HomeLaughter is the best medicine: Campaign gets women talking and raises money

Laughter is the best medicine: Campaign gets women talking and raises money

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Women’s College Hospital has a captive audience of more than 750 high profile business and communty leaders schmoozing over lunch at the Fairmont Royal York Hotel in Toronto. So what does Foundation president and CEO Sue Carruthers do?

She turns out the lights.

The unusual strategy at the hospital’s Women for Women’s fundraising luncheon last month wasn’t designed to calm wayward guests; in fact, it was meant to ramp them up and get everyone talking about women’s health. And it worked splendidly.

As guests gazed at video screens throughout the darkened room, a cheesy 1970s living room came into view, complete with a shag rug and feather throw cushions. Then the pièce de résistance — actress and comedienne Andrea Martin in full-on SCTV mode as self-affirmation guru Libby Wolfson, her character from the three decade-old comedy television series.

“Today I want to talk about something very, very important to me and possibly to you – Women’s College Hospital,” Martin à la Wolfson crooned to the audience and her on-screen guest, Canadian television and radio personality Marilyn Denis. “After all you’re a woman. You’ve been to a hospital. Did you know that Women’s College Hospital is an ambulatory care facility? Let me tell you, it means you’re in and out of the hospital in 18 hours or less, which for me is fabulous.”

Martin’s video was the kick-off for It’s Personal, Women’s College Hospital Foundation’s innovative campaign designed to inspire conversation about women’s health, share the exciting things underway at the more than century old hospital and drive donations to the $70 million Campaign for Women’s College Hospital.

“We’re taking a fresh and witty approach to starting a conversation about women’s health,” explains Arlene Madell, the Foundation’s vice president of marketing and communications. The conversation is the next step in a discussion that started more than two years ago when the hospital set out to ask 1,000 women what they wanted to see in their hospital. Their responses were incorporated into the design of the 10-storey, 450,000 square-foot facility now under construction in downtown Toronto.

“We’re the type of hospital that listens,” says Madell.

 It’s Personal is giving people another chance to share their views, this time about what they would change about women’s health.  On the campaign website, www.itspersonal.ca, community members are invited to post comments like this actual message: “Last time I saw a specialist I sat in the waiting room for two hours. Need I say more?” They can also read about the hospital’s new ambulatory care facility dedicated to delivering care that is better, faster, safer and more cost-effective. And there are links to more videos, including one featuring Martin as herself inviting women to participate in the It’s Personal campaign.

“We’re combining humour, community and content in a digital space that brings people together,” says Anthony Wolch, creative director at Entrinsic, the Toronto agency behind It’s Personal. “People need a reason to join a community and it’s usually content. That’s why we worked closely with Andrea Martin.”

Wolch wooed Martin to the cause with a song that he wrote and performed for her last year by telephone. “She laughed,” Wolch says, “and told me, ‘I’m looking forward to getting together with you.’” The pair spent several months writing scripts, while the Entrinsic team designed and built the It’s Personal website and a social media strategy involving Facebook and Twitter (#itspersonal).

Another key component of the initiative is The 1,000 Project, a fundraising project to raise $1 million with 1,000 donations. Visitors to It’s Personal are invited to make a donation to receive a square on Women’s College Hospital’s interactive photo board, which they can personalize with a photo and a message.

“I dedicate this space to all the amazing women in my life,” writes one donor. “While our new hospital will be magnificent, it is and will continue to be the home to staff that truly care and make a difference in people’s lives, every day.”

 It’s Personal is ultimately about inspiring conversations and then donations, confirms Madell. “We’re hoping to see personal comments from people who donated because they received the best possible care at Women’s College Hospital. It’s all part of our ongoing conversation and why we named this campaign It’s Personal.”

While Madell has set a $1 million goal for The 1,000 Project, she says the real measure of success will be the buzz around women’s health and Women’s College Hospital’s ambulatory care hospital. An Entrinsic research survey reveals that 67 per cent of Canadian health care discussions on social media sites involve men. “We want women to talk about their healthcare more openly,” says Madell. In time, the plan is to publish a White Paper featuring all of the online comments and posts.

For his part, Wolch doesn’t need to wait to gauge the success of this campaign. “I think it’s some of the most interesting work being done on behalf of any hospital in the world. Do I think it’s great? You bet I do. I’m extremely proud of this work. It was a significant challenge, but significant challenges call for innovative solutions.”

It’s Personal is innovative, indeed. Even Libby Wolfson agrees.

“Ah,” she sighs, in one of her videos for Women’s College Hospital, “I love being back on the air.”


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