In 2007, Beth Smith was director of Institutional Marketing at the University of Akron when she heard Carol Wallace was retiring as director of Public Relations for Akron Children’s.
She remembered Akron Children’s as a favorite client in her early career days working for public relations and advertising agencies such as Malone Advertising and Wirtz Integrated Marketing, and she had remained close to Carol and many others at the hospital. The chance to work for one of the most admired brands in the region was tempting, and she thought: “That job will likely never be available again during my career.” So she threw her hat into the ring.
When Beth retires on Aug. 25 as Vice President of Marketing and Corporate Communications, she hopes the hospital brand and reputation are the better for her efforts.
She knew one thing before she began.
“As a communicator, I knew finding good stories to tell at Akron Children’s would never be an issue,” she said. “Every day, we hear examples of the amazing care patients and their families receive here. It’s an honor to help tell those stories, and I know my team feels the same.”
Under her leadership, the Marketing and Communications department has evolved dramatically to meet the needs of the hospital and its increased geographic footprint.
“It’s been an exciting and rewarding experience to support the hospital’s communications needs. We are the most competitive children’s hospital market in the country,” she said. “It has become more so every year, requiring new strategies and ways to differentiate ourselves to parents.”
Many states have only one children’s hospital and that is where all the sickest children go, she says. But Ohio has 7 children’s hospitals, with three located in northeast Ohio, and two others within a 2-hour drive.
“That necessitates making sure families know what makes us different,” said Beth. “Our research shows that in markets where we are known, we are preferred. People who know who we are value our services, and know we are focused on one thing: kids.” During her 16-year tenure, Beth has overseen award-winning advertising campaigns such as “More Childhood Please” and launched successful digital ad campaigns that provide analytics that can directly link people who have viewed targeted online ads to those who follow up with appointments for their children.
Those types of analytics are one of the biggest changes she has seen in her 42-year career.
“Back in those early days in agency work, we would create what we hoped were good campaigns, but there were few, if any, metrics to prove their value,” she said. “Now, we can get extremely good data to know if our marketing dollars are well spent. We try to build a metric into everything we do, so the organization knows the value of our services.”
Media relations and managing the hospital’s social media channels are now 24/7 responsibilities that are critical to maintain the hospital’s reputation. Another change is the department’s work in employee communications, which has increased as the organization has grown and changed. MyKidsnet, shortsheet and other internal channels are overseen by the department and critical to keeping staff informed.
As the hospital has grown, Beth has advocated for a centralized approach to communicating with the hospital’s various audiences whether it be employees, patients, providers or donors. Her staff has grown from 7 employees to a team of 34 with a broad range of expertise in areas such as marketing, internal communications, media relations, print production, photography, videography, web analytics, provider communications, donor communications, executive communications and social media.
In 2020, just as Beth was beginning the 40th year of her career, she probably assumed she had handled about every type of challenge a professional communicator could face. But the world was entering a global pandemic.
Akron Children’s moved to an Incident Command model of leadership, and she was responsible for the many duties of Public Information Officer during that time. Critical decisions, practically being made by the minute, needed to be communicated quickly and effectively.
As the hospital shut down services and clinical employees shifted to new roles, Beth’s team did the same. Some produced videos sharing important information on infection control protocols, testing and the roll-out of vaccines. Others fielded a steady stream of employee questions via email and set up media interviews with doctors on Zoom or Teams rather than in person. An entirely new website was quickly built for employees to share changing policies and other information.
“Those were long and stressful days, but I think, in some ways, our organization is at its best while handling a crisis. It was an extraordinary and humbling experience to work with our leaders during that time,” Beth said.
She believes her greatest accomplishment is the team she has assembled.
“I’m so grateful to have worked with the talented group of professionals in MarCom,” she said. “I’m sure they will continue to go to whatever lengths are needed to support Akron Children’s.”
In retirement, Beth is looking forward to spending more time with her husband, Pete, their 4 children and 7 grandchildren, who live in Akron, Cincinnati, Colorado and California.