screen-shot-2017-01-31-at-1-44-38-pmMy team and I are knee deep in awards submissions. ‘Tis the season. We just finished sending in submission for the Lamplighter Awards, sponsored by the New England Society for Healthcare Communications. The Lamplighters are the best kind of awards in that they recognize results. It is not just a beauty content. Each submission is accompanied by a case study that documents strategy, process and outcomes. With more than a dozen hospital and healthcare clients in New England, we end up sending in a small mountain of submissions. Fortunately, all of the submissions are done electronically – a huge improvement over the old days when we would spray mount print ads and burn TV spots and videos to DVDs. To save money, we always shoot for the early bird deadlines. The final submission date for the Lamplighter is Monday, February 13, 2017.

screen-shot-2017-01-31-at-1-53-40-pmAlso on the horizon are the Healthcare Advertising Awards (HAA). These are produced by Healthcare Marketing Report, a leading publication covering all aspects of healthcare marketing, advertising and strategic business development. They get a huge shout out from me for making the move this year to electronic submissions! The entry deadline is February 15, 2017 with a late entry deadline of March 10, 2017. This is the 34th annual edition of this awards competition. The Healthcare Advertising Awards Competition recruits a national panel of judges to review all entries based on creativity, quality, message effectiveness, consumer appeal, graphic design and overall impact. Last year’s competition had nearly 4,000 entries. My firm has been entering our work in this competition for at least 25 years.

screen-shot-2017-01-31-at-1-57-25-pmOne of our favorite healthcare marketing awards competitions is the Aster Awards, a national competition that began in 2002. We’ve found that some competitions reward creativity and innovation more than others. The Asters is just such a program. Their judges seem to have an eye for ingenuity and creative problem solving. Often campaigns and marketing initiatives that don’t win gold in other competitions, will really shine in the Asters. The Aster Awards are sponsored by Marketing Healthcare Today magazine and award winning campaigns are often profiled in later editions of the publication. The 2017 Aster Awards Competition  early deadline is February 28, 2017. The final (late) deadline is April 3, 2017. And it is worth noting that the Aster Awards have welcomed electronic submissions for several years now. I can’t tell you how happy that makes my team.

Finally, I’ll mention the Telly Awards. The mission of the Tellys is to strengthen the visual arts community by inspiring, promoting, and supporting creativity. On average, The Telly Awards receives over 13,000 entries yearly from all 50 states and 5 continents. We enter both TV spots and healthcare videos in this competition. The final entry deadline for the 2017 Telly Awards Competition is March 3.

Enjoy awards season and good luck with your entries!

Last week I was on a video shoot in Massachusetts with several members of my team from Jennings. Although we were interviewing a few clinicians as part of the process, the big focus of the shoot was on capturing the stories of two patients who had undergone joint replacement surgery. I had an interesting vantage point because for once I was not conducting the interviews. So I was able to sit back and observer the process.


My main take away, as we interviewed these remarkable people, was the importance of not over-complicating the story with clinical details. Each patient spent an hour being interviewed on camera. We asked them dozens of questions about the process they went through, the pre-op education process, the surgery, the communication with the clinical team and their recovery/physical therapy. Buried under all of these details is a compelling story that people will actually care about.  The trick is to not get bogged down in the minutiae and to be human.

As a storyteller, you have to ask yourself, what about this individual’s story are people going to connect with? For the story/video to be successful, people have to care. It is not enough to take the viewer through a chronology of events. They have to care about the person being profiled. And they also want to know the answers to big questions: Has your life fundamentally changed as a result of the procedure? Did they make the process as easy as possible for you and your family? Did they answer all your questions? Were the people at the hospital kind and attentive? Based on your experience, would you recommend the hospital/surgeon to a friend or family member?

