Michael E. Knecht, FACHE
Chief Marketing & Communications Officer
We caught up with Michael Knecht to discover more about him, what he’s up to, and what we can learn from him.
Briefly describe your current role.
As Chief Marketing and Communications Officer for RWJBarnabas Health, I lead all branding, marketing, internal and external communications, digital, and external partnership functions for our organization. Our system is comprised of 13 hospitals and 35,000 employees, as well as 9,000 physicians. With our academic partner Rutgers University, we are New Jersey’s largest academic health system.
Briefly describe your career journey and what led you to institutional advancement in academic medicine.
My career journey really began as an undergraduate in economics. I was approaching my senior year and really began to struggle with career options. I had no interest in pursuing Fortune 500 employment and wanted to instead do something that built a better community and improved lives. As a child, I had fleeting ideas of pursuing a career in medicine, but had neither the temperament nor inclination for the heavy science track. In my last year, I took a health economics course, and everything clicked—the ability to integrate policy, business, and healthy communities really resonated. I then earned an MBA in health administration and fully intended to be an operations person in a health system. Over time, my positions broadened to include strategic planning, marketing, and communications, and I chose to focus my career in these disciplines. I believe that having a foundation in operations has made me a more effective marketer and communicator. I have worked in organizations of various sizes over the years, on both the health system-side and university-side, and find the pace and scope of academic medicine to be incredibly energizing. RWJBH is comprised of community, teaching, and specialty hospitals, as well as an academic medical center and soon-to-be 2,000-member medical group—so the variety of the job each day is very challenging and rewarding.
What achievement in your current job are you proud of?
I am most proud of the team I have built and the great work we do together each day. Our health system was created five years ago as the result of a merger between two very different organizations. Despite very disparate cultures at the onset, we were able to retain incredibly talented people and create a unified team. We have had negligible turnover in the marketing and communications division, despite being in a competitive market for talent.
What is a challenge that you/your unit/your institution is facing and how are you addressing it?
Like all health systems, our biggest challenge currently pertains to the latest wave of COVID and the continued struggle with ensuring widespread vaccination of our communities and employees. Our system was an early adopter of mandatory vaccination for staff and physicians, and the need for effective and timely communications to help drive compliance is critical. I am an active member of the system’s vaccine steering committee, and ensuring that the communications function has a seat at the table for such a fast-moving issue such as COVID does support success. As of this writing, we have had very few team members separate from our organization due to non-compliance. I believe that one of the reasons for this low rate pertains to our sharing of information around vaccine efficacy and safety.
What innovation or trend in the field inspires or motivates you?
While not a specific trend per se, I think I am most motivated by the constant state of change in academic medicine. New research discoveries, unexpected competitors, new models of education and delivering clinical care, and just the evolution of our communities keeps the work fresh. I have never been bored, and today looks nothing like yesterday. What else could anyone want in a career?
What is the best career advice you were given and how have you used it?
Treat everyone with respect while you do your job. While it seems obvious, inexplicably I have encountered many people along the way who seem to “dial up” or “down” their level of respect and courtesy depending upon the situation or the people involved. How you interact with the people in the mail room, security, or food service should be the same as with a dean, trustee, or donor. To lead effectively, people need to know who you are and if you are genuine—this builds trust. Every interaction counts in building a reputation, and with our industry continually evolving, your counterpart at a competing institution today could easily be your supervisor tomorrow. Having a reputation for acting with integrity and showing respect regardless of circumstance will travel far—as will acting otherwise.
What advice do you have for other institutional advancement professionals in academic medicine?
I would have to advise anyone in our field to “reach out.” Within academic medicine, there are so many talented professionals who have experienced many of the same issues and challenges that you are facing today. No one needs to go through it alone, and I have learned so much by reaching out to friends and colleagues across the country for their ideas, suggestions, and support. Certainly, GIA members are first and foremost on my list of who to tap when something new or unexpected arises.
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