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Roberto Ascione President at Razorfish Healthware tells us why digital agencies are dead!

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AH: Would you mind telling us a little about your background?

RA: I have always been passionate about medicine, computer science and human-technology interactions; and truly believe that technology will be the most impactful driver in the definition of new health experiences. Given my background in medical science, marketing and communications, I started to explore my passion in such areas and in 1996, founded my first company, Healthware Consulting, providing health informatics services.

AH: How did you get into the industry?

RA: Being a pioneer in the field even as early as the 90s when digital was still in its infant phases brought with it several challenges and opportunities at the same time. Riding on the digital wave then, I founded Healthware Technology and Healthware Multimedia – a partnership with Saatchi & Saatchi Health. Thereafter, I took on the role of President of Healthware Group, offering a full range of services in digital healthcare communications across Europe. Healthware was acquired by Publicis Groupe in 2007 and rebranded Publicis Healthware International. Soon after, multiple units (eHealth Solutions, iMed Studios, Digital District) were added to my team.

I am currently in the role of President of Razorfish Healthware, which as you may know is a global organization that enhances our clients’ access to innovative digital solutions across the globe and offers world-class marketing skills, leadership together with a unique outlook on the evolving digital health landscape.

AH: Tell us a bit about your company and what you are doing now

RA: At Razorfish Healthware, we have no fear of the unknown. Creating new experiences is in our DNA and we are ready to help our clients be the first to market with a new, meaningful way to connect to their audience.

We are a unique offering in the healthcare advertising space as we deliver value at the convergence of technology, marketing and creative.
All these skills we bring together in one agency are more commonly found separately within “brand creative” agencies and IT consulting firms. Also, that additional key layer of knowledge around the healthcare space differentiates us.

Over the past year, we accelerated the digital transformation of health and wellness through advanced thought leadership and growth of strategic alliances to define the new health experience. We remain at the forefront of new technologies and channels such as mobile, social and also practise what we preach by diffusing our POVs on them at prestigious industry events such as SXSW, Lions Health and Doctors 2.0.

AH: Tell us about a piece of recent work that you are proud of?

RA: We are proud parents of all our work so this is a tough call, but if I had to choose, it would be Videum. We recognized that video is easily the type of content most desired by users; besides a great number of users are enjoying health videos and performing positive actions thereafter. However the challenge was that a great number of videos online are currently in English. Hence, we conceptualized Videum which is a global health video social network able to globalize video assets leveraging an exclusive subtitling technology and features unparalleled search engine optimization. We are proud of Videum as we believe this to be a unique value proposition in the market bringing good quality health videos to a global audience – in any language.
Videum has also won several awards including the Web Health award and received Standard of Excellence recognitions as well.

AH: If you could win any award for your work this year what would it be and why?

RA: Honestly, there are so many awards out there. However, if you look at our strategy when it comes to selection of awards to participate, we are involved only in a select few such as MM&M, Lions Health, Web Health awards, Webby awards, etc.

The reason behind this acute selection is because not all awards are equal. We aim to match the project characteristics and the award criteria. We also collaborate very closely with our clients in the process of award submission. All this to maximize the chance of winning and above all, ensure that the award/s selected is appropriate for the project.
As you can see, we also try to challenge our boundaries by taking part in non-health categorized competitions. By facing off with “consumer” projects which have diverse characteristics, we also get to learn from them and improve at the same time.

AH: Do we really need award shows? What value do you see them offering?

RA: Well, award shows are definitely much appreciated because of the value they provide. It is not all about shameless recognition for the work we have done, but more so, that positive reinforcement (apart from that of our clients and the campaign results) from established pioneers in the industry that yes, we did well – which in turns pushes us to reach even greater heights.

AH: How would you see the work other agencies are making if award shows didn’t exist?

RA: I guess through social media and peer sharing, I would come across good work from other agencies but award shows definitely provide that collective platform where regional or even global exemplary examples get featured – hence providing us with easier access to good work.

AH: Should healthcare advertising still be regarded as separate from the wider Advertising community?

RA: Hmm, good question. Well, my short answer to this would be yes. Given the intricacies of the healthcare industry – and I am not just talking about the regulatory environment – that added layer of medical expertise definitely is crucial. However with that said, we do and always should look towards the wider communications community for ideas since great ideas occur across all sectors.

AH: Do you consider yourself as someone who works more in advertising of more in pharma?

RA: I like to consider myself as someone who works in the realm of innovation, someone who challenges the norm, and with my team, one who aims to spread this fervour for brand new thinking. While we strongly believe that digital is the force to deliver new health experiences, it is but the vehicle. There is always that big idea borne out of creative, innovative thinking that is the key – in any field.

AH: Do you think digital agencies are the future? Or will big ideas always be most important?

RA: This might sound controversial but I am going to say that digital agencies are dead! Clients are no longer distinguishing between “traditional AOR” and “digital” agencies since even traditional agencies today increasingly have digital competencies. So this term “digital agencies” does not mean much anymore. So if you’re asking, who are we? We are “business transformers”. Looking towards the future, this is our new focus helping clients rise to meet the technological challenges confronting them. I consider that sweet spot between strategic and enterprise consulting our ideal playground.

AH: What do you think will be the impact of Apple HealthKit on Healthcare?

RA: The fact that iOS8 is significantly health-focussed with the introduction of HealthKit shows a nod in the area of mHealth by one of the biggest players in the technological field – which is very encouraging. Regarding impact, this represents a futuristic approach to healthcare where patients are increasingly empowered with health management tools via wearable technology, patients and doctors interact constantly, and health data is constantly integrated.

AH: Do you think we sometimes use regulation an excuse to make work that doesn’t live up to standard consumer advertising?

RA: Well, the complex waters of regulatory are a difficult territory to navigate. We understand this, so in order to aid our clients through this process and ensure that all strategies are in line with regulatory, we have a regulatory unit within our company which is fully versed in such matters so that the teams across disciplines can consult with them for a better understanding of what can and cannot be done, and how we can challenge certain limitations. But regulation should never be an excuse for shoddy work.

AH: How do you compare the quality of creative work in healthcare Advertising vs Consumer advertising?

RA: While the healthcare sector still falls behind in terms of creativity, I am gradually seeing more pharma clients willing to challenge the barriers and turning towards consumer communications for inspiration and ideas – which is I feel is an encouraging sign for Razorfish Healthware given our position as an innovative thought leader with deep roots in human-tech interactions.

AH: What one thing would you want to say to someone new to the industry? That you wish someone has said to you when you started?

RA: Be brave and go where no one else has gone before. Especially today given the digital possibilities where we are playing in the tech 3.0 era with wearable technology and even 4.0 with human-tech society, the possibilities are infinite. The only thing that is finite is that of human belief or drive.