The Story Behind HHC’s New Brand Message

By Elissa Bass

It sounds simple. It looks simple.

But Hartford HealthCare’s new brand message, officially launched in late February, is anything but simple. It is a message designed to convey all the layers of a sprawling healthcare system, from care to innovation to employment to community. And it builds on the messaging of the last several campaigns dating back to 2014, ensuring that consumers understand what Hartford HealthCare offers.

“It’s deceptively simple,” says Helayne Lightstone, senior director of marketing and branding. “It is most powerful because of its ability to resonate across so many circumstances and aspects of Hartford HealthCare. The beauty of the ‘Start Here’ phrase is it applies to a career, a new life, any type of care you need — as well as access, equity and affordability.”

The two words contain four key messages:

  • Hartford HealthCare is thinking differently about advancing health.
  • We are delivering care into more communities.
  • We believe excellent healthcare should be more affordable.
  • Health equity and better access are priorities to us.

Lightstone and Reem Nouh, chief strategy officer for Adams & Knight, HHC’s integrated marketing and brand agency partner, said “Start Here” builds on HHC’s last two message campaigns, “Connect to Healthier” in 2015 and 2020’s “More Life in Your Life.” The latter pivoted with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, which helped plant the seed for “Start Here.”

“We wanted to make sure (the new message) told the whole story — the community outreach, innovation, health equity, future of healthcare.”

“During COVID, people came to rely on us for information, care, testing and vaccines,” Lightstone says. “As we returned to being able to deliver services as usual, we reflected on who we are, a healthcare system that innovates and adapts to meet the changing needs of the community.”

When work began to create the new brand message, Nouh says the centerpiece of discussions revolved around HHC President & Chief Executive Officer Jeffrey Flaks’ belief that post-COVID the system should be “better than normal.”


“We took that to heart,” she says. “We wanted to take lessons from COVID and apply them here. The community outreach Hartford HealthCare did during COVID was huge and we wanted to convey that. Everybody already knows we have the best doctors and great hospitals. We wanted to make sure (the new message) told the whole story — the community outreach, innovation, health equity, future of healthcare.”

Rollout of “Start Here” began internally, with “launch parties” across the regions to introduce employees to the campaign and hand out branded goodies. The public launch included TV and radio spots, digital ads, social media posts, billboards and website refreshes.

“We do the rollout internally first to make sure everyone understands the ‘why,’” Nouh says. “We got good feedback immediately.” After the message has been public for a few months, Adams & Knight does consumer awareness testing. “We do that to gauge perception,” Nouh explains. “We are looking for a halo effect (from the brand message). The goal is to elevate the brand, create a preference among consumers, and have synergy with existing specific marketing campaigns.”

The message will build on consumers’ already strong awareness of HHC. In a 2021 marketing survey, Lightstone notes 50% of those questioned recognized the HHC logo, and 55% were aware of HHC as an entity. It was the highest level of any healthcare system in the state.

The greatest marketing minds, she adds, can come up with a brilliant brand message but, “A brand is not just a slogan. It’s how people perceive you. You can have the best brand slogan but if it doesn’t match people’s experience, it won’t work.”

Both she and Nouh admit the healthcare advertising world is crowded these days, and it was paramount to create an HHC message that stands out.

Reem Nouh, chief strategy officer for Adams & Knight, and Helayne Lightstone, HHC senior director of marketing and branding, third and fifth from left, pose with other members of the team bringing the television commercial to life

“Going back to ‘Connect to Healthier,’ we were doing something different,” Nouh says. “We were talking about wellness and how we could help you live healthier outside the hospital walls. We were so ahead of the times with the concept of wellness first, and access. ‘More Life in Your Life’ built on that, noting we are bringing care to communities across Connecticut, making it easier to access.”

This is Lightstone’s last brand message for HHC, as she retires in June after nearly 20 years. She feels she’s ending on a high note. “I’m very proud of it,” she says.

“I’m proud we are able to take a message that is true and somewhat disruptive to the norm and share it with our many communities. It’s an engaging and different approach.”

Behind the Scenes of the ‘Start Here’ TV Ad

by Elissa Bass

It’s only 30 seconds long, but there’s a lot to unpack in the TV ad for Hartford HealthCare’s new brand message, “Start Here.”

We asked Helayne Lightstone, senior director of marketing and branding, and Reem Nouh, chief strategy officer for Adams & Knight, HHC’s integrated marketing and brand agency partner, to take us inside the creation of the spot, directed by Justin Liberman and written by Patrick Dugan of Adams & Knight. The ad was filmed over two days in a Boston studio.

