Selling UAB in the 21st Century
By Matt Windsor
It’s just another day at one of America's largest hospitals. On the ground floor, in an emergency room the size of a football field, staff are treating everything from household accidents to severe trauma. In the floors above, patients are in the middle of life-saving surgeries and other treatments, while new lives are entering the world in the adjacent Women and Infants Center. But right now, in the second-floor atrium, a grandmother is calling out for help, while a camera crew looks on.
How do you summarize UAB in 60 seconds? For a new TV ad, filmmakers traveled from UAB Hospital to Sterne Library to the Comprehensive Cancer Center and beyond, with sequences in Washington, D.C., the Egyptian desert, and outer space. The creators of this minute-long commercial faced a unique challenge: unifying the academic and medical sides of UAB’s campus for the first time under a single branding campaign with a common tagline—“UAB: Knowledge that will change your world.”
Let Me Tell You Something
“I believe this phrase captures the very DNA of UAB,” noted UAB president Ray L. Watts, M.D., in an e-mail to the UAB community announcing the new campaign.
“It also speaks equally to each facet of our mission," he continued: "The education of our students, who are exposed to multidisciplinary learning and a new world of diversity; our research, the creation of new knowledge; our patient care, the outcome of ‘bench-to-bedside’ translational knowledge; our service to the community at home and around the globe, from free clinics in local neighborhoods to the transformational experience of the arts; and the economic development of our city and state.”
But finding the perfect tagline is only the beginning, says Dale Turnbough, associate vice president for public relations and marketing. “The brand itself isn’t the tagline, or a logo, or a commercial,” she explains. “It’s a message that is also a promise—about what our patients and students and the community can expect from UAB. We have spent a great deal of time working with stakeholders across the university—and with focus groups of community members unconnected with UAB—to make sure that we have captured that message in the simplest, most direct way.”
Clarity—and speed—are crucial in our information-soaked society. “The importance of having a clear, recognizable brand cannot be overstated,” Watts says. “In an environment as complex and decentralized as UAB, a brand will help unify, simplify, and define us. It also will help elevate our profile with the greater public as we communicate our relevance and value.”
This is especially important as UAB enters a major new fund-raising campaign in fall 2013, notes Shirley Salloway Kahn, Ph.D., vice president for development, alumni, and external relations at UAB. “When we meet with people in Birmingham, Alabama, and around the country, they are tremendously excited about what we are doing here at UAB,” says Kahn. “The more that people learn about this great institution, the more opportunities we have to share with them how their investment can help us make a difference in bringing better health, quality of life, and prosperity to our families and neighbors.”
Here’s Your Takeaway
UAB’s university and medical marketing teams worked with Birmingham creative agency blr | further (founded by a proud UAB alumnus) to develop the new brand campaign. It includes TV and radio spots, online advertising on social media outlets and popular websites, billboards, placement throughout UAB websites, and a special internal site that gives UAB faculty, staff, and students access to key words, pictures, and logos to help them tell a unified UAB message, notes UAB brand manager Joy Johnston. “We want to offer all of our campus constituents the tools they need in a one-stop shop, what we’re referring to as our ‘brand toolkit.’”
The goal of the branding campaign is to “focus extra attention on what makes UAB such a special place,” Watts emphasizes. “As we work together to become one of the nation’s most dynamic and productive universities, we must share our aims and accomplishments with the world around us.”
Erin Tapp, director of marketing in the Office of Public Relations and Marketing, notes that the images and words featured in the TV commercial are linked directly to UAB’s five-fold mission: patient care, economic development, research, education, and community outreach. “UAB has thousands of incredible stories,” Tapp says. “Our challenge is to distill those into messages that catch people’s attention and motivate them to action, whether that’s a high school senior or a potential patient or a legislator deciding on funding for higher education.”
So what are the key messages that campaign organizers hope viewers, readers, and listeners learn about UAB? To explain, President Watts breaks down the game film—that is, the 60-second spot now airing across central Alabama—below.