Ahava LeibtagAhava Leibtag, president of Aha Media Group, works tirelessly to rid the world of some of the more grievous errors that are made in content marketing. If you are like the majority of health care marketers who are stuck between having too much content and not enough, this episode is for you. Learn what Ahava refers to as the Spectrum of Dysfunction, catch a preview of her upcoming presentation at Content Marketing World, then celebrate the podcast’s 50th episode!

Show notes

Air Date: July 30, 2016
Guest: Ahava Leibtag, president, Aha Media Group

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Full transcript

Jared Johnson: Are you like the majority of healthcare marketers, stuck in between having too much content and not enough, ultimately not knowing what to do? Well then, this episode is for you. Tune in this week to content marketing expert Ahava Leibtag, who works tirelessly to rid the world of some of the more grievous errors that are made related to content marketing. Learn what she refers to as the “spectrum of dysfunction,” then join me as I celebrate the program’s 50th episode, this week on the Health IT Marketer Podcast.

Hello and welcome again to the Health IT Marketer Podcast, the podcast that tells the story of innovation in health IT. I am your host, Jared Johnson, your pilot on this crazy rocket ship called healthcare. Welcome aboard. If you want to keep up with the trends, voices, and marketing tools involved in the digital health revolution, you are in the right place.

You can engage with this program in many ways. You can subscribe on iTunes, Podbean, or Stitcher Radio. I invite you to leave a review on iTunes. There’s a link in the show notes, which you can find in each episode’s description, to leave a review. And don’t forget to tweet me at @jaredpiano. That’s J-A-R-E-D-P-I-A-N-O, jaredpiano, and tell me what you liked and didn’t like about this episode.

Well, we are celebrating the podcast’s 50th episode this week. It’s getting me pretty excited. “How excited?” you ask. Well, it kind of makes me want to quote some songs lyrics, but in a slightly different way. If you really don’t know me by now, if you don’t know how cheesy I can get, well, I’m sorry to break it to you, but you’re about to find out.

When I was in high school, there was this local alternative radio station and the DJ started doing a segment where he would read lyrics as if they were poetry, with no music in the background. And I remember when he read the words to this song called “Glycerine” by Bush, by this alternative rock band, Bush, and it was really one of the dumbest things I’ve ever heard, now that I think back about it. And it was so novel at the time because he was trying to make fun of the song, and it really does sound pretty stupid if there’s no music to it, and even when there is music to it, but that’s another story.

Sometimes, we just have to do dumb things because that’s how we feel, that’s what we feel like doing. So now it’s my turn. I come back to that question, “How excited am I for episode number 50?” Well, in the immortal words of J.T.:


“I got this feeling inside my bones.

It goes electric, wavy, when I turn it on.

All through my city, all through my home.

We’re flying up, no ceiling, when we’re in our zone.


I got that sunshine in my pocket,

Got that good soul in my feet.

I feel that hot blood in my body,

When it drops.


I can’t take my eyes up off it,

Moving so phenomenally.

Room on lock the way we rock it,

So don’t stop.”


All right, and we all know the rest, you “Can’t Stop the Feeling,” right? Well, I remember, nearly a year ago, when I published my first episode of this program, and if you’ve stuck around since then, then you’ll remember that my guest on episode number one was yours truly. And I got feedback pretty soon that I sounded a little uninterested in what I was saying, that I didn’t even sound like I was smiling. So I’ll let you in on a little secret.

Every since then, at the top of my notes for each episode, I have a note that says “Smile”, a note to myself, in 200-point font. And, I also quickly learned that the strength of the program was bringing on rock star guests rather than myself talking the whole time so that’s what I’ve done for the last year. I smile and I have out-of-this-world guests.

Well, this program takes a good amount of time to produce, especially now that I’ve moved out of the full-time consulting world and joined the amazing team at Phoenix Children’s Hospital. I’ve taken a page out of Todd Eury’s book. Todd’s the host of the Pharmacy Podcast, and when he went from consulting back to a full-time opportunity, I asked him how he found the time to keep it going and his answer was really simple. He said, nights, weekends, just carving out time whenever he possibly could. It wasn’t easy, he said, and now I know what he means, but after 50 episodes, I can still say I’ve put one on every week for the last year, and I’m very proud to announce that this podcast will continue as long as I’m able.

