Chapter 06: Public Affairs: External Communications

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Chapter 06: Public Affairs: External Communications

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Mr. Stuyck explains the changing role of Public Affairs since the seventies. At that time, physicians were not concerned about public relations. He then points to Dr. John Mendelsohn's arrival as a turning point in the institution's dealings with the public: Mr. Stuyck explains how he and others worked with Dr. Mendelsohn to draw greater attention from national and international media, eventually hiring a New York public relations firm, The GabbeGroup (which still works for MD Anderson). He also explains that the single greatest factor to change the institution's media needs was the passing of the self-referral legislation in 1994.

Mr. Stuyck describes the challenges created when the bill went into effect in 1995 and forty percent of patients could suddenly request their own appointments. He explains that the information service, Ask MD Anderson, was created to help patients navigate the complex institution: it takes 100,000 calls per year.

Mr. Stuyck next describes several strategies used to raise the institution's profile. He describes the trips that Public Affairs planned for Dr. Mendelsohn, designing them to create more exposure for cancer and the institution. The GabbeGroup suggested that Public Affairs submit profiles on cancer issues to the US News and World Report website. Public Affairs also published surveys on attitudes about cancer and attitudes about breast cancer in Prevention Magazine.

Mr. Stuyck explains that departments that heavily use Public Affairs services fund positions within the Department. This insures that Public Affairs serves their needs.

Mr. Stuyck points to the important and productive link between Development and Public Affairs. He then identifies some key moments in the institution's relationship to the public: achieving status as a cancer center; the change in the institution's name in the 1980s; the impact of the Internet.

Identifier

StuyckSC_01_20130611_C06

Publication Date

6-11-2013

Topics Covered

An Institutional Unit; The Business of MD Anderson; The MD Anderson Brand, Reputation; Building/Transforming the Institution; Growth and/or Change; MD Anderson History; The Business of MD Anderson; The Healthcare Industry; Portraits; Collaborations; Institutional Processes; Discovery and Success

Transcript

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

Okay. Well, since we’re on the subject of the external communications, maybe we can—maybe we can talk about that. And as you—how has MD Anderson’s need for—what have been the big landmarks in change? What have been the big landmarks in the history of Public Affairs that show how the public affairs function has changed public/external relations?

Steve Stuyck, MPH :

Oh, what a great question. What a great question. Where in the world would I begin with this?

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

Wherever you would like.

Steve Stuyck, MPH :

In the early days—and I’m speaking mainly about media and external relations—doctors didn’t have that much concern or interest about coverage in the way they do nowadays. There’s a very competitive environment these days, and every institution is trying its best to get its message out. What would I say would be the hallmarks? Well, I think one of the hallmarks—it would be right in the middle of the time—would be Dr. [John] Mendelsohn’s arrival here. Dr. Mendelsohn felt that MD Anderson deserved a greater attention in the nation’s top news media and in international media than it had been receiving, and I agreed with him. And we had tried every trick in the book to enhance media visibility of MD Anderson. We had a very aggressive media relations staff.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

What did you go about doing to accomplish that?

Steve Stuyck, MPH :

News releases is one thing—a technique. But we did a lot more than that. We did—were constantly phoning media and emailing media with tips and things like that. But anyway, Mendelsohn decided we needed to do better, and I agreed with him. And this is what I meant about him giving us resources. One of the proposals I made to him in order to achieve this was that we would retain a New York-based public relations firm so that we would have our feet on the ground—people on the ground in the—really the world’s media capital not just the New York—the nation’s media capital. And he agreed with that, which LeMaistre would have never gone for. Too expensive sort of a thing. So we set out—three of us did—myself and two of my associates—to find a media relations council, and we did. We hired the GabbeGroup—G-A-B-B-E—and they still work for MD Anderson. They have been fantastically successful in generating national visibility for MD Anderson—a lot of clever and creative ideas. So that’s one thing. But you know, Tacey, I’m getting this out of order. If I were to tell you the single factor that affected us more than anything else, it would be the change from physician referral to patient self-referral in 1995.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

In ’95, yes, when it became a law.

