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Over the past four years, Digital and Social Media Manager Courtney Leach and her team at Parkview Health have built a tradition of creating holiday videos for the health system. “They’re our Christmas cards to the community,” Courtney said. “We want to make them smile and feel good.”

This year, they took a step outside their comfort zones and created an intricate seven-video series that featured an elf doll brought to life through stop motion.

According to Courtney, the team puts together two holiday videos each year: one that highlights the entire health system and one that features a feel-good story.

The day the team posted their 2018 feel-good holiday video, Samaritan Saves Christmas, the lead videographer told Courtney they should try to put together a video about an elf for the following year.

“So, we had the general idea for the series before Christmas last year,” she said. “Then we set up team meetings and started formally brainstorming in August 2019 when we came together to talk through logistics and decide if it was too much of a risk, since we normally just did one video, not an entire series.”

They ultimately chose to stick to the series concept and create seven different videos to share throughout the month of December.

“Brainstorming is my favorite part of this job,” said Courtney. “The story evolved through conversation. We knew we wanted the video to be around an elf, then we decided it should be for a child, and we came up with the idea of the child being in the pediatric unit over Christmas. From there, we started brainstorming things a child would miss if they were in the hospital over Christmas.”

Their next step was writing the scripts and routing them through the appropriate channels to get buy-in.

Courtney wrote the video scripts and an accompanying poem outlining each piece of the story for the Holly’s Holiday Helper landing page, and she worked with the video team on the shot list.

“We welcomed feedback from the service line, which was pediatrics in this case,” she said. “We wanted them to feel comfortable with everything. It was a big commitment on their end as well, because we had to borrow a patient room to film in for two nights.”

Once they had buy-in from the service line, they worked on getting buy-in from leadership within the marketing team.

Once the scripts were complete, the team worked on finding their actors.

“The daughter in the videos is played by my daughter, Caroline,” Courtney said. “Our lead videographer has three sons the same ages as my daughters, so over the years, we’ve pulled all of them in for quick pickup shots here and there.”

Courtney added the mother in the videos was played by a genetic counselor at Parkview Cancer Institute who has done local plays.

“Everybody else basically played their natural roles,” she said. “The nurses you see in the videos were just working the evening we filmed. But we spoke with their supervisor who gave them a heads up ahead of time that we might be pulling them in for some shots. Luckily, because these videos have this great reputation, people rarely tell us they don’t want to be included.”

Then, the team began having meetings to discuss how they’d execute the stop motion element of the videos.

“None of us had ever done stop motion before,” said Courtney. “There was a lot of entertaining discussion around what we could get the stuffed doll to do.”

They bought ten of the same stuffed elves and took all the stuffing out of some so they could be adjusted and manipulated easily.

“Although we had done holiday videos before, everything about this one felt new and exciting because we were doing things we’d never done together as a team,” she said. “It was just our two-person social team and our three-person video team. All five of us put our heads together and figured out how to make it all work.”

The process of shooting the videos with the doll was time consuming, so they broke them into installments, Courtney said.

The videos took place in a variety of locations around the hospital, and each location was a different shoot.

“We’d get together the day before the shoot and walk through the script,” she said. “Then, we’d talk about the details. For example, if the elf was going to be in an exam room, we went through what would be in that room and how we could tie it all back to the final video where the girl wakes up on Christmas morning.”

The team started shooting at the end of October and had all nine locations completed by the beginning of December.

The team often relies on their holiday videos to reach their engagement numbers for the year.

Historically, Courtney said, the videos are their top performers for the year — but this year was different.

“We had a strong year, and we didn’t necessarily need the extra numbers, but our followers and coworkers have come to expect and look forward to the videos every year,” she said. “Around Thanksgiving, we start receiving emails requesting to be in that year’s holiday video.”

She said the videos’ role in their strategy has been mostly about creating engagement, but it’s also become a tradition to deliver a feel-good holiday message to round out the year.

“It’s so much work, but in the end when it’s all finished, it’s such a treat to go home and celebrate the holidays knowing you wrapped up a successful project.”

When everything was said and done, the seven videos combined received more engagement than last year’s holiday video.

Courtney said by spreading the videos out, the engagement felt like it was less for each individual one. So, they put all the videos together and shared and boosted the full seven-part video on Christmas Eve — which received the highest engagement.

“As individual videos, they did well,” she said. “Some did better than others. But when we put them all together and put it out so close to the holiday, it performed very well.”

Courtney said they weren’t surprised by the results, because the first video in the series was a bit sad. But by the fourth installment, the trajectory of the story became clear, and the audience caught on.

“Putting the whole thing together at the end as one cohesive video ended up being really important,” she said. “We’re so glad we did it, because it ended up being a Christmas Eve gift to everybody.”

According to Courtney, most of the hurdles they faced along the way were around logistics.

“Whether it was working with a dog or an elf, we were trying to manipulate it and make it do all these things,” she said. “We had to stop frequently and think about how we were going to make certain things happen.”

She said much of the work they did throughout the process was outside the team’s comfort zones, and it helped bring them together.

“It taught us that if we have an idea as a team, we should follow it and then figure out the logistics as we go, because we’re capable of it,” said Courtney. “We all bring different things to the table and think about things in different ways, so we can always find a solution. There were so many little things we couldn’t anticipate until we were actually trying to make a little doll walk down a hallway. Next time we have a unique idea like this, we’ll feel more empowered and confident to take it on without hesitation or doubt.”

Courtney emphasized how important good communication and regular weekly meetings were throughout the process.

“We talked about what could possibly go wrong and how we’d combat that before we actually got into the situation, because we knew we’d be filming in public spaces,” she said. “We talked through every scenario, and it made us much more prepared. Then, it was just a matter of applying those solutions and trying things until they worked.”

Courtney said one of the biggest things to remember is that it’s good to think outside of the box from time to time.

“Working in healthcare can feel sterile and cold, but that’s why it’s heartwarming to do these types of things,” she said. “It makes our hospitals feel more warm and welcoming. It’s a place where miracles can happen. That does a lot for your reputation and your relationship to the community you serve.”