Everyone loves superheroes. They’re fearless, they’re inspirational. They’re essentially us – but better. On screen, they give us a chance to experience what it would be like to have superpowers, to defeat supervillains, save lives and ultimately make a ‘reel’ difference in people’s lives. What we often forget is that we discover our true powers when we seek to help each other, which is what I was reminded of when we transformed six hospitalized children into superheroes.
Cliché and overused as it may sound, many people are still led to choose their careers by the desire to make real impact in people’s lives. From doctors and teachers to engineers and people working in PR and communications, the desire to contribute towards a greater purpose or a bigger cause is intrinsic to human nature. While most of us may not be able to physically save lives, we can all do good and have a positive impact on the world.
To some, PR and communications may not sound like the obvious field for making positive change – but I disagree. Our power of creativity and our obsession for new, imaginative ideas can help us drive meaningful campaigns that have real impact. In short, our superpower is story-telling.
This was particularly true for Hill+Knowlton’s work for the Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children (GOSH), a world-class pediatric hospital in London. Despite the highly-specialized international care GOSH provides, its brand awareness in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries is relatively low when compared to its high-profile status in the U.K.
GOSH is doing heroic work, and to help rid it of its secret identity we drew on the power of social listening, and the insights helped us identify a gap in how patients experienced care, which led to our idea: We could offer them an experience away from their realities and reminded them of how special and powerful they really are by turning them into superheroes.
By partnering with an initiative called Superhope, we transformed GOSH’s Kuwaiti and Emirati cancer patients between five and 14 years of age into their superhero alter egos. Here’s how it worked: six young patients were asked, “If you were a superhero, how would you imagine yourself?” Best-selling illustrator Amrit Birdi captured these answers and sketched out the children’s imagination onto a page. And unbeknown to the children, a children’s costume studio, Atelier Spatz, turned the drawings into costumes.
On the reveal day, we surprised the children with their bespoke costumes, as well as a professional photoshoot and their own concept CGI trailer shoot led by globally-renowned talent. It gave them the chance to not only remove their label of “patient” and feel not just like children again but also the superheroes they imagined themselves to be.
Throughout the whole campaign planning, it became evident that the superpower animating these transformations was the power of a good cause. Having a good cause at the center of our work meant we could pull off an impressive campaign with a shoestring budget. It meant we could find the most amazing talent in unexpected places, including the pro-bono support of Roy Peker, a CGI compositor who worked on the top-grossing film of 2018, Avengers: Infinity War. It meant we were able to broker a pro-bono partnership with VOX Cinemas across the Gulf for a 10-day period to showcase the children’s superhero film.
But what really mattered wasn’t what our KPIs were set against. The real impact was that six children, going through an extremely traumatic and scary time, had a real superhero boost. Staff across the hospital commented about the new lease of confidence for our GOSH superheroes: AJ Force (Al Jawa), DarkGadget (Hamad), FlowerGirl (Ayesha), SaMagic (Salem), ButterFly (Latifa) and ReFroze (Retaj).
One child even stayed in her superhero outfit for three weeks and wore it to all her outpatient appointments. It is because of this amazing impact that the campaign will run again at the hospital this year across more of GOSH’s wards; giving more children the chance to become their inner superhero and find their strength to go on and keep fighting.
As PR professionals, we may not be the superheroes on the front page – and we shouldn’t be. Our secret superpower is finding the human purpose and good cause to drive a campaign, uniting talent, unlocking creativity, uncovering the real superheroes and letting them shine. Superheroes on the big screen may be escapism, but in PR and communications, we can find our own form of escapism too by thinking big for our clients and drawing on the power of a good cause. For us in H+K’s Health+Wellness practice, we follow the philosophy about treating people as people, not patients. With a good cause and human stories at the center, anything is possible.