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The Pulse of the Pharmaceutical Industry

Women in leadership 2013

Written by: | | Dated: Friday, February 1st, 2013

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‘THE VIEW’ times 10

10 Successful Women In Healthcare Advertising Talk About Their Careers, What Keeps Them Motivated, How They Achieve Work/Home Balance, The Importance Of Networking, And Gender Differences (Or Lack Thereof).

People are people – and though they can have many things in common, ultimately, they’re all unique. This spotlight on 10 women leaders of the healthcare advertising industry reveals the many paths a career and lives can take. Some wanted to go to the top; some are content with what they’re doing, but are always up for a challenge. Some opted for motherhood; some didn’t. Some see gender differences in the workplace; some dismiss those differences. Med Ad News

spoke with Elizabeth Appelles, CEO of Greater ê an One; Lisa Bair, CEO, the Hobart Group; Wendy Blackburn, executive VP, Intouch Solutions; Kimberly Clotman, executive VP, director of client services, Roska Healthcare Advertising; Darlene Dobry, managing partner, Ogilvy CommonHealth Worldwide; Suri Harris, executive VP, strategic planning and new ventures, CAHG; Jennifer Matthews, managing partner, the CementBloc; Maureen Regan, managing partner, McCann Regan Campbell Ward; Janelle Starr, manager, HeartBeat West; and Renee Wills, president, ICC Lowe Trio.

Getting To Where They Are Today (And Why They Stay)

Though they have become quite successful in their chosen field of healthcare advertising, several of the executives interviewed had no connections to this industry, the advertising industry, or even the pharmaceutical industry when they started their careers.

For example, Appelles had been at Petry Television for 15 years when her attention was caught by the rise of the Internet in the late 1990s.

“It just seemed so fabulous,” Appelles says. “I’m an entrepreneur at heart and my dream had always been to start my own business and do something that was meaningful and run a company the way I wanted to be treated as an employee. And so I left my job and I started a small Internet company, and I said to them, if you teach me the Internet for six months, I’ll give you all my sales and management experience, and if after that six months you can’t pay me what I needed to live, I’d have your blessing to leave. And six months to the day, there were all those rollups and combining one another, and that’s when I met my partners at Greater Than One, and started a company six months later.”

The digital agency’s first clients were the World Wrestling Federation and Lilly’s diabetes drug Actos. “We used to have life-sized cutouts of [wrestling superstar] The Rock in the conference room,” Appelles says.

What propelled Greater Than One entirely into healthcare was when the agency won a pitch to become Lilly’s digital agency of record across all brands.

“We pitched for it and won it, and were only 10 people at the time,” Appelles says. “At that moment, we were launched in healthcare. We loved it, we felt it was so important, and we were doing great things.”

Regan started off as a nurse, even though “I thought I had more of an interest and affinity toward the business arena, but frankly, women didn’t really go into the business arena that frequently when I was going to college.”

She took the conventional route, but was not particularly happy with that career choice. “When I had an opportunity to work at Mount Sinai Hospital, it was a great experience but my first week after work, I said, ‘I am going back to graduate school.’”

After getting an MBA from Manhattan College and wanting to stay within healthcare, Regan worked as a sales rep for Abbott Laboratories for a year, what she says was “an intuitive match” between her nursing knowledge and her desire to be in marketing.

“But a friend of mine had called me, he had heard there was an opening at a small agency, Lally, McFarland, and Pantello, it was before they were bought by Euro RSCG,” she says. “And they were small, I think I was the 15th employee. I was extremely intrigued, I went for an interview and got the job, and I have been hooked on advertising ever since.”

Harris, with a master’s in public health and a major in epidemiology, worked for about two years as an epidemiological researcher at the Veterans Administration Hospital in East Orange, N.J. “I interviewed veterans about their habits on drinking and smoking and their relation to upper area digestive tract cancers,” she says. “That was two years of getting into the trenches, and after that I decided that I would get more involved in the day-to-day activities and services of healthcare. So then I actually went into hospital administration for a few years.”

