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Healthcare Marketing IMPACT Awards Best in Show: J. Walter Thompson 'Birth of a New Health System'

Even the experts will admit that marketing and publicizing a company's “rebranding” doesn't always make for a scintillating story.

That can be especially true in healthcare when a system makeover is often the result of a merger or acquisition. But that wasn't the case at North Shore-Long Island Jewish Health System in New York. Leaders there and at ad agency J. Walter Thompson had a different mission in mind when the system relaunched as Northwell Health.

“North Shore-LIJ was encumbered by a name that most consumers couldn't say, and they really didn't understand the breadth and depth of what we did,” said Northwell Chief Marketing Officer Ramon Soto. The system's growth into 21 hospitals, 61,000 employees, 15,000 nurses, 13,000 physicians and 2,700 medical researchers had spread its reach far beyond the north shore of Long Island—its original home base.


Related Content Read more about the 2016 Healthcare Marketing IMPACT Awards
“I knew this gave us the opportunity to unleash the power of an untold story,” Soto said.

The approach chosen to tell that story, the birth of the Northwell brand, was a video documenting one of the first births in the New York City area on New Year's Day 2016.

“Many health systems choose to sell hope through fear—'I got injured, I got sick, I came to this hospital and I miraculously recovered'—it's a bit formulaic,” Soto said. “We turned it around and said, here's a wonderful, optimistic opportunity to tell a healthcare story.”

It's for the effective storytelling of the campaign that J. Walter Thompson is recognized for Best in Show in this year's Healthcare Marketing IMPACT Awards.

The team at J. Walter Thompson also wanted to play up the feel-good aspect of what happens in hospitals. “There's a lot of emotion that happens every day at health systems,” said John Danbeck, business director at the agency's New York offices. “There are a lot of trying times for people admitted there, but there are a lot of joyous occasions as well. We wanted to be on the positive side of the equation.”


J Walter Thompson Headquarters: New York City, along with more than 120 offices in 90 countries

Founded: 1864

Employees: More than 350 in New York, 12,000 worldwide

Sectors served other than healthcare: Automotive, charities, clothing, cosmetics, financial services, food and drink including alcoholic beverages, household products, internet, luxury goods, retail, travel and tourism
The video featured in the campaign, dubbed “Birth of a New Healthcare System,” took six months of planning from concept to the time it got top billing on the evening news Jan. 1.

Logistics was the primary challenge in the goal to document one of the first births at a Northwell facility just past the stroke of midnight. It wasn't only meeting all the legal and regulatory constraints, including a 20-minute limit to shoot footage in a facility. The toughest part was making sure a camera crew was on hand to capture the big moment.

“Timing is always a challenge in this industry,” Danbeck said, noting that four video teams were dispatched to different hospitals. “So execution became somewhat of a race against the clock to pull it off.”

Austin Joseph Sparacio was born 36 seconds after midnight at Long Island Jewish Medical Center in New Hyde Park, N.Y.

While the primary target of a marketing campaign is typically the consumer, engaging employees is also critical, Soto said. After Northwell ran a version of its video ad during the Super Bowl about a month after the spot made New Year's headlines, the system monitored its social media channels looking for staff feedback on the rebranding effort.

“The most-often used word we saw was 'proud' ” Soto said.


David May

David May coordinates and edits the weekly opinion section of the magazine, including Guest Comment and Letters pages; edits News Makers and Regional News pages; manages and edits recognition programs and special supplements. He joined Modern Healthcare in 1989 and was the magazine's copy desk chief before becoming an assistant managing editor. Earlier in his career he was the copy desk chief for the Daily Herald, a newspaper that covers Chicago's suburbs, and a copy editor at the Telegraph Herald in Dubuque, Iowa. He has a bachelor's degree in journalism from Northern Illinois University.

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