The canvas that marketers have to work on has expanded—and continues to expand—as new channels and mediums open up new possibilities for ways to reach and engage with audiences. With this expansion, does that mean that creatives working in healthcare marketing today need to be able to do more than create captivating visuals and catchy copy? To find out, PM360 asked nine experts:

  • What new skills (that weren’t previously considered to be essential) are now must-haves for marketers/creatives to be successful in 2018 and beyond? Which do you consider to be the most important?
  • How has advertising agency consolidation and/or changing client needs affected the role of creatives? What makes their job different now from what it was five years ago?
  • How has the process of developing a campaign changed over the past few years? What is important for creatives to now know/do in order to be successful when crafting a campaign?
  • What skills, traits, or experience do you now look for in young marketers when you are bringing in new talent?

Barry Schmader

Things have most definitely changed, and it’s not agency consolidation that is having the most profound effect. Years of consolidation and stagnation in big pharma have created a new wave of smaller, more agile and entrepreneurial “pharma” companies, chock full of experienced marketers who’ve fled the big pharma model in favor of something different and more rewarding. So as creative marketers, there is now a new type of client—the biotech, the small pharma, the rare disease, the young pharma company marketing a compound they developed, the medical device and drug therapy hybrid, the pioneers in digital health—who have new and specific challenges to overcome.

The spirit of working with these clients is more upstart and startup, and for creative teams it’s often more demanding—and more fun. Helping to create the voice and tone of these companies’ brands requires a different, more disruptive, creative approach—they’re the underdogs—which is ultimately more rewarding from a creative perspective. And without the level of funding of big pharma, they need impact from every opportunity. That’s challenging—and exciting.

The Need for Experiences

We’re looking for people with a skill set that comes from having a balanced mix of experiences. Not so much experience as in years, but experiences, plural. We look for talented people who have had different kinds of brand challenges and have been exposed to varied marketing approaches—traditional and digital. But they also need to have a passion for bringing traditional and digital together in service of an idea that can help create an experience—that word again—across every channel. And it’s always good if they can grasp the sales process and put together a really tight core sales aid. Because whether it’s digital or in print, that skill seems to never go out of demand!

John Kane

A creative campaign must work harder than ever before. Years ago, you only had to worry about the 11×17, that single sheet of paper with a single image that conveyed a single thought. Today, the landscape is ever-shifting, and with that tide of change comes an evolution of what a creative campaign is.

A good idea isn’t enough anymore. It takes a smart idea. It takes an idea that’s driven by insights. It takes an idea that doesn’t just look great, but also accomplishes an objective. It takes an idea that’s moldable and formidable enough to be applied to different channels. It takes an idea that’s not just good, but is going to get real, quantifiable results.

Analytic and Creative Thinking

More and more, we see young creatives and marketers coming in with every technical skill imaginable. They can use all the programs, know all the tricks, and have intuitive abilities to navigate our ever-changing industry. Yet, with all that practical prowess, young talent that embodies two diverse traits tend to stand out: Candidates with the ability to be part-technologist who can leverage data-rich insights, and those who possess the hands-on soft skills needed to be successful in a collaborative environment.

We look for individuals who can apply analytic and creative thinking that reaches and resonates with our target audiences, and who can embrace the value of learning from diverse thinking and opinions. We’ve become an industry of learning. No matter how long we’ve been in the business, we must have ambition to always better ourselves, to constantly discover, and to apply the data and information we learn to drive the success of our clients.

As a final tip to young marketers who are eager to make an impact—keep pushing ahead. Keep an open mind, stay curious, and never become satisfied with your last great idea.

Stephen Neale

The ability to create great “campaignable” ideas that can be disseminated across the full spectrum of communications channels will always be paramount for any creative in 2018 and beyond. However, we’re seeing the steady rise of audiences consuming more video-based content, especially short (5-15 seconds)-form videos. This will put even greater demands on creatives to tell stories or offer value-added content through this format.

Effects of Agency Consolidation

Today, more corporations are flattening their organizations by having fewer employees take on more roles and responsibilities. This is one of the reasons we’re seeing more agency consolidation. Brand Directors just don’t have the staff or time to coordinate marketing campaigns across multiple agencies, so they’re counting on fewer shops being able to provide creative expertise across multiple channels or disciplines. As creatives, we have to demonstrate not just how ideas can work, but also how specific channels can cross link and take advantage of one another. We must introduce ideas that highlight value beyond communicating specific insights or positions; show how they’re supported through a video, an online experience, a social engagement, etc.; and demonstrate how they all interact and connect with each other.

