Campaign Spotlight: Bills Lineman Tackles Cardiac PR

Click to view larger version.Derrick Dockery, a 330-pound offensive lineman for the Buffalo Bills football team, stands dressed in full uniform holding his helmet under one arm. But instead of wearing his usual game-face grimace, Dockery is smiling. Next to his image, the ad reads, "I protect the quarterback . . . you protect your heart!"

The ad promotes Buffalo (NY) General Hospital's Chest Pain Center, a program Dockery has promoted since December 2008. The hospital has been marketing partners with the Bills for three years, and its marketers knew they needed a noteworthy player to represent the hospital's heart services in 2009.

"I wanted someone who could speak from the heart, no pun intended, about cardiac awareness," says Michael Hughes, vice president of public relations at Kaleida Health, Buffalo General's health system. "We wanted someone who could legitimately talk about the importance of heart health and cardiac awareness."

After talking with the Bills' coaches and trainers, Hughes learned that Dockery's family has a history of heart disease. His grandfather died of a heart attack and his mother and father-in-law have had cardiac episodes.

Hughes and his team met with Dockery, interviewed him and his wife, and gave them a tour of the hospital. The marketing team then coordinated a TV spot, two radio spots, and the print ad.

The 30-second TV ad features Dockery advising viewers to call 911 if they feel any kind of chest pain. "Sometimes the source of chest pain is obvious," Dockery says over a clip of a football player being tackled. "And sometimes, it isn't," he says over a clip of an office worker clutching his chest.

After Dockery introduces himself and tells viewers to call an ambulance if they experience any heart attack warning signs, the commercial ends by saying it was made by Buffalo General and Kaleida Health, an "all star-team that tackles heart problems."

Hughes says that Dockery's message has resonated well with the community because heart disease has personally affected him.

"We've gotten an awful lot of positive feedback because he's someone that speaks from experience, understands the importance of this," Hughes says. "We just don't look at it as an advertising venue, we look at it as a marketing and community relations tool."

Hospitals should look into using a local celebrity to promote their facilities, provided they have the proper service lines and community environments to do so, Hughes says.

"It's unique based on the cardiac initiative that we have," he says. "It's not a be-all-end-all, but for us, it's just another piece of the marketing puzzle."

Marianne Aiello is an editor with HealthLeaders Media. She may be reached at

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