All right. Well, enough getting sappy for you guys. On with the program!

So, listeners, you’ve got a lot to learn from our guest today, which is fitting, considering this is a milestone episode, as I just recently shared with you. I’m joined today by Ahava Leibtag, President of Aha Media Group. Ahava, how are you doing today?

Ahava Leibtag: I’m great, Jared. Thank you so much for having me. It’s exciting to be here.

Jared Johnson: On this program, we discuss a lot of topics that are passionate to you, particularly in the area of content so let’s start off by giving our listeners a chance to know you better. Let’s start with where your company is based.

Ahava Leibtag: Our company is based in Silver Spring, Maryland, which is a suburb of Washington, D.C.

Jared Johnson: Perfect. Well, tell us a little about your background and what you’re doing in your current role.

Ahava Leibtag: Sure. So I majored in English Communications, and then I got a Master’s from Georgetown in Communications. I worked for the Federal Government. I was really interested in the intersection of public policy and communications. I wanted to understand how governments sort of communicate with their constituents.

And then, while I was at the Federal Government, I had a good friend who moved to a hospital and she called me right during the middle of my maternity leave with my second daughter and said, very frantically, “I just had a writer walk out on a job and I need a writer. Can you come freelance?” And I said, “Sure,” and I gave it a shot, and it worked out really well for me. It was just a really good convergence of the things that I care about and that I feel like I was good at, and so built the business from there. We’re about 25 strong now, writers, project managers, content strategists, and then all the operations people you need to keep a company running.

Jared Johnson: So that type of growth, I’m sure that means you’ve had some success. Has any success particularly stood out to you, maybe something that has gone really well for you recently?

Ahava Leibtag: Well I don’t want to name specific clients because I don’t think it’s fair to them, but I think that we’re moving more into very large-scale content rewrites. We’ve handled quite a number of them in the last 12 months, where we’re managing hundreds of pages of rewriting content.

I’m very proud of a product I have called the Content Strategy Bootcamp. It’s a two-day workshop. The first day is when you do editorial and brand messaging as a group, and you answer some questions like, “Who are we as a brand? Who are our personas? What are we trying to say in the marketplace? How successful are we at doing that?” and then, sort of working on voice and tone. And then, the second day is a digital writing training, where I work with all the communications people on the front lines of the organization to help them better understand how to communicate more effectively online.

So that’s a really fun product and that has had tremendous success for our clients. I’ll just talk about these publically because they’re case studies that are published. Henry Ford had an 800% increase in their traffic after we did this for one of their publications and Geisinger Health saw an overall 30% spike in their social media traffic after we did this. So some really nice numbers and a lot of successes so yeah, I’m pretty proud of those.

Jared Johnson: Yeah, and you should be proud of that. Those growth numbers signify that content marketing’s important and that it’s vital to our success. So let’s dive right into content. I know you’re going to be giving a session at Content Marketing World, coming up in September. Can you give us a preview of your session?

Ahava Leibtag: So it’s about how to plan for content design when it comes to mobile and I think that that’s a topic that a lot of people are really curious about. I think we were all hoping that responsive technology was going to solve all of our problems and it didn’t. So it’s good to remind ourselves that technology is not the full answer. We also have to understand how to fully use the tool and you still need to build a strategy around how you’re trying to present information before you go ahead and implement that tool. So it’s really going to touch upon the things to think about, how to prioritize, how to figure out how different pieces of the module of content should cascade down the page, and that kind of thing.

Jared Johnson: So how did you end up with that topic? Is it something that you’ve just seen a lot with clients, or something that you’re passionate about?

Ahava Leibtag: Well, Joe Polizzi emailed me and said, “Can you do this?” and I said, “Sure.”

Jared Johnson: Well, he’s a nice connection to have, isn’t he?

