The Talent Fairy chats with people who hire content people
The best part of my role as Talent Fairy is that I talk to people constantly. I talk to folks who still work in traditional publishing and want to ride it out. I talk to folks who have successfully transitioned to new or adjacent fields. And I talk to lots of people who are trying to pivot and need the tools to do so. But what I’ve found is that those three groups don’t necessarily talk to each other. There is a knowledge gap between those who are looking for content jobs and those who are hiring for them. In my series of posts, Chatting With People Who Hire Content People, I bridge that gap, and answer questions that career pivotors might have about roles and organizations outside of traditional media. I talk to folks who have content backgrounds and “get it” and those who don’t, but they will all have one thing in common: They hire content people, people like you.
My interview today is with Lauren Gelman, the director of editorial services at the Global Healthy Living Foundation. I know Lauren from her years as an editor at Prevention, Reader’s Digest, and Parents.com. We never worked together directly, but I knew of her in the way that you always know of talented people in the business. Her reputation proved to be spot-on when we met for breakfast in 2017 and talked about her transition from traditional media to the video startup HealthiNation. That position led her to this role at GHLF where she heads up content for the nonprofit whose mission is to improve the lives of people living with chronic disease through advocacy, research, and education. The org, which celebrated its 20th anniversary last year, serves its audience with spot-on service content and health news via its popular and aptly titled site, CreakyJoints as well as GHLF.org and 50StateNetwork.org. Unlike many non-profits, GHLF does not ask its members to fundraise (its funding comes from government and private grants, foundations, and industry sponsorships which eliminates input from donors). And unlike most media companies, GHLF does its own research and presents its findings at medical conferences and publishes them in medical journals.
In our Q&A, Lauren and I talk about how those factors were a big draw for her to join GHLF as well as the differences working for a foundation, why the GHLF has more of a startup vibe than a nonprofit one, and why she values candidates who come from traditional editing backgrounds. The best part of all? She’s hiring! And the Talent Fairy is leading the search. For more info on the job and how to apply, go here. Meanwhile, continue reading so you can learn more about Lauren and her work at the GHLF. Here is an edited version of our conversation.
The Talent Fairy: Hi Lauren! It was so great coming into your offices and getting to know the small but mighty team at the Global Healthy Living Foundation. When I met with Seth I was impressed with how he was only 19 at the launch 20 years ago!
Lauren Gelman: I really love our origin story because I think it symbolizes the core of what we’re all about: to help patients feel more empowered and supported. Seth Ginsberg is one of our two co-founders and he was diagnosed with a form of arthritis called spondyloarthritis when he was 13. When he got to college — this was in the fall of 1999 when the internet was in the very early stages of social networking — he was struggling to find other people who could understand what he was going through as a young person coping with chronic illness. He realized there had to be a better way for patients to connect, communicate, and help each other. Late one night he emailed his mentor and former internship boss, Louis Tharp — our other co-founder — about creating a new community. That’s when CreakyJoints was born.
It’s the best name for a website ever! Seth told me that for half a second, it was CreakyBones, but they settled on CreakyJoints because, with arthritis it is your joints that are creaky, not your bones. So even in that quirky name there is a focus on accuracy!
LG: True. And today it’s much more than just CreakyJoints. CreakyJoints is one part of The Global Healthy Living Foundation, our 501(c)(3) non-profit parent organization. While CreakyJoints is a leading patient community and educational resource for people with all forms of arthritis and related musculoskeletal and inflammatory conditions, GHLF’s mission extends to other disease states, including neurological, such as migraine, and cardiovascular health. We are also vaccination advocates. We just celebrated our 20th anniversary and it’s really amazing for me, as a relative newcomer, to see all that the ways it has grown over that time.
You came on as the Director of Editorial Services a year ago, right? What does that mean at a foundation?
LG: Yes, I joined toward the end of the summer of 2018. It’s a great question and I think the answer depends a lot on the type of foundation and its mission. I’m really lucky in that content has always been a huge part of our DNA. When CreakyJoints first launched, it was essentially an online message board and blog, although it quickly evolved into much more, especially in the realms of patient advocacy and research.
Other foundations may use content as a marketing tool to drive fundraising, but at GHLF, we don’t do any direct-to-patient fundraising. All of the content we create is for the purpose of helping patients live better with chronic disease. We want to help them understand their health conditions and treatment options, make healthy lifestyle changes, and feel like they’re part of a community of peers with a powerful shared experience.
What I think is so cool is that you do your own research!
LG: This is one of the most impressive parts of our mission: to include patient voices in academic research on chronic disease. We have a patient-centered registry called ArthritisPower, which has more than 25,000 patients who use our app or website to track their symptoms and participate in voluntary research studies. This kind of research provides the patient’s perspective on managing different aspects of arthritis. We partner with leading rheumatology researchers from academic centers like Yale, the University of Pennsylvania, and the University of Alabama at Birmingham to design and conduct research studies.
