Act First, Plan Later

I have devoted much of my career to defining and redefining what it means to be a next generation health and wellness agency. I admit that it has probably been easier for me than for most because I never actually worked in a traditional healthcare agency and, therefore, had few expectations and no road map.

If I had worked in a healthcare agency early on, I may have thought that it was silly to do a TV series with Prevention Magazine when everyone else was making a killing designing die cut detail aids. I would have known that the deregulation of DTC TV was going to be a bonanza and would never have been able to justify joining a group of digital renegades. If I had grown-up in a traditional agency, I may never have believed that a digital content/design firm could become a brand AOR, or that a consumer agency could do breakthrough professional work, or that content strategy would become table stakes in brand marketing and spark a modern storytelling renaissance.

As it turns out, a certain amount of ignorance can be a good thing—especially when it allows you to do what more experienced professionals deem impossible.

Three pieces of advice about building an agency that I have managed to ignore are:

1. Have a Plan

The great designer, Jack Lenor Larsen said, “Doing something is always better than planning to do something.” We need to be more fearless about building and integrating new capabilities. Launching a new capability is the perfect excuse to infuse the team with fresh thinking and try new things.

2. Healthcare Is Not Sexy or Creative

One more time: Creativity is no longer the domain of only art and copy.

I once tweeted “healthcare is high tech.” It was the only thing I ever tweeted that got re-tweeted by MIT Media Lab. Turns out that Silicon Valley is obsessed with healthcare. John Sculley (former Apple CEO), Joi Ito (MIT Media Lab) and Regina Dugan (Google) all think healthcare is very sexy.

3. Productivity Is the Key to Success

When productivity becomes your greatest strength you risk sacrificing what is next for what is now. The key to sustainable success lies in balancing the management of today with the invention of tomorrow. I recently heard the writer/activist Parker Palmer say, “The tighter we cling to the norm of effectiveness, the smaller and smaller the tasks we are willing to take on.” Amen.

There is little doubt that we are in the midst of major transformation in healthcare. Some believe that the change driven by the growing patient movement will be as profound as the change caused by civil rights, women’s rights or LGBT rights. As inventors of a new generation of healthcare agencies, we have a great opportunity and responsibility to help clients, HCPs, and patients navigate this change. To do this, we will have to embrace what we don’t know and be willing to learn new things the old way, by doing.


  • Alexandra von Plato

    Alexandra von Plato is President and Global Chief Creative Officer, Digitas Health LifeBrands. Alex has had a key role in the creation of several award-winning, next-generation healthcare agencies. Today, she leads a purpose-built team of creative and strategic professionals focused on connecting healthcare brands with the people who need them.


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