Steve Stuyck, MPH :

Yeah, it was approved by the legislature in ’94 and it was started in—

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

Became law in ’95.

Steve Stuyck, MPH :

That changed everything for us. It changed everything for me. It was fun and invigorating to work with a team of people here on the proposals that went to the legislature for all those things—the changes for MD Anderson—and we worked very hard on it for a long period of time. So the—when the change took effect, almost overnight—in no time at all about forty percent of our patients were calling to request their own appointments. And this was very scary to us because we were concerned about how a patient would work through the MD Anderson system without a physician to guide them. So that’s when we created the MD Anderson Information Line, which is now called Ask MD Anderson, which is part of the Division of Public Affairs. And it takes about 100,000 calls a year from patients trying to figure out what they want to do. We changed a lot of systems in patient referral programs, and that also caused us to hire an advertising agency to advertise MD Anderson for the first time and a lot of things like that. So that is probably the one factor that made my area grow, evolve, and change more than anything else during the entire history.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

Amazing. And this—was this also the time when there was some real branding that was taking place at the institution? Or had that already been done?

Steve Stuyck, MPH :

The branding—we did our initial baby steps at branding with a new logo in the 1980s—the one that’s been replaced by the strike through logo now. But the more sophisticated branding efforts came much later on. They came in the 2000s.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

Okay, yeah, 2010 I think.

Steve Stuyck, MPH :

Something like that, yeah.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

Okay. Because I was just wondering how—with Dr. Mendelsohn’s stewardship of institutional growth—if that had been accompanied also with—I mean I imagine you must have had conversations with him about what the communications about the institution should look like.

Steve Stuyck, MPH :

Many.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

Well, what were those conversations like?

Steve Stuyck, MPH :

Well, let me tell you something else. One of our secret weapons during this time was Dr. Mendelsohn. He was very good at working with media. He loves intellectual give and take. He never appears to be afraid. He never loses his cool. Just as he did in other settings, he did it with media as well. Media love him. He was—he conveyed that scientist kind of honesty that others don’t always do. And we took him all over the world to meet with media. We did—working with the GabbeGroup, we made media tours to Washington, D.C., and to New York City several times with him, and they would be briefing sessions. Here’s what’s going on in cancer today. And by the way, when you think about cancer for your publication think MD Anderson. We’re here to help you. But he was really good at that, and we went to London and did a thing with The Economist. He had a luncheon with the editors of The Economist. He did a lot of things like that.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

Well, the way you said it, I think, was kind of telling because you said, “We took him to.” So these were actually events that Public Affairs—

Steve Stuyck, MPH :

Oh, yes.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

Okay. So—

Steve Stuyck, MPH :

Yes. We did three or four press briefings with the US State Department for international media in New York City on issues in cancer. We did a lot of things. And the ideas all came from us and—all the staff work did—and then he came along, and he loved it, and he never missed a cue.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

So what were your planning sessions like? In Public Affairs when you were thinking, okay, we need to achieve such-and-such a goal with getting MD Anderson recognition. How are we going to do that? How did you go about creating a strategy, for example, for these trips?

Steve Stuyck, MPH :

Well, first—and I don’t know if you saw them or not. We always had a strategic plan for Public Affairs.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

I don’t think I’ve seen one of those.

Steve Stuyck, MPH :

I think I sent them to Javier [Garza], but I can’t really recall if I did or not.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

I’ll make a note on that.

