Med Ad News caught up with Susan Perlbachs, the new chief creative officer of Intouch Group, and chatted about what it’s like onboarding into a new job and socializing with new coworkers virtually during a pandemic, and how she’d like to help the agency expand creatively.

Med Ad News: So how did you find out about the opportunity at Intouch?

Susan Perlbachs: It’s an interesting story pre-pandemic and even more so during the pandemic. It was one of those things when I had gotten a LinkedIn message. And I had spoken with some people from Intouch in the past. But they mentioned that they were looking for a CCO, and I thought, “Wow, that sounds like an amazing position,” so I wanted to know a little bit more about it. And I have to say that I wasn’t really looking but Intouch is one of those agencies that was on my radar, I knew a little bit about them, basically from awards shows and Faruk being in the public eye. But once I spoke to Tom and then every subsequent person I spoke to, I really, truly fell more in love with the company with every conversation. And it really felt like such a unique place – the level of camaraderie and true collaboration was apparent. I kept meeting people, and it just kept getting better. And I’ve never met most of the people in person! It’s all been Zoom! I’ve never stepped foot in the New York office. I’m told the space earmarked for me is lovely, and I can’t wait to see it! I’ve never seen it.

Med Ad News: I’ve been to that office when they had their opening party for it. They had tech demonstrations set up all around, and then afterwards we went to a rooftop bar for further celebrating.

Susan Perlbachs: I love hearing you say that, and that sounds exactly like I would expect of them! Even during lockdown, we have the best activities. On Thursday night of this week we have a team happy hour, where they shipped us four bottles of wine, and we’re doing a wine tasting. On Wednesday night, they hired a mixologist who’s doing a private class for 10 of us, for executive team bonding, and they shipped out to us the makings of craft cocktails, for this Manhattan or an Old Fashioned, and we’re doing that. They are really good at their parties and team bondings and celebrations. … So it sounds like you know Intouch really well?

Med Ad News: We’ve been following them since they started as a digital shop, and as they’ve grown they continue to reach out and we’ve kept in touch. But they’ve always been impressive.

Susan Perlbachs: I would agree with that too. That was always my impression. It was a digital roots shop and they were not as on my radar since I come from that AOR world, but I am telling you that I think it’s the best-kept secret in advertising, and it is blowing up. And they are doing AOR work. They know the digital channel, they know the digital channel better than anyone does, but now there is explosive growth and now… I don’t want to say on the map, because they’ve always been on the map, but they are coming out of their shell, and really playing with those big agencies, so to speak.

Med Ad News: What are your goals  and the types of things you want to do once you get in there? What are the kinds of things you’d like to see Intouch expand into?

Susan Perlbachs:  I feel like I’ve hit the ground running. Onboarding during the time of COVID, you really do get right in there. There are niceties and all that, but you are knee-deep in those Zoom meetings from day one. The first thing I would say is, as chief creative officer, it’s certainly a continued focus on the work, and to continue to develop their world-class creative. As I said, I was already impressed with that they had going on, and the ECDs [executive creative directors] who are part of Intouch now are already phenomenal, and they’re doing world-class, award-winning work, but what I am telling folks, and what they’re already excited about, is, “Let’s do more of it.” That’s my feeling, it was already great, let’s elevate it and do more.

And of course I am in the New York office but we are office-agnostic, so to speak, and uniting Kansas City, Chicago, San Francisco, and Boston, and New York, we are pretty much everywhere – so uniting those offices and making sure we have a central creative voice. So building or growing the team will be a big part of what I do, and what I am excited to do, because it’s been another banner year. I joined what I think is an agency on the rise, and it’s been another growth year and we intend to grow even more. We feel very fortunate and very grateful that we’ve got tremendous clients, and our business has not been impacted and is growing, but I plan to be part of and I am really excited about that growth.

Med Ad News: Where do you see yourself in five years with Intouch?   

Susan Perlbachs: Where we are, I see a maintained culture, the culture is really strong and even in the face of growth I think that culture remains. But I see us as even more of a global, world-class agency than we are today. It’s obviously an agency of digital roots, and that’s one of the things that I really respect about it. I think it’s bringing it up to the next level of the ad agency world, which is making sure everyone knows that we are not just born of digital, we are just a strong agency with a world-class presence. It’s going to be the worst-kept secret in advertising in five years, meaning that we’ll be a lot more on the tip of people’s tongues.

Med Ad News: Is there a specific therapeutic category you’d like to see Intouch work more in, or is it just that everything presents its own unique opportunities and challenges?

Susan Perlbachs: We really do have our feet in almost every therapeutic category that I can think of. There is not a therapeutic category that stands out to me that we are not in, and in fact, like many agencies, we navigate and deal with conflicts so if anything I feel we are in all of them. More than anything, I would love to see us move into more of that “having the brand at the center” approach, where we are responsible for the HCP, the digital, the DTC, the payer, and have that be more the approach, versus breaking it out. A lot of companies moved towards that, then they moved away from that, and now I feel that they are going back towards it, but I think it makes a big difference in the way that the work is approached. The agency becomes the steward of the brand, truly, and knows what’s going on, and I think a lot of times clients are challenged to have that level of communication with their agencies. So I think more than anything, it’s the way that we approach the work versus any specific therapeutic category.

Med Ad News: What are you looking most forward to, as part of Intouch?

Susan Perlbachs: I think I am most excited to work with the incredible bench of talent that we have to elevate the work even more. There is amazing work coming out of the agency. One of the first creative campaigns that put it on  my radar was the “Beautiful Pair” DTC work for Eylea. And this year I liked seeing the “Ovary Act” campaign, which got nominations in a number of shows. I’d love to see us be even more high profile, and doing more work that’s getting industry attention.  

But I’m really excited to be joining this group of people. Like I mentioned before, when I was talking to everyone, there wasn’t an outlier, there was just so much excitement for this agency and what has been built to date, and the respect among the people, and I really do think that this is something different at this agency. So I am excited to be joining this group of people who really truly enjoy working together and enjoy spending time together, and enjoy doing that ground breaking, innovative work that Intouch is really known for.