Interview: Paul Gerrard and Marc Lichtenstein of Blue Cross Blue Shield Association

For the first interview of my independent study, I had the opportunity to interview—not one, but two—communications leaders from the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association (BCBSA) in Chicago.

Paul Gerrard, Vice President, Strategic Communications, has spent his career working in communications. He’s had extensive experience in almost all marketing communications roles, and has worked in politics, has been a lobbyist, worked in the financial communications industry, and has worked in both non-profits and private companies. He’s worked in healthcare communications for the past 12 years.

Marc Lichtenstein, Director of Social Media, spent the first 20 years of his career working in consumer brand advertising. In the mid- to late-90s, Mark shifted his focus from television to internet and web 2.0 communications. He leads digital and social media strategy for the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association.

Four central themes emerged from our conversation around new media, healthcare and the work of Blue Cross Blue Shield Association.

pull-quoteThere is a new paradigm in health communications. Historically, the Blue Cross Blue Shield System (BCBS) has primarily communicated with insured consumers through corporate customers, and through the federation of 36 independent BCBS companies in more of a business-to-business manner. But the shift to a more level playing field on social media where brands and consumers often have an equal voice has changed the way they communicate. More communication to individual consumers takes place and new media, especially social, is the platform for that communication. The Affordable Care Act has also played a role in how the healthcare industry interacts with consumers. Health-conscious consumers and those choosing healthcare plans individually are driving the shift to digital and BCBS is answering with more transparent, direct communication, and by finding ways to drive authentic, meaningful and relevant conversations with those consumers

New media involvement is not optional. Brands must engage in new media to effectively communicate. Marc specifically stressed that BCBSA strategy does not involve being active on every channel, because they realize that not every channel is a good fit for their message or audience. When I asked them about the most effective new media tool they are currently using, Marc stated it was likely “the one I don’t know about yet,” which speaks to the current acceleration of channels and communications tools. Marc also commented that while the tools might not be novel, the level of sophistication in BCBSA involvement with those tools and channels has grown. Marc also commented on the role of live-streaming content and how the rise in popularity of these tools might disrupt traditional media even more.

Brands are media companies. In the same way that consumers often have a large share of voice, brands, Blue Cross Blue Shield included, are creating media-like capabilities. With fewer and fewer journalists and traditional or “old media” publications shuttering or cutting back on healthcare coverage, BCBSA has turned to storytelling as a method of communicating information and leveraging digital channels and multimedia to tell those stories which may have been pitched to a journalist 15 years ago.

Regulations and rules do not hinder creativity or innovation. When I asked Paul and Marc about working in a highly regulated industry, and how that level of regulation potentially impacted the creativity and innovation of communications teams, I was pleased to hear that they both felt it wasn’t a hindrance to their work. Paul stated he felt honored to work in a field that touches people in such a personal and important way. Healthcare is significant to everyone. Marc felt working in a regulated field actually helped him to focus, find solutions and zero in on the problem or issue at hand. His final statement, “people who lean on regulations as a limitation to problem-solving communications are likely using it as an excuse,” was refreshing, as I look towards a long career in health communications.

Many thanks to Paul and Marc for their candor, time, and expertise. It was a great conversation and a great way to begin this blog series. I’m speaking with Kenneth Meyer, Vice President of Healthcare Media at Edelman for my next interview; so stay tuned.

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