Look at what your kids are accomplishing! My girls have learned how to make their own lunches and cook easy meals like spaghetti and macaroni and cheese. They’re even picking up some great knife skills helping me make dinner. They love it and so do I.
We are making headway in containing the virus. Yes, there is a long way to go, but some areas are coming back, and coming back strong. Don’t overlook the positive stories just because the negative ones are louder and more frequent.
The Covid-19 pandemic has affected nearly every aspect of our lives today. Many of us now have new challenges that come with working from home, homeschooling, and sheltering in place.
As a part of our series about how busy women leaders are addressing these new needs, I had the pleasure of interviewing Liz Goar, CEO of NPC Creative Services.
Liz Goar founded NPC Creative Services in 2005 as a full-service boutique agency providing strategic public relations and content development services to some of the healthcare industry’s leading HIT vendor organizations, innovators and paradigm-shifting start-ups. Her work in public relations follows a successful journalism career, which included positions with the Associated Press, Florida Medical Business, Des Moines Register, Cedar Rapids Gazette, Dubuque Telegraph Herald and several leading trade publications, and freelance writing. Today, in addition to her very hands-on role leading NPC and providing strategic direction for its clients’ PR programs, Liz is an atypical mom who took the plunge into parenthood late in life with two very rambunctious little girls who keep her on her toes and challenge her worldview on a daily basis.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share with us the backstory about what brought you to your specific career path?
I’ve been writing for as long as I can remember. When I was 6, I wrote a book about an iguana that my dad “published” by putting it in a fancy binder with my name on the front. I was hooked. But it wasn’t until I was a sophomore in college and faced with declaring a major that I discovered writing could be a career. I was fortunate to have great advisors and mentors who helped me hone my interviewing, research and writing skills and helped me secure several internships that prepared me for a future in journalism. When I left Associated Press and moved to Florida — the kind of impulsive life change you can get away with in your early 20s — there were no journalism jobs in sight. I found myself doing PR for a small healthcare trade association, where I got to see life on the other side of the pitch and discovered a second love. I soon got the itch to write again and found a job with a trade magazine. I spent the next 10 years going back and forth between PR and journalism, until I met the woman who would become my last mentor and showed me that I didn’t have to choose between the two. We co-owned an agency that was technology focused, but across industries. We eventually went our separate ways, and I was able to pursue my vision of an agency dedicated to health IT.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started at your company?
The Netherlands-based marketing executive with one of our client organizations was creating video profiles of health systems that used its technologies in multiple departments. I acted as her U.S.-based coordinator and was on-site during the filming. It was a fascinating peek behind the curtains of how hospital departments and technologies are intertwined, as well as the opportunity to watch a woman who is hands-down the most talented person I’ve ever had the pleasure of working with do what she does best. She flew in, had the entire video shoot planned out before the sun was up, interviewed physicians, nurses and administrators without missing a beat, shot b-roll on patient floors, in operating rooms and the emergency room and pharmacy, and was back in Amsterdam, editing, within 72 hours. She was a creative whirlwind and I loved every hectic second of that shoot.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
NPC is fortunate to have a client base that is focused on finding solutions to the simultaneous public health and public safety crises created by COVID-19 and the racial inequities currently gripping our nation. One company is leveraging its database of consumer information to identify disparities in social, economic and environmental concerns and provide healthcare organizations with actionable solutions to eliminate inequities in care quality and access. Another is applying its existing capabilities to the development of several innovative solutions that address short- and long-term impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. These include a dashboard, available at no cost, that lets public health and healthcare officials drill down to granular, community-level views of COVID-19 viral and antibody testing rates, de-identified test results and key demographics, to identify areas where local resources are likely to be strained by a spike in infection rates up to three weeks in advance. It has launched solutions to help mitigate the virus’s spread, help ensure COVID-19 patients receive proper monitoring, lab work and medications, and support the safe reopening of worksites and schools. The innovations coming out of these and other health IT companies in response to current crises is inspiring, and we’re honored to be able to help tell their stories.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
There are actually two people whose influence and support played significant roles in setting me on the right path, professionally. The first is my undergraduate college advisor. He taught me what it means to be a journalist and helped me secure three significant internships that helped me apply what I was learning in a real-world setting. The second is my former business partner. She taught me how to push back, find my business voice and to never fear going after what may seem out of reach.
The Covid-19 pandemic has affected nearly every aspect of our lives today. Can you articulate to our readers what are the biggest family related challenges you are facing as a woman business leader during this pandemic?
