The Creativity Challenge: Take Your Campaigns Up A Notch

Exactly what is that certain quality that lifts a pharma, biotech or medical device marketer’s work from the merely common to the completely unforgettable, even best-in-class? The simple answer is creativity—but what is that? And how does it work? And how can you use it to advance your goals? PM360 and Cannes Lions Health, the founders of the renowned and greatly anticipated annual festival celebrating excellence in two categories—Pharma and Health & Wellness—partnered to present our first joint symposium in print, an exclusive Circle of Excellence focused solely on the need for creativity in the healthcare communications industry. Held annually in Cannes, France (see page 33) Lions Health not only honors excellence in healthcare communications, but also sets new standards for what creative excellence looks like—and honors the world’s best work.

As such, PM360 is pleased to present the insights of Cannes Lions Health Pharma Jury President, Rob Rogers, Co-CEO of Sudler & Hennessey, along with several jurors and other industry thought leaders who work with “creativity” every day. Each chose to answer questions from among the following:

  • What does creativity mean to you? Specifically, what are the characteristics of a best-in-class piece of creative work?
  • How do you think the pharma/biotech/medical device industry compares to other sectors in terms of creativity in communications?
  • What developments have you seen in the creativity of communication during the past five years? What changes do you feel are needed to encourage greater creativity in the industry?
  • Where does creativity rank relative to other client priorities when working on a new campaign? How important is creativity to the commercial future success of pharmaceutical companies?
  • Can a pharma/biotech/medical device company benefit from taking more risks in their creative approach? What are the potential barriers to adopting a more risk-taking creative culture?

Everyone has a different take on what creativity is, and the thing is, all are equally valid. But “best-in-class creative”—that’s another matter. We all know it when we see it. Here’s how it’s done.

Lions Health Awards

Find out more about the Lions Health Awards, happening June 19-20 in Cannes, France at:


Andrew MacKenzie


The ability to solve complex problems is, to me, what creativity means. Without action, though, creativity is simply a thought. Creativity is two actions: Thinking, and then producing. It has the fantastic ability to engage a consumer at an emotional level, and stand out creative work does that and more. It draws you in, it leaves you with something, and you remember the brand.

All great creative have 5 vital things in common:

  • It connects with the target audience on an emotional level.
  • Creative is memorable and triggers an easy recall in the mind of the target. Recall is the hallmark of great creativity.
  • It supplies information succinctly.
  • Creativity is simple intelligence—it does not force you to find the pertinent information.
  • It is, finally, a call to action, a drive to engage the target audience to do something.

Great creative carries just the essential content, thinking less is more. And it is original, not predictable. It is authentic and it innovates.

Far more communication channels are at our disposal today. The digital arena has thrown open a whole new world of opportunity for the creative approach—social media, in particular, has a major impact on the marketing mix. Creativity is no longer a one-way dialogue—it is now a conversation. The idea should dictate the media, not the other way around. I think the biggest change needed in the industry is bravery. Bravery from the creatives, and bravery from the clients. Brave ideas stand out, and they make brands stand out.

Rob Rogers


Every creative director worth his or her salt is pretty unhappy when the client says, “I don’t know what I want, but I’ll know it when I see it.” But best-in-class creative work does precisely that. You “know it” because it usually creates an immediate, strong visceral type of reaction. That’s what I look for—that strong opening statement. Another thing that defines the best work is the ability to describe it over a telephone call. If I can see the potential in an idea without actually seeing it, I know it’s a strong concept. This trick also stops me from being dazzled by a beautifully crafted execution. Bloody art directors!

Plenty has been written about the difficulties of working in pharma, and the fact that we have our own show, Lions Health, speaks volumes as to the degree of difficulty. And yet, the best work usually does pretty well at “other” Cannes. So taking greater risks creatively can certainly benefit pharma, medical device and biotech companies. I think for the large sums of money spent with their agencies, the pharma industry gets plenty of hand holding—but lousy value in terms of creativity. All of the agencies supporting Lions Health are capable of doing work that is creative, surprising and differentiating. And yet so little of it actually gets to market that I wonder if the premise behind this risk management is that it’s better not to be noticed. Taste and tone seem to be more important than grabbing an audience.

Good luck if you’re launching the fourteenth me-too agent into a crowded category! Inventing new medicines takes creativity, passion and persistence. I’d love to see marketers adopt that stance and champion powerful ideas before paying too much for another approvable and forgettable solution. I should add, though, that with far smaller budgets, the device category has produced some lovely creative work over the past few years.

Rich Levy


Creativity is not just inspiration, but hours upon hours of hard work. That work lies in not only creating great communications, but also in nurturing it, improving it and making it better at every step along the way. In order for creative work to be considered best-in-class work, it must surprise you—and your audience as well. It must move you emotionally. It must ask you for something in return. The most important thing to realize and understand: Best-in-class work does far more than just inform.

But when it comes to the various challenges that pharma, biotech and the medical device industries face, I can tell you that I spent the first part of my career working on creative for everything from beer to soft drinks to cell phones. And, because of that, I can tell you first-hand that working in healthcare has exactly the same challenges.

At the end of the day, you are still trying to tell a story that changes behavior. Anyone who tries to blame a lack of creativity on governmental or legal regulations or restrictions is only looking for someone else to blame for their lack of creative muscle. In this type of work, the only restrictions we really have are our own imaginations.

Robert Lojewski


A clever idea or solution that advances the business—that’s the very definition of creative. The characteristics of good, even great, creative are this: It is novel or fresh, which means that no one has executed the idea in that way before. Creative also needs to drive quantitative results—such as increased sales or market share. And great creative is also something you’ve accomplished that the competition looks to copy.

In many ways, the pharma, biotech and medical device industries are extremely creative—however, regulations do restrict the degrees to which creativity can go. I remember being told by the FDA once that the photo of our patient in our DTC campaign showed too much teeth—which the FDA associated with an efficacy claim for depression.

Things are changing… For instance, social media is being tapped like never before—and some of the approaches are very clever. I believe the regulatory bodies, i.e., the FDA or OPDP, cannot allow hospital centers to advertise for the care of cancer patients. Why? It implies that they cure all cancers—when these organizations force manufacturers to limit claims to those cancers that they have extensively studied in patients.

In the new campaign—today’s campaign—creativity must be front and center. The fact of the matter is that the industry has multiple products with approved indications that can all share similar claims. But it’s the ability of one company to make their product stand out from others in the category that is, and will continue to define success.

Yoji Sakamoto


Something that removes obstacles in communication and gives people a chance to lead a better life—that’s what creativity is.

My home country, Japan, is the most aging society in the world. In a society like Japan, where more than 25% of the total population is over 65, the importance of communication between a doctor and a patient is increasing day by day. Faced with these situations, some medical-related organizations in Japan have begun to improve their quality of communication with their patients by collaborating with specialists in different fields.

For example, Pfizer Japan is pushing ahead with research to diagnose patients who suffer from nerve pain by analyzing the non-vocabulary sounds that Japanese patients often use—through collaboration with linguists. In addition to that, with the help of high-profile designers, some hospitals now design their buildings in a more fashionable way to liven up the feelings of their patients. Also Dentsu, the advertising agency to which I belong, has set up a special unit called “Ad-Med” to utilize their know-how to solve the problems in medical communication.

Thinking about these changes and the recent evolution of IT makes me think that we are living in the best era to be creatives in the medical industry. Generally speaking, the evolution of medical equipment tends to follow after the evolution of IT. This means a lot of opportunities for us to develop game-changing medical devices or apps with our clients are available—through collaborating with digital technologists. So, I believe that a bright future will come to our industry if we can only free our minds from just making 30-second commercials or billboards.

David M. Paragamian


Creative should be infused in the DNA of every staff member—not merely the creative department. For too long, the agency new business presentation followed a predictable script. About two-thirds of the way through the process—after the agency overview and a strategic set up of the client’s brand and positioning—the “creative” would be revealed on the classic big boards. No matter how many times we said, “these are not journal ads, they are ad-like objects,” the client take-away was, “Oh, that’s a journal ad,” or at least, “That’s the cover of my sales aid.” Creative was a moment—and another department that could be scored on a one-to-five scale on the pitch evaluation sheet from procurement.

Best-in-class creative is measured not as a moment, but rather in totality. Creativity can mean the way we frame the client’s marketing issue; or the non-traditional channel we choose to show brand-building ideas; or the way we staff an account to provide the right thinkers to solve the problem. Creative happens the minute we engage with the client—often in unexpected ways. I’ve started new business presentations in an unorthodox manner by telling the client their brand position was stolen—literally having a person (aka brand) whisked out of the board room—in order to make a strategic point about what we needed to do for the brand—long before we showed a single slide.

