May 15, 2017

Paid Talent vs. Real Patients: 5 Considerations For Health Care Advertising

It was eighteen minutes into a very familiar conversation. Our client just couldn’t decide.

“I want paid talent because of the message we’re trying to convey.”

“But I really want to feature real testimonials, too.”

For a single TV spot, you have anywhere from 15 to 30 seconds to tell a story. And web videos? Depending on the media buy, that could even mean just 10 seconds. Finding the right talent to tell that story—and tell it well— could mean everything to your brand.

But which is better, paid talent or real patients?

That’s never an easy answer, so we’ve put together a few tips to help you decide the most powerful way to tell your brand story authentically and keep your audience engaged.


Whether your internal team is producing your next TV spot or your partnering agency is, make sure one thing is hammered out early before you begin concepting: the message. Three things should be clear to your target audience:

  • The message you want to convey

  • Why they should care

  • What they should do after receiving the message


No one wants to be confined to their budget when they have the opportunity to share a powerful message. But being realistic about that number early in the process gives you the ability to design around the situation.

When choosing between real patients and professional talent, always allow your message to dictate your decision—not your budget. You can’t buy true authenticity and you should never expect real patients to “act.”

Small budgets don’t have to mean small ideas. It just means being resourceful. If hiring a famous spokesperson conjures the sound of cash registers, just remember there are many options to consider and a pool of talent to choose from.


As humans, we’re hardwired to crave a well-told story. It’s how our ancestors learned: around campfires, hearing stories. And as health care marketers, we know how stories have the power to inspire and connect members of a community to your brand. We respond emotionally when a story connects with us on a personal level. And we respond viscerally when we have to question a story’s authenticity—especially when it has wasted our valuable time.

So, what makes for the best stories in health care?

Emotion and relatability.

It doesn’t always have to be the biggest story, but if it’s told in a way that conveys real emotion and feels authentic, those are always going to be the best stories—and why we prefer using real patients when we can.


The most compelling patient stories come from the people who know them, and I mean really know them best—their doctors. Before you choose talent in any upcoming campaign, make sure they’re already an active advocate for your brand and that they’ve had a positive experience and they’re extremely thankful for it.

Your physicians are your best allies to nominate these patients for upcoming campaigns. The most common theme in telling compelling patient stories on camera is a physician and patient relationship that lasted beyond their treatment—and outside the hospital walls.

As Vice President of Creative Strategy, Whitney Pratt watched this come to life on set, shooting a Spine & Ortho campaign for a hospital in Cleveland.

“Anyone who says they want a patient-centered brand should have their eyes and ears open to these stories at all times. And just as a patient’s relationship with their doctor develops and strengthens over time, our process is the same. From those first minutes of a pre-interview to the last moments we’re on set, we’re taking our time to build that relationship and tell that story very strategically—and thoughtfully.”


In health care, when we’re not telling a specific patient story but we are trying to capture the essence of an emotion or an unspoken feeling, it’s almost always better to choose professional talent. This works extremely well when you want your audience to use their imagination to relate to the character on screen. From educational videos to voice over work and at times, on-camera narration, we’ve found that professional talent is usually a great fit for projects that involve conceptual storytelling or factual content.

Our Director of Photography, Dean Ruth, has seen this over and over again over the 10 years he’s been producing TV spots.

“Professionals spend years honing their craft to be able to accurately and authentically portray emotion. Conveying the look of relief, translating hope… to someone who has never been on camera or isn’t used to strong direction, this usually feels very unnatural.”


With marketing budgets slashed every year, it’s easy to justify bringing projects in house or forgoing the use of professional talent. But rushing to produce a quick spot or not investing in the right talent to be the face of your organization could put your brand in jeopardy—which will cost you more more than just a four-month media buy. There are infinite ways to be resourceful as a health care marketer, but not allocating the best resources—and budget—to strategically execute your next video project isn’t it.

We hope these considerations will guide you as you plan your next TV or video project. Tell us in the comments below what other tips would be helpful.