A collaboration between creative agency 2050 London and My Accomplice has given the start to the newest recruitment campaign for the NHS, and for the specialism of neonatal (newborn) care. With the NHS being the largest employer in Europe and the largest employer of highly skilled professionals in the world, the campaign comes at a crucial time when shortages of neonatal nurses are not as noticed by the media, and there isn’t much awareness in regards to neonatal care enlarge.
Neonatal nurses Kim Edwards, Gina Outram, Jen Lomas and Louise Proffitt from the NHS Thames Valley & Wessex, and Kent Surrey Sussex came together to provide 2050 with the challenge of finding a creative solution to that issue, that could unveil the importance of neonatal care and show it in its true, raw light. With the aim of stripping down the romanticism of the career and actually showing the daily sacrifices that people on the ward have to make - including decisions between life and death - the creatives behind the campaign decided to go with a simpler look. Emotive stills, collected from parents of prematurely born babies and neonatal nurses, under the powerful narration of BAFTA-recognised actor Lennie James, carry the authenticity that this sensitive, but crucial part of life requires.
However simple, the stills and emotion behind them manage to capture the struggle of both being a parent of the one in 13 babies that need some form of neonatal care, and also the bravery and heroism that the nurses need to embody on the job. And although in the UK we have all heard a lot of talk about the ever-soaring staff shortages across the NHS, the shortages in the neonatal workforce have not been in the headlines as much as they should be. The campaign by 2050 and My Accomplice comes with the final aim to remedy this and find the right people to fill the gaps, by stepping into the shoes of these “real life heroes,” as creative director Matt Saunby calls them.
LBB’s Zoe Antonov spoke to Kim and Gina, creatives Jack Stephens, Matt Saunby and Adam Morrison from 2050, as well as director Imogen Harrison, about the making and meaning of the campaign, and how they tackled the challenge that this incredibly important subject provided.
LBB> What was the brief for this campaign and what were the initial conversations surrounding it?
Kim and Gina> The brief was to produce an ad campaign to support neonatal lead nurses/managers to recruit up to 200+ neonatal nurses across the region. Nursing shortages and inadequate numbers of nursing staff have plagued headlines in England for many years. However, this is primarily to do with adult services whereas neonatal workforce shortages have not been emphasised in the same way, the population is not quite so large and the impact of having a premature/sick term baby is not felt by the wider population. However, one in 13 babies in England requires some form of neonatal care. Having highly trained and skilled neonatal nurses can have a profound effect on the ability to deliver suitable quality care. We wanted to co-produce an ad campaign speaking about neonatal nursing as it really is, we wanted to challenge the viewer with the realities and everyday challenges of neonatal nursing. We wanted to dispel any romantic notions of caring for premature and sick-term babies.
Saunby> I knew very little about Neonatal care, even though I’ve had a child. When I researched the topic, I was moved and blown away by the imagery. These were such small humans, some on death's door. The images were so powerful, I knew immediately that simple powerful stills could be hugely emotive if treated properly.
Adam> What struck us was how multi-tasking the role is in terms of the skills required. We had an early creative route about how ‘there’s intensive care and there’s neonatal intensive care,’ and one of the nurses liked it as too often she saw younger candidates choosing the neonatal path for the wrong reasons; they thought it would be more about well babies and families. The reality is it is highly specialist and demanding. This truth focused our creative strategy and solution.
LBB> Why did you decide that going with a format like this is the best option for the campaign, since it's not quite traditional?
Saunby> Even though it was a more modest budget, we felt this kind of long-form storytelling, using stills donated by families, would make the overall impression feel authentic and emotionally hard-hitting. Combined with moving music, and a great voice, we wanted content that nurses would not only engage with, as it felt real but would also want to share with peers on social channels.
Imogen> The aim of this film was to show what life is really like for nurses in NICU. We knew that the best way to do this was to share real experiences of nurses and parents who have spent time on the wards. We spent a lot of time researching and talking to nurses and parents and all of them were extremely proud to share their experiences. This gave the film a real emotional depth and honesty we wouldn’t have been able to replicate in any other form of filmmaking.
LBB> What was the message that you wanted to send across to people watching?
Adam> Simply that being a neonatal nurse is a multi-talented and highly skilled role and an incredibly rewarding career path to take for those up for it.
LBB> How do you think that this type of campaign attracts the best people for the role?
Adam> When getting to know the team of nurses we learned there was some cache in working in the intensive wards – to be at the heart of the action caring for those most in need. This campaign speaks directly to this.
Jack> Being an NHS Neonatal nurse requires a unique set of skills, which means that it’s not for everyone. In order to attract the right people for the job, we felt that it was important to be upfront and honest about the challenges involved. Luckily for the human race, there are some remarkable people in the world that relish this sort of challenge.
Imogen> This film is an honest portrayal of life on the ward. It is relentless and hugely rewarding and we knew that sharing this truth would attract some highly skilled people who will be the future of NICU nursing.
LBB> What was it like working with Lennie James and why did you think he was the best voice for the role?
Saunby> An amazing talent, with great range in his voice, he brought a ton of a feeling to it, his mother was an NHS nurse, I think you could feel that in his performance.
LBB> And what was it like working with the neonatal nurses from the NHS on this project?
Jack> I think it really helped that the people we were developing the campaign with had all been neonatal nurses themselves. They knew the job inside out. Every time we spoke with them, little gems of information would just pop up in the conversation.
Imogen> The neonatal nurses we worked with on this campaign were totally inspiring, dedicated and fearless. The way they talked about their work was beautiful, the care and focus were unparalleled. I could have spent hours listening to them talk about their work. When visiting the ward, I chatted to the nurses about patients that leave the wards healthy and grow up and they could still recall the names and journeys of so many of the babies who have left the ward and grown up. The passion they have for their job and patients is amazing.
Saunby> Sometimes I really love my job and this was one of those times, it’s not every day that you get to work with real-life superheroes (something I dreamed of as a kid) although these heroes don’t wear capes, they wear an NHS uniform. They are real-life heroes doing extraordinary work every day. It’s totally inspiring and humbling all at the same time. This only makes you want to work harder and do the very best you can and this makes my job all worthwhile.
LBB> How were the photos for the film gathered and what was the process of gathering them like?
Imogen> There were two perspectives we wanted to show in the film; that of the parents and that of the nurses.
We knew that the photos for this film needed to be authentic to life on NICU wards and the best way to do this was to use photos that had been taken by nurses and parents. We began by talking to nurses on the wards who sent over photos of their experiences on the ward.
Parents naturally take hundreds of photos of their babies so we knew there would be an abundance of beautiful images that we could access. Through forums, social media and NICU networks, we reached out to parents who wanted to share their experiences of NICU. There was such a positive response to our request and we had hundreds of photos to choose from. The script had been carefully developed so it was then a case of matching images to specific lines of the script and seeing what took this film on the most impactful and insightful journey. Showing the reality of life on the ward was always the priority.