New York Festivals Logo


StrawberryFrog LogoPurpose Haze Logo
Image of Scott Goodson interviewing Ramon Soto on an orange sofa

Episode 1: Ramon Soto

Senior Vice President, Chief Marketing & Communications Officer, Northwell Health

Explore how Northwell Health uses purpose-driven marketing for social impact and brand differentiation in a competitive market.

Full Transcript

VO: Purpose Haze. A new series featuring Scott Goodson, founder of StrawberryFrog, together with New York Festivals, it will defog purpose through in-depth interviews with those at the forefront of purpose driven companies. Watch what happens when the smoke clears.

SCOTT: Hi everybody. My name is Scott Goodson and I'm here with Ramon Soto. I'm going to explain a little bit in a moment, what he does and who he is. I want to start by just talking about the area of health and wellness, and it's an area that has become increasingly important to all of us over the last few years with of course COVID and coming out of COVID.

And it's touched. All of us, our families, our friends, and of course the marketing world. Here in the United States, one of the largest and most highly regarded Health systems is called Northwell Health, they're based in Long Island, just across the river from Manhattan, in New York, so officially New York for sure. And the largest employer in New York state.

One of the, I think, incredible thinkers in this space. Innovative, challenging a status quo, bold thoughts, which you'll see in a moment is this gentlemen Ramon Soto, who is the chief communications and chief marketing officer of Northwell. Welcome.

RAMON: Scott, it's a pleasure to be here. Always a pleasure chatting with you. And I'm looking forward to talking today about purpose and how we activate purpose and how we create value for our customers who we interact with every day.

A little bit about Northwell. Northwell is the largest employer in the state. We have about 85,000 employees, about 23 hospitals, about 900 ports of entry for consumers to interact with us. And every year we treat about a 6 million new Yorkers. So, we're ubiquitous with healthcare in the New York market. And to do that, we try to do it in a very different way, thanks to the partnership with Scott.

SCOTT: So creative marketing doesn't always go hand in hand with health and wellness. How has purpose (we're going to get into what your purpose is and all that) - how does purpose allow you to really put your best foot forward in terms of how you communicate and really breakthrough to people?

RAMON: Yeah. There's a couple of pieces to that question. And, I think it all starts with perspective. First of all, you would think that health care in any market, forget New York, is purpose-driven. It certainly is mission-driven. But it's hyper competitive in the New York marketplace. And, you see most of the marketing and advertising to consumers tends to be on the transactional side. We're the number one at this, we're the best at that, come visit us if you're having chest pain. The reality is when you take a purpose driven perspective, you can take a step back and really think broadly about what health empowers. And if you think about it, it's fundamental. Consumers are more aware of this now than ever. We've just been through a pandemic. And healthcare is historically a low interest category. We've emerged from the pandemic with it being acutely aware in consumer's mind. And think about the territory it empowers, your life, your love, your passions. Think about what happens if you don't have your health. But when you tie that rich medium with the ability to interact on a purpose-driven basis, you can engage with consumers in really fundamentally different ways that for us have helped, differentiate the brand.

SCOTT: So let's give one example. Very recently you leaned heavily into a gun violence prevention campaign. The campaign that started in, you know, in New York and then grew and grew and grew. And the last count, there were thousands of hospitals and clinics and medical centers that have joined in, in a national movement. And, I'd like to roll the short film here.


Now you saw that, and it's magic. But it's a serious issue. That is how does that relate to what you're trying to do in terms of your brand, in terms of your purpose?

RAMON: Scott such an important question. First of all, we really try to differentiate the brand because there's such good competition and New Yorkers have great choices for care. One of those ingredients is to really be where consumers are in their mindset about issues affecting themselves, their families and their health.

And, gun violence is one of those things that, it's really on the social side of health versus the physical side of health. We've seen an astronomical increase in, children coming, presenting themselves to our institution, that are victims of gun violence. And, from a personal basis, our CEO really wanted to take a different approach at talking about this issue, organizing around it and going upstream and trying to affect why people present themselves to our institution.