While working at Cornell University Hospital in administration, Harris met a physician who was doing consulting for a firm. The combination of business and healthcare appealed to Harris, and she wound up working for a firm for six years. Feeling burned out by consulting, she felt herself attracted to the “creative side” of healthcare, and thought that healthcare advertising represented a good combination of healthcare and creativity. Harris wound up at LLNS, then Lavey Wolfe Swift, starting out as an account executive and working her way up to director of client services before leaving to do consulting.

“At that point, Scott Cotherman [CEO of CAHG, then CorbettAccel Healthcare], with whom I had worked at LLNS, asked me to come in and tackle the whole area of personalized medicine, and it was sort of an offer

I couldn’t refuse,” she says. Harris has been at CAHG since 2008.

Bair had gone to college for marketing and advertising, and had dreams of someday owning her own agency, but like Regan, wound up being a sales rep for awhile – in her case, for Syntex Pharmaceuticals, working as a rep in Philadelphia.

“I still had the desire to get into that marketing side of it, but relocating to Palo Alto just wasn’t an option at that time, given the expense,” she says. “And so when I started to really investigate career options, I discovered the idea that there was such a thing as pharmaceutically focused advertising agencies. And that’s where

I saw the intersection of where I wanted to be and where I was in my career at that point. I was fortunate to hook up with a great head hunter at that point in the agency space, and he reminded me how difficult it was to make that leap from sales rep into an agency. I competed against a lot of people to even get in front of my first agency opportunity with Grey Healthcare and I ended up getting a position as an account executive working on the SmithKline Beecham account. That was back in ’93. But that’s how it all began.”

Wills wanted to work in advertising. “When I came out of grad school, I went for my MBA, I interviewed at half a dozen different ad agencies, because something in me said, ‘Oh, I want to work at an ad agency,’” she says. “I interviewed at one pharmaceutical firm just because I had a connection. I wasn’t really aware of pharmaceuticals at the time, I had worked on French’s Mustard during my internship and had experienced more traditional marketing, packaged goods advertising, and was kind of lured by the big vision of what that could be.”

She became a pharmaceutical sales rep out of school, but by chance. “I had a contact at French’s Mustard who said, ‘I know someone at American Cyanamid,’ which was Lederle, and I interviewed for a sales rep spot,” she says.

Wills admits being ignorant about the pharmaceutical industry at the time. “I had no awareness that there were reps calling on physicians’ offices, it was a completely new thing for me,” she says. “Somehow, I made it through that interview even though I didn’t know anything, and I met with the district manager who was hiring. We really hit off, and he sent me off for a few days in the field, and I really loved that whole thing. It’s so difficult for young people to know what the heck you want to be when you really don’t even know what’s

out there, so a lot of it has to do with connections or what you happen to find. And I happened to stumble into pharmaceuticals.”

Even though she enjoyed her marketing work, Wills still had a desire to go into advertising, and got her chance when she was headhunted by the Hal Lewis Group in Philadelphia. “I was working on vaccines at the time, and they said, ‘We really want someone who knew vaccines, we’ll teach you advertising,’” she says. “And everything I had ever thought of just came together all of a sudden. And so I went to work for Hal Lewis Group and did pharmaceutical advertising and cut my teeth there.” Wills later moved on to Robert A. Becker, Saatchi & Saatchi Healthcare Advertising, CDM, and finally ICC Lowe Trio.

“I’m so glad I ended up in healthcare, I find it so much more meaningful,” she says. “I have exposure to the consumer side, but I really enjoy the pharma side, I’ve worked in some interesting disease categories and I feel like it’s a rewarding space to be in, it’s got interesting challenges.”

Starr and Blackburn wound up in healthcare advertising by chance. Starr had been working for a digital agency with automotive clients and was working from home. “Working from home, after two years I was, like, ‘God, I need to talk to more people!’” she says, “So, through a friend of a friend knew somebody, at the time it was called Drumbeat [now Heartbeat], and I went and met the team there. I actually had another job offer, and my friend said, ‘You have to go meet this woman at Drumbeat,’ and I went and met her. And it was one of those things where I walked in the room and met her, and we instantly clicked. We just were on the same wavelength, she was going to be my boss, and I thought she was so fabulous. So I took the job and that was as a senior project manager.”

