TBWA WorldHealth

TBWA\WorldHealth President Joanna Jacobs Talks About New Role, Evolving Craft of Client Service

By Christiane Truelove • [email protected]

Joanna Jacobs came on board as president of TBWA\WorldHealth a few months ago, and we recently caught up with her and CEO Robin Shapiro to talk about how Jacobs came to the agency, her plans for the next few months, and her commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion (DE&I).

Med Ad News: What led to the search for a president for TBWA\WorldHealth?

Robin Shapiro: With success comes the opportunity to get too comfortable, and that’s kind of where I found myself last year. It’s been a pandemic, we’ve gotten through the pandemic, and we’ve done really well in the pandemic. But if we keep down this path, we might end up sort of hitting a peak or leveling off, and then we might see things start to decline. And we have to continue to disrupt ourselves. That’s when I started to begin the search for a president and wanted to look outside of the agency –to bring in that fresh perspective and bring in somebody who brought a pioneering attitude and approach that was in keeping with Disruption, but also somebody who brought some expertise that we very much wanted and needed, which was, “How do we take this AOR that has done great AOR work, but make it an AOR that is capable of winning digital agency of record, that is capable of thriving and helping our clients thrive in a world of omnichannel?” So beyond all of those great attributes, I wanted to have somebody who came from a consumer mindset because again, as TBWA really arches into our mothership so to speak, we have that sort of consumer sensibility, and thinking about the experience that we’re creating for customers for clients and for patients, is super important. On top of that she’s [Joanna Jacobs] a great human, and somebody who cares deeply about diversity, equity, and inclusion. And you all know how passionate I am on that topic.

Joanna Jacobs: I feel like it has been a bit serendipitous with Robin. Because I’ve known of Robin for many, many years, but I never obviously had worked with her. But when we started to talk about what a future could be, it just felt so natural, like we had almost been working together forever. It was also super fun, because there’s this great energy around, that good sparring about the business and where we’re going as an agency and how we need to better ourselves, and what does that agency look like? And, is it an agency? How do we think about our clients? I remember our first dinner that went on for five, six hours …

Robin Shapiro: …They kicked us out of that place!

Joanna Jacobs: Yes, it was that feeling, when you have a partner that you can just be yourself with and you can let all the stuff out that you’ve been thinking about – and you want another opinion, but you also want to have some discourse around it and some fun with it.

I feel like that was our foundation, at least for the two of us, but we have some people in common. That really helps to lay the groundwork for great relationships. I had worked with [TBWA\WorldHealth Chief Creative Officer] Jonathan Isaacs in the past – we’re very close. He’s always talked about how Robin really influenced his career, influenced him as a person, and has always said, “You guys have to get together, you guys have to meet. You’re going to have such a great time being together personally and professionally, and all the stuff that goes with that.” And he was right. And Jonathan being here, too, just means so much to me, because it’s really about the people and the values. That’s what I care about. I’ve always said that I’ll never leave, just for some role; I will go somewhere because of the values and the people. And if there’s an amazing role that happens to go along with that, which is what this was – I will also say it was I felt like I hit the jackpot — that’s when it all comes together.

Jonathan has been a great partner; he’s very brave in how he approaches the world, and I love that. And watching him and Robin build [TBWA\WorldHealth] has been great. I’ve been watching from afar, so the chance to come and be part of it was super exciting for me. And I love Disruption. I love it. I just think it is genius. I’ve known about Disruption for many, many years. It’s a famous sort of equation of how you’re going to create that category of brands. And I love it because it’s creative. It elevates our work, it elevates experiences, it brings every craft together. It’s business building.

You know, I’ve been in digital agencies and omnichannel for the last seven years. But in my heart, the tenets of marketing don’t really change. You have to know your audiences super well. You have to understand how you can have great data, but how do you deploy that data and utilize it? And how do you wrap yourselves around your clients? How do you help build their business? What is the experience? Coming here for me is the mash up of all these things. It’s amazing. It’s Disruption. It’s this drive towards disrupting omnichannel and TBWA\WorldHealth has all of this sort of mix now that really sets us up to be the true leaders in this space and life sciences. The creatives are unparalleled strategists and are some of the best out there. We have Omni, which is our data platform, and it is an extraordinary tool that you can’t find it anywhere else. I’m super grateful to be here, because I feel like the world is sort of our oyster right now. I’m really excited about the future.

