March 25, 2021

One Marketer’s Change Management Playbook

When Johnny Smith Jr. joined Encompass Health as VP of Marketing, he was tasked with a tall order—to create a strong, growth-oriented marketing department. The change management job would involve a complete rebuild, but luckily for Encompass Health, Johnny’s strategic approach to marketing transformation and diplomatic leadership helped them align the organization in 12 months.

Tune in to hear Johnny’s in-depth, step-by-step guide to building a marketing organization. From establishing guiding principles to aligning newly organized across strategic priorities, Johnny is a master in change management. Check it out!

What You’ll Learn in This Episode

  • How to lead a change management initiative
  • How Encompass has built its marketing department
  • Why accountability is key for marketers

Renegade Thinkers Unite, Episode 233 on YouTube

Time-Stamped Highlights

  • [0:28] Aligning Career and Purpose
  • [6:11] Encompass Health’s Change Management Mandate
  • [11:31] Johnny’s 4 Guiding Principles of Change Management
  • [19:00] Individual Development Plans for Employee Enablement
  • [22:31] Encompass Health’s 3 Strategic Marketing Priorities
  • [31:27] Redesigning Encompass Health’s Marketing Team
  • [34:31] How to Ensure Marketing Alignment via Accountability
  • [38:14] Lessons Learned: Standing Up a Marketing Department

Transcript Highlights: Drew Neisser in conversation with Johnny Smith Jr.

[0:28] Aligning Career and Purpose

“I would encourage anyone who's interested specifically in the healthcare provider side, it is a rewarding career, and it truly can serve a purpose if that's what you're calling.” —@johnnysmithjr @encompasshlth Share on X

Drew Neisser: Hello, Renegade Thinkers! If you’re listening to this show, my guess is that you are a believer in the power of marketing and most likely are a marketer yourself. You know from experience that marketing can be transformational, and you also know that not every organization is ready to become marketing-centric.

At some point in your career, you’re going to find yourself at a company that is sales-driven or engineering-driven yet wants you to be the one to change that. They want you to be the one who moves the organization forward, that turns marketing into a revenue-driving machine that brings accountability and consistency to what used to be understaffed and undervalued…I’ll call it a backwater.

It’s a big ask but oh so rewarding, which brings us to today’s guest, Johnny Smith Jr., the VP of Marketing at Encompass Health, who will be sharing not only what he’s been up to for the last 16 months but also provide a step-by-step guide for how you too can approach marketing transformation. Hello, Johnny. Welcome to the show.

Johnny Smith Jr.: Thanks for having me, Drew.

Drew Neisser: How are you?

Johnny Smith Jr.: I’m excellent. I’m doing, really, really well. Happy to be talking with you today.

Drew Neisser: Well, it’s great to have you. Now, where are you?

Johnny Smith Jr.: I’m based in Birmingham, Alabama, and this is home for Encompass Health. Quick background: Encompass Health is based here in Birmingham, but we operate around 140 rehabilitation hospitals in 39 states. We also have home health and hospice as well, so we’re the largest operator of rehabilitation hospitals in the country.

Drew Neisser: Got it. Okay. That’s excellent. Now, I want to step back before we talk about Encompass because I noticed on LinkedIn that you have a Master’s in Communications from Johns Hopkins. Honestly, you’re the first person that I know that has gone through that program and we do have some younger listeners, some college-aged kids who might contemplate grad school. I think the question is, was it worth it? Would you recommend that?

Johnny Smith Jr.: I highly, highly, highly recommend Johns Hopkins University. I will say this. To all the listeners out there that are really truly thinking about getting a Master’s degree—make certain that you have a purpose and a goal in mind first. Don’t just go and do it just because your friends are doing it, your colleagues are doing it, or your mentors are recommending it. Ensure that it really aligns with your career path and your goals.

When I went into my program, I knew I wanted additional career advancement and to learn more about the craft of marketing and communications. That was one of the reasons I went into and invested in a Master’s degree, so I would tell your listeners to have a purpose and be intentional before you go and invest thousands of dollars in a Master’s degree.

Drew Neisser: Yeah, exactly. I mean, I know folks who’ve gotten an MBA, and part of the reason to do that was to get the transition. Another part, of course, was the credibility, particularly from the client side. But a Master’s in Communications—that’s a very specialized thing, but it certainly gives you at least that credential for continuing in in your career.