I work closely with our research team to help disseminate these findings as well as to create content that helps engage people to join ArthritisPower in the first place. And we get to present our research at major medical conferences, like that of the American College of Rheumatology, the European League Against Rheumatism, and the Pan-American League of Associations for Rheumatology. It’s insane what you can learn in a few days of one of those conferences.
I also get to work closely with our advocacy team, which has the very challenging job of explaining complex health care policy issues to patients and caregivers. We need to help people understand how they may be affected, and then encourage and support patients to take action and share their stories with policymakers at the state and federal level. This has been a bit of a learning curve for me, but I am so grateful to get to learn about these critically important issues and to work together with the folks on our advocacy team to ensure we are educating patients using all the tools and skills I’ve developed as a content strategist.
Before GHLF you were a print and digital editor — at Shape, Prevention, Reader’s Digest, Parents.com, and Everyday Health. How is it different working at a non-profit?
LG: In many ways, content is content, which has made the transition from that world to this one very smooth. Good reporting is good reporting. Good headlines and packaging, SEO optimization, creating an editorial calendar, recruiting writers, etc. It all translates.
I think the main difference has to do with our relationship to our audience. Even though I obviously wrote and edited for various specific audiences at those more mainstream media outlets, I feel uniquely connected to our patient community here. We know so much about our patients and their needs and we try to create content that thoughtfully and thoroughly addresses them. We consider our patients’ voices extremely vital to our content and much of our content includes their thoughts and advice alongside that of experts. We care deeply about what patients think and whether our educational resources are helping them to get diagnosed more quickly or accurately, learn about medication and treatment options, and deal with all the curveballs that living with a disease like arthritis throws at you. We monitor our social channels closely and use patients’ feedback to inform our story ideas.
And the site has no advertising, right? That’s a departure from traditional publishing for sure!
LG: Right. We have the freedom to create content because we know patients will benefit from it, not because it’s a clicky headline or it will generate a ton of visitors or page views to serve an advertiser. We can focus on serving patients. This leads to in-depth reports on issues, such as our upcoming white paper on step therapy, which will be peer-reviewed for publication. We also are committed to serving the Hispanic community with creakyjoints.es, a Spanish-language site for Latin America and the U.S., as well as advocacy and educational events. In the U.S. alone 40 million people speak Spanish. Our international work also includes outreach in Australia [creakyjoints.org.au], which has its own content, too.
How much does content play a role in the overall mission and strategy for GHLF?
LG: It’s vital. Content is a primary way that we fulfill our mission to provide education and support. It’s also key in helping us succeed with our research and advocacy work. One way that I perceive our content as different from a traditional health publisher site or magazine is that we create content to drive action for patients. When we publish an article about a research study our team conducted [like this one on how arthritis patients think about medical marijuana and CBD], it’s not just about someone reading that article, thinking it’s interesting, and moving on to the next headline. We want people who read that story to also learn about the ArthritisPower registry and join it. When we publish stories about controversial issues in the disability community, like plastic straw bans, we want people to join our patient advocacy arm and get involved. In that way, our content is kind of like content marketing for patient empowerment.
Can you paint a picture of the type of content you create?
LG: We produce a wide variety of content depending on the kind of information we’re looking to share with patients and the best way to convey that information. Infographics are a great way to disseminate our research study findings, for example. Webinars are an ideal way to connect our patients directly with research thought leaders we work with to break down important topics and trends in research, such as personalized and precision medicine. We also do video (particularly on YouTube), social graphics/memes, and will have some exciting developments in audio to announce soon. One thing I am particularly proud to work on are downloadable PDFs called Patient Guidelines, which are very robust resources for managing chronic disease. The idea is to take the clinical guidelines that physicians use to make treatment decisions and translate them to lay language for patients. And I get to use InDesign to edit them, which is such a great throwback to my magazine days.
As an organization, we are always developing new resources to help people with different aspects of managing chronic illness. Toward the end of 2019, we relaunched a tool called PainSpot.org, which helps people with pain symptoms learn about potential causes and diagnoses. The goal of PainSpot is to help people get diagnosed more quickly and avoid delays and misdiagnosis. And, of course, we also regularly publish digital articles that are optimized for SEO and/or social. This includes covering the latest research studies from conferences and medical journals, publishing first-person essays from patients, and packaging service-driven articles about living better with arthritis and other health conditions. This helps people searching for questions about their diseases find answers they can trust and take action on. It also fosters important social media conversations and patient support.
I’m constantly impressed by the way our content feeds our social media communities and how our social media communities in turn feed our content. We have one of the most active social media efforts in health care. Our Twitter chats average 5.5 million impressions, and our Facebook page has a highly engaged community of almost 120,000 followers, which is significant for a health care non-profit.
How would you describe the voice at CreakyJoints.org and the other sites? How is it different than other health organizations or media outlets who speak to people with chronic disease?
