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Picture This: Creating a More Flattering Image of your Hospital

Gienna Shaw, for HealthLeaders Media, October 8, 2008

In look and feel, hospital ads run the gamut from slick to sloppy. The main culprit for ads that look less than professional? Bad photography.

And, oh! There are so many different kinds of bad photography that shows up in healthcare advertising. There are the photographs of buildings—great if you want to put your audience to sleep. There are the photos of medical equipment—great if you want to intimidate your audience. And then there are the photographs of people standing stiffly in formation as if posing for a police line-up—a terrific choice if you want your creative to be about as uncreative as it can be.

But to my mind, the two worst offenders are the snapshot and the stock photo.

Look, mom, I made it myself!
Sure, you save money when you take your own campaign photographs. Not many people would try to pull this off for a print campaign, but you see it a lot in internal campaigns, such as employee newsletters. The fact is these home-spun photos aren't half bad. But they're not half-good, either. The result is almost always vaguely reminiscent of a child's macaroni craft project.

Everybody thinks they could be a marketer, right? Well everybody thinks they could be a photographer, too. Just as the head of OB should not write marketing copy, you should not take your own campaign photographs.

Stock syndrome
Photos purchased from online warehouses look pretty and are easy to use, but the generic images also scream "fake." If you're looking for a picture that matches your target audience—say, a young Hispanic woman—you're likely to find a photo of woman who could be Hispanic, but also might be Asian and kind of looks vaguely Indian, too. That's not representing your unique audience—it's representing every audience.

Stock photographs are meant to appeal to the masses. That is why, by the way, you sometimes see ads for different products or companies that feature photos of the same model. Not exactly the best way to differentiate yourself.

Pictures speak loudly
Think about these two kinds of photographs—stock and snapshot—and what they say about your organization.

Snapshots suggest you don't care about your work. They hint that you take short-cuts. They make you look unprofessional. And they say that you don't care enough about your audience to make an effort to look nice.

Slick but sterile stock photos make you look good, but they also create a distance between you and your audience. It says you don't think of them as individuals. It says you don't really know or understand them. They make your organization look standoffish and cold.

Hiring a professional photographer might be the most time-consuming and expensive option. But of the three options, it is by far the superior choice. Your photos will look genuine. They'll look professional. And assuming you use a local photographer, you can use actual customers or employees in your ads. That shows that you know and care about your internal and external communities.

One caveat, lest you think that I'm completely unbendable on this issue: if you must take photographs yourself, at the very least invest in a good digital camera. And find someone at the hospital who has at least hobby-level experience taking photographs—you might make an announcement in the employee newsletter, for example, that you're looking for help.

Maybe you'll discover that head of OB is handy with a camera.


Gienna Shaw is an editor with HealthLeaders magazine. She can be reached at gshaw@healthleadersmedia.com.
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