Ahava Leibtag: Yeah. He’s a good friend.

Jared Johnson: So this is a good time to break for a moment and mention our friends at Clarity Quest. If you are having trouble selling to large buying groups in healthcare, Clarity Quest now offers interactive video content that’s personalized to each person involved in the buying cycle with viewing analytics. Visit clarityqst.com for more information. That’s clarity-Q-S-T. Clarity Quest, marketing experts who speak fluent healthcare.

So Ahava, back to this conversation we’re having, what are some of the challenges you’re seeing from your clients in content marketing?

Ahava Leibtag: Well, I think people don’t know what they’re doing. I think they’re really confused. I think that they’re caught between this hideous, horrible place of having too much content and not having enough of the right content, and not knowing where to start and how they should plan for it. I think that most healthcare marketers are stuck at the whim of the stakeholders and the subject matter experts that they report to. I think that explaining marketing communication strategy requires a lot of patience and long periods of time to do so to gain trust from subject matter experts. And so I think that people are just sort of drowning.

The teams that are being really successful at it, like at Hopkins and Cleveland Clinic, I think one of the reasons, from a hospital standpoint, I think one of the reasons that they’re doing such a good job is that they really thought about a long-term strategy over a five-year period of time. Where do we want to be? And I think that it’s difficult to do that in this world because everything’s changing so rapidly, but I still think you need to think about, “Where do we want to be in two years?” or, “Where do we want to be in 18 months?” Because if you don’t have a goal and a clear picture, you can’t articulate the vision to the entire company or the organization. And so when that happens, people just begin to flounder.

Jared Johnson: So those challenges seem pretty common in healthcare, and knowing how we tend to lag behind, are you seeing things in other industries, maybe, anyone that’s figuring out how to do it right?

Ahava Leibtag: No, it’s a spectrum of dysfunction wherever you go. I recently worked with a top Fortune 100 company and I really thought I was going to get in there and I was going to learn so much and be so impressed. And I was like, “Oh my God, they have the exact same problems as everybody else.”

So I think it’s really hard inside of organizations. People want to keep their jobs, they want to be able to show some sort of progress, but they also don’t want to rock the boat. And I think that from their perspective, they want to take baby steps and that’s a problem because this isn’t a time period in human communications where you can take baby steps. You have to be bold and you have to be willing to put stuff out there and see how it does.

And so I think that organizations are limited by how much free reign they give their employees to make mistakes and to not be reviewed on mistakes but rather be reviewed on how well they thought through the risks that they were taking, and then what happened afterwards that maybe didn’t provide 100% success or 100% failure.

Jared Johnson: So one thing I’m seeing also, in addition to that, is that not everyone even has the same definition of content marketing. What’s your definition?

Ahava Leibtag: So my definition of content marketing is any content you produce to build a relationship with the consumer without the objective of trying to sell to them at that very moment.

Jared Johnson: Okay. So we can use that as our base in this next segment. Healthcare is a world that you live in constantly. It’s become more consumer-focused and up until this shift with more choices for healthcare consumers, a lot of healthcare content was aimed at the clinician, and now there has to be more, a lot more, in fact, consumer-facing content to help make more choices. So it seems like content strategy needs to reflect that same shift. I don’t know if I’m barking up the right tree. Is that accurate, and if so, what type of content is most successful for healthcare consumers?

Ahava Leibtag: Well, it depends on who you’re talking to. So in large academic medical centers, they need to think about referral patterns and whether or not physicians interact with any of their content. So we always say marketing content should be two things. It should be patient education and it should be marketing. You have to combine those two things to sort of give people the sense that you’re the right people to entrust with their healthcare.

But then, if you’re looking at marketing to physicians, then you have to change the entire nature of what you’re talking about because physicians don’t need 101 or 201 introductions to diseases and conditions. They want to know about what their relationship is going to be like with the doctor that they refer to. They want to know the patient is going to come back to them. They have a very different set of questions.

