Learning to sing

Hitting high notes in health care communication with the Philips Breathless Choir


In late 2015 a group of people who’d never met before came together to create a choir. This choir was unusual as breathing is a constant challenge for all 18 members. With the support of health technology company Philips, the choir conquered their fears and defied everyone’s expectations by undertaking the impossible: learning to sing.

Celebrity choirmaster, Gareth Malone, led the group, each of whom is living with a chronic respiratory condition. Gareth is renowned for turning unlikely people into singers, and following five days of intensive training with him the Philips Breathless Choir was formed.

The choir’s transformation culminated in a private performance at the legendary Apollo Theater in Harlem, New York, which Philips had rented to surprise the choir. The choir sang the classic song Every Breath You Take in front of their emotional family and friends.

Lung diseases account for seven per cent of deaths worldwide. The global cost of Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) alone will rise from $2.1 trillion in 2010 to $4.8 trillion by 2030, when it will become the third-leading cause of death worldwide, behind heart disease and strokes. Philips believes there is always a way to make life better, and it was this kind of thinking that led Philips to develop the SimplyGo Mini, a portable oxygen concentrator (POC), which empowers patients who struggle with respiratory conditions to continue living full, active lives.

On World COPD Day Philips unveiled a series of films that documented the choir’s journey. Interest in the choir’s story was truly remarkable with significant global reach and awareness for the project.

The FleishmanHillard team support Philips global brand work as part of an integrated communications team led by Ogilvy & Mather London. The Breathless Choir completely debunks the myth that healthcare communications has to be devoid of creativity due to the stringent regulatory environment in which these products operate. Our PR programme brought a human face to those living with respiratory problems and gained visibility and awareness around the world.

Eva Barrett, global head of brand marketing communications at Philips, said: “The Philips Breathless Choir was part of a campaign to change perception of the Philips brand, shifting from its traditional image as an electronics company, to its present day status as a healthcare organisation that improves lives through meaningful innovations. The choir is a great example of meaningful innovation that can actually improve people’s lives. The PR programme ensured that the Choir had visibility and awareness not just in the U.S. where it was launched on World COPD Day but around the world.”

The Breathless Choir illustrated that none of the participants can be defined by their illnesses because what shines through is their determination to share their story of strength and hope in song.

European Excellence Awards

This campaign won the 2016 European Excellence Award in the category "Health". To find out more about the awards, head to the Excellence Awards website.

Images: FleishmanHillard

Orla Burke

Orla Burke, EMEA healthcare lead for FleishmanHillard, has spent her career specialising in healthcare public relations with a strong focus on pharmaceutical brands. Working with FleishmanHillard in both the U.S. and Europe since 2003, she has developed and implemented strategic corporate reputation and consumer education programmes for a wide range of healthcare clients in the vaccines, advocacy, pharmaceutical, devices, corporate and food sectors