Brenda Snow, Founder & CEO, Snow Companies
If you have worked in the pharma industry long enough, it’s likely you’ve heard the “Brenda Snow Story.” It’s the story of a woman diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS) in her late 20s just as she was starting her career in communications at a semiconductor company in California. The story of a woman whose condition forced her to use a wheelchair, caused her to lose bladder control in public places, and resulted in temporary blindness or split vision. Of a young mother dedicated to working with occupational and physical therapists to relearn performing daily tasks because, if nothing else, she wanted to raise her daughter. She achieved that—and so much more.
In the mid-1990s, Brenda became an early recipient of the first FDA-approved drugs for relapsing MS. Without the full assault of an attack every other month, she transitioned from a wheelchair, to a walker, to a cane, and by 1997, she could walk on her own. But throughout this entire process, Brenda wished she had been able to connect with other patients with MS. So as soon as she was able, Brenda decided she would be that connection for other patients.
She volunteered to speak at advocacy organizations nationwide. She tried to answer the endless questions patients had, but then Brenda had a question of her own: “Why isn’t the pharma industry providing the programs, services, and information that all of these patients need?” She wasn’t the first patient to ask that—but she was the first to do something about it.
Launching the Patient Engagement Movement
Brenda started with Berlex Laboratories, the company that developed her MS treatment. Open to her concerns, the company hired her as a consultant where she created one of the first patient advisory boards back in 1997. But Brenda wanted to accomplish more in patient engagement, even if others didn’t yet see her vision.
“Starting your own company, particularly when you’re a female and handicapped, was not easy,” Brenda says. “I went to many pharma companies, even those outside of the MS space, and met a lot of rejection. People also marginalized the idea of patient engagement—and me on top of it—which was tough. But I had seen the impact engagement made. And I knew firsthand because I was a patient.”
Brenda caught a break when one of her first clients, and the person who would become her business partner, Corbin Wood, landed a marketing position at EMD Serono. He hired Brenda to build the first robust patient ambassador model in the early 2000s. Others quickly took notice. Genentech wanted a program for psoriasis patients and UCB wanted one for epilepsy, which was near and dear to Brenda, who has a sister with epilepsy. EpilepsyAdvocate went global—becoming the first ambassador program to do so. The patient engagement movement was finally actually moving—and Snow Companies was born.
Growing a Company Dedicated to Patients
Following her contract with Serono, Brenda formalized an S-corporation. In 2001, Snow Companies began with Brenda and a couple of employees working from her attic. The company was not only able to sustain itself but also grow without outside investment. Soon, the company’s expanded growth impelled her to take a minority growth investment from WestView Capital Partners and move into a 40,000-square foot facility. She also doubled down on two new service channels, including Snow Digital, which took her company to the next level.
“There are few people in life that you can say are true industry pioneers, but Brenda alone created the category of patient ambassadors based on her passion for patients and her understanding of their journey,” says Jonathan Hunnicutt, General Partner, WestView Capital Partners. “She has built Snow Companies into a truly impressive industry leader.”
Then, in 2018 Snow Companies was acquired by Omnicom Health Group, which allowed it to do what it does best while providing a larger, global network to help the company and its employees to grow. Today, Snow Companies employs more than 350 staff and works with 75 companies representing 150 health conditions across the globe, using signature patient-centric storytelling techniques to position clients as leaders in patient engagement.
“Brenda’s dedication to giving voice to patients is a true inspiration,” says Ed Wise, CEO, Omnicom Health Group. “Her success is merely a side effect of her deep dedication to meeting an important unmet and universal need—establishing and building human connection.”
A Lasting Legacy
“Brenda Snow can pretty much do anything,” says Mike Simone, EVP at Snow Companies. “We were at an ambassador training with people living with progressive MS. Brenda was presenting information when a patient in a wheelchair started to choke on a peanut. In a split second, Brenda ran from the front of the room, jumped a table, and Heimliched the women—literally saving her life. At that moment, I knew this person was a force unlike anybody that I knew.”
Patient Ambassador Christy, one of the very first, says she will never forget when Brenda first called her. “My MS symptoms were making it difficult to keep up with my job, and everything in my life seemed to be spiraling downward. Her voice, filled with compassion, determination, and hope, was the catalyst I needed to push me out of my pity party and not allow my diagnosis to define me. Because of her vision, hard work, and tenacity, I was given the incredible, yet humbling honor of being the catalyst for others who then were able to be the catalyst for the next person, and so on.”
That’s what good stories do. They inspire. They change lives. They change industries.
“Brenda’s story has come to stand for something so much bigger than herself,” says Blake Shewey, EVP at Snow Companies. “And our mission to empower and connect patients by sharing their stories has had an impact beyond the patient community. Countless people are leading healthier lives and companies are doing more informed work because of the movement Brenda started. She has given new purpose to so many people. Never underestimate the power of one story to change the world.”