Saint Thomas launches spiritually themed marketing campaign

June 1, 2014


Spirituality and faith are the focus of virtually every component of Saint Thomas Health's new marketing campaign, "Nothing shall be impossible."

Dozens of Saint Thomas patient and caregiver stories are at the heart of the five-hospital system's $800,000 media blitz, which began with a teaser campaign in April and launched fully May 6. The teasers included street teams handing out trinkets around central Tennessee, and chalk art and preview billboards around the region hinting at the campaign to come. The full campaign rollout includes advertising on television, in print and on billboards, buses, benches and at the airport as well as on the Internet. It also includes a social media push on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

A surgical team at Saint Thomas Rutherford Hospital in Murfreesboro, Tenn., reenacts a pre-surgery prayer ritual, for use in a video and campaign materials for Saint Thomas Health's "Nothing shall be impossible" campaign.

All promotions point people to the website,, where a collection of videos, stories and pictures chronicles how the Nashville, Tenn.-based system delivers care that is in line with the scriptural message from Luke 1:37 that "With God, nothing shall be impossible." The site also encourages people to submit their own stories about people who inspire them, or challenges they or people they know have overcome.

The site explains that Saint Thomas has "determined that our faith tradition is the most important part of our identity and (we) want to acknowledge that we constantly observe triumphs of the human spirit, remarkable manifestations of God's grace and love for us, and the importance of acknowledging our dependence upon each other and God for all that is good and vital in our lives."

Humble prayer
The marquee video on the site is an unscripted recording of a surgical team at Saint Thomas Rutherford Hospital in Murfreesboro, Tenn., reenacting their regular centering morning prayer ritual. Director of Surgical Services B.J. Butler says, "Lord we invite you to be the center of everything we do this morning. We ask that you be our hands, our eyes, and watch over the surgeon and give him the skills he needs and keep us all safe. Amen."

The website launched with patient profiles, including those of a Nashville lung cancer patient whose treatment at a Saint Thomas Health facility rendered her cancer-free and inspired her to educate others on lung cancer, and a Murfreesboro man whose double hip replacement at a Saint Thomas Health facility enabled him to return to his expert practice of martial arts, and to teach martial arts to his children.

Rebecca Climer is senior vice president and chief communications and marketing officer for Saint Thomas, which is part of St. Louis-based Ascension Health. She said, "Nashville is blessed to have 25 good hospitals, but we want to look at what makes us different from the rest." She said the system's faith-based identity is its primary differentiating factor — "It's why we do this. It's our mission."

Singular identity
Climer calls the campaign a "messaging platform" that guides how Saint Thomas communicates to the people of Middle Tennessee. She said the communication strategy is part of an ongoing effort to position the facilities that make up Saint Thomas as a single system. Saint Thomas merged with Baptist Hospital in 2002, but the hospitals and facilities continued to market themselves independently.

Early last year, Saint Thomas renamed all of its facilities to include the Saint Thomas name, to underscore that they are all part of the Catholic health care system. But, surveys and discussions with community members in the wake of the name change revealed "that our hospitals were known for the services they provide, but were not known for our mission and for the charity care we provide. And that was disturbing. And so we decided to focus on that," Climer said.

Saint Thomas issued a request for proposals from advertising agencies late last year, and the pitch from Nashville-based Bohan Advertising, which emphasized Saint Thomas' faith-based mission, "really resonated with us. The approach gives voice to why we're different" from other facilities in central Tennessee, said Climer. Saint Thomas is the only Catholic system in the region. While Saint Thomas' Catholicity is not mentioned, the system talks of its foundresses in some of the campaign materials and is considering creating ads that reference the system's Catholic heritage.

Climer said central Tennessee is a very religious area. Even so, "we were hesitant to put our faith out there, because do not want to exploit or trade on our faith; and also we want to respect the views of others." Work on the current campaign included engagement with Saint Thomas' mission department. While campaign materials do include the thought that "we are children of God," the messaging is careful not to imply that others are not.

Two-thirds of 1,000 people in central Tennessee surveyed by phone during preparations for the campaign launch said they had a positive or neutral reaction to the faith-based theme.

Climer said dozens of people have contacted Saint Thomas to praise the campaign. Climer said one woman choked up on her voice mail message, as she said, "I just want to say that I saw your ad about keeping God in your hospitals. I just wanted to say thank you because I think that's important."

Another woman who described herself as an atheist was one of only two people to contact Saint Thomas to criticize the campaign. The woman said she feared the system's focus on faith would detract from care. Climer said she reassured the woman that it is Saint Thomas' faith orientation that compels it to offer quality care.


Copyright © 2014 by the Catholic Health Association of the United States
For reprint permission, contact Betty Crosby or call (314) 253-3477.

Copyright © 2014 by the Catholic Health Association of the United States

For reprint permission, contact Betty Crosby or call (314) 253-3490.