40 Under 40 2018 | Johnny Smith

Colleagues say Johnny Smith has a passion for increasing public awareness of critical health issues. That passion has helped Smith, senior director of public relations at Ascension, lead his national team to develop a strategic thought leadership program that engages and educates consumers about changes in the healthcare industry and critical healthcare policy issues.

Focusing on issues such as providing veterans with access to care closer to home, affordable drug pricing, mental health needs, and bridging the health disparities gap, he has helped position Ascension, one of the largest nonprofit health systems in the U.S., as a leading transformative healthcare system among national audiences.

Smith led the rollout of a unified Ascension brand name, enhanced national consumer awareness by elevating local stories that align with shared service lines, integrated public relations support for advocacy strategic priorities, and increased public understanding of Ascension’s direct subsidiaries.

Ascension’s strategic program targets key topics such as healthcare reform; drug pricing; opioid abuse; virtual care; innovation; consumerism; and access to care, and encompasses national media relations, social media, speaking engagements, and securing awards for Ascension and its national and local senior executives.

In the past year, Ascension’s thought leadership program secured 200 media placements, resulting in over 4.3 million media impressions worth more than $3.8 million in publicity value. These media placements highlighted 65 different Ascension leaders published across national healthcare and consumer publications. In addition, Ascension leadership received over 75 local and national awards and secured more than 100 local and national speaking engagements.

In 2016, Smith focused on the specialized health needs of minority populations, securing more than $500,000 in earned media in top black newspapers nationwide. The initiative led to a long-term relationship with the National Newspaper Publishers Association that enabled Ascension to reach an average of 20.1 million readers per week.

- He developed an award-winning diversity and inclusion op-ed series by Dr. Patricia Maryland, president and CEO of Ascension Healthcare.

- Smith was recently honored as one of Catholic Health Association’s prestigious Tomorrow’s Leaders.

- He previously served as system director of corporate communications for St. Vincent’s, a 22-hospital system with revenues of more than $3 billion.

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