Liz Kopling, Agrace Hospice & Palliative Care
IB’s Professional of the Week is the premier way to meet Dane County’s professionals. This week features Liz Kopling, director of marketing & communications, Agrace Hospice & Palliative Care.
1. What are the most challenging and rewarding aspects of your job and why?
It’s definitely a challenge to market something that is such a taboo subject in our society. Everybody dies, yet it’s such a difficult thing for many people to talk about with their loved ones, their doctor, or even their health care power of attorney. It’s SO important to have these conversations and make your wishes known. I’ve completed my health care advance directive and everyone over 18 should, too.
Many people are hesitant to call Agrace because they feel like it means they’re “giving up,” but that’s absolutely not true. It’s about having the best possible quality of life and living to the fullest in the time you have. Of course, there are some sad goodbyes — but Agrace is honestly the most inspiring place I’ve worked in my career. I am in awe of our physicians and nurses who take care of patients in their homes every day. While I wasn’t designed for that role, my marketing team and I work to help connect people struggling with serious illness to Agrace’s care and support. We have a small part in improving people’s lives in this community. That’s the reward.
2. Who do you look up to or admire in business and why?
I know it’s cliché, but hands down Sheryl Sandberg. As a working woman, wife, and mom to two small children, Lean In really spoke to me. I got so much encouragement from it and was able to let go of a fair amount of “mom guilt” because of it. I’ve lent my copy to Madison working mom friends. Beyond Lean In, I feel like Sandberg is just a great role model of a successful businesswoman who is not afraid to take risks. What happened this year with her husband’s tragic death was absolutely heartbreaking but she’s handled it with such grace.
3. What has been the high point of your career so far?
Agrace serves nearly 700 people every day and we’ve been the community’s nonprofit hospice since 1978, so you can imagine how many people in Dane County and beyond have been touched by us at one point or another. That’s why we were shocked to learn (through consumer research) that people couldn’t tell us apart from other hospices because of our generic name — we were “HospiceCare Inc.,” which is like a hospital with the name “Hospital Inc.” So we went through an extensive rebranding campaign and changed our name to Agrace about four years ago. We were confident in our strategy but still waited anxiously for quantitative data on the impact of the change. We worked with Sunseed Research on a consumer survey and were blown away by the results. Our name recognition in Dane County is now two-and-a-half times higher than when we were HospiceCare Inc. At that moment I thought, wow, this is a huge accomplishment.
4. Thinking back on your career, what advice would you give your 21-year-old self?
Set goals for yourself, but keep an open mind about your career path — sometimes your dreams find you before you even realize they’re your dreams. If I could tell my 21-year-old self that I’d be working for a hospice and palliative care organization, I think she would be surprised. One of the greatest gifts of being a public relations and marketing professional is the ability to apply your strengths and expertise to causes, businesses, and industries that you are just learning about or have never had experience with. When I worked for a PR agency earlier in my career I would write scientific articles for plastics industry publications. When I was a reporting intern in college I wrote the crop report for the local newspaper. Now at Agrace I have the opportunity to share inspiring stories about people meeting their end-of-life goals, like Marie, a 103-year-old patient who just got her high school diploma this spring. It’s such a gift.
Oh, and 21-year-old self? Invest in Apple stock.
5. What would you say are the best things about living and working in Dane County?
I love that people in Dane County are so friendly and down to earth. We’re resilient in spirit (I’m looking at you, winter) and don’t take ourselves too seriously. There is a great quality of life for me and my family. We enjoy the wonderful restaurants, live music venues, and opportunities for kid-friendly fun.
6. Do you have any secret talents or abilities that people would be surprised to discover?
I’m one of those people who know a little bit about a lot of things, which makes me an excellent tavern trivia competition partner. And I will try just about anything once, but I’m not a standout athlete, musician, yogi, knitter, or pretty much anything else I’ve had a hand in. When I was a young professional after college I decided to take up tap dancing at the studio a few doors down from me in the Atwood neighborhood. It was a class for adults and most of us had never “tapped” before. It was fun and we even had a “recital” at the end of the year, but let’s just say I didn’t quit my day job.
7. What are your guilty pleasures?
CANDY. I am absolutely obsessed with candy. You can ask my husband or anyone I work with at Agrace. It’s like I never grew up when it comes to this vice. When we switched to the Epic electronic health record at Agrace July 1, our internal project “roadmap” was designed to look like a Candy Land board. When we were stocking the live support center with fun (and some healthy, I should note) snacks, I was in charge of the Candy Land display and filled all of these glass jars with Starbursts, Swedish Fish, Rolos, you name it. It was a thing of beauty … I hope my dentist doesn’t read this.
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