Why Driving Membership Is Key for AMA

American Medical Association’s Eileen Sladky details how data analysis, technology, and marketing combine to drive membership and bring powerful messages to doctors and patients alike

Every day, the American Medical Association (AMA) advances its goal of making a meaningful difference in the lives of physicians and medical students, and in improving the health of the nation. Its efforts focus on creating thriving physician practices, creating the medical school of the future, and improving health outcomes. While that inspiring mission may seem quite comprehensive, it carries even further layers of complexity. No two communities in a single city, let alone a single state or the United States at large, could be said to have the same needs or expectations. The same diversity enters in when considering the myriad of physicians and medical students under that banner. Tracking all of those data points and analyzing the information is a herculean task. But AMA vice president of analytics and operations Eileen Sladky so believes in the organization’s compassionate mission that she and her team not only do so, they use that information to drive further membership.

“Our nation’s physicians are saving lives every day. Anyone and everyone could be passionate about that,” Sladky says. While that might be the case, she has developed an unrivaled skill set to pair with that passion. After years of financial analysis and treasury work in the manufacturing realm, Sladky joined the AMA in 2003, first as the manager of membership program analysis. In the decade and a half since, her expertise and understanding of the organization’s membership led to increasing leadership roles. However, the organization’s recent Membership Moves Medicine campaign has brought a major opportunity to use that knowledge. The AMA has already had six years of continued membership growth, but the campaign acts as a strategic step to help continue that drive.

“Our nation’s physicians are saving lives every day. Anyone and everyone could be passionate about that.”

The campaign is rooted in the findings of an AMA team that had gone out on a listening tour to practices and medical schools across the country, learning why certain subsets of physicians had yet to join the organization. From that research, it became clear that the biggest challenge the AMA was facing was a lack of knowledge. “It was clear that we needed to help prospective and current members learn more about what the AMA does on their behalf,” Sladky says. The organization’s scope is, after all, incredibly vast. Though it has only one thousand employees, the AMA’s impact is much larger. The organization has an advocacy arm in Washington, DC, promoting health policy solutions to government leaders. There’s also an area focused on physician licensing, credentialing, and data. The JAMA Network provides world-class clinical research, education, and insights that ensure physicians are shaping the future of medicine and patient care. And those are only a few of the important offices under the AMA banner.

The first step, then, was figuring out which elements to educate individuals on. To do so, Sladky focused on strategic segmentation. “We identified four pillars of proof,” she explains. “We have advocacy, education, clinical treatment, and practice innovation. Segmentation really helped with identifying those pillars and how to articulate those proof points.”

It also helped determine who to target with the campaign: a segment that Sladky calls “the movable middle.” The AMA has, on one end of its membership spectrum, an audience that renews every year, a passionate group that contributes and believes in the mission. At the other end are individuals who may never be members. But the AMA hopes to make up ground in the group of individuals between those poles. These individuals are open to the AMA, and may have already engaged with the organization, perhaps by reading some of the e-mails or registering to access articles on the JAMA site. “We need to start to persuade them, whether through digital advertising, print, e-mail, or even standard mail,” Sladky says. “We need to show them all of the good the AMA is doing. We need to change their mind-set so when an invoice shows up or they see the opportunity to join on our site, they’re more aware and more receptive to take that action.”

However, the end goal of the Members Move Medicine isn’t merely to boost a number in a spreadsheet. The more powerful impact sits in the campaign’s very name. The next step after segmentation and sharing proof points is to highlight the members themselves. “We want to showcase what they have done and how they feel that the AMA and membership in the AMA has helped support their efforts,” Sladky says.

The success stories are already starting to pour in. At a national AMA conference, one physician told Sladky that he was so impressed that he wanted to share the presentation with his boss, who hadn’t been a member in two decades. That doctor texted pages of a pamphlet to his boss, who then immediately went online and joined. “That was amazing. Now we’re trying to find out a way to scale that,” Sladky says. “We call it the twenty minute campaign because it only takes twenty minutes for you to hear all the great work we’re doing. Once physicians know what we do, we will move them into the consideration mind-set.”

Throughout these efforts, Sladky and her team have had to keep in mind that not every member or prospective member of the AMA will agree on a particular piece of legislation that the organization advocates for, or will want to access educational information about the same subject. The bipartisan organization, after all, supports all specialties in all states across all political affiliations. But having segmented the population and driven advanced data analysis, the AMA can better understand the complex dynamics of the individuals and where they might stand.

Especially in difficult negotiations such as the debates over recent healthcare legislation, the AMA needs to have clear, strong, cohesive messaging and appeal to physicians and patients to stand together. By partnering with the advocacy team, Sladky and her team were able to craft specific messages to each segment to drive that consensus. “The moment we would get word from the advocacy team in DC about a potential change, we’d be crafting our next digital campaign to be out within a couple of hours,” Sladky says. “Everything we’re doing is a test-and-learn approach.”

The next step is then communicating successes and sharing results, both internally and externally. Thankfully, the entire organization values this sort of metric-driven analysis and is eager to see the takeaways. In fact, the AMA houses an intelligence hub for the entire organization, not just Sladky’s team, to share data analytics work. The organization also held town hall meetings to discuss successes such as the segmentation project. “We want to be collaborative and share. We can all target using that data. We’re all using data, writing, and developing content and resources,” Sladky says. “When I started, I saw we needed a central repository that houses all this data and business intelligence tools that allow different units to access this information.”

That move in particular reinforced her interest in technology as a partner in analytics, rather than seeing them as two separate functions. After starting off in analytics and financial work relying on an IT team to develop projects, she had the opportunity with the AMA to work with other technology professionals to build the enterprise data warehouse and datamart from the ground up. And Sladky hopes that the many members of the AMA feel the same support and empowerment that she and her team have. “We’re bringing in a lot of digital talent and finding the right people who have that passion,” Sladky says. “We are very innovative, moving really fast, and driving powerful results.”