I noticed that you’ve really spent the bulk of your career in healthcare with long stints at St. Vincent’s and Ascension. What is it about health care that keeps you excited and engaged?

Johnny Smith Jr.: It’s truly about the service that our clinicians, our frontline essential workers on the front line deliver for patients every day. I get the luxury of truly just telling their story, telling the story of the company, and basically engaging with those key stakeholder groups.

When you can walk the halls at a pediatric unit, a cancer unit and see the high level and compassionate care that is delivered, it gives a different perspective on life. And really, it started with the purpose, right? It aligned with my personal belief system, and then from there, it just took off with tremendous career growth opportunities as well.

I would encourage anyone who’s interested specifically in the healthcare provider side, it is a rewarding career, and it truly can serve a purpose if that’s what you’re calling.

Drew Neisser: It’s interesting. As you were talking, I’m wondering, did you ever think about being a physician?

Johnny Smith Jr.: You know, I did not, I did not. I know my limits, Drew. I know my limits, and I know how far I can stretch it. Being self-aware is also a good trait to have when you’re a marketer as well. We have high confidence in ourselves, but you have to be aware as well, and I know where my limits lie. I know there’s other people out there who can serve and deliver in a much more compassionate way that I can from the delivery side of healthcare.

Drew Neisser: Yeah, I think it was probably 7th-grade science, just a dissection alone was enough to convince me that was not the thing I wanted to do. But as you were talking about knowing your limitations, it reminds me of a CMO I talked to who, as a leader, actually gives all of the folks that report into her Myers-Briggs score, how to approach her, and how to manage up to her, which I always thought was so interesting.

[6:11] Encompass Health’s Change Management Mandate

“In order to focus on growth, you have to be obsessed with the customer.” —@johnnysmithjr @encompasshlth Share on X

Drew Neisser: So, you got to Encompass 16 months ago. I now know what attracted you to the role and we’ve heard about what Encompass does—what was the situation like from a marketing perspective when you arrived there?

Johnny Smith Jr.: I was recruited to Encompass and I report directly to our President of our inpatient hospitals. Barb Jacobsmeyer is her name—she brought me in, and she said, “I want to create a marketing department.”

She goes, “We’ve got a communications arm, we have a creative services arm, and then we also have a print shop, so these three areas have not historically had the same objective. They didn’t have the same goals in mind to target the customer.”

Actually, many of them had different customers. They reported into three different departments. We had to come together as one, so what Barb says, she goes, “I want you to take a look at this, this is a complete rebuild, and I want to find the person who has change management experience to lead it.”

Drew Neisser: It really sounds like a change management job. The way you’re describing the marketing structure, it sounds very much like it was designed not so much as to drive the company forward, but as a service—look, we’ll call it almost a backwater, order-taking service.

Johnny Smith Jr.: Well, they delivered value in a different way. It was mostly value that was internally focused, so it was looking at and supporting various departments within the organization with their individual goals or efforts that they needed.

There wasn’t a true focus on growth. In order to focus on growth, you have to be obsessed with the customer, so the first thing we had to do is truly dive in deep on who our customers are, how do they engage with us, what do they want from us, and what behavior change we were seeking with them.

Drew Neisser: Let’s stop there for a second because, first of all, you’re very diplomatic and I really appreciate that about you. Becoming a marketing department versus an in-house service department for other departments is a big transition, so I think it’s interesting that you became recognized as someone who is a change agent. Again, this comes from self-awareness that senior marketers need to have—what are you good at? What do you like to do? You saw this as an opportunity of change.

Before we talk about getting to know the customer a little bit, how did you approach consolidating these three departments?

Johnny Smith Jr.: It’s very basic, Drew. It truly starts with listening. What I had to do is come in and just listen to all of our respective teams—the communications team, the print shop, and the creative services team. I wanted to understand from them: What did value look like from their perspective? What were their challenges that they were experiencing? What was the perception of those respective teams?

That was the first step. To sit and listen. I think sometimes we get ahead of our skis as marketers, and we want to go in and start immediately implementing solutions. That’s not our job. Our job is to listen first and then and then determine what the marketing strategy is, right? Let’s do the same model as change management.

So, once I listened to them, then what I did is put guiding principles into play. There are four guiding principles…

Drew Neisser: For you get to these—I know these are coming and these are really valuable. I just want to acknowledge one thing. First of all, when getting ahead of your skis—I love that expression. As someone who, the last time I was on a ski slope, I actually got ahead of my skis and had a massive crash and burn. I actually broke a thumb.

