A Case Study: Unlearning

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“Fail, fail again, fail better.” Samuel Beckett

I have this fear of making mistakes.

I find that I’m always second-guessing and triple-checking myself in most things I do because of that fear. When I do end up making a mistake, I find that I spend about 5 minutes scolding myself and wondering how it could have all been avoided. Let me just say that I find about 10 different ways to answer that question.

But isn’t making mistakes a part of life?

Yes. Everyone makes mistakes in life but it is how you bounce back from those mistakes that defines you. I recently listened to a podcast where the focus was on learning and unlearning. To “unlearn” means to let go of what you have already learned or acquired. To unlearn, you have to be open to letting go of what has been pushed on you for so long, pressing the pause button, and relearning all over again—but this time, the right way for you.

After some research, I decided that the time was right for me to start unlearning a few things—therein began my month of renewing my mind. Here is one thing I’ve “unlearned” thus far:

1. All mistakes are bad.

I recently came across an article in the Harvard Business Review about “The Wisdom of Deliberate Mistakes.” Paul J.H. Schoemaker and Robert E. Gunther, the authors of the article, state that “the resistance to making mistakes runs deep, creating traps in thinking and decision making”—a statement that I wholeheartedly agree with. I believe the No. 1 thing that gets in the way of us being our best creatively is fear. I am learning to call my mistakes “experiments.” We live in a world of trial and error, and sometimes the greatest things can come out of simple experiments. As a wise person once told me, “It’s all about where the creative work is taking you and not where you are trying to take it.”

I have come to believe that in our line of work, especially in the creative department, we shouldn’t be afraid of making mistakes. Embrace it because some of the greatest innovations have come from just the simplest mistakes. Don’t believe me? Take some time and research how one of the antibiotics widely used today—penicillin—was created.

I’m still on my journey of unlearning, and if you would like to learn a little bit more, feel free to reach out!

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Also posted in advertising, behavior change, Creativity, Education, Experiment, Great Ideas, Innovate, leadership, Learning, Marketing, Mistakes, Self-monitoring, Unlearning | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 1 Response

Courtesy: A Workplace Essential

Thank You TypewriterThe rules of courtesy were programmed into my brain from a young age. The power of “please” and the testimony of “thank you” are the gods of courtesy, but like all greatness, there’s more than meets the eye. These words represent the beginning and the end of all things courtesy. Just as in life, the most important parts of courtesy are not the beginning (please) or the end (thank you), but what happens in between.

Growing up playing sports showed me how to work with others in the pursuit of something greater than myself. Working at OCHWW over the last few months has shown me that my coaches prepared me for what most new college grads consider “real life” more than I thought. At an advertising agency, everyone relies on others to accomplish their goals. The creative team might be the players on the ice (I played hockey), and the account team might be the coaches. Without these two teams working in tandem, the work does not get completed. If the creatives are the players and the account teams are the coaches, then the clients are the general managers and owners. All are in the pursuit of one thing, the Stanley Cup of advertising: a great ad and maybe a few accolades to go with it.

Now, how does all this work get done? With the help of courtesy, of course. Here’s an example: I pass the puck to you. You need to get it back to me for us to score. Simple, right?

Here’s another: I email you in the morning. “Can you please let me know where project “Protect the Puck” is on the timeline and when I can expect to receive it? Thank you.”

If I don’t hear back from you in a timely fashion, it might paralyze me. By simply taking a few seconds to respond, it helps me to prioritize my work that day and solve problems, finding a way to work around the situation, or work with you to complete the project. I understand that you are busy. We all are. But as a professional you know that all your colleagues are relying on each other to get things done. By giving your team members a quick heads-up, you help them do their jobs better. You also relieve some tension in your own day because it forces you to prioritize too.

There are other benefits that come from workplace courtesy too. When you are kind to and considerate of your colleagues, that will come back to you. The easier you interact with people, the more likely they will be to help you in a pinch if they can. In turn, this makes your team stronger because you can interact with great candor and camaraderie. A strong team in which everyone is working in tandem is tough to beat.

If you do not carry yourself with great workplace courtesy, may the gods of courtesy smite thee!

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Is Print Dead?

4144823A lot has changed in print production since I entered advertising in 1987. Back in the day, printing was a form of art. A good printer was worth his or her weight in gold.

But how times have changed! Especially within the last four to five years. Art has taken a back seat, and it is down to price and speed. So what is a print buyer to do in this day and age? Is print going the way of the dinosaurs?