Robin Shapiro: One of the things that really sold me [was] hearing Joanna talk about account leadership as a craft, to me that was a major unlock. I’ve always been very inspired by that language, because I do feel that we often talk about creative craft, but every single department is a craft. And Joanna, I think that’s a really a big strong part of your ethos is that you bring that mentality to each department.

Joanna Jacobs: I do call it the craft of client service. And I think the world we’re in has changed very quickly, where we have so many different disciplines that we can bring to the table to solve any client challenge. You have your brand strategist, your experience strategist, your data team, and you’re going to have your creative team, but they also might have creative technologists. … it is incumbent on us as client leads to be equally nurturing all those things, the strategy, the experience, the creative experiences, how they come to life, [and] go-to-market strategies for clients. Client service partners and leads are the tip of the spear and that takes a lot of work. And it takes a lot of practice. There are lots of muscles that you have to flex, right? The sheer collaboration between all of those disciplines, and almost being a generalist, you’re a subject matter expert generalist, you have to have the ability to contribute to all of those things. Because that, frankly, is what makes a great idea, and that makes our work that much stronger. I think the world of client service is going to continue to evolve even more. And we need to be able to nurture those people who are ready to move with that evolution. I think it’s the key to success.

TBWA WorldHealth

(top row left to right) Carlene Esposito, managing partner, TBWAHealth Collective;
Joanna Jacobs, president, TBWAWorldHealth US; Paul J Pfleiderer, Ph.D., managing partner, TBWAWorldHealth US
(bottom row left to right) Jonathan Isaacs, global chief creative officer, TBWAWorldHealth; Robin Shapiro, CEO, TBWAWorldHealth; Stephanie Schulman, president, TBWAWildType

Med Ad News: To where do you see client service evolving?

Joanna Jacobs: I think that is where omnichannel is going – the understanding [of] the power of where, how, and where the data can be used, and being able to speak to that and see the opportunities, and understanding the lexicon around omnichannel. All the ways that we are going to bring new ideas into the marketplace is very different than it was even two to three years ago. Client service people have to be able to speak the language of social in a very different way than they ever have before. Even CRM is changing rapidly. It’s not even CRM anymore. It’s really to connect the ecosystem. And client service people have to understand how you judge a great sort of strategic approach. If you can’t, you don’t really speak the language of all these things that we’re bringing to bear for a client challenge. We’re still going to need to be generalists, but what we’re focusing on is changing very rapidly.

Robin Shapiro: One thing that I would love to have you talk a little bit about is how important diversity, equity, and inclusion are to you, Joanna. That is one of the things that we bonded and connected so tightly on from the very first conversation.

Joanna Jacobs: For those of us who are learning or what this – DE&I – actually mean, I feel so much every day, I feel farther and farther away from what I actually really learned, but maybe that’s the point. I think a lot about the inclusion part of DE&I probably more than anything, simply because there are so many human beings that we are with every single day. And we have absolutely no idea what anybody is really going through; it’s such a powerful thought to think of all the little things that are happening in people’s lives, and all the big things that are happening — and our actions matter so much. Everything matters; I feel like that has been my biggest learning, that every action and word matters. And I’m just very focused on that, because we really do care about our people very, very deeply. And I feel like I’ve made a commitment to these people. Yes, I am learning, and I don’t want to disappoint them. And then I realized, “Well, you may not get it right,” but … this is a journey for me. It’s been very eye opening, and I think that we have a lot more work to do. I’m very grateful that Robin and Omnicom have such a commitment to it as well, because it is one of those values that makes it really easy to say, “I would love to join this organization.”

Chris Truelove, Med Ad News Chris Truelove is contributing editor of Med Ad News and PharmaLive.com.