AH: Would you mind telling us a little about your background?
SF: Today I’m an Account Director and part of the Health and Wellbeing team at McCann Manchester. I joined the agency after graduating from the University of Leeds where I studied advertising and visual communications, and have been here ever since. The creative process of dissecting a client’s product, marketplace and challenge, the tenacious search for an insight that’ll make a brief the best it can be, and then the evolution of that brief to a creative solution is what really makes me tick, so I went after a role, an environment and opportunities that’d give me as much involvement in that side of things as possible.
AH: How did you get into the industry?
SF: Work experience, networking and a bit of luck along the way. I guess I was fortunate in that I knew I wanted to work in an agency from early on. Having said that, I never considered the healthcare sector specifically but I quickly realised the intricacies of the environments we were communicating in, and the breadth of end uses of those communications made for some challenging briefs, and the need to think and do differently.
AH: Tell us a bit about your company and what you are doing now
SF: McCann Manchester is one of the UK’s biggest integrated communication agencies. We live on a campus style site in the Cheshire countryside, which fortunately – for both us and our clients – means everything is in one place. It makes collaboration and delivering integrated campaigns a whole lot easier and I’ve the expertise of all sorts of specialists within a few metres of my desk. Today I’m responsible for leading projects across a number of pharma clients, and right now that includes European product launches and some exciting patient initiatives.
AH: What is the average day like for an Account Director in McCann Manchester?
SF: The old saying ‘no two days are ever the same’ definitely applies. Much of my time is spent out and about with client teams, undertaking research and hunting for insights about all sorts of things that affect the brands we work on, training a sales force, in workshops, running workshops – and seeing the odd new place along the way. Back at the Agency, my days are filled pulling together the strategies, developing the creative ideas and executing the campaigns to answer the challenges and opportunities we’ve uncovered.
AH: Do the health and consumer teams work together and play together at McCann or are they separate parts of the business?
SF: Yes, every day. For me it’s the biggest selling point for the agency and our health and wellbeing offering. Having a planner or creative team who don’t live and breathe ‘pharma’ everyday work on a pitch or brief can be a huge advantage. It helps us look at things from different perspectives, to use insights and experiences from the consumer world and creatively, to challenge some of the industry’s self-made norms.
AH: Tell us about a piece of recent work that you are proud of?
SF: Last year saw us deliver a digital internal comms project for one client. It has completely changed the way by which the brand team communicates with its sales force, and vice versa. The solution was incredibly simple, but took bravery on our part and the trust of the client to remove every other channel and approach that had gone before, and replace all with one.
AH: Are there any projects you are working on that we should keep an eye out for in the coming months?
SF: Without giving too much away we’ve a patient awareness/education project we’re nearly ready to launch. It has been one of the most challenging yet creative and rewarding things I’ve been a part of, and as an agency, it’s something we’re hugely proud to be delivering. Watch this space as they say.
AH: Do we really need award shows? What value do you see them offering?
SF: Aside from being good fun, award shows and industry events are important for showcasing the best of the industry’s talent, for networking and for inspiring the next generation. It’s amazing the enthusiasm that follows a good award show, client and agency side.
AH: How would you see the work other agencies are making if award shows didn’t exist?
SF: We’d probably not see as much of what each other are doing. There’d be a greater need for good news sources that aggregate the best of the industry’s work and ‘goings on’, and we’d probably spend more time than we already do with our noses in journals and looking online, for anything new.
AH: Do you think Digital work often struggles to be recognised in the big award shows? Is there a need for specific digital awards with digital specialist judges?
SF: Perhaps a couple of years back, but it’s becoming more mainstream now. I don’t believe digital should be treated as a separate, or standalone entity, in healthcare or in the consumer world. We should be starting with the problem and the solution/idea; if the end user or audience can be reached effectively via a digital channel and the idea lends itself to live digitally, only at that point should we consider it. Digital projects that are executed true to this, and are effective, will be recognised in the main award shows.
