Influencer Marketing: The Dolly Parton Healthcare Story ft. Stuart Dill


How can healthcare companies achieve 6 billion impressions in 24 hours? Influencer marketing.

Dolly Parton’s story about donating to Vanderbilt and contributing to the Covid-19 vaccine development is a great example of building a successful influencer strategy. Stuart Dill highlights the importance of starting with your company’s mission and building trust to achieve results.

Join Chris Hemphill as they guide us through an inspiring discussion with Stuart Dill about successful influencer stories.

Video Chapters
1:10 Meet Stuart Dill, SVP marketing & engagement at Vanderbilt
3:09 What influencers and megaphones have in common
5:12 Achieving 6 billion impressions in 24 hours
9:30 Start with the mission to achieve results
10:53 Ryan Secrest studios at children’s hospitals
12:30 Align your mission with the right champions
13:50 Roll up your sleeves, do the work, and watch it grow

This conversation is brought to you by Actium Health in partnership with the Forum for Healthcare Strategists.

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Chris Hemphill

VP, Applied AI & Growth
Actium Health


Stuart Dill

SVP, Marketing and Engagement
Vanderbilt University Medical Center

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Stuart Dill (00:00):
Her name was obviously mentioned as the Dolly Parton Fund is one of the founding funders for the Moderna trial. The New York Times picked it up. She just happened to go on the Today Show the next day and called us and said, “Hey, I think everybody’s going to know about this.”

Chris Hemphill (00:23):
Hello healthcare. We are happy to be sharing more stories from the floor at HMPS 2021. For the folks that couldn’t come down here and make it to have these conversations or see all these things live, we hope that this gives you a little taste of the HMPS experience. So with us, there’s a whole bunch of topics that we covered and that we’ve seen at HMPS. There’s things like patient experience, consumer experience, digital transformation, patient engagement, even the impact of AI on patient outreach. But one thing that we hadn’t covered just yet is influencer strategy within healthcare. To do this, to cover this, there’s nobody better, there’s a very interesting story that Stuart Dill has from Vanderbilt University Medical Center. Stuart oversees marketing and patient engagement outreach and those kinds of strategies at Vanderbilt. But Stuart, would you mind just giving us a little bit of background on you?

Stuart Dill (01:18):
Yeah, thanks for having me. I oversee marketing and what we call engagement. It is my second career. So I started in the entertainment business. So I had a 30 year career in entertainment based out of Nashville. The two greatest exports in Nashville are music and healthcare, so I’ve been lucky to be involved in both. And we have an embarrassing amount of blessed with riches in Nashville with a lot of high profile personalities, and there’s a lot of philanthropy and there’s a lot of goodwill in that community. Part of my role is to engage folks that may have megaphones and want to help share our story and get involved in the medical center and share the mission. And we do that in a number of different ways, and we often say it doesn’t matter if we’re just raising awareness or raising funds, they’re not mutually exclusive. But we’re always trying to help share our message through influencers.

Chris Hemphill (02:15):
Fantastic. I know that there’s been all kinds of different contexts in which you all have heard about influencer marketing influence strategies, but as Stuart outlined, the megaphones that folks have outside of healthcare might be about amplifying a brand or getting people to drive more purchases. But the influencer strategy that Stuart’s going to share is really touching, because it’s about what we can do, what these megaphones can do to get people who otherwise wouldn’t have heard that message to engage their care. And one really exciting part of that is actually the story around Dolly Parton’s donation to help spread vaccine and vaccine awareness. But I want to get started at the very basic, Stuart, because like I said, there’s a context that people have heard about influencer marketing, but could you talk about influencer marketing in a healthcare context?

Stuart Dill (03:13):
Well, you start with it, it’s mission driven, at least it is for us. We’re a nonprofit academic medical center, and so there is, part I think the cornerstone is that certainly we have a clinical enterprise that has profits and profit driven, but all of those profits are plowed back into research, and that research then is funneled back into the clinician side. The clinical side, the research side, the educational side, the three parts of the academic medical center are woven together, and that is the mission of the place.

Stuart Dill (03:46):
And so once you tell that story and you have an understanding of it’s not just a clinical enterprise, but there’s a mission behind research, and that story often can be shared, as you said, louder with folks with megaphones than we can tell our own story, and you’ll reach audiences that we couldn’t reach ourselves.