Steve Stuyck, MPH :

I thought we were good at that. We brainstormed together as teams on regular occasions, and we embraced individual projects when ideas came up. Take this as an example. The GabbeGroup brought to us the possibility of doing content on cancer for the U.S. News & World Report website, and these were detailed profiles on various issues in cancer. I think that they might have been dropped by now. Maybe not. We ended up doing fourteen of them because we thought it was a good opportunity to reach people with good information about cancer as being the best public relations. And they were getting like three million hits a month on their website. And so it took a lot of effort to figure out who was going to write these and how they were going to be vetted by our medical staff. It was a huge initiative. Each one of them was probably three or four thousand words and divvied up in different ways. So we would have strategy sessions on individual tactics on how to get things done. We did two surveys with Prevention magazine—one on attitudes about cancer and one on attitudes about breast cancer. Both surveys were developed by our Department of Health Disparities Research, and they had special sections in the magazine devoted to the topic—light eight- or ten-page sections using our information, our doctors, and findings from these various surveys. We paid for the surveys, and Prevention furnished the content for the magazine. That was another idea that came from the GabbeGroup. A lot of things like that. We just tried to be innovative in our thinking about what we were going to do.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

Now maybe this would be a time to—since you mentioned the trip and then you mentioned these connections with media, were these instances in which you sat down with Dr. Mendelsohn and maybe with Development and maybe other individuals and said, okay. How can we coordinate our efforts here?

Steve Stuyck, MPH :

Yes.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

Tell me about that.

Steve Stuyck, MPH :

Well, one thing that we did in order to achieve greater support for the institutional mission was to have a number of positions in Communications funded by client departments. So there are right now three or four people working in Communications who are funded by the Development Office to work exclusively on their needs. We have a couple that work on human resources. We have one who works in prevention. We have two or three working in Tom Burke’s [Thomas Burke, MD [Oral History Interview]] area. We have two in the provost area. So this makes our budgeting incredibly complicated because sometimes it’s a hundred percent funded. Sometimes it’s fifty percent. Sometimes it’s sixty percent. I share the funding with Tom Burke or something like that. And what it does is it makes our budget complicated. On the other hand, it says to the client department, “If we don’t meet your needs, you can take your dollars and withdraw them and do joint evaluation of programs.” There’s a story in this morning’s Chronicle—you may have seen it—about MD Anderson going to New Jersey. That was news to me. It surprised me. But we have someone who works on the outreach programs—the network programs. So that’s a ton of meetings all the time strategizing on things.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

And I’m just thinking, too. I mean it’s an interesting way of getting a huge—the perspectives of a huge number of stakeholders at the table when you’re not only planning for—okay. We’ve got to deal with the Development project but also you have the voice of Development at a meeting that’s discussing other issues as well.

Steve Stuyck, MPH :

Yes. And I did that as well. We had routine meetings with Dr. [Ernest T.] Hawk and the leadership in Prevention on a monthly basis—with [Patrick B.] Pat Mulvey and his staff on a monthly basis in Development. So there was a lot of collaboration that went on.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

Could you give me an example of a really successful collaboration of that kind? Because I’d really like to understand how you sat down and brought the functions of two different—or three different divisions together on a problem for the institution.

Steve Stuyck, MPH :

Well, I think one of the most successful has been Public Affairs’ collaboration with Development. If you look at the literature regarding higher education administration, there’s often a gap—a problem area between Development and Public Affairs. They have similar missions but different skill sets and different ideas about how to approach things. And I think that Development and Public Affairs here have a perfect working relationship. They have fundraising goals that need to be achieved, and they have communications needs to help meet those goals—development of materials, publicity and promotion, speeches—all kinds of things like that. And I think that was a great one.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

Was there a particular initiative or event that you could point to that really shows—

Steve Stuyck, MPH :

There’ve been hundreds over the years. There really have. Every major development event—all the big ones.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

Is there an example of a collaboration or a connection that was not as effective—that you could evaluate why it didn’t work?