As I think about it, reviewing the latest research and trend reports, I have mixed feelings. I am a print person, I need it in my hand, but that doesn’t stop me from appreciating the digital world. It simply amazes me how far we have come since I started in this business. Google, YouTube, Pinterest, etc. You can find anything you need within seconds. How cool is that?

But hear this! Print is not dead and still has an important place. Just as radio did not bring the death of newspaper, and television did not bring the death of radio, online media will not kill off print media. A wise marketing plan must include a combination of both digital and print. Target your audience, apply segmentation, and adapt the resource allocation based on how your stakeholders prefer to receive their information. And of course, overlayed with analytics!

Print continues to have undeniable advantages over online advertising. It is narrowly targetable, highly personal, and credible to consumers. People trust the printed page. Audience specificity is guaranteed when trying to reach your customers.

In addition, print is tactile, a comfort food for the brain. Consumers are more engaged reading print, unlike websites, which are often skimmed in as little as 15 seconds. Studies have shown that people read digital screen text slower than printed paper and read less of it.

Technology is playing a vital role as well in print. Through the Ogilvy Innovation Lab and emerging technology, unique advances in printing—such as embedding video, QR codes and even adding smell into print—have not only made this channel more interactive, but more engaging as well.

Print is also relatively long-lived while being a solid vehicle for establishing brand identity. Print advertising will continue to be a viable component for an effective multichannel campaign. Understand your customers and how they want to receive information on your product by using the right vehicles:  real-time analytics will help inform your mix of online, print, collateral and event marketing to ensure your campaign is a winner.

So don’t ignore print. It still plays an important role in your brand’s promotional campaign. I just can’t help wondering how the next decade will affect the advertising world….

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The Movement Toward “Pill Plus”

extramileHistorically, the relationship between manufacturers and payers has been transactional in nature. Payers needed to work with many manufacturers to meet financial objectives. With markets like hypertension and cholesterol at their prime and filled with branded agents, contracts benefiting both parties were the No. 1 priority. The majority of the discussions were branded, and there was a lack of trust and transparency between parties.

That was the old world, however—and this is the new world.

In today’s healthcare market, manufacturers and payers are dependent upon each other to meet their business goals. More focus has been placed on “above brand” or “pill plus” initiatives, over and above rebates for contracted products, resulting in a more collaborative environment among stakeholders. Contracts and transactions are no longer the only indicator of a positive relationship.

This shift was due in part to market trends that have required pharmaceutical manufacturers to step up their game. They needed to move beyond a transactional relationship in order to continue to provide value and differentiate themselves and their portfolios from the competition. Because there is such a huge generic market satisfying the needs of many patients with chronic illnesses, payers are relying less on their manufacturer partners to satisfy their formularies. Such market trends include:

  • Genericization of pharmaceutical marketplace
  • New branded agents with marginal improvement over existing therapies
  • Introduction of expensive orphan and specialty products
  • Access to payers and providers being minimized as stakeholders consolidate

This new environmental dynamic presents a great opportunity for our clients to take it up a notch…and where there is opportunity for our clients, there is opportunity for us. It is becoming increasingly important for us to approach tactical planning in a different way. So…what should our clients be doing to reserve a seat at the “pill plus” table?

  • Improve quality of care—focus on patient engagement, care coordination, quality measures, and optimizing the patient experience
  • Provide real world outcomes that demonstrate the value of therapies
  • Focus on developing deeper, more meaningful relationships with payer customers by providing added value through above-brand programs

So, you see, pharma must raise the bar—they must adapt to sustain value over time…because “if you’re not at the table, you’re on the plate.”

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Also posted in Brand Awareness, Customer Relationship Marketing, Healthcare Communications, Learning, Patient Communications, Pharmaceutical | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Responses

How To Milk a Horse

milkIt’s not very often I find myself marveling at a brand’s attempt to “co-opt” an opportunity or marketing “tie-in” to generate awareness and grow their brand. But I’ve really got to give it to GSK and their brilliant tie-in to California Chrome and the Belmont Stakes.

They did not horse around and brilliantly seized the moment for their Breathe Right brand. June is prime allergy season, so for nasal sufferers and excessive snorers, it was a perfect time to raise brand awareness.

The Belmont Stakes, the annual thoroughbred race in New York, was expected to draw in a larger-than-normal crowd due to the media frenzy around California Chrome’s bid to win the Triple Crown. Stir in a little controversy over whether to allow the nasal strips that California Chrome wears, and you’ve got yourself a beautiful opportunity to jump in and make some noise.