At 26, Blackburn had quit her job in the PR department of a hospital to move to San Francisco. “I didn’t have a job, literally packed up a Ryder truck with my girlfriend and we went out there without jobs or a place to live,” she says. “Luckily we found jobs and a place to live, and I wound up at an agency out there that focused in biotech. So I was able to get a sense of the agency side, and I really liked it. I liked the excitement, and the variety, and all of the really interesting, smart people that I worked with.”

Matthews started in advertising, but it was pure consumer accounts for McCaffrey and McCall, and then Wunderman, a division of Y&R, where she worked on brands such as Express and consumer branding, relationship marketing, and digital work for about a decade.

Then she was asked to take over Pfizer’s consumer accounts at the agency. “Though I didn’t know the vertical, I knew a lot about marketing, client service, strategy, and so on,” Matthews says. “It was really interesting to step into healthcare at that time, around 2002, 2003, coming from my more general consumer background. And I’ve been in it ever since, and I absolutely love it. It’s so strategic, it’s so much more integrated than some of the other verticals, and the opportunity to really change things and to do something meaningful, as opposed to selling phone plans or credit cards; I found it extraordinarily fulfilling over the last 10-plus years.”

Clotman discovered the pharmaceutical industry as a graduate student looking for an internship between the first and second years of her MBA program. “I knew I wanted to do marketing, but at the time I didn’t have a strong preference for what type of marketing,” she says. “I interviewed with a lot of different companies, and one of the companies that I interviewed with was Merck. I didn’t really know a lot about healthcare and healthcare marketing, but it seemed like a great opportunity to learn something completely different for the summer, so I jumped at the opportunity.”

After spending the summer in Merck’s market research and strategic insights group, focusing on developing communications platforms for underserved audiences such as the elderly and minorities, “I discovered a passion for healthcare that I didn’t know that I had,” Clotman says. “And after my summer, when they made me a full-time offer to come back, I said yes. So I carried the bag for a while and then came in house to Upper Gwynedd, and then I wanted the opportunity to do patient work, which was not as widespread as it is now at Merck, especially with their acquisition of Schering. And so I had the opportunity to move to McNeil and do consumer healthcare, and I leapt at that and really learned a lot along the way.”

But Clotman missed being in pharma and “feeling that I was making a real difference in the lives of patients.” In pondering her next move, she came across Roska. Before going to graduate school, she had started off with two advertising agencies that are now part of the Interpublic Group network, but “I wasn’t that familiar with local agencies and came in and met with Jay [Bolling], I met with Kurt [Mueller], and I’m still here three years later,” she says.

In college, Dobry had wanted to be a journalist, but that changed when she started taking marketing and advertising courses. “I had a really fantastic professor who got me motivated about the field and the area, and so before I declared my journalism major, I changed my major,” she says. “What I think was interesting was that a lot of people who go to school for something don’t necessarily wind up doing that in their career, and I ended up having a really positive early experience in this field and decided very early on that it was what I wanted to pursue.”

After graduating, despite her enthusiasm, Dobry found it difficult to get a job in advertising because of her lack of experience. “At the time, the way to break into advertising was to go through the secretarial pool, and my typing skills weren’t all that great,” she says. “I knew I was going to have to get some experience. Luckily around that same time, there was a summer internship program at a small in-house agency called Leda, which was an in-house agency for Lederle Pharmaceuticals and American Cyanamid, and I jumped on that opportunity to take that summer internship program and just absorb and learn as much as I could.”

Dobry’s dedication paid off, and when there was a full-time opening in September, she was hired into the traffic department, gradually working her way to account services. “And that’s where I stayed,” she says. “My whole career has been on the accounts side of the business.”

Although they got into healthcare advertising in different ways, all of them are united on what keeps them in the business: the opportunity to help patients. Starr says once she was in healthcare, it felt more fulfilling than what she had been doing before. “I had been trying to sell cars to people, year after year I’d be sitting in meetings with people, brand teams talking about, ‘How do we make the car more expensive yet take away more features from it?’” she says. “Where now, we sit in meetings and talk about, ‘What kind of tools can we create to help make patients’ lives better’”

Another common theme expressed by those interviewed was the variety in the pharmaceutical business.

