sanctification guaranteed or your trash back I will admit to some bias about true cost centers, particularly in healthcare organizations.  My “day job” is all about maximizing revenues. To many of my colleagues it would be anathema have a personal interest in what is traditionally called marketing and communications. “Do you have any idea what they spend on phone book ads?”. And its true, some of their spends are costs that may be well intentioned but have probably outlived their usefulness. So why not crowd source it? Why not let your patients and staff create the marketing materials - or at least some of them? It is a way to reward your most loyal fans, it has much lower costs and is about as interactive as it gets.

The typical experience goes like this:

Service line leader: “We need to brand this joint replacement program, we need a catch phrase...oh and pamphlets...and what about a website?”
Marketing leader: “Ok, we’ll use GraphixArts for the design, and BrandFirst for the wording, we probably need InWebX for the site... Lets budget about $10,000 to get started”

Maybe its a little different. Maybe its all done in house, or with one firm. Regardless, there is a lot of effort and expense involved. As I have written previously, most hospitals would be happy to have a 2% operating margin. 2%! So before you scoff at $10,000 being so low compared to hospital bills, think about what happens when each service line needs to incur $10,000 or more of expense. Its hard to eschew those kind of figures and how they effect the bottom line.

The solution is simple. Ask for help. Just asking your constituents to be your friend. Arn’t we supposed to be able to ask friends for help? Start simple. Lee Aase, the guru behind Mayo Clinic’s social media program, has turned to crowd sourcing to help pick a logo for his SMUG site. Lee maintained some editorial control by offering readers a limited number of choices on which to vote. The same model could be applied to branding a service line. Ask your read/write web friends to submit some rough samples of logos. Post them to a site like Flickr and then setup a Tweetpoll. Let your patients and staff and physicians vote on which sketches they like best. Once you have a direction, engage the artist to complete the job. I do not pretend to know the world of graphic arts, but my guess is that many of submissions  will come from part-timers or artists who are simply interested getting their name out there. In other words, they will be a lot less expensive than a big firm.

The same plan of attack can be used for all manor of creative work. Run a contest for the best web design. Let users submit designs, express some editorial control and narrow the list to the top 3-5 and let your constituents vote. Billboards, despite my feelings about their relevance, may be an even greater gold mine. What photographer would not jump at the chance to get a shot on a billboard? Start a Flickr pool for your healthcare organization and accept submissions for a billboard shot. Pair the best photo, with the best tag line from twitter submissions and presto, instant ad campaign. Just make sure to include credit to the artists too. As an amateur photographer, I would gladly give a shot away in exchange for seeing it in a large format in my town. I’m probably not alone.

Now, before the marketing and communications folks feel like crowd sourcing puts them out of a job remember this: someone has to make sure the messages are on track. Someone has to pitch the idea to your friends and fans. Someone has to then sell the crowd-sourced project back to organization. You have your work cut out for you. What you have in your back pocket is an army of friends via the read/write web on whom you can lean for favors. As long as you return the favor (crediting, using their work in a public forum, etc) then the cycle is endless.

What do you have to lose? Try it on a simple project - an internal flier. Give employees the chance to create some materials showcasing a wellness program. Let other employees vote on what you feel are the top three options. Flip video cameras are cheap. Windows Movie Maker is free (yep, I’d rather see everyone get an iMac on their desk, but the reality is what it is). Ask teams to create 30 second spots for their department. Gwinnett Medical Center in GA did just that. Share the best ones on your intranet and facebook and youtube and flickr and...well you get the point. These folks are already on your side and will forgive any imperfections in the process. Put that good will to use and you will be paid back in droves.