Enter GSK. They signed on as an official sponsor of both the Belmont Stakes and California Chrome.  They launched a huge PR effort, including publicity shots of the horse’s owners posing with Breathe Right strips, a new TV ad “Bed Time Stakes” featuring a jockey getting a good night’s sleep thanks to his strips, a social media campaign with tons of online chatter, and distribution of 50,000 samples at the actual event.

GSK took advantage of the 3Ms—Media, Momentum and Multichannel—so frankly whether California Chrome won the Triple Crown or not, they turned up a winner. Seriously, how often would anyone be talking this much about nasal strips? That’s how to milk a horse.

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My First Experience Working on a New Business Pitch

FinishLineAt first I was apprehensive about working on a pitch. And by apprehensive, I mean…terrified. I heard about the sleepless nights. I heard about the weeks in overdrive. I heard about the soul-stealing, confidence-crushing monster (perhaps known by others as a time crunch). I imagined myself going into crisis mode…which isn’t pretty, let me tell you: a lot of crying and a lot of M&M binging. But I soon learned that the Kleenex and the M&Ms wouldn’t be necessary. For me, working on a new business pitch ended up being an amazing experience, and a bit like college orientation.

During my freshman year of college, I was placed in an orientation group. It was The Breakfast Club all over again: a group of people who wouldn’t ordinarily hang out are all put in a room, bring their individual personalities to the table, become friends, and develop a special bond because of their experience together. This experience was replicated at Ogilvy CommonHealth in my first new business pitch that happened just weeks after I started my role as a planner.  Not only was I able to meet a lot of new, amazing people and develop relationships with them, but I was also introduced to what my life would be like as a planner. While these relationships were definitely important for the purpose of the pitch, I really loved that they significantly influenced the work I would do in the future. Plus, it made the office a friendlier place!

Now down to business. So, I mentioned my first new business pitch happened just weeks after I began my role as a planner in CommonHealth.  In my 6 months as an Associate, I had some exposure to Ogilvy’s Fusion system and to market research—all very much on the surface. On this pitch, I knew I would get to go way deeper into a brand than I had gone before. This was the opportunity for me to really get my hands dirty. I couldn’t wait. I was able to be part of the planning process from start to finish for the first time. I researched market trends, I conducted target audience interviews, I drafted the Fusion Journey and Blueprint, and I even got to write the creative brief—all in just a few weeks, and of course with supervision (Thanks, Mindy!). I loved becoming the expert on the client’s business and even more so the target; I loved learning about the different experiences these people had, whether a benefit consultant giving weight-loss program anecdotes, or an HR manager sharing how she chooses health and wellness programs for her company; I got to be a part of their world for a few minutes, and I felt their excitement and pride as they told me about their roles in their companies. I loved being a part of the entire pitch process from the competitive audit down to writing my very first DO Brief. It was a three-week taste of everything I would get a chance to work on in my career as a planner. And it tasted amazing.

Goodbye soul-stealing, confidence-crushing monster (the time crunch again). Goodbye M&Ms. Actually, not goodbye M&Ms, I still quite like your chocolatey crunch—not ready to be rid of you quite yet. But seriously, working on a new business pitch has been one of the most rewarding experiences for me at Ogilvy CommonHealth, not only for the extensive planning experience that I gained in such a short time, but also for the friendships I made along the way. Thanks, team! Oh, and to make my first pitch experience even sweeter, we won the business! I continue to work on the brand and grow my planning experiences every day.

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The Art of Self-Reflection

reflectionsOne of the many benefits of having my great-grandmother well into my adulthood was the opportunity to learn many tidbits about what was important in life and how to assess and improve character. Of all the gifts she imparted, one in particular really stuck with me, and I have tried to apply her advice daily in both my professional and personal life.

Whenever hearing her great-grandchildren complain about something or someone, she’d say (as she danced at age 96 with an imaginary partner after having a brandy or two), “When you point those fingers, take a good, hard look at them. You have three fingers pointing back at you!

I’m sure it’s a phrase that many of us have heard through the years. The lesson, of course, is to own it, whatever it may be. To grow and learn from our mistakes means investing time to look within, objectively assess situations, and determine “How did I contribute to that?” and “What can I do to make sure it does not happen again?” It’s easier said than done, of course, and it’s always easier to point a finger in another direction. Admitting to one’s mistakes takes quite a bit of courage. But while difficult, self-reflection leads to a very satisfying place, a peaceful place. It assures growth in only the best and most productive way.

