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Core Exchange: The Creative Process

An experienced creative director discusses how to understand audience and get to Nike-level work.

How does the creative process work for healthcare storytelling? This is part 2 of our conversation with Core Creative creative director, Jerry Higgins.

You can listen to the episode using the player embedded above, or you can read a full transcript below. Be sure to subscribe to Core Exchange on iTunes.

  • Core Exchange | Creative Direction (Part 2)

Links mentioned in podcast:

Episode Transcript:

Angi Krueger: Welcome back to Core Exchange, a healthcare marketing podcast. I'm Angi Krueger, the Vice President of Marketing from Core Creative. Today we're welcoming back our Creative Director, Jerry Higgins. We talked last time and we just wanted to continue that conversation with him today.

Angi Krueger: Healthcare marketing is truly a customer service type industry and it's more and more retail and people, people want to be connected to and not necessarily sold to. I think that higher level creative is so key and so important. When I think of ultimate creative work out there, I'm thinking about Nike. Just do it. Nike's always doing something edgy and controversial, almost.

Angi Krueger: Can healthcare systems do Nike level work?

Jerry Higgins: I think yes, and I think our approach is that. I would proudly say we do it right now. We do it all the time. We connect with the human spirit like Nike. We can aspire. We can ... I'm sorry, inspire. We can motivate people. We can give courage to people. And to me, Nike level work doesn't mean huge budgets.

Jerry Higgins: I think of a commercial that I saw years back of ... it's for Nike, where they entire spot is, it's about a man running, or a young man running, and he's heavy, he's heavier. It's one continuous shot. It's seeing this boy, or young man, way off in the distance and he's running to camera. One continual shot. He's struggling as he's running and you can feel it as he's getting closer and closer. But, he keeps moving forward and there's a poetic voice over, of course, that just is wonderful. But it talks about greatness and what it can mean to all of us. Then, at the end, the copy comes up and it just says, find your greatness. It's simple and effective and probably not that expensive to produce, but the spirit of it is where we feel we need to be. And whether it's a service line campaign or about health and wellness, it can be about the human spirit, about overcoming, or about celebrating life.

Angi Krueger: Yeah, that's very true. That's a great example. I remember that ad campaign, actually, pretty vividly. It's interesting how something so well-known out there, a shoe or a brand, it can produce something so simple and connect with emotions that way.

Jerry Higgins: Yeah.

Angi Krueger: Here comes the train again, I can hear it a little bit in the background. So if you guys are hearing a train. I apologize for that if you hear that in the background. Let's talk really quickly about you personally. What helps you do great work? And what inspires you as a Creative Director?

Jerry Higgins: It goes back to that idea that we, as an agency, and me, hopefully, can inspire people and make a difference in their lives. We can change people's bad habits. We can reinforce their good behavior. We can cheer them on and we can give, again, that courage to seek help when they're not feeling well. Older ... some older people, myself, I'm older. Sometimes it's scary. You feel something in your body and you're like, oh, I don't want to find out what's going on. What is this pain in my arm, or whatever? And if I just went to the doctor I'd feel better. Sometimes we need to give our audience courage.

Angi Krueger: Yeah, very true. Good point. If you, in your experience right now in working in healthcare marketing, have one thing that you could change, what would that be?

Jerry Higgins: I think it would be the expectation that you have ... that our clients, our health system clients, have to tell people what they do, instead of why they do it. We do surgery. We deliver babies. It can change to the why we do it and it doesn't have to be a laundry list of the procedures that we do.

Angi Krueger: So you're saying that it is more about that emotional connection and more about the value as opposed to the features and benefits or ...?

Jerry Higgins: Yeah.

Angi Krueger: Yeah. That's because service line against service line, give or take a few additions or subtractions or new technologies, may offer the same thing.

Jerry Higgins: Yeah, and I also think that some systems rely on awards. When how meaningful are those to our consumer? I know they're important, but ...

Angi Krueger: Yeah, sometimes that third party validation, you're right, it is important, but is it necessarily the main story? To me that is more that it’s just that a validation. It’s proof that we do a great job at our healthcare organization, but at the same time, it's not necessarily always the lead because there's that great book out there, the Joe Public book that I'm sure a lot of our listeners know about. You don't really think about hospitals until you need them. It can be white noise, but it can give you some brand awareness. I think it's just, again, back to creatively, and how do you tell that story without throwing up a billboard with the JD Power Award or HCAPS, or whatever it is? It is important, but how do you connect with your audience on that and make it more meaningful? Not just for your own employees and your staff, but also for the community at large.

Angi Krueger: You've worked, as you mentioned earlier, in a lot of different industries throughout your career and in working in that healthcare space, what's the best part of that? What's the best part about working in healthcare?

Jerry Higgins: Back to that we're truly making a difference in people's lives. Like sometimes I've heard people say, “oh we don't ...” or this isn't rocket science or this isn't brain surgery. But we can be part of helping people and saving lives. Again, we're not selling soft drinks and we're not selling little widgets. We are truly making a difference in people's lives. We can help them live better. We can make them feel better about themselves. And, yeah, truly, we can help save lives.

Angi Krueger: Yeah, it is interesting, I think, from a marketing perspective, us being on the agency side too. It's us connecting back to that “why” and that's so true. We really do help connect people to how, again, it's don't ignore the signs. You're educating them or you're connecting with them on an emotional level that they see this story and they think, oh my gosh, I either don't want that to happen to me, or because that happened to that person I'm more self-aware now and maybe I need to take care of this. If we can move people to take action and really connect with their health systems, we don't have to care for them in an emergency situation all the time. We can help prevent it too, which is really exciting for all of us in healthcare marketing.