We did a ton of research with you as you know, to understand the dynamics of this topic. And it's such a slippery slope from a political standpoint. You know, you can venture into the space and then all the sudden the debate turns into a second amendment issue and we needed to make sure that we redefine this category into what it was - a national healthcare epidemic.

SCOTT: Can I just pause for one sec? I want to make sure I understand, so here in the United States, their second amendment says that everyone has the right to bear arms. So instead of going into like a message that could be perceived as either for or against it, it's taking a completely different tact.

RAMON: Yeah. And just to expand on what Scott just stated. There are over 400 million guns in the United States. There's over 320 million people. You know, it is codified in the constitution. Guns aren't going anywhere. So how do we address the issue without making it a political conversation in a world where there's such tension on the political basis?

So it actually took a bit of bravery, but, we did this from an outside-in standpoint. We really tried to understand where the consumer's mind was. How important the issue was. And what we used for our motivation was a data point that happened in 2019. And it was really profound.

In 2019, we crossed a Rubicon as a nation and gun violence. Guns became the leading cause of death for children in the United States.

SCOTT: I mean, that's a pretty insane statistic. So, don't underestimate how profound on us this is. I wanted to make the point that it's crazy for most people out there that don't come across guns in their day to day.

RAMON: You know, The United States is very unique in this fashion. And if you were to ask an audience like you, of any Western industrialized nation, automobile accidents are typically the leading cause of death, but literally they've been on the decline because of the safety of what we drive now. And in the U.S, we crossed that threshold and it's an absurd place to be. There's a need to really bend the curve there and drive social change that benefits all of society. So we have to treat this as a safety issue. We have to treat this as a healthcare issue that absurd statistic gave us creative energy to go in this route. Inform the marketplace that we've hit this, this threshold. And then compel consumers to come in and partner with us, to get this to a different place.

SCOTT: So the purpose gives you the permission to lean into a social issue that's highly relevant to millions of people. And do it in a way that is sensitive to a lot of complex issues that we've some of which we talked about. It lets you be highly provocative and bold, but in a way that feels right.

RAMON: Oh, absolutely. You know, there's a tremendous amount of emotional energy when you actually look at these hidden injustices, particularly in healthcare that are just under the surface.

It is not wildly known that we've crossed this threshold and guns are now the leading cause of death for children. There are dozens of those injustices. That become, fodder for how we tell the purpose driven story in the marketplace.

SCOTT: So the purpose lets you play in that space. While you go through that process as a marketer, let's say, as a communications marketer expert, you look at that and you see, okay, there's opportunity here for us to deepen our relationship with our own people working inside our organization. And, of course, all our people who use us, and those who we want to bring into our group. Because you can be, you can talk about things that people know, like its largest cause of death, but, what also I think you found out was that people on both sides of the gun issue, both agree that having an unlocked gun in your home is nuts.

RAMON: Yes. Profound insight. And this had to be research-driven and it had to be fact based driven. And as you just articulated, we talked to a number of consumers in the New York market and nationally.

We talked to gun owners, we talked to Republicans, we talked to Democrats, Independents. Victims of gun violence. The police department. We really wanted to make sure that we understood the sensitivities. But where there was common ground. And the common ground was really exposed when you shifted the conversation to safety.

I remember one verbatim from a research study that you helped us field in market. It was a woman in Alabama. Who, we were having an interview with. She was a gun owner. And her quote was, “If someone is against this campaign. They shouldn't own a gun. Because this is about the safety of our kids.”

The truth behind this is there's this natural instinct to protect our children. And we all know we need to surround them with love and protection. Once you expose the healthcare issue you unleash the natural instincts of parents to protect their kids. And that was a universal truth across all audiences.

It was, very powerful and very satisfying to see that. The police officers, we talked to the victims of gun violence. Regardless of where you were from a political standpoint, they were all very supportive of this campaign and the safety aspect of it.