I totally appreciate that metaphor, and I’ve seen it happen so many times when a new marketer comes in and changes everything within a couple weeks before they’ve actually built a foundation of understanding of the business. So let’s try not to get ahead of our skis.

Speaking of that, we’re going to take a quick break. When we come back, we’re going to dive into the four principles that Johnny is going to lay out. Stay with us.


Hey, it’s Drew, and I just wanted to do a quick mention of a new peer-to-peer advisory network I started last year called CMO Huddles. Every week we bring together an elite group of CMOs to share, care, and dare each other to greatness.

One CMO described huddles as a cross between an executive workshop and a therapy session. If you’re a B2B CMO and wish you could meet regularly with your smartest peers, just go to and book a time to talk to me to see if you’d be a good fit. Check it out at

[11:31] Johnny’s 4 Guiding Principles of Change Management

“We have to invest in our people first, and the people have to continue to enhance their skills and knowledge base for us to get there.” —@johnnysmithjr @encompasshlth Share on X

Drew Neisser: Johnny was about to lay out four principles. Let’s take them one by one, Johnny so we can really go through this. What’s the first principle?

Johnny Smith Jr.: The first principle is truly engaging and critical and creative thinking. Really what I wanted here is I wanted to respectfully challenge what is known. We know we were doing business in a certain way, but now, this is our opportunity to implement change. The only way we can do that is to be looking at things creatively and critically, and we have to be comfortable with engaging in those critical conversations with one another. So that was the first one.

Drew Neisser: Okay, wait. I like to break things down and talk about them. I love the respectful part of this. Again, you were talking about significant changes into an organization internally and then ultimately externally, and the diplomacy even in your language just shines through. I love it.

“Respectfully change.” So, we’re acknowledging the past. Yeah, we did it a certain way, but that may not get us where we need to go. And boy, is that so important today because if we get stuck in the past, if we think about things only with the, “Well, this is the way we’ve always done it,” you’re not going to change anything. So, engage creatively with a goal for respectful change. All right, that’s number one. Let’s go to number two, thank you.

Johnny Smith Jr.: Number two, and this is the key here for all marketing, is to embrace accountability. Being proactive, responsive, and collaborating while managing expectations. Marketing cannot be the department where accountability is non-existent.

Drew Neisser: I love that.

Johnny Smith Jr.: We have to embrace accountability.

Drew Neisser: Okay, so embracing accountability. When I hear that, I’m thinking of understanding what the remit is, as a lot of CMOs like to talk about. “My remit to the organization is X percentage of leads in the pipeline.” “My remit to the organization is increased awareness by X percent.”

I’m curious, from your standpoint, embracing accountability—talk a little bit about the details involved and what are we talking about being accountable for?

Johnny Smith Jr.: Initially, what I wanted to do—because this is even before the vision, this is before the strategic plan and everything—this is the initial first 30 days. Accountability was to each other. Accountability was managing expectations, making certain that our eyes aren’t bigger than our stomachs, that we aren’t overpromising and under-delivering. It was more of a behavior change amongst each other first because I’m creating a culture of collaboration and support. That was the accountability initially.

Drew Neisser: Oh interesting.

Johnny Smith Jr.: Now, fast forward to a different stage.

Drew Neisser: I skipped right over that and I appreciate that, and I want to pause on that for a moment. So, as we’re taking these three different groups, we’re saying, “Okay,” and we’ve listened to what it is that we’re doing, but we’re going to end up consolidating the group into a department. First and foremost, we want to agree that here’s where we want to go, and we all commit to it together. That’s what I heard.

Johnny Smith Jr.: That’s right, that’s right.

 Drew Neisser: Okay, so we’re embracing accountability internally and then you were about to talk about before I so rudely interrupted you…

Johnny Smith Jr.: No, you’re fine, you’re fine. And now we’re at a different level of accountability. Let me get to the third guiding principle, and that is one of my favorites. It’s managing the three w’s. The three w’s are who does what by when.

Now many of your listeners may say that’s basic stuff, but when you’re implementing a major change management effort with more than approximately 70 people around and they’re all operating on different objectives, etc., at times, when you end a meeting, you don’t close the meeting by who’s doing something, when is it going to be done.