To answer this, I need to set the stage a bit. A year ago, after an emotionally grueling 3-year stretch during which I lost my mother, ended a 25-year marriage and battled to adopt my daughters, we pulled up stakes and moved from Tampa, Fla. to a tiny town in rural Wisconsin with a population of less than 1,000. So when the pandemic hit and things locked down, we were still getting our feet under us in many ways. Like most kids of working parents, the girls were also accustomed to spending their days in school and daycare, surrounded by their friends. And I was used to a number of conveniences that aren’t available in my small town like grocery stores, restaurants and delivery services. One day, I brought the girls home, and we didn’t leave again for what must have seemed like forever to a 5-year-old and 3-year-old. Overnight, I found myself simultaneously trying to run the agency, homeschool a kindergartener — which is much harder than it sounds — and entertain a toddler.
I was convinced that I was going to mess up the oldest for life because I have zero teaching skills, and that my youngest would be forever scarred because I wasn’t able to give her attention the way she was used to when we were together. So we had an entirely new family dynamic to adjust to, along with trying to help them understand what was happening in the world without scaring them, and of course concerns about the business, finances, the virus, and just about every other worry my overactive imagination could conjure.
As a single mom suddenly cut off from some very important support mechanisms that let me keep all the balls I juggled in the air, I was overwhelmed. I had no way to restock groceries because curbside pick up times the next town over were booked weeks in advance, and I wouldn’t or couldn’t take the chance of exposing the girls, both of whom have asthma, to the virus by taking them into still-crowded stores. There was no one to help out when I needed an hour of absolute quiet for new business calls or just to focus on work. And there was no one to lean on when I just needed an adult shoulder. There were lots of tears (mine, mostly). Tempers flared easily. My girls, who previously would spend hours playing happily together, were fighting over every little thing. Depression was creeping in, and there was no real end point on which to focus.
Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?
Early on, there were a lot of guilt-assuaging toy deliveries and many nights crying into my pillow as I questioned pretty much everything I had ever done and every decision I had ever made. It took a couple of weeks, but we were finally able to settle into a schedule. Every morning, I would write out my daughter’s school times on the whiteboard in my office, which I had to accept was now shared space. This let me schedule the hands-on time she needed around my own meetings. We included “free time” in the schedule that she and her sister could use to play outside, do crafts, play games, etc. Just giving them structure helped them settle, which in turn helped me settle. There were also compromises, the biggest one being giving up on screen-time restrictions. Instead of “guilt” purchases, I focused on stocking up on activities they could do on their own, like paints and Play-Doh, and that were sneakily educational like an age-appropriate science kit that included nature-based experiments to get them outside with a purpose. There were some pricier purchases like a new swing set and bikes, but they gave the kids a reason to be outside and having fun without their friends.
I split my workday into three parts: mornings, when the girls were generally more amenable to solo activities and school work, for client-facing activities and writing; mid-afternoon for quiet work while they napped; and evenings after they were in bed for everything I couldn’t get done during my abbreviated day. It wasn’t perfect. Not everything could be scheduled according to plan. But it gave me enough structure to feel like I wasn’t just treading water. And it ensured that I had time to spend with the girls that wasn’t rushed — time we used to take daily walks around town, bike rides and “walk-bys” to say hi to family and friends from a safe distance.
The very best thing I did, though, was to start counseling (online) to help deal with the emotions and fears sheltering in place churned up. Doing so gave me that shoulder I so desperately needed. But more importantly, it helped me deal with the fears and guilt related not only to the pandemic, but also the major life changes I had gone through in the recent past. Paying attention to my emotional health was — is — absolutely critical.
Can you share the biggest work related challenges you are facing as a woman in business during this pandemic?
COVID-19 changed the healthcare landscape seemingly overnight. Hospitals in particular have taken huge financial hits because of the pause in elective procedures and declines in non-COVID patient census. Even as those services come back online, financial recovery will be slow. Our clients sell to those hospitals, and many have been equally hard hit as any spending that wasn’t directly related to the pandemic was frozen. That quickly trickled down to NPC. We also were hit with the cancellation of many of the in-person conferences that, in a typical year, are a significant Q1-Q2 revenue stream. Responding to those changes while keeping my team’s morale up as much as possible and figuring out ways to accommodate their need to homeschool their own kids while working kept me awake for many nights, and still does.
Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?
First and foremost, I needed to take care of my employees. After much debate, my COO and I made the decision to pursue a PPP loan to cover salaries and other appropriate expenses. Getting these funds was a huge relief, as it bought us enough time to replace the revenues that were lost when our clients tightened their budgetary belts, and conferences were cancelled. We also encouraged employees to keep their work hours flexible to accommodate homeschooling and just generally trying to work with kids 24/7. Part of that was taking a team approach to every project, so there was always an “alternate” who could step in should the point person need to tag out temporarily.