fullsizerender-3Last week I sat in on a terrific webinar on digital trends in healthcare. My friend Ben Dillon from Geonetric was the presenter. One of the trends he pointed to was storytelling. He’s right! But too many of us are telling stories that aren’t interesting or compelling. The viewer/reader/listener just doesn’t care. And we haven’t given her a reason to care. As we move through 2017, my hope is that more care and thought will be used as we craft stories to share with consumers, referring clinicians and our employees. Ben is right – storytelling is such an important part of a successful content marketing effort. But let’s craft stories that truly engage the audience. Find the human aspect of the story. Below is an example of a story that we recently crafted for one of our hospital clients. It’s the story of a woman who changed her life. From my perspective, this is good storytelling. The focus is on the individual whose life was transformed, with just a little detail about the clinical program. Enjoy!


For the last several days I’ve been distracted by an issue that has become an interesting case study. My involvement in resolving this issue reminded me of the many lesson I’ve learned about social media, and gave me an opportunity to jump back in as a practitioner, using my skills, experience and training to affect change (all things I love to do). This review, that I posted on the College of Charleston Facebook page on Saturday evening, helps to frame the issue:


I want it to be clear, we turned to social media after trying to affect change through conventional channels (telephone) for the three days leading up to this. After three days of frustration, we felt that through social media we had a higher likelihood of being heard. That is an assumption that is highly dependent on the organization you’re attempting to reach. In this case, College of Charleston did not appear overly concerned about whatever discourse was taking place on social media. Sure, they were aware of my posts and the growing following that was building up, but they didn’t respond in a manner that led me to believe they were concerned about the damage that was being done to their brand image. It was fascinating. Normally I’m the one coaching a client on how to respond to attacks from someone like me. This time I was the one on the offensive and I was evaluating their response, or lack of response, every step of the way.

As you can tell by the review, I tossed College of Charleston a softball. I told them that I love the institution, consider myself a brand ambassador, and invited them to rectify things. “Show me that you really care and that you’re better than this. Reaffirm my belief in you and my love for this institution. Moments like this define brands. Who are you going to be? My name is Dan Dunlop and I’m easy to find.” This was an open invitation for them to engage me and address my concerns. To that end, I intentionally used a tone that did not feel irrational or irate. I didn’t want them to think they were dealing with a troll. Once I posted the review, I followed up by posting photos of my daughter’s new suite to the College of Charleston Facebook page. The photos were compelling.

My wife (Scotti) and I had hoped that the initial Facebook review would get an immediate response from someone at College of Charleston. (It should have.) But, just to drive home the point, I took to Twitter and Instagram an hour later and started sharing our story and posting photos. I used the @CofC Twitter handle so they could not be missed by the folks monitoring CofC’s Twitter presence. Here are a few sample Tweets:






One thing you’ll notice is that after a few Tweets I started to use their #boundlessCofC hashtag that is the theme of their current fundraising campaign. This was an intentional move on my part to get their attention by disrupting the fundraising/development apparatus of the institution. Once the Tweets and Instagram posts started, the people at College of Charleston should have taken action to engage me.


By the following morning, there was still no communication from anyone at College of Charleston, not even a Tweet saying: “We hear you and take your feedback seriously. Please give us a number and we’ll contact you offline.” In the world of social media, 12 hours is a lifetime. They should have contacted me immediately after I posted the review on Facebook.

In all, I posted 129 Tweets over three days. I can’t tell you how many times I Retweeted other people or had my Tweets Retweeted. Other people began jumping in as well. My wife and I shared our story on the parents ListServ, of which we are members. This is a very active online community.


Sharing this on the ListServ was a good move for a few different reasons. First, it got our story out in front of other parents who had similar experiences with the housing department. Second, the members of the ListServ are not afraid to speak up and they quickly began sharing their horror stories. Third, an unintended consequence of this entire effort was that all of the communication helped to empower people – both parents and students. I can’t tell you how many private messages my wife and I received from parents and students who wanted to thank us for taking on this initiative. It was incredibly rewarding. Many of these people had voiced displeasure in the past but felt that they were not heard. They knew, by watching our campaign, that we were going to be heard and that Scotti and I were going to champion the cause. Let me stress what an important role Scotti played.