“For the actors, we wanted to reflect a diverse group of individuals to be more inclusive and show that we deliberately reach out to and accommodate everyone,” Lightstone says. “We embraced diversity and selected people of different races, professions and gender orientations. We wanted our spot to be appealing to a broad range of people, and reflect our innovation.”

Every detail of the ad, Nouh explains, has a purpose.

“We added brand cues throughout the spot during production from our logo pin to wardrobe to eye make-up and paint stroke,” she says. “In editing we brought in our logo visually in four different areas throughout the spot (parkour/graffiti wall, LifeStar, Care van, logo at the end).”

Lightstone says, “Reem and I worked with the makeup artist to choose brand colors for the eye makeup on the ballerina in the dramatic shot toward the end.”

The shot of the artist, she adds, features a custom painting based on HHC brand colors in the background.

“As you see the artist swipe her brush across the screen in front of her, she is actually painting on clear Plexiglas,” she says. “There were multiple takes of the scene and the Plexiglas had to be meticulously cleaned after each to accommodate the new brush stroke.”

Posters behind the rock star, Nouh says, were generated by artificial intelligence.

“The athlete was incredible to witness as he effortlessly leapt and jumped through multiple takes,” Lightstone says. “His efforts triggered a discussion of a very funny episode of ‘The Office’ in which Michael, Dwight and others clumsily scramble around Dunder Mifflin wreaking havoc and causing damage while trying to be Parkour athletes!”

Visit Youtube to check out the ad.

‘Start Here’ as a HHC Brand Ambassador

by Elissa Bass

When Hartford HealthCare launched its new “Start Here” brand message, the rollout began internally well before the public got a glimpse.

Regional marketing and communications teams hosted launch parties showcasing the new brand TV ads and handing out giveaways of seed packets and notebooks bearing the “Start Here” theme.

Hartford Hospital colleagues pick up promotional items bearing the new brand look after Leadership Forum. Photo by Chris Rakoczy

The brand spot showcases how HHC is working to improve access to care, make care more affordable and equitable, and bring our expertise to more people in more communities.

The hope is that HHC colleagues will become brand ambassadors, says Helayne Lightstone, senior director of marketing and branding.

“Every employee already is a brand ambassador, because the experience they provide to our patients and others is actually our brand in action,” Lightstone says. “Whether it’s someone providing care in a hospital or answering the phone in our Access Center, they help us become the trusted place where people will start their care.”

Celebrating the new message with colleagues first helps them get excited about the campaign and understand its message. Explaining the message and providing branded promotional items “reflects their ability to share with the community what Hartford HealthCare has to offer,” Lightstone says.

BHN HR Team Adapts ‘Start Here’ for Internship Recruitment

by Susan McDonald

Two words surfaced in Stephano Donzell’s mind as he prepared to present data to Behavioral Health Network (BHN) leadership.

Donzell, a BHN human resources generalist, had spread out the data to create an infographic that could accompany the talk he and colleague Melissa Buckley, a BHN human capital consultant, planned. He heard two words in his head: “Start Here.”

Stephano Donzell and Melissa Buckley from the human resources team at the Behavioral Health Network, recognized what the new Hartford HealthCare slogan “Start Here” could bring to their internship recruitment efforts. They are pictured on the campus of Eastern Connecticut State University, which they both attended and from where they were recruited to work for HHC . Photo by Rusty Kimball

Like many HHC colleagues, he first heard the words during one of many presentations promoting the new system brand and tagline, “Start Here.” While the first advertisements urge people in Connecticut to start at HHC for a wide variety of healthcare services, the hope, according to brand experts, is to apply the slogan in a variety of other ways too.

“A light bulb went off and I thought we could use ‘Start Here’ as a marketing tool for our internship program,” Donzell says.

He and Buckley coordinate six- to 12-month clinical internships for social work students in BHN locations across Connecticut. Field education is required for students in mental health disciplines to earn their college degree and, if they are high-performing professionals during their internship, the students are often hired by the Network.

The internship program has regularly been sought out by schools and students, but Donzell says the HR team is starting to be more proactive, especially with the shortage of healthcare workers. Relationships with important academic partners have become stronger in recent months.

“The intention is to build out a pipeline that feeds our needs as a system,” Buckley explains. “We want students to start here, where we’ll help develop them as potential clinicians and mentor them. Once they become more proficient and graduate, we want them to stay here.”

The pair plans to use the “Start Here” slogan to enhance recruitment initiatives with college campuses across the state, including Eastern Connecticut State University, where they both studied human resource management.

“We have a formal field education program in place, and we want schools that have students searching for internship opportunities to start here,” Donzell says.