marketed Fortune 500 clients such as Wells Fargo and Bally's Total Fitness.



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