The New Creative Process

Every year creatives are producing more great work for pharma brands to take advantage of interactive—or “two-way”—media. If they can’t do it directly for the brand, they’ll figure out how to use interactive programs around the disease itself to serve as a springboard for the branded product. Creatives used to start with an ad-lob, a print-like concept that combined an image, headline, and copy, and then extend the idea into more interactive channels. While many campaigns still start this way, just as many are created in reverse, with the core campaign idea beginning as a video series, website, or app and working its way back into print if necessary.

Shannon Boyle

Thanks to myriad and rapid changes that have occurred in marketing and communications over the past decade, creative newcomers to the business are required to bring with them skill sets that are firmly rooted in data, digital, and technology, of course. While Millennials have largely proven themselves to be a generation of digital natives, possessing more intangible traits such as curiosity, empathy, divergent thinking, and flexibility can mean the difference between a good, digitally savvy creative and an excellent, fully rounded creative.

The Creative’s Whole Self

These days, a creative’s portfolio can only tell part of his or her story. What’s more important is that a creative demonstrates a strong ability to feel and do. These may seem like obvious and simple things, but they are quite difficult and rare. Creativity requires a certain amount of self-exposure, and successful creatives are those who have the confidence and self-awareness to reveal themselves in ways that may make them uncomfortable or feel vulnerable, which are hallmarks of inspired creativity. Additionally, possessing “hybrid knowledge” or the ability to synthesize past and new experiences, then connect the dots to create something entirely new, allows the most successful creatives to flourish in a culture of urgency.

The advice I always give to creatives—and, really, to anyone—starting their careers is to bring their whole selves to work. That means fearlessly showing and highlighting the kinds of non-work experiences and ideas that make them different and special. In the past, creativity in marketing was more narrowly defined and the skills, traits, and experiences that creatives brought to bear were fairly consistent and homogeneous.

Creatives today are more diverse, in skill sets and backgrounds, and by nurturing those special ingredients and applying personal purpose to an organization’s purpose can result in an exponentially greater impact than just the sum of the parts.

Jonathan Isaacs

Welcome to cloud cuckoo land. Today, healthcare is in complete upheaval and consumers are in complete control. They know everything your brands are doing and use faceplace and snap-o-gram to tell everyone they know. Clients need a new kind of agency, and that agency needs a new type of talent.

The days of creating three to four big projects in six months are over. Now the world demands 4,000 small, quickly deployed ideas in six minutes. There is no silver bullet—we need silver buckshot. Look for more agile, more collaborative, and entrepreneurial creatives. Or rather makers. People who understand that perfection is the enemy of doing. That insights are steeped in cultural context. And that, no matter the vehicle or how fast it’s going, people want to feel something. Texting is fast, but people created emojis and gifs because they allow us to better express emotion.

The Importance of Wit and Fit

Maker culture is a big mind shift, so when recruiting talent, it is important to spend a lot of time looking at skill, wit, and fit. Especially the last two. I’ve seen a lot of highly skilled people tear apart agencies. But people who are self-empowered, highly optimistic, and killer teammates only make agencies better. Yes, you want to cultivate a very strong culture with people who will thrive in it, amplify it, and buy into the mission. But it sure doesn’t hurt to have fun along the way. Healthcare can be a harsh mistress, so you want to be surrounded by people who wow you with their talent—and make milk come out of your nose.

Kristina Ellis

Regulations are evolving, scientific knowledge is expanding, and—gratefully—new medical solutions are just around the corner. All of these changes impact the work we do. But the biggest change impacting our work: The swiping, clicking, and tapping we do all day long.

The rise of digital media has provided the opportunity for ever-more impressions, but it’s diminished the odds that any one thing will break through. It’s allowed us to target our communications more precisely, but it’s increased the pace at which we must work.

More work, less time, higher expectations.

Just like the old “fast-cheap-good” triad, with “more-faster-better” it’s tempting to say that you can have only two of the three.

But this is the Land of Having It All. So what to do?

We must adopt the developer’s strategy of launching work before all the questions are answered. We must become comfortable taking a chance on something that’s not quite done, knowing that in today’s rapidly changing world course correction is less costly than waiting. In this vision, the launch becomes a stage of inquiry in the tactical lifecycle, where we learn more about how to best add value.

