September 26, 2023


Business&Finance Specialists

Crain’s 2021 Notable Executives in Marketing

3 min read


Health care marketing during unprecedented times


Kelly Jo GolsonKelly Jo Golson, a 29-year marketing veteran, is the chief brand and consumer experience officer at Advocate Aurora Health. She unveiled the system’s new brand and launched LiveWell, an app that enables users to manage their personalized health journey anytime and from anywhere. Before joining Advocate Health Care in 2007, Golson held leadership roles with Methodist Healthcare System, St. Luke’s Episcopal Healthcare and Memorial Hermann Healthcare, all in Houston. Golson founded Jay’s Hope, a nonprofit that gives grants to young adults battling cancer, in honor of her son, who died from bone cancer at age 24.


CRAIN’S: What was your biggest marketing and communication challenge during the pandemic?

GOLSON: Our purpose calls us to help people live well, which is hard to do when consumers who are fearful of COVID-19 exposure are reluctant to seek care they need. We recognize that the various messages can be confusing and scary. On one hand, we’re telling people the great importance of staying home and quarantining, but we’re also trying to educate them that it’s safe to come to the hospital or doctor’s office when they need care.


How does Advocate Aurora communicate with a public that holds a variety of views on vaccinations, masking and other safety measures without alienating anyone?

People have questions and fears, and most are genuinely trying to make the right decision for themselves and their families. Our role is to listen, to make people feel heard and then to provide clear, accurate answers without condescension. We know there’s a lot of information out there, and it can be tough to break through the noise. But we’ve remained steadfast in relying on our clinical expertise and facts to have an open and honest conversation with everyone.


How did you change your digital marketing strategy during the pandemic?

The pandemic accelerated our digital marketing strategy’s focus on artificial intelligence. We recognized its possibilities before the pandemic, when we introduced AI capabilities within chat functionality on our websites. Through partnership with Microsoft, we also created chatbots that direct consumers to the appropriate level of care based on their symptoms. This pre-pandemic work allowed us to become one of the first health systems in the country to develop an AI-enabled symptom checker specifically for COVID-19—a tool we also offered in Spanish. The opportunities created by AI technology will be endless. We’re particularly excited about early diagnosis and prevention opportunities across medical specialties including orthopedics, cardiology and pediatrics.


What was learned about marketing and communicating to diverse groups or underserved groups?

The pandemic’s unacceptable toll on communities of color has served as a call to action to commit to better understand and promote health equity. We believe everyone should have a fair and just opportunity to be as healthy as possible, and we must eliminate inequity to fulfill our purpose of helping all people live well. We’re strengthening our commitment to DEI at every level of the organization by taking action to create real change, including in the ways we communicate, to ensure every person feels heard.

We constantly examine the needs of each community and make sure we tailor communication approaches to address those specific needs. We’ve developed culturally relevant messaging to connect with our communities. We’ve also established protocols to make sure that our robust language services program is tapped to help with translation at every step of a patient encounter. No one person or organization can do this alone. It’s so important to collaborate with key community partners who are aligned with our strategies.


What pandemic-related changes will “stick” going forward?

COVID-19 accelerated the adoption of telemedicine. Because we had already built our LiveWell platform before the pandemic hit, we were well positioned to deliver virtual care to consumers when lockdowns and quarantines created a strong demand. Our preparation allowed us to conduct nearly 1.2 million virtual visits last year. Prior to the pandemic, our goal had been to complete 25,000 visits in 2020. This virtual offering is a health care solution that isn’t going away.