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GLC: A Content & Marketing Agency Creating Vital Content Strategies During A Pandemic – The Mr. Magazine™ Interview With John Cimba, President & CEO, Joe Stella, Vice President, Associations & Shannon Cummins, Vice President, Healthcare…

May 15, 2020

Publishing During A Pandemic (33)

“We can even go so far as to use a term we’ve used for years, which is that print is the Trojan Horse. It enters the home; it stays on the table; it’s there and around; it’s not a digital view – click, on to the next thing. So, there is an opportunity to stay in front of them.” … John Cimba

“For the association side, in the absence of in-person meetings, print is even more important and more essential. As more of our interactions shift online, people are spending more time on a screen with meetings they would normally have in the office. I have personally participated in more webinars than I ever have. Print is a real breakthrough product right now. As more things shift online, there’s more space to reach people and grab mindshare through a printed product, something that’s tangible.” … Joe Stella

“The fact that our approach to working with our clients is so customized. In the healthcare space, we work with small, independent individual hospitals to the largest healthcare system in New Jersey, and everything in between. Their demands and needs in the consumer market and how they want to communicate, whether it’s digital or print, what their budget will allow; I think the fact that we are so customized in the way we work with our clients, we don’t have a one-size-fits-all approach, is going to benefit us even more going forward.” … Shannon Cummins

GLC based in Chicago, delivers award-winning marketing strategies and programs for more than 50 companies, healthcare organizations, and professional associations across the country. Whether the content is delivered via print, digital, video, or social channels, GLC believes a good program starts with a sound strategy and improves through measurable results.

Recently, I spoke with the president and CEO of the company, John Cimba, the vice president over Associations, Joe Stella, and the vice president over Healthcare, Shannon Cummins. The three of them sat down with me via Zoom to talk about how their company was moving forward during a pandemic. It was a very interesting and informative conversation with three people who are involved in creating strategies for companies who need content to assist them in getting their message out to the public.

And now the 33rd Mr. Magazine™ interview in the series of Publishing During A Pandemic with the leadership team at GLC in Chicago.

But first the sound-bites:

On how they are operating during a pandemic (John Cimba): Right now, one of the things that we were very fortunate to have happen for us was that before all of this happened we as a company had gone into two days a week of working remotely. So the transition from going two days a week to five days a week wasn’t actually that tough. We were already set up for it. So, that was one thing that was an easy transition.

On the decision to work two days per week from home even before the pandemic (John Cimba): Where our office is located is a suburb of Chicago, in Skokie, but there are a lot of great talents that are in the city itself. We’re locked into a lease, so we can’t just pack up and move into the city, so we knew that a draw for some of that talent in the city was to allow them to work remotely a couple of days a week.

On the company’s clients and how they’re overcoming any client-relationship difficulties (Shannon Cummins): The direct impact on them has been significant. Many of our client contacts are still in the hospital and not necessarily at home because of the fact that they are frontline workers in a different way. I’ve been in the healthcare communications space since 1986. In this time more than ever, it has been really interesting in terms of the immediate response in communications about COVID.

On why they believe print is more essential than ever (Joe Stella): For the association side, in the absence of in-person meetings, print is even more important and more essential. As more of our interactions shift online, people are spending more time on a screen with meetings they would normally have in the office. I have personally participated in more webinars than I ever have. Print is a real breakthrough product right now.

On whether anyone ever thought healthcare would be the world’s topic of conversation (Shannon Cummins): It was interesting because there was a video recording that I sent around about a gentleman in the healthcare space who is pretty well-known from an agency communications perspective. One of the things that he said is it’s his least favorite thing when he opens up a magazine and somebody is talking about their doctor, it’s all about the doctors. He said now more than ever frontline workers are heroes everywhere.

On any changes he envisions for GLC after the pandemic (John Cimba): I think we actually laid the foundation to put us in a very good place going forward. As a content agency, we’re delivery agnostic. So, whether it’s video, print, digital; it’s about the content for us first. We’ve positioned ourselves where we’re not dependent on one form of delivery over another.

On any lessons learned during this pandemic (John Cimba): From a business standpoint, the lesson learned is something I already knew, which is our company has an unbelievable staff. To be able to see the staff that we have, the team that we have, jump onto the transition of being full-time remote, juggling family and everything, it’s a reminder that the people around us are what makes this great and us successful.