Here’s an example of a private message I received through Twitter from a College of Charleston student:


Here are a couple of responses from parents on the ListServ:





It fascinated us that all of the stories on the ListServ about bad customer service didn’t seem to get a reaction from the College. My concern was that perhaps the stories weren’t getting the right people. It is unclear which members of the leadership team ever see the ListServ. So, one of the steps I took to make sure that College of Charleston knew that we were not alone in our complaints was to share stories that were posted on ListServ as images attached to my Tweets. Here are a couple of examples:





I’ve always believed that one of the essential elements of a successful social media campaign is repurposing content across platforms. In this case we shared photos and parent stories on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter.

On Sunday morning at 9am we received our first contact from an executive at College of Charleston. It was a very thoughtful email from an assistant vice president. However, she acknowledged that she is on the academic support side of the house (rather than facilities) and it was not within the scope of her role to resolve this situation. But the email did give us hope and the views she expressed were heartfelt.

Later that afternoon (1:21pm) , as Scotti and were driving back to North Carolina, I received a message on Twitter from College of Charleston asking for my mobile number. I gladly shared my number and assumed this meant they would call me.


During the ride home Scotti got a call from the woman in housing who had refused to take our calls earlier in the week and had failed to respond to our messages. The conversation was completely unsatisfactory as she took no accountability for the problems and claimed to be completely unaware of the issues involved. It was clear that she was not the person who could fix this problem.

We got home at 6pm and I still had not received a call. Surely someone was going to call me. Why else would they have asked for my number? I checked my email and found a message from the head of marketing asking for my mobile number. Odd, I had already sent it via Twitter.  “So sorry to hear of your experience. The College will certainly address this. Your daughter’s health and safety are of utmost importance. Can I have your phone number so that our residence/facilities team can call you immediately?” At this point in the story I will tell you that I never got that call. No one from the housing/facilities group ever called me. The first person to call me from College of Charleston was the President, but that’s jumping ahead.

By Monday night Scotti and I were really starting to wonder what it would take to get the attention of decision-makers at College of Charleston. So, we began phase two of our marketing plan. And yes, we had a plan that involved the escalation of our efforts over time. Here are the elements of phase two:

  • Publishing a Storify that curated all of the social media posts from this campaign and then disseminating the Storify via Twitter, Facebook and the parents ListServ. https://storify.com/dandunlop/boundless-from-boundlesscofc
  • Posting information on the parents ListServ that would help them join the cause. This included giving them all of my information for Twitter and Instagram so they could like and share my posts. We also shared hashtags that they should use. This tactic worked. Several parents from the ListServ started following me on Twitter and Retweeted my posts.
  • Our Twitter effort would now expand to using memes, a new hashtag for the campaign, and the use of Twitter handles for other CofC accounts: @CofCAlumni, @ClydetheCougar (their mascot), @CofCPresident, @CofCAdmissions, @CofCStudentLife, @BoundlessCofC, etc.


This meme mimics the look of the banner across the top of CofC’s Facebook page.
  • We also planned to email the College President and share Meg’s story. Several parents told us that this was the best way to get a response but we were hopeful it wouldn’t come to that. We were naive.
  • A final step, if all else failed, was to contact local and regional media with our story accompanied by photos and video that we shot in the dorm. We also planned to give them links to the Storify. We developed a media hit list that included media outlets and specific contacts, with special focus on education and health reporters. I went ahead and wrote Tweets targeting each media contact and scheduled them for release on Tuesday late afternoon (I use Hootsuite for pre-scheduling Tweets). If we didn’t get a response by then, the Tweets would got out on their own. I also wrote a press release that I would email to media outlets. The press release was embedded in the email (not an attachment) and included a link to the Storify.

