Patient Storytelling: 5 Questions With Colorado’s UCHealth System

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Rosie Knox_Cardiac Arrest Survivor

Treating cancer and content marketing. That’s a rough characterization of the inspiration for the powerful new integrated ad campaign from Colorado’s UCHealth network. Patient stories and emotional narratives are at the heart of a campaign that features real UCHealth patients and encourages others to “Live Your Story.”

UCHealth logoWhere many large healthcare systems farm out marketing and advertising to agencies, UCHealth took a different approach. The hospital system assembled an in-house team of former ad agency pros and, with help from Grey San Francisco, assembled a package of creative stories featuring emotional narratives from real-life patients.

It’s the latest in a trend for hospital groups increasingly turning to the emotional connection messaging strategy of consumer brands. We spoke with Manny Rodriguez, Chief Marketing and Experience Officer at UCHealth, and Jeff Kosloski, Executive Creative Director at UCHealth about the process, the purpose and the future of the campaign.

brandchannel: Tell us more about your in-house creative team. How big is it and how did it come together for this campaign?

Jeff Kosloski UCHealth systemJeff Kosloski (right): At UCHealth we have a team of seven people (and growing — we just hired two more) that work on our in-house ad team. We have varied backgrounds, but most of us are former ad agency pros.

In developing these ad spots, our in-house team was determined not to take the traditional route and throw in smiling doctors with their arms crossed. We wanted to push beyond that, to stand out and create something that didn’t look like what everyone else is doing.

We spent a lot of time coming up with ideas but kept coming back to Becky and Peyton’s stories because they had so much power. We wrote the scripts and then needed to decide whether to use actors or Becky and Peyton themselves. We decided to use Becky and Peyton, and I’m glad we did. They channeled their real feelings and emotions into this. It’s clear now we couldn’t have done it without them.

We were honored to work closely with director Pam Thomas of Community Films to produce the spots, which were predominantly filmed in Colorado. We were also excited to work with world-renowned photographer Martin Schoeller.

brandchannel: What were the advantages (and disadvantages) of forming an in-house agency like this?

Jeff Kosloski: In the agency world, especially as a creative, everything is at arm’s length. You learn about your client’s products or services to create ads for them, but you maintain a certain distance and emotional autonomy. You never want to “drink the Kool-aid” or become “one of them.”

That is different at UCHealth. Here, being “one of them” means being immersed in unbelievable stories about extraordinary people every day. Being part of the organization that helped these people and their families gives you a very different perspective on your job—one based in true empathy, which fueled our approach to the campaign.

We wanted to present deeply personal, moving stories in a way that makes the viewer feel honored and privileged to have watched them. I can’t imagine ever being able to produce this type of work without actually working here.

brandchannel: The power of this campaign reminds us of the phenomenal creative work by Sick Kids in Canada. Did your team assess other hospitals’ campaigns in coming up with this?

Jeff Kosloski: The inspiration for this campaign came both from UCHealth’s new brand identity and from the uniqueness and intricacies of the patients’ stories. We think this direction is unique because it devotes so much time – 90 seconds – to sharing just one person’s story. This allows a true, emotional connection.

brandchannel: With actual patients, how did you handle privacy concerns?

Manny Rodriguez, UCHealth systemManny Rodriguez (right): The privacy and confidentiality of our patients is always a top priority. But Becky and Peyton really wanted to share their stories and we were honored to help them do that.

Becky is constantly working to encourage organ donation and raise awareness about the symptoms of heart disease. Peyton and her mom, Tera, want to help support other teens who are fighting cancer.

One unexpected outcome of working with Peyton was that we were able to help her find a new sense of purpose and strength that she didn’t have prior to filming.

Maria Melendez_Double Knee Joint Replacement

brandchannel: The ads are deeply emotional and trigger strong reactions. What kind of response and call to action does UCHealth hope those emotional connections will lead to?

Manny Rodriguez: We didn’t want shots of smiling doctors and shiny hospital rooms in these ads. We wanted viewers to recognize the strength and courage that these patients possess. I hope that after seeing these ads, they might inspire and support others who are fighting a serious disease. If we are successful, they will trigger different emotions/reactions in different people.

As far as specific actions, we hope that more people might sign up to be organ donors, to learn about the signs of heart disease or stroke, or to learn that UCHealth is here and able to help if they need medical care. We believe that each and every person has an extraordinary life, and that UCHealth exists to do more than just fix people when they are ill or injured. More patient stories are available at uchealth.org/stories, if interested.

UCHealth Patient storytelling campaign

Ultimately, this campaign represents the center of UCHealth’s new brand image—to be a people-centric organization that excels at innovation while consistently delivering the best care, customer service and outcomes for patients. By putting patients, not us, at the center of this campaign, I think we are signaling that UCHealth really does put patients first.

brandchannel: Will these kinds of emotional and grabbing stories continue to be part of UCHealth’s communication?

Jandl Scott_Army Sergeant

Manny Rodriguez: Absolutely. We will continue to feature patients. They are the focus of our new brand, they are the true heroes and their stories speak to others in an emotional way that typical spot just can’t do.

Importantly, these kinds of stories also speak to our nurses, doctors and staff. After all, the patient is why they do what they do. This campaign was also designed to inspire internal audiences and drive them to provide even better service for each and every patient we care for.

In addition to launching the TV ad spots, we have also launched a greater media campaign across print, outdoor, radio and digital that features additional UCHealth patients and their inspirational stories.


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