LG: Ohhh, good question. We try to be both for patients and by patients. We want to be trustworthy and authoritative but not in a top-down way. That’s why our best content combines tips and advice from various experts as well as patients. We have great relationships with experts in the rheumatology community as well as other specialties and we also include expert voices in our content to make it more personable. We don’t want it to feel dry and encyclopedic. When you’re reading our resources, we want you to feel like you’re part of a conversation.
And we want to strike the right tone so we aren’t being overly pessimistic or negative. This can come down to subtle word choices. For example, I don’t like to use the word “suffer,” as in, “She suffers from rheumatoid arthritis.” We never sugarcoat patients’ experiences, but we also want to help people feel empowered to get healthier. It can be a tricky balance when you’re dealing with debilitating issues like chronic pain, fatigue, mental health, and very serious comorbidities. It’s important for us to inject that empathy.
Before this role, you worked at a video startup called HealthiNation. The people I met with at GHLF say that the organization is more like a startup in terms of collaboration and culture. Would you say that is true?
LG: Definitely. Our culture emphasizes innovation and experimentation. It’s not like I came into an environment where I had to follow a set structure, like publishing two blog posts a day and a white paper every quarter. That said, a big part of what I did in the beginning as I developed our content strategy was to implement more structure around our content.
The other thing that makes GHLF feel entrepreneurial is that we have many different skillsets and backgrounds in a small close-knit team. My colleagues on the research team have advanced degrees in social science and statistics; those on the advocacy team have advanced degrees in public health and public policy and backgrounds in political organizing. You get some really interesting ideas, and ways to execute those ideas, from cross-department collaborating.
Your role is growing beyond just content and editorial. What new responsibilities are you taking on?
LG: I would say that my role is expanding to focus more on distributing our content,like you would manage partnerships or audience development at a publisher, to make sure we can deliver the right messages to the right patients at the right time in the right place. One area is working more closely with providers at the point of care. We want to partner with rheumatologists and other physicians to make sure we’re giving patients the information providers want them to know.
And that means that you need someone to help fill in on the content end of things, right? Can you explain the role that is open?
LG: Oh yes. Our traffic and patient community has really exploded in size in the last year and we need more help managing our daily publishing, working on our newsletter and email products, brainstorming new editorial franchises and ways of packaging content for patients, keeping a finger on the pulse of social conversations in the chronic illness community, among other things. I’m looking for a number-two who can not only help us execute our current strategies but continue to help us grow and innovate.
What skills do you look for when hiring at GHLF and for this job in particular?
LG: The most important thing is embodying and embracing our mission and culture. Everyone who works here really wants to help people living with chronic diseases using their unique tools and skills. I want to hire people who care deeply about that — not just those who have good experience writing and editing health content. It’s also important to be data-driven, which seems critical across the board in content roles these days. You should be comfortable using analytics to inform future content ideas and audience growth. And I look for people who can straddle being meticulous and detail-oriented while also having a nose for pitching new ideas and thinking big picture. You need to be able to work fairly independently as well as collaborate with people from other areas of the organization, especially on big projects.
For this role in particular, I’m looking for someone who is eager to “geek out” on learning the ins and outs of the various conditions that we cover. It’s perfectly OK if they’re not a rheumatology expert on day one — I’m still learning a lot of this science myself! But you should love digging for studies on PubMed and interviewing experts and gaining subject-matter expertise.
I always like to end these Q&As with thoughts on how the skills we learned working in traditional media translate to other industries. [Psst! see previous answers on Talent Fairy’s Instagram] What unique skills do you believe magazine editors have to offer the world?
LG: Our magazine training prepares us to take a project from start to finish with minimal roadblocks because we’ve anticipated and prepared for them from the get-go. Editors know how to synthesize feedback from many different sources without taking it too personally or getting overwhelmed. Anyone who’s ever gotten a front-of-book section or well story back with notes from three different top editors (each with different color pen ink!) and has to make sense of conflicting suggestions — not to mention buy-in from the writer! — develops superb editing and decision-making skills. I think this also teaches you how to work better with your colleagues and uniquely understand peoples’ perspectives and approaches to their work.
Editors, especially those who’ve worked for print and digital, know how to think short-term and long-term. On one hand, we learn how to monitor social media analytics in real time and produce same-day digital stories. On the other, we can think six months or more ahead to plan major magazine stories that can take months of reporting. This dual way of thinking is incredibly helpful in project management and prioritization. Editors know how to pivot quickly and respond to urgent business needs while also having the foresight, work ethic, and dedication to plan way, way ahead.
Love it! Thanks so much Lauren for taking the time out to chat with me today.
LG: My pleasure.
Chandra Turner is founder and CEO of Ed2010 and Talent Fairy. She is a talent recruiter specializing in the content and media space. She also offers personalized career coaching for media professionals at all stages of their career.