Bringing Cleveland to the world

Communication and collaboration are critical when building a global brand.

When I first learned that Cleveland Clinic was headed to the Middle East to build a hospital with the government of Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates, I had no real concept how that would affect my world. Now, after seven or eight trips there, I've come to realize that communication and collaboration are critical when building a global brand.

At first, we had only a handful of executives and physicians involved as we developed plans to build one hospital while managing operations of another, learning the culture and gaining valuable insight and experience working in a facility more than 7,000 miles from home.

As the plans moved forward, almost everyone became involved in this overseas project. Our team began to build a communications and marketing department, wrote job descriptions, and interviewed and hired staff. We also created policies, a new logo, brand identity, and communications plan for the new hospital that is slated to open next year. In the meantime, we wanted to not only focus on the future, but also educate the community and key stakeholders about Cleveland Clinic, a major force in US healthcare that is not widely known in the UAE.

About six months ago, a new position was created to build a stronger understanding of Cleveland Clinic in the Middle East. Although construction has been well underway, educating the public also became essential. I hired a director of communications and PR, based in Abu Dhabi, to handle communications for our operations in the UAE and to support our other educational liaison offices in Turkey, London, and Saudi Arabia.

We've worked hard to connect with community leaders. We have hosted educational events and medical conferences to share our knowledge and medical expertise with other physicians and healthcare executives around the world. In addition, we've worked to develop relationships with reporters in the countries in which we have a presence and to promote the collaborative projects.

To become a global organization, your communications strategy must also become global – and there are myriad aspects to that. I met with several editors of the major newspapers in Abu Dhabi who had a slew of questions about many issues in the States. Some had to do with our organization, while others were much broader. In some sense, you represent more than just your company. Good or bad, an issue or event at home can quickly become global news.

At the same time, sharing relevant news or PR campaigns that transcend cultures can expand your brand awareness. Cleveland Clinic, for example, is focused on wellness and preventing disease. Obesity is not only a US concern; it's also a challenge in Abu Dhabi. We're starting to develop communications programs there that mirror those in Cleveland Clinic, encouraging employees and the community to exercise and adopt healthy habits.

My director has visited Cleveland twice now, learning about the hospital and our culture that we are transferring to the Middle East. The government of Abu Dhabi wanted Cleveland Clinic there, not just a building with our logo on it. Transferring a culture and a healthcare environment that mirrors our Cleveland system is no small task. Some of our best and brightest employees and physicians have relocated to Abu Dhabi to build a team, train staff, and create a true sense that Cleveland Clinic is there. With now nearly 400 employees on the ground, internal and external communication focuses on priorities and education.

I'm in Abu Dhabi this week taking part in a clinical retreat with several of our Cleveland and Abu Dhabi physicians, nurses, administrators, and communications professionals to discuss every aspect of activating the hospital, opening the intensive care units, work flow and processes, and more.

This is all an incredibly exciting experience. Cleveland Clinic is now global. And as my team develops a clear and consistent strategy to support that, our communications team is truly becoming global, too.

Eileen Sheil is executive director of corporate communications at Cleveland Clinic, one of the country's top nonprofit academic medical centers. Her column will focus on the myriad challenges of healthcare PR and topics related to the management of the comms function. Sheil can be reached at sheile@ccf.org.

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