When the University of Colorado Hospital and its Denver-based ad agency, Cactus Marketing Communications, teamed up to launch an annual art print series three years ago, they sent frameable posters highlighting the hospital’s advancements in various service lines to a broad audience of doctors. “The overarching goal was to get the word out about the advancements in medicine and results that UCH has made in the past year,” says Ryan Johnson, associate creative director at Cactus.
Last year, UCH mailed 80,000 prints. Johnson heard anecdotally that recipients appreciated the posters and hung them on office walls, but he says that Cactus and UCH had no idea how many people actually held on to the art.
This year, his team tried a different approach. Cactus sent a direct-mail piece to doctors nationwide describing the 2013 print: a limited-edition letterpress poster of the Hippocratic Oath, the pledge that all health care workers take to uphold professional and ethical standards. “Our goal this year was to get a gauge for a genuine response and see how many people actually wanted it,” Johnson says. To receive a copy of one of 300 prints that were hand-cranked on a 1961 Vandercook proof press, doctors could reserve a copy online, where they also could learn more about UCH’s outcomes for the past year.
Within a week of the campaign launch, all 300 prints were reserved. Cactus designed the poster down to the type-setting of the Hippocratic Oath. “The idea here was to create something that was universally recognized with our colleagues in medicine, and hopefully even patients in a doctor’s office or a waiting room might see this and have a chance to read the Hippocratic Oath,” Johnson says.
After researching letterpress companies across the country, Cactus chose to work with Henry and Company, an Atlanta-based printing shop that used a two-color press to print the posters one at a time on 100% cotton paper. The hands-on process requires the printer to add ink constantly to maintain consistency. “We wanted to find a printing processor technique that really married well with the art of medicine, and the craftsmanship and care that all of our doctors and staff practice at UCH on a daily basis,” Johnson says. “It’s a nice tie between the art of medicine and the science of medicine.”
Cactus spent close to $3,000 to develop and print the first round of posters. The budget included the pre-press development, the printing process and the paper. After the initial overwhelming response, Cactus printed an additional thousand smaller posters using the same technique. “Had we known the response we were going to get, we might have gone to a slightly smaller size,” Johnson says. “It was kind of a test this year to see how many people would engage.”
Cactus mailed the posters in early January, and is starting to ramp up efforts for UCH’s 2014 print. Johnson says the agency needs plenty of lead time, especially with time-intensive prints like the Hippocratic Oath poster. He’s still weighing his options when it comes to deciding whether or not to try another limited edition, letterpress print. “It’s kind of the tradeoff between mailing to 80,000 people, where they all get a poster, but it’s a lower-quality poster, and we don’t fully know who holds onto it,” he says. “The tradeoff then is if we do a nicer quality [print], doing a lower run and then also being able to gauge legitimate response to those.”
The poster series is just one part of a larger annual UCH-Cactus campaign that markets the academic hospital’s four key service lines: cancer, transplant, neuroscience and cardiovascular. The 2013 campaign, called “Walls Could Talk,” includes integrated digital and out-of-home communications. Cactus literally took walls out of the hospital during a renovation and used them to build installations that showcase stories of triumph from each of the key service lines.
“It really tells these stories of survival, and the innovations and the breakthroughs that happen there through the tales of not the doctors, but former patients,” says Mike Lee, PR and social media director at Cactus. The wall installations are positioned in high-traffic areas across Denver, and they encourage audiences to visit the interactive campaign microsite to learn more about outcomes at UCH.