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ISIS: I’m Isis Simpson-Mersha, Conference Producer and Reporter with Ragan
DANTE: Hi, I am Dante Muccigrosso, Media Planning Manager at D S Simon Media.
ISIS: And today we have with us, Jake. Thank you for joining us today.
JAKE: Thanks much for having me.
ISIS: Can you describe your experience pivoting your career path from TV production to public relations?
JAKE: Absolutely. So, when I was in college, I had a really fortunate opportunity to be on the producing team at a national sports network. And I absolutely love that experience and was full bore on going into producing and wanted to stay in sports television for the long-term. Life happens and I was actually a track and field athlete in college, had an opportunity to come back for a fifth year to compete and get my master’s degree in digital storytelling, which I jumped at. And what I quickly learned is that there’s opportunities to tell really detailed and impactful stories within businesses. And so, that kind of opened my eyes up to PR for the first time. You know, I had a little niece on the way and realized that in going into TV would have to move across the country. I didn’t want to do that. I was looking for more vocal opportunities so I could play a role in my niece’s life. And so, I started looking for local PR jobs. Stumbled across one. And so, I ended up taking the interview, met the entrepreneur, his name is Glen Tullman. I had an early morning interview with his office and was Livongo’s first in-house communications hire. A few years into my tenure there, a communications professional, his name is John Hallock. the two of us, like communications and media relations through Livongo’s initial public offering at the Nasdaq, running around doing TV interviews and other prominent media interviews, you know, then spent the next year leading communications through Livongo’s time as a public company, and then eventually through our merger with Teladoc Health, which at the time was the largest merger ever in digital health industry history, and then spent about six months at Teladoc, meeting corporate PR before jumping on at a company called Big Health, where they create software-based clinical treatments for mental health conditions, including insomnia and anxiety. About a month ago, I had an opportunity to join Homeward, which is a new company founded by a lot of my old execs, leaders, and people who I work with closely at Livongo, and Homeward is focused on protecting health and care within rural communities, so really creating a new experience for people in rural communities. We had big news last week, we announced a partnership with Priority Health to deliver care in Michigan and then Series B funding round. So, really excited about the opportunity here and about my career progression as well.
DANTE: I know you had the opportunity to go back for your fifth year through the digital story master’s degree. I guess I was just wondering, do you have any other tips for other communication professionals, you know, looking to advance their career?
JAKE: The traits that I look for in communications professionals is one, a high IQ, and two, is a sense of urgency. When communicating across audiences, you really need to understand what their motivations are, you know, what they’re looking for, what they’re interested in so you can create messaging that appeals to them both in terms of how you talk about the company generally, but also when you’re talking to specific audiences, how do you tailor that message to make sure it resonates right? And the second thing is a sense of urgency. And, you know, throughout my career, I’ve had been really fortunate to have opportunities to lead companies through major events. What I’ve learned is, you know, those opportunities don’t grow on trees, and you really need to maximize them from a communications perspective, making sure that, you know, you’re doing everything, telling your right story, and spending that time in advance and making sure that you’re really pushing that to the finish line is important. And you got to make sure that you’re supporting your reporter contacts and helping them create great stories, and meet their deadlines. And so, a sense of urgency is critical in the role.
ISIS: Thank you for sharing that. And I can tell, like the way that you talk about your role, you talk about the things that you do, who you work for, that you are truly passionate. So, what is the impact of working for a mission-driven company?
JAKE: I’ve really landed in healthcare because it allows for amazing storytelling. And let me share an example. My CEO now, Dr. Jennifer Schneider, she grew up in a small town in Minnesota, and she actually has type 1 diabetes. She was diagnosed as a young child. And so, when we were at Livongo, she was really focused on how to improve the diabetes experience based on her own journey and experience. And now, you know, when she called me with the opportunity to lead communications at Homeward, I saw that from the beginning and her passion just really flooded through. You know, she grew up in a small town and she had challenges accessing care. And so, she’s. really trying to bring that access to high-quality care to communities just like the one that she grew up in. And so, that from a storytelling perspective is really impactful. And, you know, as we’re trying to build a great story and tell a great story externally, internally, it’s really, it’s also just as important to tell the same story and build that sense of momentum, build a sense of pride in the company, in the work that you’re doing. It enables people to feel good about what they’re doing and really, you know, accomplish more as a business. And so, I think, you know, mission-driven businesses are critical and something that I’m really passionate about and why I landed in healthcare.
DANTE: Yeah, that’s great. I guess kind of building off that previous answer with regards to how communicators can prioritize storytelling to reach their company’s target audience. I guess, what’s important and what their consumers want to hear from the company?
JAKE: Well, I’m going to kind of go back to the process, right? And in going into any business, you need to understand who your serving, your clients, and your end users. And it’s really about, you know, how you understand the unique needs, the unique circumstances of each person and create an offering as a business that fills those needs and then also communicate those needs, right? I think from that perspective, it’s really important. For example, at Homeward, what we quickly found is that there’s a lack of access to high-quality care, right? And so, there’s just not the same number of physicians in rural communities. As a result, there’s worse health outcomes. And so, when communicating with the marketplace about what we do, it’s critical to set up that problem first and foremost and talk about how our novel and differentiated offering, is solving that problem. And then build your story around those challenges and how your business is uniquely solving them also.
ISIS: I mean, we’re talking about communications, we’re talking about you being in the field. And Communications Week is coming up. Given that Ragan’s Communications Week theme this year is “Meet the Moment,” how will you rise to the occasion over the next few months in your career journey?
JAKE: We’re delivering care to people in Michigan and that’s really exciting. And so, as a business, we’re doing that. From a storytelling perspective, it’s about really setting up the problem that we’re trying to address, like I said before, but just to emphasize it further, I think one of the things that’s super interesting that when I came to Homeward is that people don’t really consider or think about real communities. So, about 20% of Americans live in what’s designated as a rural town. You know, what I’m really working on is, you know, continuing to tell that story that, you know, 1 in 5 Americans are experiencing challenges accessing care. It’s leading to worse health outcomes as a result. And we need to really put more resources and time, effort, thought, and innovation into these communities and partner with both the communities and existing physicians to expand access to care. And that’s really what I’m focused on over the next few months is kind of setting up that problem and really getting people aware of the specific needs of rural communities and then Homeward can come in and we’ve really built our solution around those needs.
DANTE: Yeah, that’s great. I definitely agree with you when you say rural communities are overlooked by, you know, the general population.
ISIS: Absolutely. Well, are there any final thoughts that you have, Jake, or something else you want to share?
JAKE: For communications professionals out there, there’s a definite misconception about what the role is. I think, you know, communications is one of the most critical, highly strategic positions within an organization. You have to understand your business in great detail. You have to understand the market in great detail. You have to understand your specific spokespeople and how they like to operate. You know, for people who are passionate about storytelling, it’s an incredible position to be in. It’s not easy. The next generation of communicators are critical, and I encourage anyone who’s interested in it to look into positions. If you’re interested, feel free to reach out to me on LinkedIn. I’m always happy to provide my thoughts and insight, best of luck to everyone out there, keep telling great stories.
ISIS: Jake, we appreciate you joining us today. It has been a true pleasure.
DANTE Great talking with you, Jake.
JAKE: Thanks for having me.