Sabrina Dunn shares how they developed an ambassador program for the Children’s Hospital of Georgia

Sabrina Dunn, Marketing Strategist at Augusta University Health, has been busy developing an ambassador program that she's envisioned for years.

People so often will see us as an institution, so I think it's really special to be able to connect our hospital to people and their stories.

And now she and her team are going all-in to tell the patient stories that can spotlight the Children's Hospital of Georgia and connect with their audience.

“This year was the year that we were able to really launch the program and put some legs to it,” says Sabrina. “So we launched our family ambassador program — or, as we like to call it, our Miracle Families program — and had the chance to work with a group of real patients from our hospital whose stories exemplify how we are family centered care facilities.”

For Sabrina, it was important to be able to use this program to put their families first while exemplifying the level of excellence they provide as a pediatric health care facility.

To make sure their program was a success and find the best way to connect with the families, Sabrina and her team partnered with the hospital's fundraising team. “They have a lot of experience with getting patient stories and working with families based on different kinds of stewardship and donor relations projects they do,” explains Sabrina. “So we teamed up with them and spoke to our doctors, nurses, nurse managers, and child life specialists to help us get into contact with families.”

In their search, Sabrina and her team were looking for families who could help paint a full picture of the Children's Hospital and what they provide. “We wanted families who were diverse, not only in ethnic background, but also in diagnosis,” says Sabrina. “We offer so many different specialties and services that we wanted to make sure we were showing the full scope of who comes to our hospital.”

Once they found the families, their first step was to reach out and ask if they would like to be involved.

“We used an application process to keep track of the responses,” says Sabrina. “That application included the children's names, birthdays, their diagnoses, fun facts about them, and their experience before, during, and after their stay at the Children's Hospital, so we could really get a full understanding of who they were.”

Once their team had that information, they started to lay out how the families fit with the hospital's goals, plans going forward, and how they could best represent their stories.

“These patients are not models or actors or anything like that,” says Sabrina. “This is a big change and a great opportunity for our audience to see and engage with a unique representation of our patients.”

And, to help aid in that representation, Sabrina and her team made sure that, when they were doing the photo shoots and timing out their stories, they were keeping in mind awareness days and holidays throughout the year. “So we were able to plan ahead and get some great content with our patients that we can use on social for all of these calendar days that are upcoming in the next fiscal year,” says Sabrina.

Sabrina and her team are planning to present the in-depth patient stories on their blog and feature pieces of them on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter.

“Instagram of course is photo heavy, so we're telling the stories more through photo on that platform,” says Sabrina. “And to make those as compelling as possible, we shot each kid in different locations — like the oncology unit, their rooms, the waiting rooms, and doctor's offices — to help illustrate their story in a more cinematic way.”

To make sure their photographs were as high quality as possible, they reached out to a professional photographer — Brent Cline — with experience in lifestyle photography.

“We didn't want these shots to look like they were in a studio,” explains Sabrina. “But we also wanted them to have a level of professionalism and storytelling to them as well.” And, during the shoots, Sabrina and one of her fundraising team members were present to oversee the shots and make sure they were ticking all the boxes.

According to Sabrina, she and her team were fortunate to have kids who were excited to be in front of the camera and to be working with a photographer who had experience with children.

If you can, you definitely want a photographer who knows how to take photos of kids.

“If you can, you definitely want a photographer who knows how to take photos of kids,” explains Sabrina. “Because it is a skill all on its own.”

Sabrina and her team wanted to make sure they were doing everything they could to make sure the children were comfortable with the cameras. “We had parents on set with us, and we also did some shoots with our therapy puppy, Nugget, so we really created an environment that was conducive to making our kids feel comfortable,” says Sabrina.

But a large portion of their success in getting these images was making the parents feel comfortable as well. “Most of the time the hospital can be a place of contention,” say Sabrina. “Their kids might not want to come back all the time or they might have negative memories tied to it. So we had to work with them and convince them that the image of their children would be used in a way that is responsible, that is safe, and that is looking after the wellbeing of their kids. I think it's so imperative to have them involved with the photo shoots and have them as a presence there and talk to them about it ahead of time.”

“It's also important to have the buy-in of your team and your leadership as well — and that it extends outside of your marketing office,” says Sabrina.

Sabrina shares that a successful ambassador program pulls from all sections of the hospital. “You'll need to get with doctors, nurses, and nurse managers to help you recruit for this,” says Sabrina. “And you want to make sure that they're also 100 percent on your team and can see and understand the vision as well. You need to make sure that it's not only the marketing or social media teams, and that it includes people who have impact on patients.”

Sabrina and her team's next step is to look at how people are engaging with the content and see how they can amplify that.

Really look at the quality over the quantity. You don't have to have a lot of people involved.

“We want to see how that content is working, how it's going, and how people are responding to it,” says Sabrina. “I think if we get a positive response that's only going to help us get more buy-in and find more creative ways to incorporate the kids in our content production and planning.”

After that first step, they are hoping to look at ways to expand the program and really highlight their patient stories. “If we're seeing the content from our Miracle Kids really resonating with our audiences on social media, then that's going to be an opportunity for us to extend our strategies to video content and specialized thank yous,” explains Sabrina.

“One of our goals is to make sure that we're building a following that is brand loyal and that has high recognition of who we are,” says Sabrina.

Having gone through some name changes as a health system, Sabrina wants to ensure that they are building awareness around the Children's Hospital of Georgia. “We're hoping that by building our social media following, we're going to gain that recognition,” says Sabrina.

But, for Sabrina, the most important outcome from the ambassador program is being able to tell the stories of their patients. “People so often will see us as an institution, so I think it's really special to be able to connect our hospital to people and their stories,” says Sabrina. “That's really been a point of pride for me during this process.”

For anyone thinking of building their own ambassador programs, Sabrina has one big piece of advice: lead with the story first.

“I think the importance here is what's moving you about their story, and I think the stories are key,” explains Sabrina. “And so I would say if you're going to put together an ambassador program, really look at the quality over the quantity. You don't have to have a lot of people involved. We have 12 families now, but you can have two, three, or four, or five — but you need to make sure the stories that you're telling are moving, are compelling, and are really demonstrating the visions of your hospital.”

Moving forward, Sabrina and her team are looking to continue to grow the program and connect with their patients and their audience.

“Our plan is to get a new batch of kids yearly if possible, that way we can have fresh stories, fresh faces, and we can connect more people in the community to our hospital,” says Sabrina. “Growing the ambassador program will create more opportunities for us to create some great content for our social media channel.”

Sabrina Dunn has been a member of Health since 2017. You can connect with her on LinkedIn.