AH: Should healthcare advertising still be regarded as separate from the wider Advertising community?
I don’t believe so, no. There are many factors that are very different, of course, but at the end of the day it’s still doing the same job – to inform, to persuade or to change a behaviour. Whilst the general public and wider advertising community don’t see a lot of what we do, we should be striving to produce work that sits alongside the very best of advertising.
AH: Do you consider yourself as someone who works more in advertising of more in pharma?
SF: In advertising; individually, and as an agency, we approach briefs from our pharma clients as we would any other brand or product. Patients, carers and healthcare professionals are all still humans after all, and whilst the information and decisions they are making can be critical or life-changing, we still need to understand what makes them tick and how they feel, in order to affect, cause and drive the behaviour change we want.
AH: Do you think we sometimes use regulation an excuse to make work that doesn’t live up to standard consumer advertising?
SF: I’m sure there are conversations each and every day in agencies and among client teams to that point. However, we shouldn’t approach regulations with the mindset that they are a restriction to the work we can produce. Think about the finance industry or alcohol – they too have restrictions within which they need to communicate. We’ll often start by working out what we need to say or do, get the client and wider regulatory team on board with that, and then use their skills, expertise and knowledge to get to a solution. It’s all about collaboration, not restriction, then.
AH: What is the single change you’d like to see in the industry this year?
SF: We need to do more to attract the best talent and the next generation of creative and strategic minds. It’s not an area of advertising that is up there on the radars of many of those looking for their first career step. Like everything else, the speed at which the ways patients search for information, healthcare professionals diagnose and treat, and we communicate with each other is changing is momentous; to respond to it, we need the minds of those who are growing up with the technology, society’s emerging behaviours and expectations alongside those with the years of experience in the sector, to get to the right answers.
AH: Where do you look for inspiration?
SF: Outside of the industry; if you’re always watching what those in direct competition with you are doing, you’ll never give yourself the chance to do something truly different. Read, watch, listen and travel lots – those are the types of things that inspire. If we’ve a really tough brief, I’ll often think it over far away from my desk, whilst I’m travelling or out in the fresh air.
AH: Do you look at other healthcare agencies around the world? Who do you think is making the best work at the moment?
SF: VCCP (Health) have delivered some brilliantly insightful and beautifully executed work over the last 12 months – a real nod to the fact that the industry should be setting the benchmark as high as the very best of the consumer world, and not sacrificing the quality of an idea to regulations.
AH: How do you compare the quality of creative work in healthcare Advertising vs Consumer advertising?
SF: As in the consumer world, there’s still the good, the bad and the ugly. However I think in the last year or so, we’ve started to see a new, exciting trend of work from the next generation of agencies and clients who are pushing the industry’s expectations creatively, and in their thinking.
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?
SF: Don’t be put off by the industry’s self-made jargon, and the perception that the regulations make our job near impossible. The data is just content, regulations are just the parameters of the brief, and it’s our job to think creatively, ingeniously and strategically within them.
AH: Who do you look up to and why?
SF: He’ll probably never see or read this, but my art and design teacher at secondary school. It was he who turned an interest and hobby into the possibility of a real career. Early on he gave me insight into the creative industries, particularly advertising, endless opportunities and faux creative briefs to inspire me (I wanted to be an architect!).
AH: If you could read an interview on advertising health from anyone in healthcare advertising who would it be with? And what would you want to know?
SF: I think the emerging Asia Pacific markets are really interesting, so a counterpart down on the ground there. Health and wellbeing is such a powerful being there, yet their cultures and daily vernaculars are so different. With these markets set to have an increasing presence globally, the biggest challenges and where they see opportunities ahead would make for an interesting read.
AH: Are you a regular reader of Advertising Health?
SF: It’s one of my ‘go to’ places for industry news, and I’ll pop online one or two times a week to check what’s going on. The breadth of content covering agencies and pharma alike, new work and campaigns, alongside technology, the views and opinions of those involved in the industry makes it a particular useful source to share with the wider agency team.