Stuart Dill (04:08):
So, we try to share that story, the story of our mission, and see if we could attract folks that will have buy in and then see where it goes. We literally introduce them to different segments of the medical center. It could be children specific, cancer specific, or disease specific, and they may want to get more involved through fundraising or through education. We can put them on advisory boards. Really our goal is just to educate and have them have a real sense of what and who we are, and then spread that in any way that they feel that they can share and do that in an effective way.

Chris Hemphill (04:53):
Great. And it’s warming to hear that mission driven perspective around this influencer marketing concept. And to help solidify that, I think it’s always great to lead off with examples and stories. And when we met, you were telling me a fantastic story about the relationship with Dolly Parton.

Stuart Dill (05:13):
There’s so many. And so I’ll tell you the Dolly story, but there are wonderful examples in a lot of different communities, but certainly a lot at Vanderbilt and in Nashville. But the one that people are talking about as of late is the connection with Dolly and Moderna and the vaccine. So the way that that happened is she has been a champion of the medical center in lots of different areas, including children’s. For us in raising awareness and raising funds with us. And then when COVID hit, she was outspoken of being someone that was pro-vaccine and asked us, frankly, asked her physician who was at Vanderbilt, tell me about what Vanderbilt’s doing in the research area with drugs therapeutics and even the vaccine.

Stuart Dill (06:04):
And I won’t go into all of that, but there’s a lot of Vanderbilt’s footprint, fingerprint on all three of those areas, in treatment and in the vaccine. But she got excited about that and said, let me give a million dollars to the vaccine center, the Vanderbilt Vaccine Center. Use it however you see fit. So a wonderful gift. At that time, again, we did not, certainly the public didn’t know where we were with any of the vaccines that we all now know, but the early trials of Moderna was starting and Vanderbilt was involved in the early trials.

Stuart Dill (06:41):
And this is how it works. A lot of times funding for research certainly can come out of the government, but a lot of times it comes out of individual philanthropy to move things along. And her contribution certainly helped go from one stage of the trial to the next, when it was unblinded and shown of how the process worked, her name was obviously mentioned as the Dolly Parton fund is one of the founding funders for the Moderna trial.

Stuart Dill (07:09):
And the New York times picked it up. She just happened to go on the Today Show the next day and called us and said, “Hey, I think everybody’s going to know about this.” And it really, it was a remarkable day. She went on the Today Show and talked about really having trust in the system, having trust in Vanderbilt and their research around the vaccine and in therapies and wanting to be a part of that. And not knowing obviously at the time that it would turn out to be one of the successful vaccine strategies. We lost track at trying to count the impressions of that day of how it was picked up on a worldwide global basis, but it was over six billion impressions in about 24 hours.

Chris Hemphill (07:55):
That’s incredible to know. And I really like the way that you share heard that story, because at the very beginning, Dolly was getting excited about the opportunity to be able to push the research effort along. And she was concerned about what impact her donation or her involvement might have. Does that point to some consistent?

Stuart Dill (08:14):
That’s right. I think when you’re in this piece of business, I don’t know what the impressions might be, but folks that really are leaning in, they have a lot of detail on wanting to know what is happening. A friend of ours, we were talking last night saying, particularly when you come from an impoverished background and you have one pair of shoes, you know where that pair of is. When famous folks come into wealth and have the ability to help in a philanthropic way, the same principles apply. They want to know where their money’s going. It’s not just a gift and walk away, it is a gift and stay engaged.

Stuart Dill (08:57):
And Dolly has certainly has been that way with us. She has always wanted to have her impact reports and how are things going and knowing the details. And I think that’s true with great philanthropists, is not just with her, but she was very involved and engaged in knowing where her research money was going and how it was impactful. And it just happened to be a once in a generational type of gift that moved the needle in this unbelievable time.

Chris Hemphill (09:27):
We’ve zoomed in on this one particular story, but obviously there are many as you were sharing. I’m curious about the person, the teams that want to operationalize these types of experience or is this something that can?

Stuart Dill (09:41):
Yes, it can. So we certainly tie it into philanthropy and what we call our development department as well. But I would say this, you don’t go in with the expectation of here’s the financial goal. I think you go with the expectation of it’s mission driven and you want to share, you want to share truth, you want to share value, you want to share the mission of your cause and see where it goes. You are planting seeds, and there’s no way really to predict where these things go.