SCOTT: So purpose lets you be sensitive. Lets you be relevant. Lets you be bold. Let's you [I mean, you saw this film] be highly creative or say creative. How do you navigate that type of work through, you know, the largest employer in New York state?

RAMON: Yeah, it's actually, I think you have to build the right fact base, because you're stepping two to three degrees of freedom beyond where an organization has historically comfortable. The great thing is it starts from the top down and we have a CEO that really believes in dealing with this national issue. He started our center for gun violence prevention five years ago, so this isn't a new phenomenon. What gives us currency and credibility is that it is real at Northwell. We're not just talking about it as an issue. We are doing things as a health system.

SCOTT: So you do it. I mean, it's hard, but that's what you do. You do these difficult things. Purpose has let you be relevant, be bold, lets you engage in a highly creative way as we saw with the tiger video. That's not the first time. I mean, this is a tough thing that you do, you lead into these tough issues. Obviously they generate positive returns on that from a marketer's perspective, but, before tiger, you did a whole effort towards women and women's health. Can you talk a little bit about that?

RAMON: We mentioned earlier about these hidden injustices. So when you look down in history, men and the male physique has been the metaphor for health, and that permeates all aspects of healthcare, including healthcare delivery. Women have been treated as smaller versions of men. Pharmaceuticals are titrated based off of weight and body size. But the reality is that your metabolism is different based on gender, your body chemistry is different based on gender, how your organs perform is different based on gender. Northwell created the Katz Institute for women's health to treat women differently in terms of how they should be consuming healthcare. And we've turned into the largest provider of women's health in the New York market.

When you overlay purpose to this, it allows us to tackle this hidden injustice on how women are treated differently in healthcare. And they shouldn't be. What made it powerful was observing the hidden injustice, sharing that hidden injustice with society, but authentically having the resources to bend that curve, to change the dynamic, to actually show how women's health should be treated differently.

And the Katz Institute credentials thousands of physicians who are specially trained to administer women's health by specialty differently within our health system. It's a very powerful platform for us to be, and purpose overall is a piece of the brand equation. We still have to talk about the physical health aspect of what we do, but the purpose driven aspect allows us to come at it in a way that challenges consumers to raise their health overall, allows us to express the brand promise that raises the health of healthcare for all new Yorkers. It's really deeply embedded in who we are and how we go to market, in our value proposition, is centered around better health for all. It's a very simple value proposition and that platform allows us to really lean into purpose as both a differentiator and as an authentic representation of who we are and how we go to market.

SCOTT: There has been many years of time, and money and manpower - brain power - put on executing what you just described. This recent gun violence, then women's health, and before that, you also leaned into, children's health, which is another area which hasn't really been focused on. We have pediatricians we take them to because they're probably local. And it's about how easy it is to get there. Really for the first time you made people think about what it means to go to the right type of place and what type of rights kids should deserve when they go to these places. And we'll just show this last clip here.


So can you briefly just talk about that and just summarize, at the end, what the sort of overall impact has been for Northwell as a result of this?

RAMON: Sure. Yes. So, the pediatric work is probably one of my favorite pieces. It's so uplifting and it really shows the authenticity of how Northwell goes to market and how it engages the patient in terms of their own caregiving.

The secret sauce there was really observing how we listened to, in this case, children, as part of their healthcare delivery. The metaphor for us was a patient bill of rights that we use as a platform to talk about how we see children differently and how we take the journey with them differently. It created that powerful commercial that you saw. Highly differentiating work, really purpose-driven at its core. Taking the journey with the individual. It really expressed Northwell's a different brand when it comes to pediatrics. All the work that we've just mentioned, we don't do it for the sake of just doing that work. We do it for the benefit of the organization, a benefit to consumers that we talked to. And the pediatrics work was a great example of the power of marketing appropriately and authentically to the marketplace. Northwell moved from the number four pediatric branded in New York market to the number one brand in the pediatric market.

