Advertising created in-house at Mercy makes emotional connection

December 15, 2017


Some Mercy co-workers use gaffer's tape rather than bandages. They run video editing machines, not heart monitors. And they operate in a sound stage rather than a surgery suite.

An actress reenacts the Venerable Catherine McAuley's rescue of an abandoned child in a fictional depiction of Dublin, Ireland. Mercy's creative team staged the video shoot for "Mercy: Worthy of the Name" in a historic neighborhood in St. Charles, Mo.

Mercy has brought production of its advertising in-house. And those in the know think they're doing a pretty good job.

The system's television campaign titled "Your Life is Our Life's Work" won a 2017 Emmy Award for Best Commercial Campaign at the Mid-America Emmy Awards. The accolade recognizes excellence in creative arts, broadcast and production. Mercy had four Emmy nominations for three projects this year, and last year it won an Emmy for its "Mercy Kids" television campaign.

Earlier this year, Mercy's creative team earned 16 national Telly awards, which honor excellence in local, regional and cable TV commercials, nonbroadcast video and TV programs. More than 13,000 entries poured in to the Telly competition from all 50 states and five continents. Visit to view some of Mercy's Telly award winning campaigns.

"We're so honored and humbled because we didn't set out to win awards," said Allan D. Smith, executive director of Mercy Experience Studio, which is part of Mercy Integrated Marketing. "We set out to tell our patients' stories."

Smith began with Mercy six years ago as a web designer, bringing over two decades of ad agency experience with him. At that time, Mercy was consolidating its marketing and communications activities and unifying branding among its 44 acute care and specialty hospitals, as well as its 700 physician practices and outpatient facilities in Arkansas, Kansas, Missouri and Oklahoma.

Prior to the consolidation, advertising remained in the hands of marketing departments at individual hospitals working with local ad agencies, according to Barb Meyer, Mercy's vice president of communications. "We had a variety of different campaigns and a variety of different agencies. Once we consolidated, we worked for several years with agencies selected at a ministry level. Eventually, we realized we had the talent and desire to bring the work in-house. It was a natural follow-up to consolidating our branding."

Meyer noted that the timing seemed right because several staff members throughout Mercy's system had agency experience. Most were at the company's ministry office in Chesterfield, Mo. Others were in individual hospitals and Mercy regions. "We tapped into that talent, so making the transition hasn't been as hard as you would think," she said.

Mercy shoots most commercials and videos at a rented studio near its headquarters. And for all its shoots, it has been contracting with the same director of photography, whose job it is translate the director's artistic vision into technical cues. Mercy tries to engage the same seasoned individuals to run lighting, sound and electrical when possible. The productions employ local actors. Mercy plans its workflow so it can shoot several commercials back to back.

The in-house staff of 19 at Mercy Experience Studio is under Smith's supervision. The group includes three photographer/videographers, who double as editors in a recently completed in-house editing suite at the ministry's headquarters; producers; writers; graphic designers and user experience designers, who focus on how users interact with Mercy via its website, apps and other digital points of contact and service.

Members of the Mercy Experience Studio team work on location in St. Charles, Mo., for a video that explores the roots of Mercy's mission in the works of the Venerable Catherine McAuley, who founded the Sisters of Mercy.

When not developing ads, the team plans, shoots and edits physician stories and patient testimonials for Mercy's website. The studio staff works with local and regional marketing departments within Mercy to produce 100 percent of Mercy's digital and print messaging. The workload exceeds several thousand jobs every quarter.

When they first decided to go in-house, Smith had a vague notion of how much work the team would be responsible for. "We were spitballing. We scaled up a couple quarters ago, and I don't see us scaling down."

Though they didn't provide figures, Smith and Meyer said the costs of setting up a staff were lower than using an ad agency in the long run, especially because Mercy didn't rack up fees for agency retainers or redoing and refining agency ideas.

The Emmy-winning campaign featured different ads almost every month: bariatric surgery for weight loss resolutions of January, a focus on cardiac care for February (heart health month), and breast cancer awareness for October.

"We focus on telling stories of how we serve our patients," Smith said. "After working in the agency world for 22 years, then coming here, I realize that there's nothing better than being in a place that knows its purpose and everyone works toward that goal."

Among the Telly winners is a five-minute video that chronicles the life of the Venerable Catherine McAuley, founder of the Sisters of Mercy. Smith said he had been contacted by Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore, another health system that traces its roots to McAuley, which wants to use the video. Mercy has granted permission.

Though still the exception, in-house ad agencies in health care are growing in popularity. Smith said he has consulted with health systems that are considering the move.

"It's not surprising to me. At Mercy, we know ourselves and our brand better than an agency would. We could educate an agency, or we could do it ourselves," he said. "It makes sense that other systems would feel the same way."



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