Q&A with Kirstan Cecil at Saint Agnes Hospital

By vitamin

We’re giving February some serious “Heart Love.” It’s American Heart Month, so we interviewed the head of marketing at Saint Agnes Hospital, whose Women’s Heart Center is the only program of its kind in Maryland. Kirstan Cecil tells us about her experiences in healthcare marketing, working with Debbie Phelps as a spokesperson for Saint Agnes’ healthy heart initiatives, and what’s on the horizon for 2013.

“A key turning point for us was the creation of a new positioning statement that was developed with feedback from leadership, physicians, boards and staff. It is a statement everyone can get behind and that drove, and continues to drive, all that we do.” —Kirstan Cecil

“A key turning point for us was the creation of a new positioning statement that was developed with feedback from leadership, physicians, boards and staff. It is a statement everyone can get behind and that drove, and continues to drive, all that we do.” —Kirstan Cecil


Crofton, Maryland

Towson State, BS in Health Service Management with a minor in Business Management (graduated Magna Cum Laude)

First job:
Dunkin Donuts! My first career-focused job was at Erickson Retirement Communities as a Marketing Assistant.

First big success as a marketing professional:
When I first joined Erickson, we had 3 retirement communities. I would say my first big success was going into new markets with no name/brand recognition and starting a new community with high-level sales impact. Being a part of growing the company to 21 communities when I left was a great success!

Since you joined Saint Agnes Hospital as the head of marketing and communications in 2009, the hospital has grown by leaps and bounds. How has Saint Agnes evolved its position in the marketplace during that time?

Saint Agnes has always had a good reputation in the market, but being in such a competitive environment, with so many hospitals in Greater Baltimore, it was critical to make a solid footprint in the market. The hospital, along with its physicians, was doing great things to advance medicine and the treatment of our patients. That paired with the new Patient Tower opening gave us a great opportunity to showcase who Saint Agnes really was and the strength behind the care that was being provided.

In 2009, my team was new, so there was a lot of energy and fresh eyes. The hospital as a whole had exciting stories to tell, from expansion, to new technology, to the advanced procedures our physicians were offering—which really positioned us well to propel the organization forward.

A key turning point for us was the creation of a new positioning statement that was developed with feedback from leadership, physicians, boards and staff. It is a statement everyone can get behind and that drove, and continues to drive, all that we do.

The final step was working with Strategic Planning to truly understand whom our market was, how they wanted to engage and interact with hospitals and whom they wanted to hear from. Staying focused on these key elements has allowed us as a team to move the organization forward.

February is American Heart Month and the hospital is taking a multi-faceted marketing approach to educating the community about heart disease. Tell us about it.

Our Cardiovascular Institute has a great commitment and focus on prevention. For the last 9 years we have hosted an event in February, Red Dress Sunday, geared towards raising awareness and educating women on the devastating impact of heart disease. It is the number one killer of women and awareness is nowhere near where it needs to be.

With a continued focus and desire to increase awareness deeper than just one event in February, in 2012 under the leadership of Shannon Winakur, M.D. we opened our Women’s Heart Center. American Heart Month gives us a great platform for getting out our key messages. Local media have been really supportive in helping us raise awareness levels. We are honored once again to have been invited by the Mayor and City Health Department to join them, as well as the American Heart Association for a kick off press conference [that occurred on January 29].

We have also developed a wonderful relationship with Debbie Phelps, who we feel represents every busy woman. She, along with her daughters are coming to Saint Agnes’ Women’s Heart Center to get their 60 Minute Heart Checks this month. Their participation will really help other women in our community understand the importance of getting screened. We also have another exciting opportunity we will announce later in February, which will allow us to really reach deep into the community and make positive impacts—stay tuned!

From a marketing perspective, we have plans to roll out new campaigns and messages to engage with the women in Maryland and inspire them to do something good for themselves. It’s 60 short minutes, and can really change the course of their future health.

Heart disease is the #1 cause of death among women. The Women’s Heart Center at Saint Agnes exists to change that. How are you leveraging marketing-communications to fuel the change?

The Women’s Heart Center gives Saint Agnes a great tool to change the landscape of awareness. We can all talk about the need to raise awareness and make a change, but having a tool and resource in place to connect with women and educate them on their personal risk factors and then use that to create a personalized plan for them is key. Knowing the work we have ahead of us, we approached our plan with a multi-faceted direction.

We are going to take advantage of every media outlet—print, web, public relations, events, online, mobile messaging, and e-mail. We have to make it easy. Women are very busy and their natural tendency is to put everyone else first. To break through we need to be in front of them everywhere they turn. Being a busy, working mom myself I understand the difficulty and challenges we face, but I’m confident we can make a difference. Our goal is to have women look at the Heart Check the same way they look at mammograms—it’s not a “maybe one day I’ll do it”, it’s a must do.

The healthcare industry is growing and changing significantly. Hospitals are adapting to this change from a business and marketing perspective. What trends are you seeing?

The hospital industry has seen great change, and will continue to do so over the next few years. In addition, consumers are changing how they interact with marketing and organizations. With so many dual income families, time is a commodity and if you don’t make things easy you will lose your audience quickly.

We also work in one of the most competitive hospital landscapes, which create its own challenges. All of that put together makes being thoughtful and innovative in creating marketing plans a critical step. Using direct and high impact techniques that you can carefully track and adjust is a must. That’s where online and mobile really come in to play, as they can be very targeted and adjusted on the fly. It’s also extremely consumer friendly because it’s at their fingertips and they can take action immediately.

Consumers are a great deal more educated now. They are taking ownership of their healthcare decisions, which means hospitals need to engage at a higher level and be transparent about outcomes and safety. Consumers aren’t the only group marketers need to focus on—there is a growing need to keep communications with physicians and employees open and frequent. It is one of the most dynamic and multi-faceted industries I have experienced, which makes it incumbent on us as marketers to create equally dynamic and multi-faceted plans.

What’s on the radar for 2013?

Saint Agnes has had an extremely exciting few years. From the opening of our new Main Lobby and Patient Tower to our 150th Anniversary to all of the advancements in medicine—there is a great story to tell and I don’t foresee any of that slowing down in 2013!  Our expansion continues and we have some exciting new projects on the horizon. From a clinical standpoint, our Institutes are growing leaps and bounds and truly taking a leadership role in so many areas. Right now marketing is focusing on our Bariatrics program, which continues to lead in Maryland, our Cardiovascular Institute and its broad reaching and integrated services and our Cancer Institute is expanding providing 40% more space and a high tech Infusion Center. So what’s on the horizon for 2013?  It might be easier to talk about what is not!

Is there anything you’d like to add?

I’ve been fortunate to spend my career in organizations that have strong missions. I believe it gives organizations a soul and purpose bigger than each person’s individual achievements. Saint Agnes is no exception. I have the privilege of working with a team of physicians and leaders that excel in their roles and are truly changing the health of our community. Telling their stories is our job in marketing, and I’m thankful they make it so easy for us!

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