On the women's health side as well, Northwell moved from the number three Women's health brand in the New York market to the number one brand in the New York market. The gun violence campaign is still very fresh. It was launched in October, it's been in market heavyweights, for the first three months. And, it is on sustaining mode right now, but the data is super powerful on two dimensions. One: Consumers who are exposed to the advertising are three times more likely to ask if there's an unlocked gun in the house to actually help us spin that safety curve. That's probably the best metric in terms of its success. Secondly: the brand metrics are super powerful. So, like any organization, we manage our brand across a whole host of dimensions. And we've seen these extreme pops in terms of those key measures for us. The key KPIs for the campaign have all been exceeded. We think it's creating, a tremendous amount of brand love while it's doing good and well for society.

SCOTT: I want to jump in with two quick, last thoughts before we end. So in addition to all that, you've been very innovative and very responsive. And I'll just give two examples, and then you can briefly summarize why you do those things. So first of all, when the Ukraine war happened and Russia was bombing hospitals, you called me up and said, we should do a documentary. We're actually sending, we're doing telemedicine with hospitals in the Ukraine. This is not right. And we sent a film crew to Ukraine. We did a documentary called Two Wars.


It's a fascinating documentary about children and the need for care, and what happens when there is no care. But in addition to that, you were the first, as far as I know, health and medical system to do a series on Netflix called Lenox Hill. And you've got a couple of other new shows in the works - one that's about to break shortly - which you might mention briefly. And finally, you've been holding these massive veteran rock concerts in Manhattan with Imagine Dragons where if you've been in the military, you can on Veterans day or Memorial Day, you can get in at a significantly reduced cost. Can you just talk about where does that come from? That's not a health and wellness CMO. Where do you get this from?

RAMON: You know, we're a big believer in not following anybody when it comes to healthcare marketing. I think the category can do so much better and needs to, and one of the fundamental principles is: How do you engage with consumers differently? I can't buy enough media to just talk at them. How do I get them to experience the brand? And while they're experiencing the brand, how do I invite them in to see all the unseen things that happen in these very special places? The lifestyle, the mission-driven nature of providing care, the physicians who are really unique individuals and how they live their life around healthcare. The nurses who are really profound, in terms of their commitment to the marketplace and the incredible things that they do. The fact that this industry can mobilize and, as we saw through COVID, run towards the flames to keep us all safe.

As Scott had mentioned we experimented broadly on engagement platforms that pulled people in and allowed them to see other sides of Northwell. So we did our first Netflix nine episode docu-drama, called Lenox Hill


RAMON: Well received in the market. Led to really profound increases in brand stature - not just in the New York market - but across the US and frankly, globally. That led to a second engagement. We finished filming and editing, we'll be airing later in March. We did a COVID documentary in collaboration with Hulu and, uh, National Geographic called The First Wave. Really profound opportunity to have the world understand what really took place in New York in those very dark days. The reality of what became very politicized, and it's become a very important artifact of history.

We've just wrapped up filming, with HBO, a behavioral health documentary. So one of the knock on effects of COVID is this burgeoning behavioral health crisis that is brewing in America. A hidden injustice that we have to expose and we have to have a dialogue about it. So the brand can very boldly move into these territories and use our platform to provide the right content to stimulate these conversations. It again, creates brand love, but it moves our ability to interact with consumers in a very profound way. And because of that, we're a very differentiated brand. We consider ourselves a challenger brand in New York market. We have brand permission to do things that other brands might not do, in terms of having engaged consumers.

SCOTT: This has been a wonderful conversation. Very much appreciated. We look forward to more exciting and innovative work coming over the next few months and years ahead.

RAMON: Well, Scott, thank you for the opportunity to share and I hope the audience found this content super interesting. And appreciate all your partnership.

SCOTT: Awesome. Thanks everyone for joining us. And, if you have any questions, please hit me up. I will try to answer those and stay tuned for the next episode.

Arrow Icon