Industry outsiders often wonder about mysterious ways creatives work — about “muses” or “writer’s block.” I’ve even heard assertions that it’s up to luck or sometimes fate. But as the Chief Creative Officer of Intouch Group, I spend a lot of time proving exactly the opposite. My sole job is to create creativity: to ensure that we have the best creative talent in the business and that they can do their best work, so that we can create the best possible work for our clients.

Healthcare (especially pharma) has historically been viewed as having a low-concept approach to advertising. And it’s true, we’ve seen a lot of the same tired metaphors and visuals over the years.

Perhaps this is partly because we’re relatively new to the game — after all, DTC Rx advertising is still only a few decades old. Moreover, though, our work truly is difficult. We convey complex, literally life-or-death information while making room (both conceptually and physically) to comply with extraordinarily specific regulations and guidelines. Historically, there’s been the industry excuse that restrictions don’t leave enormous space for panache. But as we’ve seen, particularly in recent years, those parameters haven’t made high-concept, high-craft work impossible. With every passing day, pharmaceutical advertising is moving closer and closer to that of straight-up consumer brands­ in its ability to be visually interesting, thought-provoking and elicit an emotional response. And before you ask, yes, including all those traditionally inspiring athletic and performance brands like Nike, Adidas or Gatorade. I believe, though, that while our industry is improving at creating work that’s conceptually driven, we still aren’t as craft-driven as we could be.

I believe, though, that while our industry is improving at creating work that’s conceptually driven, we still aren’t as craft-driven as we could be.

What Is Craft?
“What IS craft?” is, of course, the eternal question. And as the expression goes, you know it when you see it. Craft is the level of artfulness and finish that goes into the execution of the work. It’s the sculptor’s talent of paring away the extraneous to leave only the masterpiece. Craft is what makes work resonant, memorable, and meaningful. It creates emotional connections on conscious and subconscious levels. Sometimes, craft even means making something appear uncrafted — for example, in social media.

Fortunately for us, fortunately for our industry, and fortunately for the patients and healthcare professionals we serve, things are changing. We’re beginning to raise the bar on ourselves, creating work that truly is worthy of a Cannes Lion, that can stand up and hold its own next to the most beautiful and inspirational ads anywhere ­– in any category.

The beautiful thing is that this trend builds upon itself. When we prove that people can have a creative voice and do amazing things here, we attract more talent interested in doing the same. And this is beginning to change the game. There’s an influx of consumer talent coming into pharma — and into Intouch ­­– with increasing steam. Healthcare is a growth industry on every front, and creative leaders see opportunity here.

Healthcare is a growth industry on every front, and creative leaders see opportunity here.

Consumer advertising has always proudly been “the land of misfit toys” — a place you can succeed whether you’re in a motorcycle gang or a novelist (and I’ve known both!). Here in pharma, however, we may have been a bit conservative, assuming a healthcare background is required to do good work. But you can teach people how to work in a regulated industry. How to be creative in the face of restrictions and regulations. It’s much harder to teach the appreciation of craft and the ability to create it. You can absorb it, and you can hone it, but an element of innate talent is irreplaceable.

That’s why this change is so important, and why it’s so important to build upon it and create more change. Instead of recycling the same pool of people, we need to reach outside and bring in new minds­­ — from diverse backgrounds. It will help if we can change the way we recruit from the very beginning, to broaden the pool from the bottom up. This means valuing diversity on every front.

It will help if we can change the way we recruit from the very beginning, to broaden the pool from the bottom up. This means valuing diversity on every front.

It will also help if we can teach interested people to find a way in. Pharma can be like a foreign country, with its own language and norms. But if you learn how to read a clinical trial publication or navigate a PI, actions like that demonstrate that you aren’t intimidated by this strange land and have a willingness to open your mind to its ways. That can go a long way.

Craft matters, and it is the next frontier in our industry. We have a responsibility to elevate our work and to make it un-ignorable, so that vital messages can do their job. We help healthcare happen – but only if we make our work worth seeing. The most expensive ads, after all, are the ones no one looks at.

To learn more about how Susan thinks, read this Q&A from MedAdNews.