Stuart Dill (10:17):
Each gift, each conversation, each engagement is as important as the last. And so my sense is, yes, you have the Dolly on the one side, there’s a lot of remarkable awareness building gift giving time, not just financial resources that is so valuable and is not of any lesser value than some of the more high profile stories that we’re talking about. At Vanderbilt in the children’s hospital, the Monroe Carol Jr Children’s Hospital, we opened a Seacrest studio, another great high profile philanthropist is Ryan Seacrest and what he has done and how innovative for him to open and create this sacred space of radio and television studios within children’s hospitals to give children in the hospital escape in a way to go in and a, connect with different personalities and programs, and also will b, a distraction. That was his idea. He now has 10 or 11 of these in children’s hospitals all over the country. Obviously he leveraged his celebrity to do that, but I will just say the Dolly stories, the Ryan Seacrest stories.

Stuart Dill (11:31):
And then there’s singer songwriters that you don’t know in Nashville that just come up and go, I’m going bedside to bedside. I’m going to visit kids in need. Certainly can’t do that during COVID, but have done that. Musicians on call and other organizations come to mind. But I think my point is that this is a process that you just, you go out every day and you roll your sleeves up and you plow the mission and you don’t always know what’s going to grow, but that’s not the point. You just go do it, you do the work.

Chris Hemphill (12:05):
Excellent. And there’s a portion of the audience who’s probably watching and wondering when they want to start making these similar tides at their organizations. I know that’s probably something that takes a lot of years, a lot of rolled up sleeves, a lot of effort to build. Could you talk about perhaps the origin story of how to reach that point or what other organizations or leaders at other organizations might want to be thinking about?

Stuart Dill (12:35):
Again, I just, obviously, 501(c)(3) and nonprofit organizations all are dealing with fundraising in different ways. I would just go back to that thought of, we call them champions, aligning your mission with influencers, high profile personalities, folks that can move the needle. And the point is that it’s not a one and done, it’s a nurturing campaign. It takes time. And that you need to build relationships and build trust and a Dolly gift of a million dollars that turned into part of the story and the journey of Moderna didn’t happen the day she gave a million dollars, it happened 20 years earlier, right? When she was developing a rapport with her lifetime physician, who was a Vanderbilt physician. And then him leading her to other colleagues to talk about the research component. So these are long term strategies and long term efforts that don’t always show their true colors until many years later.

Chris Hemphill (13:51):
So it sounds like it takes a long coordinated effort of doing the right thing and being focused on the mission.

Stuart Dill (13:59):
That’s right.

Chris Hemphill (13:59):
At the end of the day, with these types of efforts, how do leaders in this field know that you’ve done a good job?

Stuart Dill (14:08):
Well, good point. My sense is certainly we all deal with metrics and we all talk about goals and we talk about fundraising goals, but it’s also about reach and it’s about culture, right? And it’s about, it’s not just about hitting a certain number. In an academic medical center and a research medical center, folks are rolling up the sleeves every day just to improve the human condition. Now, how you put a measurement on that. Yes, we do quarterly reports and we do fundraising goals, and some of those are met and some of those are not, but it is difficult to get a real calculated measurement, quantitative measurement of philanthropy, because it is a combination of a quilted effort of strategy fundraising and mission sharing and culture driven awareness.

Chris Hemphill (15:15):
Excellent. Well, I really, I like the development of that story and the absolute focus on the mission. And I hope that folks who are watching would be inspired to maybe following those footsteps from, or maybe potentially ask questions or reach out, curious if you’d like for folks to reach out to you, the best-

Stuart Dill (15:38):
Obviously, we’re in Nashville, easy to find. We are always looking for folks that would want to amplify, lean in, engage through awareness of fundraising. Certainly can find me on the Vanderbilt University Medical Center website for any donations that would go to our office.

Chris Hemphill (16:04):
Well, Stuart, I really appreciate that. And we really appreciated the audience, the folks who you didn’t or weren’t able to make it and see the conversation, see the speech. We hope that we’ve given you a good little taste of what’s been happening at HMPS.

Stuart Dill (16:20):
Pleasure to be here. Thank you.

Chris Hemphill (16:21):
Thank you, Stuart.
Speaker 3 (16:23):
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