To help our clients who were equally hard-hit, we shifted the focus of almost every PR strategy to emphasize how their technologies were supporting hospitals and public health departments with their own CV19 responses. For example, we worked with our revenue cycle client to place a number of educational articles to help hospitals with compliant documentation of and billing for telehealth services. For another client, we distributed weekly insights derived from the risk index they released that identified who was most likely to be vulnerable to the critical form of CV19, information that healthcare facilities and public health authorities could use to better allocate resources.
To replace lost revenues, I focused business development on health IT companies that were offering innovative solutions related to CV19 — surge projections, contact tracing, return-to-work/school solutions, etc. There are so many great innovations coming out of the pandemic; technology solutions that will help slow the spread, protect populations, and support restarting the economy. It’s exciting to be able to play even a small role in bringing them to market.
Can you share your advice about how to best work from home, while balancing the needs of homeschooling or the needs of a family?
The best advice I can give is to create a schedule that encompasses as many needs as possible. Write it down but keep it flexible. Also, don’t try to be perfect. There is no such thing as perfection in a pandemic. Life is messy in the best of times. It’s even messier when you’re all stuck together 24/7. Finally, take care of your own emotional health. Doing so will give you the strength and outlook you need to help your kids and your business through the chaos.
Can you share your strategies about how to stay sane and serene while sheltering in place, or simply staying inside, for long periods with your family?
Take five minutes each morning, afternoon and evening to close your eyes and breathe. Just breathe.
Many people have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. The fears related to the coronavirus pandemic have understandably heightened a sense of uncertainty, fear, and loneliness. From your perspective can you help our readers to see the “Light at the End of the Tunnel”? Can you share your “5 Reasons To Be Hopeful During this Corona Crisis”? If you can, please share a story or example for each.
To see the light at the end of the tunnel, you need to follow the data. There is a lot of noise out there, but the data tells the story. Look at all of it — number of new and recovered cases, hospitalization rates, ICU and ventilation rates — and compare it week to week. Patterns will emerge that reveal where things are going right. Finding sources of data that you can trust and learning how to decipher their meaning gives you the power to see the real picture vs. someone else’s intentionally or unintentionally biased interpretation.
As for five reasons to be hopeful:
- Look at what your kids are accomplishing! My girls have learned how to make their own lunches and cook easy meals like spaghetti and macaroni and cheese. They’re even picking up some great knife skills helping me make dinner. They love it and so do I.
- You’re stronger than you know. You’ve survived and maybe even thrived while stuck in your home with your kids and work, which means you’ve figured out how to effectively blend both worlds. You may never have to do it to this extent again, but if the situation does arise, you’ll slay it.
- We are making headway in containing the virus. Yes, there is a long way to go, but some areas are coming back, and coming back strong. Don’t overlook the positive stories just because the negative ones are louder and more frequent.
- Our kids are more resilient than we expected. Yes, the pandemic is scary and the restrictions are hard. But my girls and I talk about what it is and why it’s so bad, and I do everything I can to help them understand it and the part they can play in helping limit the spread. It helps them process what’s happening. I’m inspired by how well they’ve taken things in stride. They mutter about “the stupid ‘rona”, slap on a mask and move on. I wish I could do the same.
- This is not our “new normal.” That phrase is maddening to me. Yes, CV19 is here to stay, because it’s a virus. But like other viruses, we will learn how to contain and live with it so we can get back to our actual normal.
There have been so many lives lost and so many businesses wiped out by the pandemic that it is easy to sink into despair. But if you take time each day to find one positive thing that’s happening, it can keep you from sinking too deeply.
From your experience, what are a few ideas that one can use to effectively offer support to their family and loved ones who are feeling anxious? Can you explain?
Listen. Just listen. Don’t try to equate their feelings with your own because they’re not the same — nor do they need to be. When my anxiety is through the roof, I need someone to listen to me and acknowledge my fears. I don’t need someone telling me how they think I should “fix” it. I just need to be heard.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Perfect is the enemy of good.”
I spent a lot of years missing out on opportunities and experiences because I feared being less than perfect. It made for a very boring existence. As I’ve gotten more comfortable in my own skin — something becoming a mother very late in the game has forced me to do — I’ve also gotten more comfortable with just living in the moment, even if I look a little silly.
How can our readers follow you online?
On Twitter at @NPC_Creative and @LizSGoar, or on LinkedIn at https://www.linkedin.com/in/lizroop/
Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!