“The thing that’s so intriguing about the business is that every day, it’s something different,” Dobry says. “One day, I could be working in a specific therapeutic category, the next day I can be working in a completely different one. One day I can be working with one client and one type of corporate culture, the next day I am working with a different client and corporate culture. And the brand challenges are always different; what you do from one particular client and brand to another are always different. And I love the fact that this happens on a daily basis, because it keeps us learning and growing, and it just keeps us inspired.”

Blackburn also likes the variety. “What I do now is often more like pitches, new business opportunities, and I am working with a lot of different companies,” she says. “I get to dive deep and then jump back out, and it’s always really interesting and fulfilling to learn about different disease categories. Sometimes, frankly, it can be really sad to learn about some of the things that people deal with and go through, especially if we’re talking about childhood diseases and some of the really devastating conditions. It can be really hard. But it’s all really interesting.”

Matthews is intrigued by the changes happening in healthcare and how those changes are affecting clients.

“In healthcare, even though many argue that the vertical lags others from a marketing perspective, the pace of change that our business is seeing over the last five years, certainly now with 2013 and healthcare reform and the nature of our clients’ businesses transforming, the opportunity to do new things or do interesting things, to deliver just a huge amount of value, that to me is very motivating,” she says. “I am personally so excited about the transformation of our clients’ business, not without a little trepidation. But the opportunities to be doing new things and to succeed, to me, are how I choose to look at it, versus the glass half empty.”

Harris says all of her career choices were motivated by a desire to stay close to the healthcare industry, but she wants to stay in healthcare advertising. “I feel very blessed to have been exposed to so many aspects of the industry,” she says.” When I landed in advertising, I thought, this is the spot. It brought everything together in the healthcare industry – it was the business side of the industry, you work with creative people, it basically brought everything together under one roof. Once I was there, I realized I was not interested in leaving or going anywhere else.”

She also notes the changes happening in the healthcare advertising industry. “Since ‘89, the industry has been changing so much, it has not been static,” Harris says. “It’s been pretty fascinating to see the transition since then, how different the business is now, especially in the last five years.”

Bair champions the healthcare advertising space for its long-term career viability and creative outlet. “It’s a great space to be in, it’s a great combination of long-term job viability and just a passion of being on the marketing side of things,” she says. “We’re very lucky in the sense that we have good clients here, and when you work with good clients, there’s no reason to even consider a change.”

Regan cites many reasons why she loves healthcare advertising. “I love advertising, first of all, I love the product that we make, and really, I love all kinds of advertising,” she says. “I’ve always loved promotion,

I love marketing … The passion about the work is first and foremost. I like the client relationships, I would say I’ve always been a service person, and I do like being on the service end of the business a lot. And then I really, truly love to work internally with the folks at the agency. I like the characters I work with on a daily basis, it’s never boring, the day goes very, very quickly. And we laugh a lot, it’s important to be at a place where you can laugh.”

Balancing Home, Work, And Self

Many, but not all, the executives interviewed have children. These women all have experienced the frustrations of trying to be successful mothers and successful in their careers.

“I would say that I probably haven’t achieved as much balance as I like,” Matthews says. “I don’t think anyone today, in a job with enormous responsibilities, can do that all the time. What I try to do is try to make the right choices at the right time. When the kids are little, it’s one thing, but as they get older, their needs change. Just being smart and proactive about making those decisions of what’s a priority is probably the most important thing I’ve learned over the last 15 years of being a parent. And sometimes you make the right decisions and sometimes you don’t. But anyone with significant job responsibilities, it’s going to be a tradeoff.”

Dobry attributes having “a tremendous support system” and her ability to prioritize as the main reasons why she has achieved balance between work and life. “As female leaders and as executives, we all juggle quite a bit, and it all comes down to being able to prioritize, knowing what’s important, knowing what can give, and trying to manage my schedule so I can try to accommodate for everybody, whether that’s my clients, my internal agency team members, or my family or friends,” she says.