So why not apply the same principle in the workplace. If our goal is to find the balance between being client-centric and company-centric, it means not only delivering quality work in a timely fashion and being efficient, but also holding our company principles to heart and ensuring our staff does not burn out in the process. To achieve this in our fast-paced agency world, self-reflection must be an ongoing and open process. It requires each of us to have the hard conversations with ourselves and our colleagues and commit to being part of the solution. It means letting our teammates know that “I know I could have done some things better and this is what I promise to do in the future to ensure success”; or “…this is what I will change in my behavior to help us get to a better place.”

Some things are in our control, others are not. But for those that are, the art of self-reflection and recommitment to change will land us in a good and positive place. If you don’t already do it, give it a try. My guess is it will be infectious and feel good, not to mention result in a truly collaborative, collective effort in the workplace.

So then, what’s your promise?

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The Challenge of Change–Breaking Out of Your Comfort Zone

POP flyerJ-codes. ICD-9 codes. CPT codes. UB-04 forms. Medicare reimbursement appeals. Care Management Strategy and Solutions. Formulary access. Business case. Value prop. These are just a few of the vocabulary words from a whole new language I’ve been learning—the language of Payer.

I’ve spent 20+ years in pharmaceutical advertising—long enough that I truly thought there was very little left for me to learn. How wrong I was. When our Payer group expressed the need for more copywriters recently, I answered the call. And the last couple of months have been quite a ride.

Suddenly I was a newbie again. I went from focusing on one or two products with one client to juggling more than half a dozen different brands for three different clients simultaneously. Beyond the multitasking, though, I’m discovering that breaking out of one’s comfort zone is, while scary, the best and fastest way to grow, personally and professionally. And I’m fortunate to have found some very smart—and very patient—teachers along the way.

Payer is the future of our industry. As everyone from the federal government on down turns their focus to managing the cost of healthcare, the days of billion-dollar blockbuster brands (like Claritin—an account I worked on for seven years) are behind us. Budgets are tighter. It’s not enough to convince a doctor to write a prescription when any one of a handful of middle men—pharmacies, pharmacy benefit managers (PBMs), commercial insurers—can step in and switch that branded drug to a generic, charge a hefty copay to discourage patients from paying for it, or just refuse coverage altogether. Efficacy and safety aren’t the most important selling points anymore—they have become the price of entry to a market that is much more cost-sensitive. And patients are more discriminating too—no longer willing to blindly follow a physician’s directives, especially in the current economic environment, they scour the Internet and become educated, sophisticated healthcare consumers in their own right.

We are all going to need to learn this new language—promoting pharmaceuticals in this brave new world requires talking about our brands in a whole new way. The points we use to persuade potential customers are going to have to be more compelling than “Drug X worked better than a placebo.” And I’m excited to have the opportunity to be involved in this emerging area.

My horizons have broadened exponentially in the short time I’ve been involved with Payer—I’ve worked on reimbursement guides, wrote a sales training manual teaching reps how to use a formulary access app, crafted emails announcing formulary status changes, and edited a PowerPoint promoting care management solutions (online resources and programs that encourage patients to participate in improving their health). And I know I’ve only scratched the surface—Payer encompasses a wide range of audiences, not just payers but also HCPs, patients and even caregivers. Future projects could include everything from writing a value prop, to a webinar, to materials for an ad board. I look forward to continuing to learn, and ultimately master, the terminology that sounds like Greek to me today. And maybe, just maybe, I’ll figure out what a business case is, and how to fill out a UB-04 form!

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Also posted in agency life, career decisions, copywriting, Creativity, Healthcare Communications, Learning, Managed Care, Payer Marketing, Reimbursement | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

A Blog, About a Blog, About Fragile X

blogFragile X is not a code name for someone I was in a relationship with. It’s a syndrome. Don’t feel bad, I didn’t know what the heck it was either. Nor did my sister when her 17-month-old son was diagnosed with it. Now hold that thought—we’ll come back to this…

Presented with the opportunity to submit a blog entry at work, I pondered a vast array of potential topics. I thought a lot about blogs themselves. I thought a blog (entry) about blogs was an interesting approach. I jotted down a list of blog-related questions I had, thinking they might send me down an insightful path…

How many are there? How many are focused on healthcare? What’s the official definition of a blog? When was the first blog created? What are the Top 10 blogs? What do people most commonly blog about?

I found answers to all of my questions and then some. The blog statistics are staggering.

There are between 152 million and 230+ million in total (although I was unable to find exactly how many focus solely on healthcare). The term “web log” was coined by Jorn Bargeron December 17, 1997. The short form, “blog,” was coined by Peter Merholz, who jokingly broke the word weblog into the phrase we blog in the sidebar of his blog Peterme.com in April or May of 1999. There’s a lot of debate about the Top 10 blogs, and there are many Top 10 lists of blogs organized by different topics: http://www.blogs.com/topten/

Now for the most staggering statistic: I read that there is a new blog created somewhere in the world every ½ of a second. That means there are 172,800 blogs added to the blogosphere every day. And apparently 409 million people view 14.7 billion pages of blogs, each day!

There is no topic you can think of that you will not find a blog dedicated to. Try it. I did.

My blogstorming then led my brain to think about blogs that inspire me. That was easy. The most inspiring blog I’ve ever come across is penned by my very own sister, Cara. Cara has endless inspiration for her blog. My nephew Hayden is Cara’s “supermodel-esque son who just happens to have a genetic disorder which affects his brain.” This brings us back to the real matter at hand—Fragile X and raising awareness of it.

As the parent of an almost 9-year-old with Fragile X, my sister believes there are two kinds of people in this world: those who know what Fragile X syndrome is and those who do not. Hayden’s milestones followed a timeline of sitting up when most kids crawl, crawling when most kids walk, and walking when most kids begin toilet training. At 17 months, a blood test confirmed Fragile X syndrome. Hayden has learning difficulties, exhibits behavioral challenges, sensory issues, hyperactivity, and also…an unbelievable memory, a charismatic personality, and his most prominent feature is definitely his smile.

Cara’s blog is “awareneXs”—spelled with an X, because that’s what she wants people to become aware of. Read more about the origination of the blog, and Hayden’s diagnosis, here: http://awarenexs.blogspot.com/2011/05/why-may-of-2011.html.

So, challenged with the question of what to blog about, I take the opportunity to raise the awareness of Fragile X, and introduce you to my amazing nephew Hayden. If you’re not already part of those 409 million people who view blogs every day, this one might make you part of the statistic. At a minimum, it will swing the pendulum my sister sees a bit more toward the side of “people who know what Fragile X syndrome is.”

Read more about Fragile X and Hayden at http://awarenexs.blogspot.com/.

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Mindfulness: An Age-Old Concept in a Bright, Shiny New World

yoga officeIf you asked others to define mindfulness, you’d likely hear a variety of responses, the most common of which might be relating the term to a Buddhist concept. Mindfulness indeed originated thousands of years ago, and for those who conceptualize it this way, a quote from the well-known author Thich Nhat Hanh illustrates the point well. He said, “Walk as if you are kissing the earth with your feet.” Too esoteric? This is far from the only interpretation of the word.

A more practical and relevant definition for business is simply: awareness. We all know full well the challenges in today’s environment, particularly within the rapidly evolving healthcare space. The digital age isn’t coming, it’s here, but all of its obstacles and opportunities are still being pulsed out over time as we answer some questions and then inevitably raise more. As if our own world isn’t changing quickly enough, that of our clients is right there beside it, equaling if not outpacing the transformation we’re experiencing. One of the keys to all of this—to recognizing the hurdles and also to overcoming them—is mindfulness (yes, that 2,000+ year old practice).

Mindfulness facilitates a more complete view of what’s around us. It compels us to consider our immediate and long-term challenges, and the resources we have available to address them. But it also encourages us to put ourselves in the shoes of our clients, to become more connected to (in other words, aware of) their work climate, and that always makes for better, more creative and insightful work.

But it is more than just awareness. Going back to the more obscure definitions, it’s about being supremely present, the result of which is the ability to recognize beauty and connectedness in the world. The more of that we see, the more impassioned we become and the more driven we are to contribute to it—through our work, but also through our hobbies, our families and our friends.

So let’s make a pact to be more mindful and to reap the rewards, personally and professionally. Become more familiar with and aware of your working environment and that of your clients, work after hours at home and even monitor those devices as needed, and you will be a better, more valuable professional for it. But when the job is done, continue to practice that mindfulness by being fully present and invested in whatever you’re doing after work. It helps us all, even those who love every waking second of their job, to unplug and recharge. There are few things that clients love—and need, especially in today’s healthcare landscape—more than an eager and fresh perspective ready to confront their most formidable challenges.

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Also posted in agency life, behavior change, Creativity, Health & Wellness, Mental Health | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment