Every year, tens of thousands of people overdose on opioids. It’s a major problem, and in 2015, Samaritan Health Services set out to spearhead a solution.

Our client needed a communications partner to design and launch a regional public awareness campaign. We became that partner, drafting an all-encompassing strategy — then implementing it.

What we did

  • Strategy Strategy
  • Messaging Messaging
  • Naming Naming
  • Branding Branding
  • Website Website


People get opioids by prescription, and they use them to manage pain. But long-term dependence is dangerous, especially in rural areas, where addiction and poverty move in tandem.

Every few months, the [CDC] seems to put out yet another report on surging opioid-related deaths.

The Huffington Post

In 2014, the issue set a dark record: more than than 28,000 Americans died from overdose. In Congress, the response was “a rare instance of bipartisanship and compromise” according to HuffPo, with legislation (CARA) focusing on prevention, not punishment. Organizations across the country responded. Data started to surface. Healthcare providers changed stance, taking a hard look at unsafe prescription practices, for example. So far so good, but it didn’t do much for those who were already hooked.

That’s when Samaritan Health Services joined the charge. They formed a regional task force in Benton, Lincoln and Linn counties to bring education, resources and support to patients, medical professionals, and the public. With so many moving parts, the project called for a variety of skill sets and sophisticated depth of experience. They hired the MAC to create the campaign, and PainWise was born.

Target Audiences

  • Community Members

    Campaign goal: Educate families about risks, ways to taper, and where to get rid of unwanted drugs. Urge community leaders to organize outreach to make the region safer for people in pain

  • Medical Professionals

    Campaign goal: Urge care providers to build consensus on prescription practices, implement them consistently, and bring in more pain specialists and addiction treatment centers.

  • Patients & Families

    Campaign goal: Help patients get support when they need it, access addiction treatment programs, transition to better and safer pain management therapies, and reduce mortality.


With a big pile of open-ended questions to untangle, we set out using our established processes to ensure results. We analyzed comparable public health campaigns, interviewed their leaders, and talked to doctors, patients and health administrators. We realized that for this campaign to succeed, we were going to need a multi-prong, community-first approach.

  • Challenge

    The messaging had to resonate with three very different audiences


    We researched campaigns that successfully navigated the same challenge and gleaned insight from the organizers of those groups

  • Challenge

    There’s no local broadcast TV network in the region


    Marketing has to happen through direct outreach, radio, outdoor and digital advertising

  • Challenge

    Low-income, rural families (our highest-risk group) have limited exposure to outdoor advertising, and may not have internet access at home


    Direct outreach is crucial to reaching enough people to gain campaign momentum

The opioid safety task force is a hefty group, to the tune of about 50 stakeholders. We worked mostly with a smaller communications subcommittee. Of course, marketing folks from the CCO had a whole different perspective than doctors from the local clinic. Presenting effectively required a clear vision, a collaborative spirit, and the ability to listen.

Comm Plan

To guide the effort, we delivered a 20-page strategy document with comprehensive recommendations — not just on the deliverables we ourselves would create; this was an end-to-end road map for success. To this day, we continue to serve as the communications arm of the PainWise task force.


The backbone of our message is hope. To encourage someone to change, you have to give them a reason to believe that change in possible. We developed targeted messaging for each of the campaign’s audience groups, then expanded this into website content and a digital ad campaign.


Butterflies and fairy tales aren’t going to resonate with people who are dealing with chronic pain. Our choice and treatment of the name PainWise gives weight to both hurt and hope: the difficulty patients cope with every day, as well as the knowledge and choices that can bring freedom.

With a short deck of names in hand, we developed a survey targeted to about 50 participants, including representatives from each audience group. We analyzed and made recommendations based on the results, managing and moderating the process to identify the name that would best serve our client’s goals.


We set out to balance the medical community’s need for a clean, professional feel with patients’ need for approachability. We selected photography that communicated not happiness, but hope. We chose a shade of blue that felt trustworthy and cheerful; then we added some texture to acknowledge the pain that patients face. In all of our digital and print collateral, we incorporated hopeful upward movement, from the bird’s flight in the logo mark, to the angles used in our banners and footers.

This was a regional project, so it was important to rely on images that residents would recognize as home. We developed a series of billboards, print collateral, and digital ads to introduce the brand to the tri-county region.


We designed the interface to respond intuitively to user actions, from button fade on mouseover to interactive breadcrumbs that offer dropdowns of sibling pages. We eliminated visual noise: for example, only the first field of a form is visible until the user begins to type, at which point the rest of the form appears. We personalized the user experience based on county of residence. We included Spanish language translation, a mobile-responsive design and widgets to facilitate social sharing.

Web Management

Because our client didn’t have in-house resources to allocate to web management, we were able to take that responsibility off their plate: pushing out new articles, moderating user-submitted classes and sending monthly email newsletters.

  • Painwise website mobile
  • Painwise website mobile
  • Painwise website mobile


PainWise launched in the spring of 2016, on time and on budget. We’ve been collecting metrics ever since. It’s early yet, but we look forward to sharing our findings as they emerge. In the meantime, here’s the data we recommended tracking.

Web metrics

New and returning visitors, pages shared, videos watched.

Medical metrics

Trainings completed, treatment program enrollments, opioid overdoses, opioid-related deaths and disabilities, legislative policy changes, patient satisfaction survey results, number of take-back drop boxes, participation in take-backs.

For a local initiative like this, the agency needed to be local. And it needed to have the size and depth to do the job.

Julie Manning, Vice President of Marketing, Samaritan Health Services

When Samaritan hired us to create PainWise, they had a destination in mind, and they knew it was going to be a long journey. They needed a partner to provide the insight, strategy and communication tools to get them there. They asked the MAC to write a map. We brought the GPS.

Website: painwise.org

See more work samples: