The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has put the whole healthcare sector in turmoil. While lack of resources was a huge problem the solution needed more than bridging the talent and resource gap. To make sure the healthcare sector across countries to be able to handle such a crisis, there’s a need for strong collaborative efforts towards transforming healthcare.
CURA Strategies is one such agency that has been focusing on transforming health care since its inception in 2016. As a bipartisan integrated strategic communications and public affairs agency CURA Strategies has been helping clients break down barriers that are preventing healthcare solutions, be it a product or a policy change, from getting to the needy people.
CURA, Latin for care, concern, attention to others, exemplifies the company’s role towards its clients, team, and the health care system.
Anne Woodbury, CEO, and Co-founder of CURA Strategies shares her goal behind co-founding the company. “Our mission is to take exceptional care of our clients so they can transform the health care system and improve lives,” says Anne. “If something can help people live healthier or longer, we believe people should know about it and be given a chance to access it,” she adds.
In the following interview Anne shares her journey into the healthcare sector and how CURA Strategies with CURAge and bold leadership is operating to improve society and helping others.
Brief us about how you have set yourself apart from the competition through your expertise in healthcare PR and communication?
While we offer the full suite of integrated communications services like most other PR firms including campaign development, paid/earned/social media strategy development and execution, stakeholder engagement, and creative and brand services, what sets us apart is our public affairs, government relations, and coalition development expertise.
With nearly half of all health care dollars coming from government-funded sources, government legislation, and regulation can narrow or expand access to innovations with a stroke of a pen. Organizations can thrive, or wither, based on their ability to anticipate and influence policy decisions.
In the five years since our company was founded, we’ve created, launched, and managed eight national issue-based coalitions to influence policymaking and/or raise awareness of an important health issue.
We believe we can help our clients navigate the policy landscape better than any other PR agency and it is this unique capability that helped us secure the distinction of Global and North American New Agency of the Year by PRovoke in 2018 and landed us nearly 20 other industry awards.
What other services does CURA Strategies offer, and how are you making an impact in the global healthcare industry?
Another unique offering is CURA’s ability to be the turn-key staff for campaigns, an uncommon proposition for a strategic communications agency. We serve as a staff for many of the coalitions we’ve built, including Advocates for Opioid Recovery, Mental Health for the US, and Honor the Gift handling strategic planning and leadership responsibilities for the initiatives, day-to-day operations, and stakeholder engagement along with communications strategy and implementation.
We’re able to seamlessly execute all aspects of the organization, from ideation and initial branding to strategy development and daily operations. Through these coalitions, we are shaping health policies to improve lives.
For example, through our work with Honor the Gift, a national patient-centered campaign created and managed by CURA Strategies and supported by a national coalition of kidney and transplant organizations, we successfully helped pass legislation to extend Medicare’s immunosuppressive medication coverage that others have attempted but failed to pass for over 20 years.
This new law will ensure that kidney transplant patients will never have to worry about coverage for their immunosuppressive medications.
Brief us about your journey in the healthcare industry.
It’s hard to believe that I’ve worked in Washington, DC for over 27 years and have been on the front lines of so many health care reform and transformation efforts. My first professional job was working for my local Congressman, Newt Gingrich, just six months before he became Speaker of the House that was an exciting four years, to say the least. I followed him to the American Enterprise Institute, serving as his project assistant on a health care transformation project.
We spent three years speaking with CEOs in almost every industry as background for our book, Saving Lives and Saving Money, which outlined what a transformed health care system could look like. The book received bipartisan endorsements and served as the intellectual foundation for several state and federal health policy initiatives. Newt and I then worked together to launch the Center for Health Transformation, a cross-industry coalition for which I served as Chief Health Advocate.
After 12 years, I wanted to try something new and found a home at FleishmanHillard. Although I was doing a lot of communications work at that time, I had little knowledge about what public relations were or that it was an entire industry. I had no idea what a ‘capes deck’ was and I had never used the word ‘creative’ as a noun in my life. FleishmanHillard’s regional President, Paul Johnson, brought me onto the team and I’ll be forever grateful.
After four years at FleishmanHillard, I opened the D.C. office of TogoRun, which was then a specialty health care arm of Omnicom and a sister agency to FleishmanHillard, which I managed for seven years. One of the most career-building assignments was serving as the global leader for the Philips Healthcare team for three years. We were supporting corporate communications and marketing and did very little public affairs work for them initially.
It became abundantly clear to me that my communications clients and most of the health care C-suite have a narrow view of government’s influence over their business and thought little of the tremendous win-win opportunity there could be in public affairs and advocacy as a driver for corporate reputation and market shaping. Through my work at TogoRun, bridging the divide between government affairs and communications became a strong interest area of mine.
Although I adored TogoRun and my team and will be forever grateful for my Omnicom experience, I was interested in working on my own terms and took the leap to start CURA in 2016. We wanted to be a health care agency that works with transformational clients and to be known for issue-based communications and great team culture. I feel very good about how far we have come in five years.
Taking into consideration, the current pandemic, and its impact on global economies, how are you driving your company to sustain operations and ensuring the safety of your employees at the same time?
My team’s mental and physical health and wellbeing are always my utmost concern. To take care of our clients and provide the exceptional client service that CURA is known for, we must first take care of ourselves and our team.
When the pandemic hit, our company immediately shifted to fully remote work and I gave my team the flexibility they needed to cope with this global crisis. I offered mental health days and flex hours, as well as converted their transportation stipend to a food stipend.
Thankfully, we are in an industry where business is primarily conducted digitally. So, despite the pandemic, we maintained a very healthy revenue in 2020 gaining several new clients and our team has not missed a beat in providing exceptional client service.
I would’ve never imagined that a year into this pandemic we would still all be working from home and exclusively communicating via Zoom and phone, but our team has adapted tremendously, and we entered into 2021 with our strongest pipeline yet.
What would be your advice to budding entrepreneurs who aspire to venture into the healthcare PR sector?
Health care is a big part of the economy. Keep your mind open to opportunities, but also consider subspecializing in a particular area of health care. To the extent you can, also try to have a diverse client portfolio of different sized clients so your business is not reliant on one big client.
Even if you do everything right, you could quickly lose the business because of things that are out of your control. For example, the CEO changes and deprioritizes your project, your client contact quits, and the new person wants to bring in the firm she worked with before or take the business in-house, or the product does not get approved. Having a mix of clients helps you spread out the risk. Also, be very deliberate to hire the best people you can find.
Where do you envision your organization to be in the long run and what are your future goals?
We just celebrated our fifth anniversary. During this time, we have found our unique sweet spot in issue-based communications. That certainly includes advocacy, but it is also about stakeholder engagement, corporate thought leadership, or as we call it, thought partnership and asking big questions, and catalyzing and convening other mission-minded entities to help find the answers.
This is where CURA shines. We love working with change-makers, building coalitions, engaging diverse stakeholders, and leveraging the right communications tools at the right time to lean in on issues, while also building our clients’ reputations.
This is a key reason we have a team of bipartisan government relations professionals in-house. Beyond making new laws, the government also serves as a regulator and a payer and is one of the biggest influences in health care. If change is what the client seeks, there is likely a government lever that needs to be pulled.
We try not to put ourselves in a box. Some may see it as patient advocacy, market access, market-shaping, thought leadership, government affairs, public affairs, cause marketing, or social marketing. If a client is seeking to make systemic transformational change in health care and is looking for a trusted partner, we want CURA to be their first call. That is our goal.