Registered Nurses (RNs) across the country are being backed into a smaller and smaller corner. Cash-strapped hospitals have been cutting staff levels and replacing RNs with less trained health providers. In Saskatchewan, the nurses union is pushing back against changes that would allow licensed practical nurses (LPNs) to perform the same work as RNs.
The Saskatchewan Union of Nurses (SUN) came to us as a lot of unions do. They had been campaigning for about a year and had a lot of conventional media: print and video ads, testimonials, and research to validate that nurses save money, improve patient safety, and increase efficiency. Our initial contract was straightforward: they needed a new website that could house their extensive content. They didn’t have a digital strategy per se but wanted to build a list.
Making the Difference was a public awareness campaign. SUN was towing a fine line between wanting to engage supporters in the campaign and avoiding the political friction that would interfere with bargaining.
We developed a conservative digital strategy that aimed to create modest list growth among members, primarily, and the general public. The web is a storytelling platform and our core recommendation was to begin making emotional instead of informational appeals. The television spots produced provided us with beautiful video and graphics which we then used these on the site to evoke the feeling of being in hospital and under the care of a knowledgeable professional: safe and comfortable. We built a video header of scenes from the ad spots. We repurposed videos of nurses speaking to the camera, asking site visitors to "hear from the real experts" which had the double purpose of deferring to the lived experience of the members, and framing RNs as experts in their work. We put all content into a stream that could be filtered out by content type, but would naturally sit patient stories next to nurses’ stories and research to form a richer context for the campaign.
A few months after wrapping up the original contract, the union called us up. They had new ads airing in the new year and a print and digital ad buy in need of creative. They wanted to build on the site and create an integrated print and digital campaign that was digital-first. The first step was to revisit our initial strategy, look for opportunities to extend the digital strategy to print, and develop a concept.
My mother-in-law is a registered nurse. Over Christmas we were all at my mom’s having dinner out in the garden (somewhere warm, yes) and as I was going back into the house to grab something from the kitchen I tripped on a paving stone and came down hard on my wrist. The pain was extreme, my skirt was over my head, the turkey was getting cold. My mother-in-law came over quickly but calmly. She took my hand. She was asking me questions: “Does this hurt?” “Is it shooting pain?” “Can you wiggle this finger for me?” She directed my husband to get some ice in a towel. We went to get an x-ray and as long as she was there I felt okay.
Having an RN with you makes you feel bulletproof, comfortable, safe. SUN had taken these great portraits of real nurses looking proud and confident, exactly the person you want to see when you need help. Our initial concept was called “Heroes” and showed RNs framed as heroes, arms crossed proudly or clipboard laden, eyes fixed on the horizon like you might see a superhero on a movie poster. Each nurse was given a superhero name (“The Visionary”, “The Innovator”, “The Collaborator”, “The Decision-Maker”). These were paired with inspirational quotes in the RN’s voice and calls to action to drive people to the site. The style of the ads echoed the work already done on the site. These ads ran on billboards and in newspapers across the country as well as in targeted display ads online.
The people we were looking to reach with the campaign were the nurses themselves and we heard successfully that members identified strongly with the campaign and those who had been featured expressed pride.
In the fall, the politics of the campaign were coming to a head. There was an election in the spring and a key issue was health care. Surgical and ER wait times across the province were at a historical highs. The conservative government’s response was to spend millions on consultants that tied up nurses in workshops in the name of efficiencies that never came. Negotiations between the union and the Province were not moving.
We ramped up for phase 2 of the campaign. We wanted to build on the previous phase and push our call to action to members and the public. The goal of the campaign was still to educate, but we wanted people to sign up, tell their own stories, and share the campaign with their networks.
We revisited our previous strategies and as always there was a need to demonstrate value, differentiation, and to educate people on the unique qualifications of RNs. This time, though, we switched from a nurse’s perspective to the patient perspective. The primary target of the Hero campaign was the RNs themselves, knowing that the members would engage and activate their networks if they had a campaign they were proud of.
The second concept was the journey concept. The patient experience of health care, we pointed out, was scary, measured in minutes and hours. I had a personal illness for a couple of years that kept me in bed 1-2 days a week with debilitating migraines and nausea. One day it reached a peak and I had no choice but to go to the hospital. I remember sitting stubbornly on the steps of my apartment, refusing to go to the hospital while my husband cursed and coaxed me up. I knew that I would have to wait for hours for relief, first in the emergency room and then in a hospital bed. Suffering at home just seemed like a better option.
“It was really scary. Just being in the hospital is scary, but she was there — she made me feel warm inside. She was compassionate, caring, and skilled. Her knowledge of her job truly made a difference.” —Making the Difference Patient Story
We wanted to use the lived experiences of patients and how they engage with nurses, and use these experiences to inspire action. We sketched out 3 journeys: ER, Childbirth, and Long-term Care. In each journey we laid out the touchpoints where RNs make the difference in healthcare - not only to the patient but also the system. For example, how RNs reduce wait times in the ER.
We developed a scale of detail and abstraction between the web, print ads, and display ads where the web was more detailed, and display advertising the most simple. We created 3 detailed and media rich landing pages for each journey containing calls to action throughout. Each told the story of a patient and how their health, treatment, and recovery was aided by an RN.
The display ads and website takeovers that landed people on these pages were extensions of these journeys and used photography from the perspective of a patient along with quotes from RNs themselves to talk about how RNs aid patient care and safety.
The print and billboard advertising used the perspective of the patient as well. We used close-up shots of nurses “RN” lapel pins to express that these pins would let you know you’re in good hands. Print ads in newspapers across the province gave additional context and pushed people to the website.
Along with the billboard, print, display, takeover, and landing pages, cStreet developed a strategy that extended to Facebook and Twitter with a content calendar, recommendations for targeting, and a campaign arc. This campaign is ongoing and so it precludes us from detailing our ongoing strategy.
It’s important, though, to mention that the level of detail of this campaign wouldn’t be possible without an openness on the part of SUN to consider it from a digital-first perspective. As I hope I’ve demonstrated, a multi-varied approach to storytelling allows us to use different media to build richness and communicate information layer upon layer.
We look forward to updating this case study as we move forward on the campaign.