Evolving agencies integrate key disciplines in strategy, new technologies, and social media to better solve the client’s marketing challenge. It’s not as simple as the “brand as journal ad” environment. Your brand is always on, 24/7, and your customers engage that way with the brand—shopping your brand “after hours” on the web, on social sites, with their peers and colleagues away from the office, clinic or hospital. Creative today means acknowledging that reality—and building and staffing our agencies to help lead for our clients.

Mario Nacinovich, Jr.


Creativity is an endless journey of curiosity—no single definition exists. One perhaps arrives at various milestones or destinations on this path—call them creative solutions. Some are awarded for their efforts at these milestones with tokens of recognition by industry colleagues, but for many, creativity requires a vastly different approach from dogmatic standard opportunity procedures. By its nature—creativity is uncommon and original. To me, it is having a vision of what the path of discovery could be and also having the intuition to know when to abandon it—and holding these opposing, yet curious thoughts simultaneously at hand.

 Many of the successful clients we work with embrace creativity and risk-taking—they have broken down traditional silos and are looking at their creative path ahead with partners that offer them a much more integrated view of their market and all their respective communications. It is a completely different type of energy and certainly a break from standard operating procedures and conventional wisdom.

We’re not talking about non-compliance, we’re talking about taking action when the outcome is not as clear or unknown. This isn’t for the client who wants to know where you may have done this type of approach before. The fact is, if we are being creative, we haven’t approached it like this previously! In an attempt to show some level of originality, we are persistent and need to bring together sometimes remote or opposing ideas and an unpredictable elegance to form a solution. That solution, to truly be considered creative, needs to have value, be nimble and adaptive. The potential barriers to creativity remain our need for security and our own thinking.

Robin Shapiro


The perpetual search for what if, what else, and what’s next in everything that we do—that’s creativity. It’s the constant quest for conceptual excellence and brilliance in execution. Best-in-class creative rises above the expected and elicits emotion—a smile, a tear or even fear.

Creativity is the mission of everyone in the agency—never the job of one person or one department. In order to achieve it, we build a culture of strong relationships, shared accountability and mutual trust. Without trusting relationships, talented people can’t do their job and the best ideas may never come to fruition.

But in terms of communication, trends support breakthrough thinking and trends also threaten it. The move toward personalized healthcare is a disruptive change impacting every facet of the healthcare system, including communication. Genomics-based medicine, including molecular diagnostics and targeted therapies are here to stay and their commercial potential is finally being realized. Standard creative fare and messaging will not suffice.

Patients and consumers are emerging as key stakeholders in personalized healthcare—opening up exciting new opportunities for creative communication. The immediate need is education, starting at the corporate level and extending to reps, physicians and patients. For instance, we have created a new practice area called Bioceutics in partnership with Diaceutics, leading consultants in the area of personalized healthcare. Together, we are shaping a new conversation with clients who are on the leading edge of the shift toward genomics and personalized healthcare.

A new openness toward experimentation and prototyping has emerged. Clients are less likely to ask whether an idea has been proven to work and more likely to ask how we can test and learn quickly. Agile methodologies allow us to create viable, innovative products and get them into the market expeditiously, evolving as we learn. We are seeing a renewed interest in market definition, market preparation and disease awareness. The creative potential is endless because the emphasis is on creating empathy for the patient—and telling emotionally compelling stories.

Laurie Bartolomeo


Fear is creativity’s greatest enemy. And creative that is truly meaningful enough to reach its audience on a visceral level and deep enough to actually inspire behavioral change is only discovered through the acknowledgement of that fear. There must be a willingness to move past the fear and be open to imaginative and differentiating ideas.

For pharma marketers, a fearless approach often translates into risk, which can add a layer of challenge to the creative process. Creativity in pharma has traditionally been limited by FDA restrictions; medical, legal, and regulatory constraints; and public mistrust of the industry as a whole. Yet, we have numerous examples of forward-thinking creative campaigns that managed to make a difference while remaining within regulations. Achieving that success is less about adopting more risk and more about finding the right balance of creative edginess and scientific credibility. If you can do that, your creative will not only grab the attention of your audience, but it will also ring true for it.

It’s also amazing how technology has transformed our industry and continues to shape and improve the creative solutions we offer our clients. Advancements in video, digital photography and computer generated imagery (CGI) have made it possible to realize much bigger ideas conceptually and to capture and communicate—in life-like detail—the true essence of a brand’s promise. Gone are the days of stock photography of patients walking on the beach. With the tools available today, just about anything is possible, and together with your agency partner you can ensure your brand is not only high quality, but also original, meaningful and ownable.


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