Earlier this year, inVentiv Health combined two of their healthcare communications agencies, GSW and Blue Diesel, to form GSW, fueled by Blue Diesel—one of the largest healthcare-focused communications companies. The new organization combines the best of both agencies and is led by Joe Daley, the former President of GSW. Joe started in this industry as a sales rep at Bristol Myers Squibb and has been with GSW for 15 years. Joe took the time to speak with us about what this merger means, what it takes to create a total brand experience and the greatest insight he has gathered over the span of his career.

PM360: What is the importance of the merger between GSW and Blue Diesel?

Joe Daley: First, it’s important to understand, we have redefined our agency mission to be focused on turning insights into brand experiences that turn people into success stories. Bringing together these two organizations fast tracks our alignment with this mission. Further, GSW and Blue Diesel have a rich history together linked by the entrepreneurial spirit we were founded on—which makes coming together feel natural and strengthening.

The combined organization yields a unique, contemporary and extraordinary mix of capabilities we believe essential to build great healthcare brands in the world that will be. One in which brands need to foster enduring, engaging, and enabling relationships with customers. We demand of ourselves to provide for our clients and be accountable for the outcomes—the most important of which is helping people succeed in improving their health.

Do you see more agency mergers coming in the future and how will that change the way products are brought to market?

Yes. We are in an intensely competitive space and the need for robust offerings is more evident than ever before. Pharmaceutical marketing and commercial organizations are under significant pressure to bring forward the level of innovation that has been the cornerstone of R&D—and to do so with ever increasing efficiency and productivity. It’s the classic “more with less” dilemma.  Leaning into this dynamic requires bringing together ever broader complementary, non-duplicative skill sets and knowledge that allows us to complete a tight, focused partnership team with our clients; a simple, single team that works in a connected fashion across all customer segments driving a high value, consistent, impact brand experience. It’s hard for me to see how you address this environment without accelerated evolution and change that includes combining resources in more aggressive ways, including mergers.

How have you seen your industry change just in the past year?

Rapidly, and on several fronts. It’s a very exhilarating time to be in healthcare; a transformational time. I could get lost in this subject, so I will focus on one of the more intriguing changes, namely the emergence of technology as an essential part of the creative process. Today, you can’t be a great marketer and not be great with technology.

How do you work with your clients to create a total brand experience?

It has to start with a consensus that impressive and effective marketing/communications is all about tapping into human insight. Human truths we amplify to motivate, to stimulate action and to build relationships because of the unique relevance of a brand. Like all agencies, we have a process to make this magic happen. I once heard, “if you can’t describe what you are doing as a process, you don’t know what you are doing.”

And our process, like our mission, has evolved. Simply put we have juxtaposed the art of storytelling into the brand experience creation process. Story allows for fluidity that product “advertising” doesn’t. And all great stories are built on human truths, the best ads, the best songs, and the best movies let you see yourself in them in some way. Our revised experience building process and the talent we staff against the process is actually informed by how movies are made. I will leave the detail to your imagination and curiosity.

Like many in our industry, our “why” that drives us every day is the potential to positively impact someone’s life. And we view that as a unique privilege in healthcare communications. So we hold ourselves to the lofty standards of creating experiences that people want to spend time with. Experiences that invite instead of interrupt, inspire versus just inform, and are personalized versus being generic.

What do you think is the single most effective thing a company can do in today’s market to become or stay successful?

It’s hard to frame up just one thing, but somewhere high up on the list is an idea that has been a catalyst for change in our house, namely shifting focus from playing the role of marketer/advertiser to being an advocate. Customer’s expectations of what a brand should be and do, importantly, have shifted dramatically. We have adopted an advocate mindset—meaning producing brand work that doesn’t just inform, but inspires, and that doesn’t just interrupt, but is share-worthy.

The buzzword today is patient-centricity. How do you see that playing out in the marketplace?

In terms of how the idea should guide investment and outcomes, I’d like to think it means we need to get better at creating meaningful, impactful experiences that stimulate people to want to do instead of have to do. There is this basic truth: Human health’s biggest competitor is inaction. Our curiosity was stimulated by this idea and so we thought it would be interesting to create a hub for the best examples, research and ideas on the kinds of healthcare experiences that change outcomes for the better. In April, we launched The Health Experience Project for that reason (healthexperienceproject.com)—to see if we can stimulate exchange and a dialogue in healthcare that can inspire us all in small ways.

In all your years in the business, what would you say has been your most profound insight and what can others learn from it?

If I had to pick one, and that is a tall order, it’s the simple notion that one of our core values to our client’s brands is to connect people with other people. Great brands connect people to other people; they create, and stimulate community. And in our healthcare context, people can be patients, family members, healthcare providers, healthcare payers, etc. They all have critical roles in pursuit of improved health. Forming meaningful connections help people succeed in their very personal healthcare journeys.

Do you have a personal philosophy that informs what you do?

The healthcare space is a privilege to be a part of and to, in some small way, influence. It’s a big stage relevant to everyone and is rapidly transforming. There is a saying I keep in mind that helps me embrace change, actually welcome change, and is summarized in this quote (and I don’t even know who it’s from): “Whatever you can do, or dream, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it.”

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