So I think, going back to one of your earlier questions, Jared, is, “Do you see a lot of industries struggling?” I think the reason we see so may people struggling is that they don’t think about who they’re talking to at the end of the line. They just think about what they want to say and that doesn’t work because the audience has to come first. Their set of questions and their needs has to be answered in any piece of content that you produce. Otherwise, you’re just wasting your time.

Jared Johnson: So where, then, does social media fit into that? Is it part of the overall content strategy?

Ahava Leibtag: Yeah, I think it’s just a different set of channels that you use, depending on the medium itself, so obviously you’re going to use a different piece of content on Instagram than you might use on Twitter. I talk about this a lot in my book, “The Digital Crown.” One of the things that I talk about is that content needs to be separated into three different parts: information, what are you trying to tell people; format, what type of content should it be, a picture, a video, voice; and then, delivery, so which channel do you use to disseminate it on.

And when marketers think about that model, they get a lot smarter about how to produce content because they think about how to repurpose it from the very beginning. Once you start thinking about it as information, rather than as a brochure, PDF, or a podcast or a picture, you then are able to sort of design a repurposing strategy around it.

Jared Johnson: Any other tips on repurposing content?

Ahava Leibtag: Yeah, I think the problem is that people don’t have time to revisit the archives. So they have general ideas of what’s wrong with their website, so we very often do big audits and we don’t ever find anything that anybody goes, “Oh my gosh, we didn’t know that that was true!” People have really good ideas about what’s not working. I don’t find that they always have good ideas about what is working. And when they think about how to repurpose their content, what often happens is that they just make new content instead of going back to content that they have and thinking about what other formats they could put it in to make it better for their audiences.

So one of the things that I talk about is the rule of four, that when you’re planning a piece of content, you should produce the following four formats: audio, visual, video and text. And so if you think about taking a piece of content you already have that might be wrapped into a container, like a PDF or a brochure, what are the exciting pieces of information that you can extract from that content that you might be able to turn into a different format?

Jared Johnson: Now, regarding patient education content, is there any reason why certain formats would be more successful right now in patient education?

Ahava Leibtag: Well, I think, like for example, the Mama Doc blog on Seattle Children’s is a very successful blog, and I think that one of the reasons is that she’s a woman pediatrician who has a family and blogs about things that moms and dads care about. So I think there might be some sort of personality connection on the types of content that work.

People are hungry for information and it’s a competitive marketplace, especially when you start to think about conditions like cancer or heart disease, where people might travel for specialty care. Then, they are doing research. They’re doing research about different medical centers, either in their geographical area or nationally, and they’re looking for information about where the right place to go is. And so from that perspective, the types of content that you described that are more personable probably work well for people because it establishes a relationship with the organization that makes them feel like, “This is who I want to see,” or, “this is where I want to go.”

Jared Johnson: What other tips do you have for healthcare marketers to get more out of their content?

Ahava Leibtag: Healthcare marketers are such a wonderful group of people and they’re really pressed rice-paper-thin. So I think the number one thing that I would say is to take a step back and ask yourself what you’re trying to accomplish. What’s the goal? Is the goal heads in beds? Is the goal to build brand awareness? Is the goal to highlight a particular service? And then, build a strategy around that.

So there are five questions you have to answer: Who is your audience? And document that. Build three to five personas around who those people are, what they care about, how they’re going to access your content, what formats of content most appeal to them. Answer the question of who you are as a brand. Figure out what you’re trying to say. So a messaging architecture’s a very valuable tool that people use to figure that out. Figure out the voice and tone that you want to use, so the personality of your brand and how it comes through in your content. And then, build an editorial calendar around that.

So it’s five steps. It sounds a lot easier than it is to do, but once you sit down and really start to plan those bigger macro issues, the micro-publishing of content and creating of content sort of falls out from there. Like you said to me at the beginning, if you don’t have a good content strategy, you’re not going to be able to do anything really well when it comes to content.

And content strategy has a lot of different parts to it. The first part is that editorial brand messaging stuff, the second part is workflow, and then the third part is the technological display and delivery of content, which are also complex things that you need to consider.

Jared Johnson: So that captures a lot in a short amount of time. Any final thoughts for our listeners?

