Forget social media. Think grassroots.

If you’ve ever been a target of a grassroots marketing (guerrilla) marketing campaign, it’s not likely you’ve forgotten the experience. Just ask the Australian beach-goers in 2009 who stumbled upon promotions for Discovery Channel’s Shark Week, where surfboards appeared to have been bitten by sharks.


Health care marketers aren’t likely to use surfboards or sharks but their grassroots marketing campaigns can be just as memorable and effective.

We’re always looking for a new way to put some ba-zing into health care marketing strategies, and the concept of grassroots marketing holds promise. It’s particularly good for small organizations, which describes so many medical and related health care practices.

What is a true grassroots campaign? I reached out to a few health care marketing managers to find out if the definitions align. This is what I discovered:

“I would define guerrilla (a.k.a. grassroots) marketing as a way to engage with your customer in creative and unconventional ways,” said a Janesville-based entrepreneur via Facebook. “I also define guerrilla marketing as engaging in networking with businesses in our immediate area.”

Stephen Moegling wrote in a Ragan Communications saying there are a few truths to effective grassroots marketing. “Grassroots marketing doesn’t replace paid communications campaigns; it only enhances them,” he says. “Whether it’s opening a freestanding ER or rallying support for a local legislative vote, conducting grassroots marketing alone impairs the health care marketer’s ability to use paid media to ensure reach of message and the consistent delivery of that message.”

He also says grassroots marketing must have a clearly defined end date. “Unlike traditional marketing in which the bulk of the campaign exposure is done via paid media, message exposure for grassroots marketing requires hands-on commitment from people. At some point, energy and enthusiasm wane, even for the most spirited movement.”

In my opinion, grassroots marketing is used more often by small businesses (or organizations) that want to reach a larger audience. What efforts or strategy methods do you have to reach a huge audience with little dollars to spend? The purpose of grassroots marketing (or PR) is to get your brand out in front of audiences in a different way. How do you reach 100,000 local, potential and existing patients without breaking the bank? The answer is grassroots marketing.

HealthNet of Rock County, a volunteer-based medical and dental clinic that provides services to Rock County residents who are low income and completely uninsured, used grassroots marketing to reach its specific funding goal to renovate its dental clinic. The “Goat Raffle” campaign was all about word-of-mouth. In one month, they raised over $5,000. How it worked: Purchase a goat raffle ticket for friends or family at $5 per entry. Each person entered will receive a letter or an e-mail to notify they are in the raffle to win a goat (yes, a real goat). The options: Do nothing to win a goat; Do nothing and hope your name is not drawn; Buy goat insurance to ensure your name will not be drawn. (Goat insurance is $20 and four more names.)

“The success of the Goat Raffle depends on getting the raffle kicked off – the more names entered early, the better,” Jean Randles, executive director, HealthNet of Rock County, Inc. “It gained speed fast, people were talking about it and it went viral in a matter of days.”

Creative and unique, right?

In 2013, Oakwood Physicians (OPi), a medical group integrated within Oakwood Healthcare System, went grassroots to spread the word about same day appointments and other physician practice offerings.

The campaign, called “Paper the Town,” involves taking advantage of community bulletin boards to get their name out to prospective patients. They asked office staff to go out to businesses in close proximity to their offices and post fliers, small booklets and informational bio sheets on the boards. The fliers captured attention.

Some of the fliers included QR codes, which took the viewer to a page where they can see which practices offer same day appointments and call right from their mobile phone. They also used social media to build buzz around the campaign, including posting a meme that calls the campaign, “The original ‘Going Viral.’”

“In an age of digital marketing, our goal is to incorporate a more grassroots effort to try and break through the clutter and establish a reputation as hometown doctors—but we also wanted to be sure to include a digital twist to keep the campaign fresh and convenient,” said Kimberly Verellen, in an article about the campaign.

They wrote about the initiative in its employee newsletter, asking employees to send in their ideas for where to “Paper the Town” in their own communities.

Let’s switch gears to a more global perspective. One of the cleverest grassroots marketing efforts I’ve ever seen was pulled off by a group called Médecins du Monde, an international humanitarian organization devoted to providing care for vulnerable populations around the world.

In late 2005, the French branch of the organization staged an extremely effective campaign to draw attention to homelessness in Paris. The “tent city” initiative distributed 300 “two-second tents” to destitute Parisians sleeping outdoors. Equipped with the rapid-deploying tents (which didn’t require poles or pins), the homeless gathered in small groups of eight to 10 along the Quai d’Austerlitz and the Canal Saint-Martin. The prefab shelter, which bore the Médecins du Monde logo, drew immediate attention to the number of homeless people in the area and provoked such incredible public outrage that the city was forced to act. A rare off-season government session was convened, and officials admitted that Paris’ homeless shelters were vastly overcrowded. They immediately announced the allocation of nearly $10 million for emergency housing. Whoa. Now, that’s an effective grassroots campaign.


What grassroots campaigns have you implemented at your hospital or health system? If not your hospital, what grassroots campaigns do you admire and why? Join the discussion and share below.

This post was written and researched by Trish Skram. If you have other news, resources or links to share, please comment below or email Trish Skram, blogger and research content specialist for WHPRMS, at

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