Those three questions should be every question that every marketer should be asking at the conclusion of every meeting, and it ensures guiding principle number two—accountability. Managing the three w’s is the essential guiding principle that I would recommend that all of your viewers implement.

Drew Neisser: Let’s talk about this because “who does what by when” is a great reminder. Too many meetings we go into and we say, “Hey, here’s some great ideas,” and then you leave the meeting, and nobody’s assigned anything and nothing gets done. I get that part of it.

How do we make sure that as an organization—and this is particularly true for marketing and given the background that you had with this group where they were order takers—an order taking group can do “who does what by when.” But the “what” part, that “what” is really, how do we make sure that that’s strategically aligned with the bigger goals of the organization.

Otherwise, you’re a team that’s moving papers from our inbox to our outbox, we’re getting stuff done, but we’re not necessarily getting big stuff done. When do we make sure that the “what” we’re doing is really important?

Johnny Smith Jr.: The first path to change management that I implemented was these guiding principles. Then I got to the strategic prioritization and our strategic plan. That’s when we defined the “what.”

Drew Neisser: Got it, so I got a little ahead of us. We’ll come back to strategic plan in a bit. So, we’ve got who does what by when, that’s the three w’s. What’s the fourth principle then?

Johnny Smith Jr.: The fourth one is building and managing knowledge assets. And really what that is, is truly investing in your team, setting up collaboration tools for team development, growth, education, just truly investing in these individuals. I think it’s the most important thing is that what I wanted to put in place is that we care about each other and we want to see the growth of our department.

The only way we were going to get to where I knew we needed to go, is that we’d do it through our people. We have to invest in our people first, and the people have to continue to enhance their skills and knowledge base for us to get there.

So that was a major, major effort and it continues to be an effort today. So it’s the fourth one, but arguably the most important one. Without us as leaders, our responsibility is to inspire and to serve and I needed to ensure I put that in practice.

[19:00] Individual Development Plans for Employee Enablement

“We're building knowledge. We're building education. We're empowering and enriching growth.” —@johnnysmithjr @encompasshlth Share on X

Drew Neisser: Let’s break this one down a little bit, because I completely agree and acknowledge that, look, a marketing department is really only as good as the people, the marketers in that department. What kind of tools specifically are we talking about? What’s the what in that particular scenario?

Johnny Smith Jr.: The one specific item that I put in place, and I had this in previous roles as well, but I wanted to ensure it aligned with Encompass Health policies, so I met with our HR department and grabbed on to individual development plans.

Everyone on our team has an individual development plan and we have timelines associated with that. I want to know: What are your career goals? What are areas that you want to grow in? What support are you going to need to get those? What additional resources can we apply? And then we come back, and we keep tracking this on a regular basis.

I know, my direct reports know, everyone on the team knows where we’re investing in this person and the person has a personal ownership to it because it’s his or her plan and it’s their responsibility to continue to engage with their respective leader or with me about their individual plan. We’re building knowledge. We’re building education. We’re empowering and enriching growth.

Drew Neisser: I think that’s so interesting. I’m thinking about it, and you know, you’re working for a large company, you mentioned how many states. I’m wondering—and this is where the tail can actually wag the dog—I’m imagining there could be a circumstance where this didn’t exist formally beyond your department and HR goes, “Oh, this is pretty smart. Why aren’t we doing this across the board?”

Johnny Smith Jr.: Luckily, we have a very strong HR department, so it was something in place, but it is not a requirement. This is something that I brought from another company, then came in and said “Hey, do you have something similar?” Luckily, they had something in place, and I made it a requirement for marketing services.

Drew Neisser: Very cool. Alright, so in terms of your initial plan, we started by listening. We engaged with creative thinking to drive change, embraced accountability, managed the three w’s, and then created these knowledge assets which really are individualized plans for development for every one of the departments.

So no doubt, when you’re done with those four, everyone on the team knows at least, at minimum that you care, that you are there to help them grow and that you acknowledge that you can’t succeed if they don’t succeed. We don’t talk enough about that on the show, and so I really appreciate that perspective.

[22:31] Encompass Health’s 3 Strategic Marketing Priorities

“I had full support across the board for what we wanted to build. But first, I had to articulate the vision.” —@johnnysmithjr @encompasshlth Share on X

Drew Neisser: You mentioned that after you got these four basics done, you moved on to strategic planning. Let’s talk about what that meant to you and your team.

