Chowning Johnson: Dodge Communications is shaping the healthcare industry through strategic communications campaigns

By Brad Dodge on August 30th, 2011

In the latest installment of our 10th anniversary blog series, a Dodge Communications account director is interviewed to discuss her experience with Dodge over the years. To view earlier installments please click here.

Chowning Johnson is an account director at Dodge Communications. She has been at Dodge for five years. Click on the picture below to listen to the interview or view the transcript below.

Dodge: How has Dodge helped you develop as a professional communicator?
Johnson: I came from an agency that focused on a variety of businesses from automotive to museums to government and a little bit of healthcare and pharma.  They had a wide range of clients for B2B and B2C situations, so coming to Dodge was quite a shift. I think going into the niche market that we’re in here has been absolutely invaluable. I’ve been able to develop an expertise through working with our clients and working with colleagues here. Being so ingrained in this industry is great. I can’t imagine having that type of experience at another agency, and I think it makes me as a communicator and our company truly unique at what we do, which makes us really valuable for our clients.

Another thing I think that is important to note from a media relations perspective is that a lot of agencies maybe don’t do as much homework on the reporters as they should. I think one thing that has been ingrained in me here is knowing who we’re pitching, who their audience is and what they like to write about to make sure that the stories we’re offering are truly applicable and what they’re looking for. It’s really the life blood of what we do, so I think that’s another huge attribute of what Dodge has given to my professional career here. Those are really the two things that stick out the most. From an integrated communications stand point, there are other agencies that solely focus on just the public relations side of things or just the marketing side of things. One thing I really love about what we do is we look at everything from a holistic approach. We have the public relations, the marketing and the social media. We look at everything from a strategic, high- level overview before we go into the tactical level which really ensures our clients are getting everything they need from a lead nurturing and a lead generation stand point.

Dodge: What role do you think Dodge has in shaping communications in the ever-changing healthcare industry?
Johnson: That’s a really good question—a tough question. You know, I think it goes back to a little bit about what I said about the first one.  Being in such a niche market, we have this great insight into the space we’re in, especially with the legislation incentives, the different payment models that are coming down, ACOs and patient-centered medical homes. The industry is changing rapidly right now, and it’s really amazing to watch and be a part of it through our clients, who are the ones out there talking to hospitals, IDMs, medical groups, payers, etc. We work closely with these organizations—whether it’s commentary on legislation or a bylined thought leadership article on these new models of care. I think through that, we’re helping them hone their voice in the industry and ensuring the messages they’re getting out there are striking a chord. In addition to that, social media has obviously been a huge change in the industry in the past few years.  We have some clients that love it, and we have some clients that are terrified of it. We have others who are just dipping their toes in it. I think that’s one of the valuable things about what we do at Dodge. We look at both traditional tactics that are out there and also new things that we’re seeing.  We bring those to our clients to ensure they are reaching their maximum audience with multiple touch points—whether that’s a press release, something on Twitter or a blog.  I think that’s one way that we’ve really shifted our clients focus to make sure they’re really communicating with their target audiences.

Dodge: What do you think is the most important part of working with clients to make integrated communications campaigns?
Johnson: This also ties back to what I just mentioned about the way Dodge is shaping communications within the healthcare space. I think it’s really important—sometimes it’s easy on a day-to-day basis to get stuck on the tactics and not look at the overall picture. From an integrated communications standpoint at the outset of every project, whether it’s an initiative, an event—whatever it may be—it’s taking an overview and looking at everything from a strategic level.  It’s looking at what the objectives are that we want to accomplish and making sure we’re aligning the tactics to meet the strategies and objectives. I think every campaign requires something different, and I think we’re very comfortable with customizing everything that we’re doing per the clients’ needs. The real take-away there is looking at every different facet, whether that’s social media, marketing, PR and not just honing in on one specific channel in that area.

Dodge: What is your favorite part about working for Dodge?
Johnson: That’s a good one. You know, I think one of the things that most attracted me to the company when I came here originally was the people.  It’s a very dynamic group—everybody’s highly motivated, competitive, hard workers. I feel like then and even today I’m always learning something new from someone—whether that’s our CEO or one of our VPs or an account coordinator or an intern. I feel there’s a collective wealth of knowledge here, and if you just keep your ears out there, you’re learning something new every day. It’s a great group of people to work with, and it’s what keeps me passionate about my job. Also, our clients are awesome. We try to act as an extension of their organization, and through that we like to think of them as family. Whether it’s going to have a glass of wine or giving presents when they have a baby, it makes it a very family-oriented place both internally and externally, and that’s something I really love about it.

Dodge: What are some of the most memorable moments you’ve had here at Dodge?
Johnson: Well, some of these might fall a little flat, as they’re inside stories, but I’ll give it a go and see if it resonates. One thing that we do is we try to have events as a company where we go out together and have time to get out of the office, get out of work  and just have a little fun—something that I think is a key to success for any company. One of our favorite activities is this thing called WhirleyBall. If you haven’t heard of WhirleyBall, let me try and give you a brief description: think bumper cars, a basketball court, lacrosse sticks, a ball and a basketball goal with a center target. So basically, you zoom around in these cars, and you have two teams trying to make goals in a five minute period. Needless to say—I mentioned how competitive we can all be, which is one of our great strengths—it can also lead to a lot of bruises and battering, but it’s a lot of fun nonetheless. We get out there, have a couple of beers and have fun with our colleagues. It’s a really good time to get your frustrations out on the court and walk away saying you’ll never do it again and go back six months later. Another fun thing, Jerold, who is our controller here, had a vendetta at our old office building. There wasn’t a left turn light for crossing multiple lanes of traffic. He worked tirelessly for years with numerous government agencies to get a turn light in there. So, after sometime—I think it was my first or second year at Dodge—he finally succeeded, and they said they were going to put a traffic light in. We got this big traffic light cake and of course there was black icing on it. Needless to say, that stains your teeth and your mouth and everything, but that was quite a triumph for Jerold. It was a fun, feel-good thing, and it made our lives a little bit safer which is a good thing. On a serious note, we just moved to a new office building, and it’s really amazing to see ten years later—I’ve only been there half of that time—to see how far the company has come. Moving into this new office space really signifies everything that everyone has put into growing this business and working with our clients and ensuring we continue to succeed. I think that’s a good tenth anniversary note that we’ve been able to move into this new space that better fits our needs. It really is representative of who we are and who we strive to be as a brand at Dodge.