Ahava Leibtag: No, I mean, I would love to hear from healthcare marketers about what specific challenges they have with content. Maybe people can email you questions and then we can jump on and do a part two, where I could answer people’s questions.

A lot of what you’re asking me is what I’ve culled from talking to people at conferences and talking to clients, but people are sometimes loathe to share what’s really happening for different reasons, and so if people wanted to somehow get more information from a so-called expert and get specific questions answered, I’d be more than happy to do that. And I’d do that because I’m really interested in what people are thinking about, and what they care about, and what appeals to them.

Jared Johnson: Well, I would be happy to set that up so let’s keep in touch, for sure. I like the thought that you mentioned earlier, that baby steps aren’t enough anymore, so that, for one, is a great takeaway for me.

Ahava Leibtag: Well, I don’t know. Baby steps are important, but there has to be a broader vision. So one of the things I talk about is once you set an initial strategy, then you need to take small steps to accomplish it. So baby steps are important, but thinking in baby steps, I think, is something that organizations need to move away from.

Jared Johnson: Well, let’s conclude with our bonus question, which gives us a chance to get to know you a little better on a different level, which is, if you could join any rock band or music group for a day, who would that be?

Ahava Leibtag: So I thought about this question when you sent it and I think that I would want to hang out with the famous songwriters, Bob Dylan, and Billy Joel, and even Taylor Swift. I think the ability to write a song, to take words and tell a story, and then put them to music is just extraordinary. It seems almost divinely inspired. And so I wouldn’t necessarily pick one rock band, but I would love to hang out with the songwriters who are blessed with that kind of talent.

Jared Johnson: What’s a little sad to me, is that recently on playlists and on radio, I’ve heard Billy Joel on a classic rock station and on classic rock playlists, and it makes me feel kind of old.

Ahava Leibtag: I’m totally with you. I agree with you. They say Billy Joel wouldn’t have made it in this environment. He would have to have gone into country music. So I think that that’s a really interesting thing for us to think about in terms of storytelling in general in music and what’s happened to that. I think one of the reasons Taylor Swift is so successful is that she really knows how to tell a story in her songs and I think that that’s becoming a lost art in the way that modern musicians approach music.

Jared Johnson: It’s true, and it’s interesting to me because this is not the first time that Taylor Swift has come up as an answer to this question and I think it’s because I’m talking to marketers and we all kind of get how she connects with her audience and how she builds that audience one gig at a time. And she’s really one of the ultimate examples of social strategy and how to connect and how to tell stories. So I’m really not surprised that she keeps coming up.

Ahava Leibtag: Yeah, I was listening to a podcast of Malcolm Gladwell and he was talking about Michael Lewis, who wrote “The Big Short” and “Moneyball,” and he said that he’s like the ultimate storyteller, that he studies him to understand how to tell a better story. And so when you hear somebody like Malcolm Gladwell talking about how he wants to become a better storyteller, you know that you have to sharpen your own skills.

Jared Johnson: So true. Well, you’ve opened up a lot in our listeners’ minds. If they want to reach out to you and connect with you, how do they do that?

Ahava Leibtag: At our website, ahamediagroup.com, and info@ahamediagroup.com will be forwarded to me from one of my staff members, and I’ll be more than happy to answer any questions, or if people want to talk about potential projects they want to work on.

Jared Johnson: Fantastic. Well, thanks for taking the time out of your day and we look forward to hearing more from you in the future.

Ahava Leibtag: Yeah, thank you so much, Jared.

Jared Johnson: Well, that wraps up episode number 50. If you enjoyed it as much as I know you did, please consider leaving a review on iTunes. Ladies and gentlemen, remember it’s up to us to tell the story of innovation in health IT and remember to build your audience one gig at a time. Until next time, I’m Jared Johnson and you’ve been listening to the Health IT Marketer Podcast. This program was sponsored by Clarity Quest. For a full archive, go to healthitmarketer.com. That’s healthitmarketer.com. Thanks again, and I’ll talk to you next time.