On what keeps them up at night (John Cimba): My number one job; my number one goal going through this, I don’t want to lose one person through this. So, doing whatever we can do as a company for our clients and at the same time keeping every single person we have engaged, in the best place they can be, and I know it’s hard for some, and most importantly not losing any employees. That’s the biggest thing for me.

On what keeps them up at night (Joe Stella): The economy keeps me up at night. We need to bring buyers and sellers together again and when I look at the outlook on travel and large group gatherings and the fact that Chicago isn’t going to open its conventions until there’s a vaccine, which will have a huge impact on the city, it’s tough.

On what keeps them up at night (Shannon Cummins): Personally, what keeps me up at night is my family and them remaining safe with elderly parents and my 26-year-old son who is an EMT transporting COVID patients every weekend, so I don’t get to see him in person. And that’s hard.

And now the lightly edited transcript of the Mr. Magazine™ interview with John Cimba, president and CEO, Joe Stella, VP/Associations, and Shannon Cummins, VP/Healthcare, GLC.

John Cimba

Samir Husni: How are you operating during this pandemic?

John Cimba: Right now, one of the things that we were very fortunate to have happen for us was that before all of this happened we as a company had gone into two days a week of working remotely. So the transition from going two days a week to five days a week wasn’t actually that tough. We were already set up for it. So, that was one thing that was an easy transition.

The tough part has been working with our clients who are not used to working remotely and trying to help them through it all. There are a lot of hiccups along the way: technical, financial, all sorts of things that are impacted with that. But as a company, on our end, we’re functioning business as usual.

Samir Husni; Why was the decision made even before the pandemic to work remotely two days a week?

John Cimba: Where our office is located is a suburb of Chicago, in Skokie, but there are a lot of great talents that are in the city itself. We’re locked into a lease, so we can’t just pack up and move into the city, so we knew that a draw for some of that talent in the city was to allow them to work remotely a couple of days a week. Then when we saw that was going well, we unveiled it for the whole company and it’s actually been very successful for us.

Samir Husni: You mentioned that your clients were having more difficulty with working remotely, how are you overcoming that challenge?

John Cimba: A big change has been suddenly people who were 30 days current are now 60-70 days because they’re still trying to figure out a CFO is no longer in the office, they’re at home. They have to figure out how do I get checks cut, etc. From that standpoint, it has gotten a lot better, it’s moving back to normal. But in working with clients directly, I’ll let Joe and Shannon tackle that one.

Shannon Cummins: My clients are all in the healthcare space, so they’re definitely feeling the impact directly. Many of our clients over the last several weeks have been involved in managing the communication and literally in the command center on a daily basis reporting on information. In some instances, for larger clients, it’s part of what they’re doing for some of our smaller clients where maybe there’s one person managing all communications in marketing. They’ve been taken out of their regular job to manage communication around the COVID.

So, we’ve had a lot of shifting of schedules and calls that had to get rescheduled, work that may have had to be pushed a little bit, but at the same time the challenge of needing to communicate with their community, almost now more than ever, in terms of what they’re doing and what’s going on, is vital. I have received so many emails and communications in the healthcare space. There has been webinar after webinar about communication. Communication about coming back, that it’s safe to go into an ER. Hospitals are laying off emergency room workers because people are not going to ERs because they don’t feel it’s safe.

The direct impact on them has been significant. Many of our client contacts are still in the hospital and not necessarily at home because of the fact that they are frontline workers in a different way. I’ve been in the healthcare communications space since 1986. In this time more than ever, it has been really interesting in terms of the immediate response in communications about COVID.

The loss of revenue they have experienced over the last few months and how to get people back in the hospital and using their services and to know it’s safe, is going to be a real opportunity and challenge for them.

Joe Stella

Joe Stella: My clients are trade and professional associations. The project management processes that we implement when we engage with a client has actually helped our clients through this. We use online project management tools to manage our projects anyway, so there’s clear visibility through every phase of the project online. And we have standing status calls with our customers.