We drafted our email to President McConnell and sent it off on Monday evening. Tuesday morning I was on an airplane, heading to NYC, when I got a message from my office that the president of College of Charleston had called for me. He asked them to convey to me that he appreciated me emailing him and that he was going to meet with the involved parties from his team that morning and would take action.

When I landed at JFK President McConnell called me and shared the details of the actions he was taking. He seemed sincere and believable. I asked him to please call Scotti and share all of this with her. He did so immediately.

This is a good news/bad news ending to the story. First, after all of our efforts on social media, it was an email to the president that finally broke through. I’m convinced we could have kept Tweeting and posting for weeks and that second level of leadership at the College would not have taken action. I believe they are just used to parents and students complaining and use to problems going away on their own. We were just the latest parents with a gripe. They figured we would eventually go away. Second, it is disheartening to think that the customer service mindset that the president clearly embraces is not part of the culture of his organization. And it clearly is not. It certainly does not exist within the housing/facilities department. In fact, on Tuesday morning I started Tweeting suggestions that they attend customer service training at the Ritz-Carlton.


Do I have confidence that change will happen at College of Charleston? No. I believe we need to stay engaged and formalize the relationship we’ve formed with other parents and students. One thought involves forming a formal group (students and parents) that advises the College on housing issues. It wouldn’t have to be endorsed by the College, but it would be cool if they would jump on board. Another idea is to start a Facebook community dedicated to housing issues. One thing we do know is that we will not relax. All we’ve done so far is get the attention of the president. We are a long way from actually affecting change.

What’s one thing I wish I did differently? I wish I introduced a campaign-specific hashtag from the beginning. This would have established a theme and would have made it easier to measure the impression and reach of the campaign. I honestly didn’t expect the campaign to go on beyond the first evening. That was a serious miscalculation on my part. I assumed they would understand the impact of this campaign on perceptions of their brand and I was wrong. This is an important take away. You can’t assume that you are dealing with rational people who understand the impact of social media. Remember, the Storfiy, Tweets, Facebook review, and Instagram posts will not go away. They are now part of the story of College of Charleston and fully searchable. The damage is not just in the moment.

This post is part three of my 2016 year in review series.

The notion of the quantified self truly interests me. I enjoy taking stock of how I spend my time, particularly given so much of it is on the road. It seems to me that assessing where you’ve been is an essential part of forming a plan to improve moving forward. It comes as no surprise to me that the top destination categories I visited in 2016 using Swarm were coffee shops, airports and hotels. If I look at my Swarm check-ins for all time, then coffee shops, airports, offices and medical centers are the top categories I visit, with Asian restaurants in 6th place!










This post is part two of my 2016 year in review series.

Here are some of my favorite events, achievements and memories from 2016:

  • The Western New England Healthcare Marketing Symposium – (This was my favorite development of the year!) In April, my team at Jennings partnered with our friends at Market Street Research to hold our first Western New England Healthcare Marketing Symposium in Northampton, Massachusetts. From a personal perspective, producing this event gave me an opportunity to collaborate with my good friend and colleague, Jeff Steblea. The Symposium was sold out and a success by any measure. We’re in the process of planning our 2nd Annual Western New England Healthcare Marketing Symposium! Stay tuned. Meanwhile, check out the sizzle reel from the conference.
  • Speaking at the 2016 Fall Conference of the Carolinas Healthcare Public Relations & Marketing Society (CHPRMS) – It was an honor to be asked to speak at the 2016 CHPRMS Conference in Charleston, SC. My daughter, who is a freshman at College of Charleston, actually surprised me by attending my talk/rant. That made it even more special than usual. I delivered my latest presentation on narcissism in healthcare marketing. The room was standing room only and the audience stayed until the very end. It was wonderful to have so many of my long time colleagues (CHPRMS members) attend the presentation. Later in the week, my daughter (at her request) came to the cocktail reception prior to the big awards dinner, and networked with marketers from hospitals and health systems throughout the Carolinas. It was a proud moment for me, capping off a terrific event.