Clotman says with her schedule, it’s not easy being a parent to her 3 1/2 year old daughter, but she’s found ways to be with her child. Whahelps is that Roska is supportive of working parents and that her husband works from home. But she makes sure that she and her husband have date night, and on weekends specific time is set aside just for her daughter. “On Saturdays I take my daughter to tap and then we go have breakfast at her favorite diner,” Clotman says.

When Regan started her own agency, her son, now 16, was a year old. “That was just a challenging time in life to start a business,” she says.

Regan herself grew up in a family that owned its own service station and where everyone had to help, and her son has experienced a similar awareness of the importance of a family business. “He’s grown up in a business for his whole life,” she says. “He understands, and worries, and he’s cognizant if there are important things going on. He’s had tremendous experiences just through exposure, which is going to be interesting … just the exposure this kid has had, in a much bigger way than I had. He has been here at 3 o’clock in the morning when we’ve been working on a pitch!”

Technology has been a help to busy working mothers, Regan says, “People have more of an ability to work from home than they did before, and to work after hours, and to work crazy hours,” she says. “So you can read your kid his stories, and then go back to working at 9:30. For some, technology has also added to the burdens, but me personally, it’s helped a lot. I’ve been able to take vacations, owning a business, I wouldn’t be able to take vacations if I could not take a couple of hours every day to plug in and see what was going on. Technology allows you to plug into your business, but also allows you to do personal things.”

And without a support network of family and friends to help out, Regan made sure she paid for the best child care help she could find. “I never cheaped out when it came to getting support,” she says. “I took the long view, I’m making an investment in my personal life so that I could make an investment in my work life.”

Bair confesses that when she was first learning the pharmaceutical and healthcare advertising businesses, she had no work-life balance, working 70 or 80-hour weeks to prove herself. “I think for that reason, I waited until later in life to have a child, and that was probably best suited, because I was able to get the experience I needed to excel within the various positions I had in the agency side, and be able to take the time at a later point in life because I had a good reputation, and I was able to start my own agency and have a child,” she says. “I think I gave myself a long weekend to have my daughter. So that kind of speaks to my work-life balance!”

According to Bair, finding the time to do things you are personally passionate about is important. For her, it’s showjumping horses. She owns five warmbloods, and competes in New Jersey, New York, and Florida.

“My staff always tells me that they can tell when I’m not riding, because my outlook changes for the worse!” Bair says. “So I really try to stay committed to a training schedule and competition schedule, that’s a big investment for me to have horses, so I’ve got to take the time to get over to the barn and ride. I’ll do that before work, after work, on weekends, and a lot of my vacation time is allocated towards competition.”

Clotman is a runner. “When I’m not working, or with my family, I do 5Ks, 10Ks, trying to get up to a half marathon,” she says. “We’re getting together a team at Roska to do a tough mudder, it’s a 10-mile race in the mud – I’m still on the fence as to whether I want to do that or not!”

Where Women Thrive

Although the misogynystic “Mad Men” era was not that long ago, the executives interviewed noted no barriers to their career advancement within healthcare advertising, though some observed some staticness on the client side.

Some observed strong female mentors and role models in the advertising business. “If you look at advertising, we had great women leaders in the ’60 and ‘70s running consumer advertising agencies,” Regan says. “So many of the healthcare agencies are owned now by the big giant conglomerates of advertising, the IPGs, the WPPs.

So I think we’ve had frankly many decades on our counterparts on the client side. I knew Charlotte Beers when I was a young person, before she ran Ogilvy. We just had so many role models, and I think it was more accepted in the advertising business.”

Matthews also noted a lot of female role models. “Joanne Zayek, who runs Digitas New York, was actually the one who hired me at Wunderman all those years ago and I was so impressed by her I maintained a relationship with her, even when she left Wunderman,” she says. “But I was fortunate to be surrounded by women who were successful. At the time, Joanne was running the American Express business, and I saw what she was doing and what she was able to effect within the company and still run a very happy and successful client relationship. I thought that’s the kind of person I aspire to be.”

Wills attributes her success to a strong traffic manager at Hal Lewis. “There was a very strong female traffic manager and she made me toe the line and instilled good practices into me early in my career,” she says.