Johnny Smith Jr.: The first thing I did is—I’m big on the rule of three because I think people can remember the rule of three, so I identified three core strategic priorities for the marketing department.

The first one was the brand. I found out really quickly that we had a tremendous opportunity to truly discover the brand. What is the brand essence? What’s the experience that the customer has with us? How are we unique and different? What’s our emotional connection? You get the point.

That was one area, because I think that is a true opportunity for us—to tell people about this significantly large organization and really engage with the customer. Building the brand was the first strategic priority.

Drew Neisser: I’m going to pause you for a second. It’s funny, we have a lot of conversations in CMO Huddles, and we all appreciate as professional marketers the importance of brand and what it looks like and what it doesn’t look like. Yet, when you go to get a budget for brand, in so many organizations, that is perceived by a CFO or another executive or investors as fluffy stuff. “Oh, that’s that nice stuff with designs and logos and colors and things” and not what they would consider demand generation and revenue-driving.

I’m curious—as you’re devoting resources and ultimately devoting budget, did you have any challenges having that conversation about brand with your boss and executive team?

Johnny Smith Jr.: Absolutely not. Actually, my supervisor, Barb Jacobsmeyer, was fully invested in it. I met with the executive management team, which is the CFO and our overall CEO as well. Luckily, our CFO comes from a retail background and he also serves on other sports apparel boards and things of that nature, so he understands the value of the brand. When I outlined for the board and our executive management team the reasoning behind this and the positioning that it can give Encompass Health, I had full support across the board for what we wanted to build. But first, I had to articulate the vision.

You can’t just walk in and say, “I want to launch a brand campaign” or “I need to start to explore the brand.” You have to have a vision for it, and then you have to have some research to back you up to why you wanted to actually implement this solution.

Drew Neisser: I totally agree. First of all, congratulations on choosing wisely when it comes to an executive team because not every CMO is that fortunate that their executive team embraces brand and enables you to talk about it.

You mentioned vision and research, and you know what, I realized that I cut you off on the rule of three. So, in terms of strategic priorities, brand was one. What was the next one?

Johnny Smith Jr.: The next one was digital experience. Drew, we had one person dedicated to just website management here at Encompass Health. This is the largest post-acute care provider for rehabilitation hospitals in the country and we had one person. That was an area of opportunity for us, and I had to outline it as a strategic priority.

Drew Neisser: That’s so interesting and we all know, as consumers, and certainly, as a result, this trend accelerated in 2020 because of COVID. It’s digital-first everything, right?

Johnny Smith Jr.: Exactly.

Drew Neisser: We look at websites and we look for reviews and we make purchase decisions as a result of—and it doesn’t matter what category. It could be anything now where your digital experience defines the brand.

In that world of digital experience, there’s so much. How did you build a plan for that and what kind of team did you end up needing or ended up getting?

Johnny Smith Jr.: The first thing that I did is started to outline the opportunities that we have here. Then from there, I was able to, as a part of the redesign for marketing services… We had to go through a significant redesign to actually get to the place to actually implement digital, so a lot of what we have today on the digital marketing team are new hires—I went out and hired a director of digital marketing.

She has extensive experience with managed care companies in that B2B experience. I needed that level of expertise, so I hired her. And then the smart thing that you do as a head of marketing is you hire smart people to know a heck of a lot more than you do, and you get out of their way. You give them the resources that they need to be successful, the resources from a human, staff resources, and then agency support or whatever expertise that they need.

What I did is I got out of her way. We talked daily, hourly about search, about social, about web. We have an overall strategy for digital marketing, and I’ve empowered her to go and grow her team and build the resources she needs to ensure that our digital strategy aligns with what we’re trying to accomplish from a strategic marketing perspective.

Drew Neisser: All of that makes sense. We started the conversation talking about digital experience and we’re now talking about digital marketing. Often, I can separate those two. I think customer experience and how they come into the door and how they interact is one thing. So much of digital marketing is about outbound and SEO/SEM and demand generation. Is this person that is in charge of digital marketing also in charge of digital experience?

Johnny Smith Jr.: She’s in charge of digital marketing. What I would say about experience is my third strategic priority, and that’s customer and market intelligence. That individual is responsible for the experience side of things because that person is obsessed with the customer. She’s truly zeroing in on customer behavior, what their needs are, how they want to be communicated with.

