Lofgren determined to see Kaiser's brand thrive

Diane Gage Lofgren joined Kaiser Permanente's communications team in 2006, a year that saw the healthcare provider in the news quite a bit. Its kidney transplant center in San Francisco was under fire for mismanagement. The company was also under scrutiny for possible patient dumping in LA. The attention was nearly always handled in a reactive way. But Lofgren, no stranger to healthcare PR, sought to add a big-picture perspective.

Diane Gage Lofgren joined Kaiser Permanente's communications team in 2006, a year that saw the healthcare provider in the news quite a bit. Its kidney transplant center in San Francisco was under fire for mismanagement. The company was also under scrutiny for possible patient dumping in LA. The attention was nearly always handled in a reactive way. But Lofgren, no stranger to healthcare PR, sought to add a big-picture perspective.

"It was an aggressive start. It's been that way since," says Lofgren, now SVP of brand strategy, communications, and PR for Kaiser Foundation Health Plan and Hospitals.

By the end of her first month at the Oakland, CA-based entity, she decided to restructure the communications team to better reflect the ongoing "Thrive" campaign, a push launched in 2004 to raise awareness of Kaiser in consumers' and purchasers' minds. The reshuffling would also better suit the needs of a communications team at the 8.7-million-member nonprofit.

Out went the internal and external communications departments and in came three distinct units - corporate communications; PR, national media relations, and stakeholder management; and issues and branding.

"The past few years, Kaiser was more reactive," says Lofgren of previous media efforts. "[We've taken] a strategic approach, using our expertise to become more effective."

Lofgren's career was mainly spent in hospitals and other health providers in the San Diego area. She owned a PR and marketing firm, The Gage Group, for 10 years and also held PR posts at Catholic Health Initiatives in Denver and Children's Hospital and Health Center (now Rady Children's Hospital) in San Diego.

While heading marketing and communications at Sharp HealthCare, a health system in San Diego, Lofgren led an initiative called The Sharp Experience, an internal program that works to ensure that the organization remains a stronghold for its staff, physicians, and patients.

Lofgren says she'd always admired "Thrive" and saw her current post as a way to help the Kaiser brand.

A year into her stint, the restructuring was in place and the media team expanded its new media presence by launching a blog; creating My health manager, a personal health record; and adding a comprehensive news center for journalists and bloggers.

On June 9, Kaiser announced a pilot program with Microsoft's Health Vault, a personal health record service, for its staff, with the possibility of adding Health Vault services for its members in November. And as reported in PRWeek last week, the company hired GolinHarris for a six-figure AOR task.

The online media push was concerted, but Lofgren sought to stress Kaiser's brand above all else. Being proactive about media coverage was a key element, she says.

"PR cannot do it alone," she notes. "It's patient-centric. We believe in a great brand. We wanted to expand those PR efforts, promote Thrive internally, and make sure people at Kaiser believe in them."

Nancy Taylor, communications director for The Permanente Federation, the national branch of the Kaiser medical groups, credits Lofgren with helping to open the lines of communication between the PR teams at the medical groups Taylor manages and the health plan and hospitals group run by Lofgren.

"She's straightforward and open," says Taylor. "She's very thoughtful about what she is trying to do."

Diane Gage Lofgren

June 2006-present

Kaiser Foundation Health Plan and Hospitals, SVP of brand strategy, communications, and PR

Nov. 2000-June 2006

Sharp HealthCare, SVP of marcomms

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