Following is a Q&A to get to know Jennifer Schleman, MPS, APR, Senior Director, Marketing, Communications, and Public Relations, who has worked at the National Health Council for over two and a half years.
Putting Patients First Blog: Tell us about your career path and what led you to the NHC.
I actually was admitted to journalism school as a broadcast major who wanted to be a sportscaster, but I quickly changed to public relations and do not regret it for a minute! My career began in the PR agency sector, first in Cincinnati and then in Washington, DC. I always wanted to use my skills to make a difference in people’s daily lives, so I transitioned to the association/nonprofit sector where I found my path to and passion for health care issues, and finally, the National Health Council.
PPF Blog: What’s your favorite part about working for the NHC?
My favorite part is being a member of a passionate team of advocates who work tirelessly on behalf of people like my family. For generations, my family has had to manage chronic diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, and Alzheimer’s. Having access to care that is affordable, sustainable, and high-quality is essential for those who manage chronic conditions. That is why what the NHC does it so important and I am proud of be a part of it.
PPF Blog: What is the most important thing you’ve learned from working at the NHC?
I think the most important thing is that to bring about changes in systemic health policy that will be successful, you have to have EVERYONE at the table. Just having the various industries’ points-of-view represented in policy discussions leaves out the most important part of the equation – what will be in the impact on the people who need health care the most – those with chronic diseases and disabilities? By engaging with every part of the health care ecosystem, we can fix our broken health care system and come up with a new system that provides the care to patients that they need the most and at a cost that won’t be out-of-reach.
PPF Blog: The NHC has included strategic communications in its 2019-2020 strategic plan, can you talk about what it means and why it’s important?
I was so excited when our Board leadership decided to include strategic communications as one of the three pillars of our new strategic plan! The NHC has been around for nearly 100 years – and we have accomplished a lot on behalf of patients and their family caregivers. By including strategic communications in the organization’s priorities, we can amplify our policy, advocacy, and programmatic work to ensure the patient voice is represented in systemic health policy discussions.
PPF Blog: Why are strategic communications essential to patient advocacy organizations?
Strategic communication is essential because it means having a coordinated, well-planned effort to effectively get your messages out and represent your constituency. This will ensure your messages are purposeful and proactive. If you are constantly just reacting to the environment, your communication efforts will be haphazard, and you will be less likely to achieve your organization’s strategic objectives. By having a plan and consistently communicating about your advocacy priorities, you will serve your patient community well.
PPF Blog: What is the most interesting change in the communication field that you’ve seen in your career?
Clearly, the emergence and domination of social media as a primary communications tool. When Twitter first came out, I really couldn’t fathom how an organization would be able to clearly communicate a key message in 140 characters. Boy was I wrong about that! Social media is now a key tactical component to any communication strategy, with full digital engagement strategies essential for any organization. And as an organization, there is something exciting about directly connecting and engaging with your key constituency via social media. You know your messages are being received by your ultimate target audience.
PPF Blog: Tell us about your work with the Public Relations Society of America and how it influences your work at the NHC.
I have been involved with the public relations society since the beginning of my career journey. As a student, I learned critical skills that helped me develop professionally. As I grew in my career, PRSA has always been there to help me continue my professional development and hone my leadership skills. I earned my accreditation, and it really helped me become a more strategic counselor. Now that I am a more “seasoned” professional, I enjoy giving back to the society by speaking at professional development sessions and mentoring younger professionals. I also find I learn so much from interacting with new professionals – their fresh perspective and enthusiasm reminds me why I chose PR as my career. All of this helps me to give my best strategic communication counsel to the NHC and our members, and to be a role model and staff leader. No matter what your profession, I strongly encourage you to engage with your professional society and keep learning!