  • Article: “The Expanded Role of the Healthcare Marketer,” Healthcare Marketing Report, June 2016 – In writing this article I relied heavily on collaboration with Lorraine McGrath at Signature Healthcare. It tells the story of the non-traditional work being undertaken by the marketing department at Signature Healthcare. So much of what they do is not service line marketing or advertising related. They work on projects involving care coordination, lean processes and patient safety, to name a few. From my perspective, this is the future of the healthcare marketing department in the era of population health management and value-based compensation. Here’s a link to access a copy of the article.
  • Participating in the Spring Conference of the New England Society for Healthcare Communications (NESHCo) – We took the Jennings video crew with us to the 2016 NESHCo Conference and produced three promotional videos (pro bono) for the organization. This is always one of my favorite conferences of the year. The 2016 conference proved to be no exception. Check out the teaser video below.
  • Article: “Realizing Vision Through Research: How Lawrence General Hospital Used Research to Elevate Its Brand,” Strategic Healthcare Marketing, July 2016 – Collaboration was definitely a theme in 2016, as I hope it will be in 2017.  This article was co-authored with Jill McDonald Halsey of Lawrence General Hospital and Jeff Steblea of Market Street Research (now with Silvertech). Jeff was truly the lead author and he did a brilliant job. The article tells the story of the research that preceded and informed the development of Lawrence General Hospital’s award-winning brand elevation campaign. Here’s a link to the article.
  • Recognition Is Always Nice – While helping our clients solve their most complex marketing challenges in 2016, our collaborations with them managed to garner a number of healthcare marketing awards. Although we are always focused on generating results for our clients and their organizations, it is nice to see them receive this recognition within the healthcare industry.


  • The Year of Digital Video Content – In 2016 we produced a ton of high quality video content for hospitals, health systems and other healthcare organizations. Our video production unit was extremely busy and we are grateful for that. Jason Stepanek, who heads up web content development at Jennings, became certified as a drone pilot. Here’s an example of our video work that includes beautiful footage from our drone.

This post is part one of my 2016 year in review series.

I have this habit of taking photos everywhere I go. Of course, many of those photos end up on Instagram and Facebook. I enjoy looking back at the images from the year and reflecting on all the people with whom I’ve had an opportunity to work (and play).

Pizza Photos


Starting the year off with our friends from Silvertech in Manchester, NH


Celebrating our first ever Western New England Healthcare Marketing Symposium


Awesome Meals on the Road


Presenting with Laura Pierce of Tufts Medical Center at the AAMC Professional Development Conference in Phoenix


Handling social media at the Practical Playbook’s National Meeting in DC


Participating in the NESHCo Annual Conference in Providence, RI


More shots from the NESHCo Conference


Video shoot at Signature Healthcare


The terrace garden at Jennings’ North Carolina office


Holy Donuts from Portland, ME


Women’s Night Out Fundraiser for Lexington Medical Center

Scenes from SHSMD (Colin Hung, Jeff Steblea, Ann Compton, Joel Cessna, Dana Smith)

Speaking in Boston at the Annual Conference of the Association of Occupational Health Professionals

With the RecycleHealth Team at Partners Healthcare’s Connected Health Symposium (Selfie with Lisa Gualtieri)


The Healthcare Internet Conference (HCIC) in Las Vegas


The Jennings Team preparing and serving dinner at Family House


The Jennings Team preparing and serving dinner at Family House


The Annual Conference of the Carolinas Healthcare Public Relations and Marketing Society in Charleston, SC


Speaking at the CHPRMS Conference in Charleston, SC


More shots from the CHPRMS Conference in December


Random Selfies including one with ePatient Dave


A Holiday Greeting

This is how our team at Jennings decided to say Happy Holidays to our clients, partners and friends this year. Enjoy our video. Season’s greetings and wishes for a prosperous and healthy new year from the amazing group of healthcare marketing professionals at Jennings.

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