Steve Stuyck, MPH :

I’m not trying to be coy but I can. Nothing’s coming to my mind right at the moment that I feel like going on record about.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

That’s okay. That’s all right. (laughs) I’ll try to think of—well, why don’t we talk a little bit about how the—I’m sorry. I’m just shifting gears back because we were talking about how the needs for external communications had kind of changed over the course of time. And I’m wondering if there are any—I do want to ask you about Internet and all of that because, of course, that was probably a pretty significant factor. But excluding that for the moment, were there any other kind of landmark moments or important transformations between ’72 when you were arriving—’74 or ’75 I guess is when you took your position—and into the ’90s?

Steve Stuyck, MPH :

Well, our status as a national—as a comprehensive cancer center was important in its own way. Patient self-referral and Mendelsohn’s arrival.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

Tell me about that status as a cancer center. What did that mean?

Steve Stuyck, MPH :

All of a sudden, at the beginning of it MD Anderson—when it could claim to be one of three federally designated comprehensive cancer centers in the United States, it attracted a lot of media attention at the time. This was Richard Nixon’s—well, you’re very familiar with that. And at first, there were just three: Roswell Park, Memorial—

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

They’ll remember and where the recorder may not be. (laughs)

Steve Stuyck, MPH :

Roswell Park, Memorial Sloan-Kettering, and MD Anderson were the three and the others were named quickly after that—up to maybe a dozen or so—and now I think the number probably reaches forty. It’s lost its value as a marketing tool because there are so many of them and so many good ones, as a matter of fact. So that was an important—and we made a lot out of that.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

Made a lot in the sense of—

Steve Stuyck, MPH :

In our communications. One of only three—one of the first three—that sort of thing.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

And what was the effect of that?

Steve Stuyck, MPH :

Well, I think it contributed to greater philanthropy and greater just general public recognition. So that was one. Another major change which came in the 1980s—1987, I think—was changing the institutional name. We had been many things in the early years as you know—variations on a theme. We were the University of Texas System Cancer Center MD Anderson Hospital and Tumor Institute—and believe me everybody got it wrong all the time. You never knew what it was going to look like in the news media, and that was when we first went after our first logo which was the block letters in three colors. And originally, we had planned to have an icon of some sort. And the designer said, “You know, Steve, the problem is not that you need an icon. You need to fix your name. Do something about that.” So we changed the name to the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, which I think is used pretty consistently these days. But that required action of the UT Board of Regents and action of the Texas legislature, so there was a big buildup to that. Then we had a major campaign announcing the new name. And that was an important marketing tool—to at long last get the institutional name right—because sometimes we would say the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center and sometimes we wouldn’t, and it was complicated. So that was another example of it.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

Now why—it may seem like an obvious question, but I’m curious about the answer. Why is this naming moment so important?

Steve Stuyck, MPH :

Because it gave us one identity that we could all rally around, and we weren’t reporting it in different sorts of ways. Sometimes it was called the University of Texas Cancer Center and sometimes this and sometimes that. But we could never get it right and it was—it’s important to get the brand identified carefully before you do any branding with it, and I think it was extremely important to us.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

So are there other moments? There’s the name. What were some other moments?

Steve Stuyck, MPH :

I’m going to think about this. Let’s bring this question up again on Thursday—

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

Sounds good.

Steve Stuyck, MPH :

—because it deserves a more reasonable answer than you’re getting from me. There are a lot of those kinds of moments.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

That’s fine. You know—I mean because one of the themes I was thinking about, too, was how the activities that your office was involved with—I mean not only, obviously, dealing with the outside but essentially creating a framework in which MD Anderson culture takes shape. You start to have words for what’s going on here inside the institution. And I know that you were involved in drafting the code of ethics and the mission statement and—

Steve Stuyck, MPH :

Core values.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

—core values. Yeah. I mean a number of these very important documents that talk about what MD Anderson is inside these walls. So that’s really key. Those are certainly important moments.

Steve Stuyck, MPH :

Some of those documents, as you know, have gone their way. But they were the first times that we did them, and I think that was the important contribution—the first mission statement and that kind of thing.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

Let’s talk about that a little bit later when we talk more about internal culture. And I did want to ask about the impact that kind of embracing the Internet had on Public Affairs.