Jerry Higgins: Yeah. You hear about how as the future moves forward, that health systems can become partners with the consumer in helping people stay healthier. If we can help be part of that, if we can help the health system be relevant when, on a daily basis, if possible, they need the care, they're going to think of us. They're going to think of that health system.

Angi Krueger: Yes. Very true. A couple more things and then we'll wrap up. I know a lot of our listeners are healthcare marketers and they're probably within a health system, or hospital, or in an organization like that and they are, on a daily basis, strategically trying to think how they can help move the needle and they have a lot of fires to put out and know they want to put a creative campaign out there. But a lot of times they'll be either working with agencies or even internally about creating these campaigns and coming up with the big idea or how are we going to connect with our audiences better. Tell us a little bit about that creative process. It’s interesting, for me because I came from the creative side, so I get it. I know how it's made and how that works. But I think it would be really helpful for our audience to understand a little bit more what it's like to be on this side of the desk. You've mentioned earlier, to do Nike level work we need time and we need the right strategy and all the right information in order to really truly connect with our audience in that creative effective way. So tell us a little about not how everyone sees that end result, but, how's it made?

Jerry Higgins: Yeah, you talked about the strategy. We really try to start with what is that single most important thing for whatever it is we're creating, that we want our audience to walk away with? What's the most important thing we want them to walk away with?

Angi Krueger: Yeah, it's a great question.

Jerry Higgins: To understand.

Angi Krueger: And I'm sure it's very, very hard to answer, right?

Jerry Higgins: Yeah. It's hard to get concise. But, it's really the basis for the creative strategy. Once we do that, then I like to become the audience, so it becomes about empathy then. It's plain and simple who are we talking to? What do they care about? That's what we need to look at in every piece of work that we do.

So, we become the audience. We become that persona. That person that we're speaking to. And maybe sometimes there's more than one persona, but we want to become that person and then draw upon our own experiences and the experiences of the entire agency, and, of course, there's research too that we're looking at. But, when the creative process goes on and you're talking about brainstorming and bouncing ideas off each other, I feel like, as we become more and more experienced in the healthcare marketing arena or forum, we are becoming better and better at the single most important thing. How we become our audience. What's important to our audience? And then, really making sure that the audience is the one that we are trying to communicate with at all times.

So we bounce ideas off of each other and then we come back to that single most important thing. And then we sketch, and we explore. We ask questions of each other. It's a lot of give and take. That's kind of how it works in the early, early stages. And then it goes into production and the quality has to be the best, and that's when quality takes over.

Angi Krueger: I know even with the internal teams here at Core, we actually, to your point of quality, kind of do our own internal scorecards for this to ask, “is this on target? Is this creative enough? Can we push it more?” And you actually even get some other people that maybe aren't even working on that piece of business to be an outside perspective. To give a point of view on that just to, again, make sure we're challenging it and take it to the next level.

I think it is interesting because creativity can be so subjective, but you come back to that, what's the big, single most important thing? It is hard to get to that. I think that's where, when we go through that process of writing that creative brief, that we really have to push our clients a little bit to get them to identify what that is. Because at the end of the day, if you can figure that out, you're going to get another level of creativity that you wouldn't get. I think that's so important. I know our audience, as healthcare marketers, internally, within our organization, they need to, not only sell the idea that it's going to resonate with their audience, but they're also selling it, maybe to an internal team of doctors or executives.

And, going back to the research and insights part of things, when we have some proof and some insight there and we can connect that back for our client and give them some rationale as to why this is effective and why this would work, and it's not just subjective, that's when we can really move the needle more from the creative side of things.

I think it has always been the idea that people think that we just go away and the idea just comes to us. But it is a process like you said, and it is collaboration. It is butting heads sometimes, internally, and pushing each other. And a lot of times collaboration, even with the client. I think that comes into play too because they do know their audiences as well. That's so helpful.

Alright, so we'll wrap up here with one final question. I'm sure you have lots of these, but can you tell us about one of the most memorable healthcare campaigns you've worked on in your career?

Jerry Higgins: What really comes to mind is, I really loved working on the Valley Health Branding Campaign. It's a, well look it up if you are out there. I'm sure you can find it somewhere.

Angi Krueger: I can provide a link at the top of the podcast, on our web page.

Jerry Higgins: It's a very intimate look at Valley patients and their challenges with their health and, ultimately, how they overcame them. I was able to do the on camera interviews, that I talked about earlier for both TV and video. And, to be able to bring out the raw emotion and be part of that intimate conversation, I really felt connected with the patients and ultimately the videos, or the films, really connected with the audience.

Jerry Higgins: Again, sometimes we say what we do isn't brain surgery, but, if we tell that story right, and if we can truly connect with our audience, we can make huge strides. We can make a difference.

Angi Krueger: Yeah, that's great. I will definitely post a link to that Valley Health System Brand Campaign. I agree. I've seen a lot of the work that we have produced here and all of it's good in its own way. But yeah, that one, in particular, I hear what you're saying, it is very emotional and it's so real. You just connect instantly. Within 30 seconds of a TV spot you feel for that person. I think that's where, again, like I was saying earlier about, if we can connect with that audience and drive them to action to do something we have potentially helped save a life. That's exciting stuff.

Angi Krueger: Thanks so much for your time, Jerry. I'm sure we'll come back to you and talk to you once again. It was great chatting with you about creativity, because that's my favorite topic in healthcare. Thanks again, Jerry.

Jerry Higgins: No problem. It was my pleasure.


Angi Krueger is the Vice President of Marketing at Core Health, Core Creative’s specialized healthcare marketing practice.

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