Starr, whose career started in the DotPharma boom of the ‘90s, says at the agency she started out at right after college, gender didn’t matter when it came to good ideas. “I got this gig at an agency in Detroit, and they were literally, whatever idea that you had, they were willing to try it,” she says. “That’s incredibly empowering, for a woman or a man, when you’re coming out of school that young and green, to give you those kinds of chances, built up confidence in a way that has carried me throughout my careers. After that, I’ve always felt empowered to give ideas and to share my thoughts and not being afraid to do that.”

She adds that at Heartbeat, “50 percent of our management team is female, 60 percent of the office is female. Having women in the office is just a very natural thing for our companies.”

Regan says there were fewer women in high-level positions when she first started, so she participated in a “mentoring circle” of executive women, all of who were in healthcare advertising or the pharma industry.

“We would get together on a bi-monthly basis, starting about 20 years ago, when there weren’t a lot of high-level women and quite frankly you might have been the only woman in the room,” she says. “We would work on fostering each other’s careers. We would give very serious business advice to everyone. ‘What are the challenges that you’re facing now? What are the opportunities that you have?’ And we wouldn’t just give each other personal support; we would consult with one another on a very serious level, and that was tremendously valuable.”

Dobry also observed that the industry field was more male-dominated when she first started, but has seen “a very nice increase” in the number of female executives. As for herself, “I feel it never really came down to gender for me, it came down to level of talent, hard work, passion and enthusiasm. I never really felt it was being a female was my challenge, it was a matter of demonstrating my skills, my love for the business, and my enthusiasm. And that helped propel me through the business.”

According to Bair, one of the things that she found encouraging when interviewing for a position at a healthcare ad agency was how many women were in the business. “I know at the time I joined Grey Healthcare Group, back in 1993, it was dominated by women in leadership positions,” she says. “For me, I never really saw any specific gender bias. I think the only things I’ve seen is women in more creative leadership roles, as the years have gone by. But you’ve always seen very strong women on the account and strategic side, for the years since I’ve been in this industry. It’s a great opportunity for women who aspire to leadership ranks for that reason.”

The Traits Of Success

Although their careers took many paths, when these executives were asked about the traits needed to be successful in healthcare advertising, everyone cited variations on passion, hard work, a sense of curiosity, collaboration, knowing yourself and what you want, and tenacity.

“You have to have a passion for the product – you have to be passionate about the product or you can’t be successful,” Regan says. “If you can’t be passionate about you sell, how can you expect others to be passionate about it? So a passion about the product, and a passion about healthcare.”

When she talks with young, new employees, Appelles likes to ask them what gets them excited and motivated about their jobs. “I’ll sit down with them and ask, ‘Do you get your energy from talking with people, or do you prefer to sit in front of a computer all day long and not have to talk with anybody, what do you like to do?’ And once they wrap their head around that, that will be the career they choose,” she says. Appelles says to succeed, these skills are essential: “A driven curiosity; to be comfortable with what you don’t know; and communications skills – the ability to tell a story and communicate visually.”

According to Wills, for anyone starting a career, it’s important to actively manage it, building it like a portfolio. “Look ahead, you don’t have to know where you’re going, exactly, you just have to know that the decisions you’re making are taking your places that you want to go, that won’t narrow you but will instead leave a lot of options open,” she says. “Think about how you would portray this in an interview, why you chose to move to this place, and how this will make you a better employee. And when you’re actively managing your career, you need to seek out a culture that’s going to allow you to thrive.”

As women who started their own agencies, Bair and Regan unsurprisingly emphasize tenacity as an essential skill.

“I think it’s an industry of hard knocks, you’ve got to be able to prove yourself, if you’re coming into this industry green with not a lot of experience, it can be very rough, but I think if you’re dedicated and passionate, it’s the tenacity that will pay off,” Bair says. “Show everybody you’re willing to do the hard work to learn the industry, and that’s going to pay off over time.”

“If you don’t have tenacity, this is not the right business for you,” Regan says. “And it’s not only tenacity, it’s tenacity against all odds, because in so many instances, I look back, and odds were so against me – whether it was pitching an account, whether it was starting my own ad agency, whatever it was. The odds quite often are so much against you, you just have to be one of those people who can say, ‘I can do something against all the odds,’ and just persevere.”

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