Where we in our industry have been impacted is the revenue side, which is largely generated by in-person meetings with the association industry. A lot of those resources have been taken away, from managing our program and to unraveling the in-person meetings and conferences that had been planned for this year, shifting those to digital or postponing them to later in the year. The resulting fallout from that has been plans getting postponed, initiatives that we had intended to launch this year are being postponed.

We haven’t seen a real impact on our programs just yet. I think it’s a little soon to tell how it’s going to be impacted for the remainder of the year. The most common thing that we’ve seen is our clients are cutting back on printing and postage. They’re just doing digital issues because folks just aren’t in the office, the offices are closed so they don’t want to mail magazine copies to an empty office. A couple of savvy clients have sent emails out asking their constituents if they would like to receive their publications at home and offering guidance on how to login to their profile and change their mailing address temporarily.

But some of our clients don’t have that capability within their AMS for their constituents to login and change that information, so there isn’t an efficient way to do that. That’s how we’ve been impacted so far. Our clients have been taken aback a little in trying to future plan during this uncertain time. It’s difficult for everybody.

Samir Husni: On your website you say print is more essential than ever, why do you believe that?

Joe Stella: For the association side, in the absence of in-person meetings, print is even more important and more essential. As more of our interactions shift online, people are spending more time on a screen with meetings they would normally have in the office. I have personally participated in more webinars than I ever have. Print is a real breakthrough product right now. As more things shift online, there’s more space to reach people and grab mindshare through a printed product, something that’s tangible.

For me in the association space, it’s a member benefit. That physical, tangible product that arrives in the mailbox is a reminder that as a member I belong to this exclusive community of industry leaders. That’s important because in the absence of these meetings, where you’re networking with your peers and gaining best practice knowledge, the publication is a way to break through all the digital clutter and still maintain that connection and engagement.

John Cimba: We can even go so far as to use a term we’ve used for years, which is that print is the Trojan Horse. It enters the home; it stays on the table; it’s there and around; it’s not a digital view – click, on to the next thing. So, there is an opportunity to stay in front of them. There’s an online clothing company called UNTUCKit and I get a kick out of it because every month I get their printed piece, and this is an online company where you buy online. And what does it do? It sits on our counter at home and I find myself looking through it, and ultimately, like today, I’m wearing one. Now more than ever, with so much digital noise everywhere, print is very valuable.

Samir Husni: Did you ever imagine that everything we talk about in the world would be health-related? And does that help or hurt your healthcare clients?

Shannon Cummins

Shannon Cummins: It was interesting because there was a video recording that I sent around about a gentleman in the healthcare space who is pretty well-known from an agency communications perspective. One of the things that he said is it’s his least favorite thing when he opens up a magazine and somebody is talking about their doctor, it’s all about the doctors. He said now more than ever frontline workers are heroes everywhere.

Our clients who have been publishing and who continue to publish print are moving away from their traditional type of communication around service line and all of that, and are really highlighting what they’ve done and the progress they’re making, really featuring COVID stories from a provider and patient perspective. Healthcare, now more than ever, has a great story to tell. And they are telling that story.

Our client in New Jersey said they had over one million hits to their website, specifically their content hub where they’re offering up communications over the past two months as COVID occurred. Over one million hits to their website, which is the number they saw for the entirety of 2019. Our clients are proactively using print and emails, social media, to communicate their message, and quickly pivoting to getting people back in the door with elective procedures, things that have been put off.

The challenge of communicating around COVID was very real and important. And now they’ve gotten people back. They have now almost a more important story to tell. People are concerned about going back to healthcare and they need to let them it’s safe.

The evolution of Telehealth is also very interesting. In the same way that we’re going to see changes in the way schools and businesses are handled, healthcare too will be handled a bit differently. My husband struggles with sleep apnea and he was able to get a Tele-visit with a neurologist who ordered a sleep study that he can do at home. And the fact that he can do that without ever going in for healthcare organization, they bill our insurance as if we met personally with the doctor, it’s pretty interesting and amazing and very comforting to us.

Samir Husni: Do you envision any changes at GLC after the pandemic is behind us?

John Cimba: I think we actually laid the foundation to put us in a very good place going forward. As a content agency, we’re delivery agnostic. So, whether it’s video, print, digital; it’s about the content for us first. We’ve positioned ourselves where we’re not dependent on one form of delivery over another. Change is how we live and I think we’re in a very good place as a company, whichever way this goes. Whether it’s print, video or digital, we’re positioned for it. And I’m thankful for that because it would be tough to just jump in and try and transition our company while going through all of this.