A recent McKinsey article calls our time the Age of Urgency and advises organizations to “worship speed.” As creatives, we can do our part by persuading our clients to let go a little and realize the benefits of iterative tactical development. This isn’t easy, but with the right analytics and research plans we should have the backing we need.

So don’t waste your time and the client’s money making that website or banner ad—or even that core visual aid—perfect. Let your customers help guide you to a better solution.

This rapidly iterative approach will make the work better, and you will be able to do more of it—faster.

Diana Saez

We’re at the point where hard skills and relevant experience are table stakes. Soft skills are the connective tissue that has to hold it all together. It’s great to find a young marketer who knows all the programs, has amazing organizational skills, and can write a campaign in their sleep, but a healthy creative team needs and requires another layer. Today’s killer candidates know how to show you, quickly, that they bring these essential life skills to the work:

  • Empathy and depth: It doesn’t matter if it’s B2B or B2C, empathy is key to putting your audience first. Patient, physician, payer—they’re all humans who want their needs met and their experiences made seamless. Look for talent who can think like the people you want to reach, whether it’s a new mom selecting a breast pump from a DME or a physician watching an EHR video on YouTube.
  • Curiosity and bravery:Bold ideas are born from curious minds. Look for brains that go beyond the creative brief and bravery that challenges assumptions. When you see that someone can connect cultural and technological trends and translate that into a meaningful experience in this highly regulated space—that person is an obvious hire.
  • Communication and vision: Creating, collaborating, and digging in to find that next better, bigger idea can’t happen when someone isn’t able to effectively articulate their vision, perspective, or intention. And while everyone has a unique communication style, ultimately, look for people who are able to tell a great story about who they are in the work, what they bring to it, and—most importantly—why they do it. Clients need to understand our passion for the space, and that has to come through from everyone on the team.

John Hastings

Some skills are timeless, and topping that list would be an aesthetic eye. It’s one of the hardest skills to teach, but really necessary, because all the best work is not only clever but also beautiful. Too many amazing ideas are clouded by poor execution.

In the old world of print and TV, creatives could succeed by simply being good at Photoshop and InDesign. With so many new channels, it’s important to have a wider range of application knowledge. I used to think “Jack of all trades, master of none” was a dirty phrase, but no more. In a world with so many new communication channels, the more you know, the better you’ll be. Look at Elon Musk. But all good creatives still need to master the aesthetic, so I guess I’m saying creatives need to be Jacks of all trades, masters in design.

Finding Great Creatives

I rarely interview people who only know basic programs. If we’re pushing the envelope to find the “greatest creators,” we need to look for people who are on the cutting edge of technology and embracing new programs to work better and faster. If you’re still designing websites in Photoshop, you’re behind. It’s an antiquated process in a program designed for a different use. I now expect a skill list beyond the three applications every art director has.

Finally, to create breakthrough ideas in unique channels requires a practical knowledge of emerging tech. Early adaptors who go beyond reading about innovation, but who work and play with new technology discover the smartest ways to reach others.

A passion for our new world of communication and discovering ways to exploit it, along with the ability to develop ideas with different applications is where the greatest creators live. I am always in search of this magical unicorn.

Jeff Perino

We’ve all been there. Your agency wins a new account and you need to assemble a team fast. But the person who looked so qualified on paper doesn’t deliver. Hire with an eye on both hard and soft skills—and minimize your risk when bringing in new talent.

With an increasingly talented pool of pharma-experienced freelancers, consider fortifying with freelance before rushing to add to your permanent headcount. Why? The hard skills suggested in a CV or interview—digital prowess, scientific acumen, and experience with disease state and audience—rarely give you a complete picture. The more elusive soft skills that take time to measure are just as critical for your team’s success. We’re talking about qualities such as positive attitude, strong work ethic, decisiveness, and effective time management—all best seen on the job. These vital skills help move brands forward.

Try Before You Buy

Because you spend the lion’s share of your time on the day-to-day business of cultivating a brand, your number one priority is finding someone who can deliver like clockwork. You must hire to avoid the boomerang—when shortsighted work comes back half-baked. (The less time you need for oversight, the more time you have to focus on other important tasks.) You must also hire talent that strengthens your team’s chemistry. Bonus points when you find a teammate who makes the daily grind feel less like work and more like fun for everyone.

Of course, the best way to know what you’re getting comes from a history of working together. But when that’s not an option, you may want to try before you buy. With the freelance-into-full-time model, you can make quick and easy adjustments to your team chemistry. And in a few weeks, you’ll know if you’ve found that all-star with the alchemy you’re after.


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