CEOs to Coalition’s Rising Leaders: Engage in Political Process, Keep Learning

June 17, 2016 – In order to stay ahead of change, further their careers and forward the positive message of how healthcare marketing improves lives, the industry’s next generation must engage in the political process, never stop learning and be authentic in changing the conversation, according to three CEOs who led a panel discussion at the recent Coalition for Healthcare Communication’s Rising Leaders Conference, held in Washington, D.C.

“What we do is not untruthful and it is not misleading … and we all have many stories to share about how what we do impacts people, helps people and makes a real difference in the world,” said Sharon Callahan, CEO, TBWA/WorldHealth, and chair of the Coalition’s Executive Committee. “If you love your career and love the industry that you are in, this is really about your future,” she said.

“You need to make a commitment to making our image better. The way to do that is by knowing what’s going on and telling a different story than what’s out there,” she advised. “It starts with each individual, so make sure your voice is heard.”

Dale Taylor, President and CEO, AbelsonTaylor continued this thread, adding that continuous learning helps industry leaders to “sound really smart in areas where our clients are not.” He said that being informed of the latest health policy information can help industry professionals to get important discussions started with their clients.

For example, hearing at the Coalition conference that medical and regulatory teams have the option of going to the FDA to argue their points gives attendees an advantage (First Amendment Coalition Conference). “Just bringing that information to our senior marketing partners and suggesting that they may want to talk to their teams about the fact that this can happen” is a good outcome, Taylor told attendees.

Knowing more about the political process and how to get engaged in it is a critical next step, Publicis Health CEO Nick Colucci, explained. “Politics is great theater these days for sure, but democracy is not a spectator sport,” he said. “It important to all of us that we not only know and understand what’s happening, we must also get engaged, we must get on the stage and get into the play.” He told the group that being a great leader “is about showing up, and as it relates to issues like this, you’ve got to show up.”

Taylor noted that reaching out to politicians and their staffers is ideal in a campaign year, and that industry members sharing their positions on key healthcare communications issues can have an effect, to the point where a politician might agree that if a particular issue comes up, he or she will reach out to discuss it with an industry member before acting. Callahan pointed out that politicians have to be re-elected, so being a “squeaky wheel” and sharing personal stories with them about the positive results of healthcare marketing can go a long way toward gaining advocates in Congress.

“You’re here today because you wanted to learn something and I think you will find a way in your interactions with your clients to share with them what you learned,” Colucci said. “I think that’s when politics are at their best – at the grassroots level – and positives will come from starting an intelligent dialogue.”

Addressing how industry members can come collaborate to fight for issues that affect the entire industry, Callahan suggested that the Coalition is a great uniting force. “This Coalition is made up of every major advertising agency and marketing firm in this industry. There are issues that we are all aligned on and that we are all invested in, and I do think that there is tremendous power in all of us coming together,” she said. “Certainly we are competitors … but there are lots of issues, like opioid abuse and the reputation of the pharmaceuticals industry, where we should come together and use our power to solve problems.”

Callahan continued, stating that “We are in an age of transformation in healthcare and we are going to have to transform our business and our business models. Sharing resources around some of these issues going forward is a really exciting proposition.”