Steve Stuyck, MPH :

You know, we had no Internet presence ten years ago, and one of the great things about the Internet is in the past we were using mass media to reach consumers. And you don’t have that much control over your message with mass media. You do if you’re advertising but not with the editorial side of things. And what was so great about the Internet is you were able to target your message directly to consumers and short circuit mass media, going directly into people’s homes, directly to people’s computers. I think that was what made that so important to us.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

I’m not sure that I’m really grasping the issue that’s central to you there. What do you mean when you say you don’t really have control over your message?

Steve Stuyck, MPH :

If a story appears in the mass media on television or in the newspaper, you have no real control over how it ends up. I mean you provide information to the media, and the decisions about placement and headlines and time and all that sort of thing are really not yours. When you’re developing a message yourself with the online media, you’re creating exactly the message that you think needs to be delivered, and you’re sending it to consumers.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

Uh-hunh (affirmative). I see. There’s also—in fact, with sending information to some kind of other media source, they will tweak it, change it—

Steve Stuyck, MPH :

Right.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

—at maybe not the level of content.

Steve Stuyck, MPH :

Absolutely. No one—no media accepts a news release verbatim and run it that way. There always are changes.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

Okay. So I understand more what you were saying.

Steve Stuyck, MPH :

So that’s what’s really important about that. If you were Justin Bieber, you are probably getting—you’ve probably had twenty or thirty million hits on your website. And if you ever look at YouTube, the numbers are amazing—the number of hits. If you’re looking at crazy Russian drivers or cute puppies and kittens, you can often see ten million hits on something. It’s not quite that way with cancer. I think people have to be blissfully ignorant of cancer—or people are blissfully ignorant of cancer until cancer strikes. Now some people—but it’s a small subset of the general six billion people in our population around the world—some people care about cancer prevention, and cancer prevention is, to me, the happy meal of MD Anderson—all the things you can do to prevent cancer. But when you look at our numbers, they’re really rather small compared to Justin Bieber or Jennifer Lopez or things like that. Our challenge now is to make cancer information more interesting and more accessible to more people. And we’ve got a ways to go on that. The numbers aren’t as great as we might hope, but we’re working toward that. And they’ve got a lot of online tools they’re doing these days to do that.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

Can you talk about some of them that were being developed when you were there or that you know about now?

Steve Stuyck, MPH :

Well, we have what’s called Red Line, which is a magazine from MD Anderson. I don’t know if you’ve seen that or not. And we have—if you go to YouTube, we probably have 300 or 400 videos. If you enter the word cancer you’ll find—and it’s a good measure. You can look at the hits on those things and see that some of them have eighty-nine hits, and some of them have 389 hits, and so there’s several hundred. And they’re doing a lot of other things as well.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

And is this technical information or scientific information?

Steve Stuyck, MPH :

It’s educational information. It’s diet, nutrition, sun awareness, tobacco—all kinds of things like that.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

Okay. Interesting. Were there other ways? I’m thinking, too, like of Facebook and social media. How did that kind of change the game at all?

Steve Stuyck, MPH :

Tremendously. It’s hard for me to articulate that to you, Tacey. But I’ve seen—under Sarah Newson’s leadership, I’ve seen a tremendous refocusing of our efforts on online media compared to traditional mass media because the targets are so much easier to reach that way.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

It’s really interesting. It’s about 11:35. What time do you need to leave to get to your lunch on time?

Steve Stuyck, MPH :

I could stay ‘til noon.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

Okay. All right. Just wanted to—

Steve Stuyck, MPH :

Or whenever. If you want to take a break and pick it up again on Thursday, that’s fine. I’ll leave it up to you.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

No, I’m good to go ‘til noon, if that’s all right.

Steve Stuyck, MPH :

Okay. Sure. Absolutely.

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Chapter 06: Public Affairs: External Communications

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