We’re a B2B2C company, so when I’m saying “customers” here it’s our referral source partners at an acute care hospital. It’s those case managers, it’s the discharge planners, it’s physicians, it’s therapists at those acute care hospitals. We need to have a partnership with them. Not just sell to them but provide a level of service and storytelling to them.

That individual is truly focused on those individuals in those relationships. Then we know digitally how we should be creating that experience with those referral sources, so it all ties together.

[31:27] Redesigning Encompass Health’s Marketing Team

“We started with the guiding principles and the second was to have the strategic priorities, then it was the redesign of the team.” —@johnnysmithjr @encompasshlth Share on X

Drew Neisser: I’m curious, so these priorities—brand, digital marketing, and we’ll call it customer marketing intel—did you end up reorganizing your teams across those priorities?

Johnny Smith Jr.: Exactly. We started with the guiding principles and the second was to have the strategic priorities, then it was the redesign of the team, so I created several different functions on the team.

The first one was customer and market intelligence. We didn’t have a research arm. We didn’t understand who we were engaging with. We didn’t even prioritize our key audiences, so that was put in place first.

The second piece was a digital marketing team. I hired a director of digital marketing and she’s now been hiring aggressively over the last several months. I believe she has a team of seven or eight right now with more to come. That’s another area that we brought on.

We brought on a brand marketing team as well. That’s where marketing design is included under that, so our graphic designers, our videographers, etc., our project managers, and then we have what we call regional marketing managers.

Those would be equivalent to like a product marketer at another B2B company, so those individuals are responsible for hospitals in the field. All of them have responsibilities for those individual hospitals, understanding those individual business objectives for those hospitals and how we, from a marketing perspective, actually strategize and deliver solutions.

Then we have a couple more. We have a communications arm, which is responsible for content, communications, public relations, so think of that as internal-external comms. And then, lastly, we still have our print services capabilities as well, so that makes up the marketing services department here at Encompass Health.

Drew Neisser: As you were talking about the customer and marketing intelligence, it just occurred to me, thinking how powerful it is when you have your internal research organization having the finger on the pulse of what your customer is thinking and also, potentially, as a source for content. If you’re fielding this study, you can sort of turn it around. So not only can you use that for sales and to guide marketing and inform it, but you can create content around it.

Having that feels so important and essential, but I’m often surprised to see that there are plenty of marketing departments out there that don’t have that. They could have something called customer success, but those folks are really about making sure that that the customer is using the product or service correctly—or the customer experience department which really is looking at how the customer is engaging along the way, but there’s nobody there necessarily adding it up, measuring it, and so forth.

[34:31] How to Ensure Marketing Alignment via Accountability

“Luckily, when you have a vision, when people see that they can contribute to it, people want to invest in the vision.” —@johnnysmithjr @encompasshlth Share on X

Drew Neisser: That’s where I wanted to go next with all of this. We have these three strategic priorities: brand, digital experience, and marketing intelligence. Each of those really must come—because you mentioned accountability—with their own metrics sets. I’m curious how you hold you and your team accountable setting goals for those three priorities.

Johnny Smith Jr.: Yeah, so those are the three priorities, and then to ensure alignment with everyone across our marketing services enterprise, what we did is we put together a strategic plan. Within that plan, we have our overall goals. We want to build growth in a specific disease condition, which is what we mostly treat here at Encompass Health.

We may want a goal around another specific audience. I’ve got to be respectful and not specifically mention some of these goals on the call because we’re in a very highly competitive business. But then from there, what each individual department has is that they have strategies that all align with achieving those business goals. And those business goals are all the way rolled up to the operations of the entire organization.

So, if you’re digital marketing, you have strategies on how you’re going to build growth in that specific disease condition. If you’re the content team, you have content goals and communications goals and PR strategies that align with that. If you’re a regional marketing manager, your job is to be the center glue that brings digital marketing, content, research, everything into one and then package that solution to the actual end customer, which is our hospitals within the field.

Everyone is accountable to the overall same plan and everyone specifically, even tactically driven down to the tactics, know their role and how it plays with measures around it as well.

Drew Neisser: That has to make management and the easier part of the conversations—you talked about individual plans that align with your overall strategic priorities. Makes total sense. I get all of this.

Again, you’ve been there 16 months. I’m curious how long it took you to get to the point where we’ve got everybody with the same goals and the tactics defined under these three strategic priorities.

