The Eyes Have It Mercy’s ‘New Look’ Campaign Is Designed to Change Some Perceptions

Mark Fulco says Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno provided a good amount of the inspiration for Mercy Medical Center’s ‘Take a New Look’ marketing campaign, because, well, that’s pretty much what the mayor did.Only a few weeks after being sworn into office earlier this year, Sarno (among others) was given an informational tour of the medical center, explained Fulco, vice president of Strategy and Marketing for the Sisters of Providence Health System, who was one of the guides for that visit. On more than a few occasions, Fulco overheard Springfield’s CEO say, ‘I didn’t realize Mercy had this,’ or words to that effect.

Later, Fulco remarked to SPHS President and CEO Vincent McCorkle that if Sarno, a long-time Springfield official (he was a city councilor before being elected mayor) didn’t know about some of the programs and pieces of cutting-edge technology in place at Mercy, then it was safe to say that many others didn’t, as well.

Actually, Mercy administrators were thinking in these terms long before Sarno’s visit in March, said Fulco, adding that the chief executive’s tour merely provided an exclamation point to the need to launch an initiative that Fulco compared to the ‘this is not your father’s Oldsmobile’ campaign that GM rolled out many years ago, thus introducing a line that has become part of the American vernacular.

Using billboards and print ads that invite consumers to visit what Fulco called a “micro-site” (lookatmercynow. com) — an addition to the SPHS Web site — the system is encouraging area residents to give Mercy a new look and, in the process, likely discover some things they didn’t know about it, and, ultimately, change their perception of the brand.

“If you haven’t experienced Mercy lately, you really haven’t experienced Mercy,” said Fulco, adding that the marketing campaign, launched roughly two months ago, is designed to separate fact from perception about the system.

“We recently finished a 10-year strategic plan, and as part of that process we looked at consumer perception,” he continued. “And it became clear to us that there is a gap between what people thought they knew about Mercy and what Mercy Medical Center in its present state is really all about; the level of sophistication, the level of technological advancement, exceeds, in many cases, what you can find elsewhere in the region.”

Tracking the number of hits for the micro-site, Fulco said he can declare the campaign an initial success. But ultimately, this endeavor will be measured not by how many people give the Web site a look, but how many “stay engaged,” as he put it, with Mercy and the SPHS system.

On-the-spot Analysis

The micro-site has a number of click-points for visitors, all of them chosen to showcase new programs, technology, or efforts to improve service to area residents. These include:

  • Da Vinci Surgery — robot-assisted technology that enables surgeons to make smaller incisions and thus use fewer stitches;
  • the Mercy Internal Medicine Service (MIMS), one of the first hospitalist program of its kind in the country;
  • the new Mary E. Davis Intensive Care Unit;
  • the Sister Mary Caritas Cancer Center;
  • the Family Life Center for Maternity;
  • the emergency room at Mercy Medical Center, where “we measure our wait time in minutes, not hours”;
  • the Breast Care Center;
  • MAGNETOM Espree Open Bore MRI, with an extra-large opening to accommodate patients of all sizes; and
  • the Trigeminal Neuralgia Care Center, said to the first of its kind in the region.

Most of the these facilities or pieces of equipment are not exactly new — the maternity center has been open for more than a decade, for example — nor are they (in most cases, anyway) unique within this region. But by and large, they fit into that category perhaps best described as ‘I didn’t know Mercy had that,’ said Fulco, adding that the ‘Take a New Look’ campaign was designed to educate, enlighten, and help brand, or re-brand, the system, as the case may be.

And to help prompt people to give the system a new look, there are some incentives, in the form of prizes (from gas cards to iPods to Mercy-embossed bath robes) that people can qualify to win if they do give Mercy a new look — and many have.

Overall, the ‘new look’ campaign is somewhat of a departure from previous marketing initiatives, said Fulco, which have focused on specific equipment or procedures, and have been designed in response to what he called “the health care arms race.”

By that, he meant that, as technology has changed the face of this sector, facilities like Mercy, even as they exercise frugality with regard to their marketing, have to show that they are the forefront of this technology — “that we have it, too.”

“The economic reality is that, if we were completely silent and we were faced with competitors that pretty vocal, and had a fairly significant market spend,” he explained, “it would negatively impact us.”

‘New look’ is an integrated campaign that has several components, including billboards on both sides of I-91, as well as print ads and direct-mail pieces, said Fulco, noting that it will run for several more weeks before the system moves on to a different campaign. This initiative is somewhat different in that it is focused on the broad Mercy brand, or how the medical center is perceived by the public. And it was in many ways inspired by Sarno’s tour.

“He had been on campus before, but he had never seen what I call the back-stage operations,” Fulco explained. “We took him through the new intensive care unit, the emergency room, which has been essentially rebuilt over the past several years, and the Sister Mary Caritas Cancer Center, among a host of other places. He had seen the cancer center before from the outside, but he hadn’t been in the back where we have our accelerators and our XKnife stereotactic radiosurgery unit, and he continually expressed surprise at the things he saw.”

“After the tour was over, I went to Vince and said, ‘we need to capture what Mayor Sarno experienced, and we need to get that message out,” he continued, adding that, as the campaign was coming together, he told his staff repeatedly that, when it comes to health care providers, “brand is all about the patient experience, or the customer experience.”

Or it was.

Elaborating, he said that Mercy has historically earned high grades among patients for the experience it provides, and this has certainly created a positive image. But more recently, branding in health care increasingly involves emphasis on what separates one provider from another.

This phenomenon is one of the motivators for the ‘new look’ campaign, which, at its core, is designed to enlighten consumers about Mercy’s Trigeminal Neuralgia Care Center. The first facility of its kind in the region, it takes a comprehensive approach to treating the affliction known as TN, a neuropathic disorder of the trigeminal nerve that causes episodes of stabbing, electric-shock-like pain in the eyes, lips, nose, scalp, forehead, and jaw.

“Before we created this, people would have to go to Boston to get treated for trigeminal neuralgia,” he said. “Right now, we’re treating more cases than I believe they’re treating in Boston; we’re getting patients from as far away as Florida and Maine … last week we were contacted by a patient from Kansas City.

“People are coming from far away to be treated with this special neurosurgery,” he continued. “Not many people know that, and that’s one example of that gap in knowledge that we need to close.”

Getting the Message

While the ‘this isn’t your father’s Oldsmobile’ campaign drew somewhat mixed reviews — some say it failed because it didn’t succeed in its ultimate mission to push higher sales volume — many praised it for at least prompting younger audiences to give that nameplate a look, or another look.

Mercy’s ongoing marketing initiative has the same mission, and early indications are that it’s changing some perceptions about the medical center, thus leaving fewer people saying, ‘I didn’t know they had that.’