Case Study

American College of Cardiology

Developing a strategic roadmap for a renowned global brand

The American College of Cardiology (ACC) is the world’s leading advocate for quality cardiovascular care and the professional home for nearly 50,000 cardiologists. The Journal of the American College of Cardiology – or JACC (pronounced “jack”) as it is known to physicians throughout the world – is the flagship publication of the ACC and the overarching brand for its portfolio of journals.


JACC was in transition. Its revered editor-in-chief was preparing to step down after more than a decade at the helm, and its long-serving publisher was likewise readying for retirement. Before embarking on a global search for both a new editor and publisher, the ACC’s board of trustees decided to pause and survey the competitive landscape for JACC, assess its position in the marketplace, and recalibrate its strategy. Their aim was to develop a new strategic roadmap that would not only chart the direction of JACC but would also inform the candidate search process.

To this end, the ACC formed a task force chaired by pioneering physician C. Noel Bairey Merz and composed of senior leadership, including ACC’s president, president-elect, and vice-president, as well as ACC executive staff and the editors of the JACC specialty journals. The ACC turned to Clarke & Esposito for assistance, pairing the domain knowledge of this exceptional task force with Clarke & Company’s industry experience in scientific, technical, and medical (STM) publishing and expertise in market research and digital strategy.

JACC’s Vital Signs

  • 1

    JACC’s impact factor ranking among the world’s cardiology journals

  • 30%

    JACC’s commanding share of cardiology journal advertising, by far the largest of any publication

  • 37k

    ACC members who receive JACC each month

  • 7.5K

    Papers submitted to JACC annually

Our Approach

We worked with the ACC over four intensive months to develop a new strategic roadmap for JACC. Our first step was to establish a baseline of knowledge regarding the current state of JACC and the JACC portfolio shared across both the task force and C&E. To accomplish this baseline, we undertook a review and analysis of the competitive landscape in which JACC operates and benchmarked the ACC’s publishing program against other first-tier, high-impact scholarly journals. We collected and compared indicators of journal quality for JACC and competitor journals, such as impact factor, net promoter score, and advertising share as well as measures of readership gathered from independent third-party analysts such as Kantar Media and the Matalia Group. We then looked at author satisfaction and reviewer satisfaction measures across comparable titles published by Elsevier (JACC’s publisher). Next we reviewed JACC-specific publication and submission trends, usage statistics, journal finances, and ACC member satisfaction surveys.

Impact Factor

In analyzing this wealth of information it became clear that there were gaps in our collective knowledge, largely around benchmark data for measures of editorial performance (e.g., time to first decision, time to publication, ratio of editorial staff to manuscripts) as well as norms for journal editorial structure. Although the ACC maintains this sort of data for the JACC family of journals, there was little third-party data for comparison. To remediate this gap, we conducted a benchmarking study in cooperation with a spectrum of top-tier specialty medical journals.

Once we completed this comprehensive survey and subsequent analysis, we reviewed our findings with the ACC task force over several phone calls and an in-person meeting at Heart House in Washington, D.C. As the task force became confident in its understanding of JACC’s current state, we began plotting its future course. Through a series of further discussions facilitated by Clarke & Esposito, the task force worked to determine a prioritized list of issues to be faced by JACC in the coming years. This issue set was developed through the exploration of a series of questions, including:

  • How are the information needs and expectations of readers changing with regard to scholarly content and what are the implications for JACC?
  • How might JACC’s digital strategy best align with the ACC’s overarching digital strategy?
  • What are the most effective opportunities to enhance JACC’s international presence?
  • What strategies might JACC employ to further improve author outreach and attract the best manuscripts?
  • How might the ACC identify and evaluate opportunities to continue to expand the JACC portfolio?

The outgrowth of this “harmonization” process was a strategic roadmap endorsed by all task force members

Where task force members held different opinions and priorities, we worked to align them as a group. The outgrowth of this “harmonization” process was a strategic roadmap endorsed by all task force members – a vision of the future state of JACC along with a series of decisions, recommendations, and supporting tactics designed to make this vision a reality.

As a last stage of our engagement, Clarke & Esposito worked with the ACC to develop a profile for its next editor-in-chief – what background, aptitudes, and personal characteristics would most likely lead to the successful execution of the ACC’s strategy.


Through Clarke & Esposito’s facilitation, the ACC taskforce aligned around a shared vision for the future of JACC and a shared understanding as to how to move toward this vision. With the unanimous and enthusiastic support of the task force, the strategic plan and its recommendations were rapidly approved by the ACC’s board of trustees and moved into action.

Next, with the profile of a successful candidate in hand, the ACC was able to quickly identify the person best suited to execute on its vision and lead JACC into the future. JACC has gone from strength to strength with the appointment of the eminent Dr. Valentin Fuster as editor-in-chief.

Subsequent to the appointment of Dr. Fuster, Clarke & Esposito was retained to develop a similar strategy-aligned profile for the next publisher of JACC and led the executive recruitment effort for that position. Our candidate search resulted in the successful placement of Kim Murphy, a seasoned medical publishing executive with a remarkable track record in digital product development and clinical information services.
JACC is today the top-ranked cardiology journal in the world by impact factor and continues to rank as the number one journal on other measures. In addition to the ongoing success of JACC itself, the JACC portfolio continues to expand, with the launch of JACC Clinical Electrophysiology in March 2015.

Clarke & Esposito performed the seemingly impossible task of aligning our task force made up of prominent cardiologists and staff around a shared set of priorities and a strategic roadmap to guide JACC’s future.

Kevin Fitzpatrick

Chief Innovation Officer