6 Questions for: Jean O’Brien

May 7, 2013 | by Becka Bates

Jean O’Brien is the Marketing Communications Manager at the American Osteopathic Association, the main representative organization for osteopathic physicians in the United States. Jean takes the lead when it comes to overseeing multiple projects and people, finding a way to ensure all marketing runs smoothly and is completed with AOA quality.

I interviewed Jean as part of our 6 Questions feature: a series of one-on-one interviews with people we work with who’ve made us proud. We get very close to our clients and their brands, and when we see them doing great work and achieving great things, it’s very personal to us. They’re rocking their brands in exciting and innovative ways, taking the ideas we developed together and using them to grow their organizations. We find how a brand works out in the “real world” fascinating and hope you will, too.

Read on for Jean’s thoughts on engaging an audience of 100,000+, using a marketing strategy and how to manage your time like a pro.

Jean O'Brien

1. As Marketing Communications Manager of the American Osteopathic Association your schedule is constantly filled with different projects. What is your role in project completion and how do you manage the multitude of workflow?

Depending on the project, I may be responsible for bringing a project through each stage of development and distribution, overseeing our marketing coordinator and specialist as they create the content for a project, or providing assistance to our marketing director or department director on project elements.

With all projects, I am very involved in quality control, making sure that our messaging is specific to the audience we’re targeting and following our brand guidelines. In many instances, I am managing a project from the very early stages to its completion, which could mean meeting with our “clients,” who are typically fellow staff members in other departments, to decide on parameters of the project; working with our in-house designer to create the marketing materials; working with our production manager if a piece needs to be printed and mailed; and following up with our clients on program results.

2. The AOA is made up of more than 100,000 osteopathic physicians, including osteopathic medical students, new physicians and veteran physicians. How do you create engaging messaging that resonates with each audience?

We try to acknowledge each group’s current frustrations, challenges and interests whenever we’re working on a communication. If we can make our program or product more relevant to them by tying it to something that is already on their minds we will have a better opportunity at getting them to act or engage with us. It is important to convey that we understand them as individuals with unique needs.

AOA Direct Mail

3. How do you work with BatesMeron and other creative agencies to create marketing pieces that are fresh and exciting while still staying true to your AOA brand standards?

While we have strict guidelines for our brand, it is important to break the mold when we can and create something new and exciting for our members. We like to let creative agencies go as far out of the box as possible and then bring them back in by tweaking certain visual or editorial elements. We are very open to new approaches and leadership in the organization is also open, which makes a huge difference.

4. Being such a large association, what elements do you have to take into consideration when strategizing your yearly marketing plan?

We actually do not have a yearly marketing plan for the organization. Projects are approved and funded on a case-by-case basis and are often coming from other departments. We don’t know about them until we are approached.

There are some projects, however, that we do know will happen every year, like our annual conference, and we are very systematic in how we approach development of our marketing strategy for the coming year’s conference. First we look at the results from the previous year’s campaign, tracking use of coupon codes, times and types of registrations, email open rates, website visits, etc. We then brainstorm for new ideas and areas of improvement and determine new goals for the coming year, such as growing a particular segment of attendees. Once we have our marketing plan, we present to our meetings department and adjust according to their budget and logistical plans for the conference.


5. BatesMeron recently worked with you on a campaign to promote an educational immunization program—a program that required a large investment of hours. As a marketer, how do you approach a campaign with an “intimidating” call to action like this?

While you don’t want to be misleading in your messaging about a program’s required time commitment, you can minimize it. The focus of the messaging is not on how easy or quickly the program can be completed, but rather on the value of the program. What would be valuable enough to busy physicians to make it worth their time and effort? Focusing on continuing medical education credits, which are mandatory credits our physicians must earn every year, we can appeal to their desire to fulfill their requirements.

6. What is the biggest challenge you’ve had to overcome as Marketing Communications Manager?

While managing projects with many moving parts can be challenging, it is much more challenging to manage other people. I’ve had to learn, and am still learning, how to motivate others to produce the work that I expect from them without just taking over and creating it myself. I’ve learned the importance of not only setting clear expectations early but also acknowledging when they are being met or exceeded—as positive reinforcement always yields better results in the long run.

Learning to stay organized has also been a challenge that I have overcome by tracking my projects more closely and taking time every week to go over the status of each project, checking for anything I may have overlooked or that may have an approaching deadline. I always want to be prepared for a project deadline coming up, as opposed to rushing to get something done at the last minute.


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