Johnny Smith Jr.: I’ll tell you this, you’ll be surprised. I did it in exactly 12 months.

Drew Neisser: 12 months.

Johnny Smith Jr.: We rolled all of this out before the end of the fiscal year—which was December—because I wanted to be ready for 2021. Because we are in the process right now of launching four campaigns in 2021 with the potential of five, and the only way I knew for us to get there was to wrap this up by December of 2020.

How did I wrap it up? Going back to those guiding principles of who does what by when, having a vision, and holding the team accountable to that.

Luckily, when you have a vision, when people see that they can contribute to it, people want to invest in the vision. There’s not much I need to do on my end because people are about developing and growing their personal craft.

[38:14] Lessons Learned: Standing Up a Marketing Department

“As marketers, we're aggressive, we're hungry, we're ready to go, but you have to be deliberate.” —@johnnysmithjr @encompasshlth Share on X

Drew Neisser: I mentioned this in the beginning—you have such a calm, reassuring, confident demeanor as you explain this. Is there anything about this that keeps you up at night?

Johnny Smith Jr.: I will say this. Not up at night, but things that I think about routinely. I would say this: as we continue to implement the change, we have to be very deliberate about all of our allies across the organization and being mindful of when is the right time to implement X, when should we implement Y?

Because, as you can imagine, this is the first time that we brought together a strategic marketing department. We as marketers, we’re aggressive, we’re hungry, we’re ready to go, but you have to be deliberate. I spent a lot of my time reflecting, thinking, and engaging with different leaders across the company to ensure we’re making the right moves at the right time. It’s precision, man. This is precision and a precise process because you can easily screw this up if you don’t talk with the right people and be deliberate with your approach.

Drew Neisser: I’m so glad you said that because it just reminds me—a lot of what you described in this process, you can do in isolation, but we all know that marketing doesn’t work in isolation. You have all sorts of dependencies. It only works if the whole organization embraces it and really, the head of marketing has to build those bridges and has to make sure that you’re seen as in-service…

I mean, it’s funny, the transformation that you’re describing, you went from order taking to still being in service of other departments, but the difference is you had a plan, you had the right people in place, and now you could suddenly deliver on a level that could have a material impact on the business.

Johnny Smith Jr.: Exactly.

Drew Neisser: Well, this is just a brilliant playbook and I feel like we’ve covered tremendous ground. Is there any lesson learned? Besides the fact of reaching out, is there any other lesson learned that you have that this particular experience really drove home?

Johnny Smith Jr.: I will say this. As a part of the change management exercise that we went through, the key to all of this is that you’re focused on the customer, but the second piece is to know your business.

Healthcare is a complicated industry. It’s important to truly understand the business and then, where can marketing make an impact? Where can we make an impact to actually help grow the business? That’s a key element that I think all marketers have to focus on regardless of what B2B space you’re in.

That wasn’t the focus initially with marketing in the past. We started asking different questions, we started getting access to data, we started spending more time with our controllers and financial operators. We started to be a part of those discussions and folks were like, “Wow. Marketing now is contributing to growth. It’s a different conversation now.”

And then from there, then you start to get invited in different circles and then the field and others start to respect what you’re doing because you actually are caring about what the end goal is as opposed to just responding to a tactic and implementing.

Drew Neisser: That’s huge. I’m going to just put big quotes around “marketing is contributing to growth.” If you want to earn a seat at the table, you better be thinking about the shortest distance between you and your contribution to grow. Johnny Smith Jr., thank you very much for your really profound and followable instruction here. I really appreciate you being on the show.

Johnny Smith Jr.: Thank you for the opportunity, Drew. Nice to talk with you.

Drew Neisser: And to all the listeners here, if marketing is a contribution to growth, I have an ask for you. Do me a favor and share this show if you enjoyed it with a fellow marketer or do a review of the show on your favorite podcast channel. We really appreciate your listening and your support and sharing it because sharing is caring.

Show Credits

Renegade Thinkers Unite is written and directed by Drew Neisser. Audio production is by Sam Beck. The show notes are written by Melissa Caffrey. The music is by the amazing Burns Twins and the intro voiceover is Linda Cornelius. To find the transcripts of all episodes, suggest future guests, or learn more about quite possibly the best B2B marketing agency in New York City, visit And until next time, keep those Renegade Thinking Caps on and strong.