Samir Husni: Any lessons you have learned from this pandemic? Any words of wisdom or advice?

John Cimba: From a business standpoint, the lesson learned is something I already knew, which is our company has an unbelievable staff. To be able to see the staff that we have, the team that we have, jump onto the transition of being full-time remote, juggling family and everything, it’s a reminder that the people around us are what makes this great and us successful.

Shannon Cummins: The fact that our approach to working with our clients is so customized. In the healthcare space, we work with small, independent individual hospitals to the largest healthcare system in New Jersey, and everything in between. Their demands and needs in the consumer market and how they want to communicate, whether it’s digital or print, what their budget will allow; I think the fact that we are so customized in the way we work with our clients, we don’t have a one-size-fits-all approach, is going to benefit us even more going forward.

The demand in healthcare communication isn’t going away and how they need to deliver content is going to continue to vary. We’re very well-positioned to continue to do well, and hopefully even better, as a company because our work is important. The biggest challenge is how we, in that custom approach, make sure the message is differentiated. The message has to stand out and not just be what everyone else is sharing. The need to communicate creatively and differently is vital today.

Joe Stella: Stay focused on your mission. In this time, you have all of this downward pressure in organization because you’re dealing with something that’s unprecedented and is impacting some of your main revenue channels. So, don’t take your eye off of your mission. And for our clients that means quality of content. It’s easy to say we’re not going to have our event, but if we produce 25 webinars, we can replace half of that revenue, but can you produce 25 webinars and do it well? Is it going to provide information to your constituents, your members, in the way that they need that information? Or is just filling a revenue gap?

The pressure that a lot of people are feeling might lead them down a wrong path and to make some decisions that may impact the overall perception of the organization if it’s not executed well. So focus on what you do well, double-down on those channels, don’t try to do too much, everyone is scattering and trying to master everything digitally, don’t be all over the place. Stay focused on what your mission is, own a channel, produce quality content, and your audience will stick with you through this because they need you and they’ll need you afterward because of the new lessons there will be to learn. Everybody is going to need to learn from each other during the “new normal.”

Samir Husni: My typical last question; what keeps you up at night?

John Cimba: My number one job; my number one goal going through this, I don’t want to lose one person through this. So, doing whatever we can do as a company for our clients and at the same time keeping every single person we have engaged, in the best place they can be, and I know it’s hard for some, and most importantly not losing any employees. That’s the biggest thing for me.

Joe Stella: The economy keeps me up at night. We need to bring buyers and sellers together again and when I look at the outlook on travel and large group gatherings and the fact that Chicago isn’t going to open its conventions until there’s a vaccine, which will have a huge impact on the city, it’s tough. You realize how much impact all of that has and how it reverberates through this area’s economy to the people who need it the most, those essential workers and the folks who run the restaurants, the drivers who are getting us to and from places.

That worries me and the faster we can get back to that normal, where everyone feels comfortable, the better. We need to really focus on getting back to normal. We need the meetings to start up again. We need these buyers and sellers to come together again.

Shannon Cummins: I like both John and Joe’s answers, they were both good ones. GLC has an amazing group of people that we’re lucky to work with. John and Ed’s commitment to making sure everyone stays employed and has a job is a testament. I’m lucky in that my children are grown and so many of the people that I work with who are taking care of our clients are at home managing, being now teachers and parents and working at the same time. And I know that has been a struggle for them, but they don’t bring that to the table every day. They’re doing such great and amazing work and I’m so appreciative of that.

Personally, what keeps me up at night is my family and them remaining safe with elderly parents and my 26-year-old son who is an EMT transporting COVID patients every weekend, so I don’t get to see him in person. And that’s hard. The issue around education, what’s happening with schools and the plan for schools going forward, my sister is a principal and my other sister is an education consultant, and figuring how that moves forward. In the same way that the economy is impacting so many people, education is as well.

From a work perspective, I feel very lucky to be part of this organization and the work that we’re doing and the people who we get to work with.

Samir Husni: Thank you all.

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