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3 top agency professionals on why working in health advertising is so personally rewarding
November 17, 2021
Advertising is becoming more personalized. Your search history and viewing habits inform the ads you see. Your experience visiting a website is likely to differ from someone else's, based on what data says about you. This has been the big shift in advertising over the last decade: a drive to respond more directly to the personal motivations, desires and needs of us as individuals. It's an attempt to make communication more meaningful, to make people care, and it's interesting to observe from our vantage point in the world of health, because health is always personal.
"Why do you want to work in health?"
It’s a stock question of every interview. It’s also a question that we - Rachel Hobson (director), Louis Glynn (associate planning director), and I (creative director) - at health agency, Langland, often get asked ourselves from those in other areas of advertising or different fields of work. A common response is that people moving into healthcare advertising want to do something more meaningful with their lives. The three of us all feel passionate about our work and gain immense satisfaction from it. But what is it exactly that makes a career in health so fulfilling?
Of course, health touches everybody. Health is universally meaningful. There is nothing more immediately significant to every single person on the planet. Think a little further, though, and you realize it’s meaningful in many ways for each one of those people. Health affects us all, but it’s personal.
In fact, it’s just how personal health is that makes it such a rewarding area in which to work.
There’s more to it than ‘making people better’
Health is intimate. It’s about our inner workings. It’s both physical and mental. Health issues are often surrounded by stigma, taboo, anxiety or fear. In deep and personal ways, health affects our relationships with the world and with those around us.
Healthcare isn’t just about helping make people healthier, fitter and live longer. It can be about making life as fulfilling as possible for people with chronic conditions; improving quality of life for those with terminal illness; or improving the daily experiences of the professionals who deliver healthcare. It can generate empathy and create more inclusive environments. At its heart, health advertising empowers a diverse range of people to be more informed and involved in decisions about health.
Just as healthcare means many things to many people, there are different ways in which working in healthcare advertising can be personally rewarding. Here are just three:
Louis Glynn: “With every healthcare decision there are a significant number of stakeholders that have both input and influence. A decision to discontinue a treatment could be heavily impacted by a carer; a suggestion of vaccination to an elderly patient could be derailed by a nurse’s opinion. No matter the problem we are trying to solve, in healthcare, more than any other arena, we must ensure that we are fully connected to the individual psychologies that touch the issue.
“Not only are motivations different for each of our audiences but they are also often conflicting, even when goals are seemingly aligned: a radiologist is driven to recommend radiotherapy, where a surgeon will recommend surgery (all within a framework of what the payer allows). This is where I have found I derive most reward: in the messy interplay between individuals, the tangled web of connections and disconnections. The wide-ranging business problems we solve, the richness of insights that are at play, and the number of different hypotheses that need to be explored to protect the patients’ and the physicians’ interests, all make for an incredibly intellectually stimulating experience.”
Mike Brightley: “Of course, I love the variety of our work – we make films, conference experiences, digital communications and more, to promote treatments and technologies to healthcare professionals and raise awareness of medical conditions. Every day is different. Further to the variety, though, it’s the depth of the challenge – working at the extremes of emotion and reason, bringing those two perspectives together – that I find exceptionally enjoyable.
“Health is inherently emotive. Yet our communications are often directed to people who must offer the most rational of backing for their decisions. Within fields and within roles, the effective balance of rational and emotional drivers will differ. We aim to gain a deep understanding of our audiences and the determinants of their behavior so we can speak to them on a personal level.
“The challenges of creating communications rooted in both scientific and human truths, for a wide range of conditions, products and people, are challenges I truly relish.”
Rachel Hobson:“Being in a dynamic industry, at the forefront of science and innovation, and working in a highly creative community attracts a diversity of people and, therefore, thinking to healthcare communications.
“Our perspectives are just a few, but we need as many as possible to continue to evolve and grow as an industry. Health is ultimately personal, so to understand it and make meaningful communications, we need as many different perspectives and opinions as possible to reach the ever-growing healthcare ecosystem.
“The people within this dynamic, ever-evolving industry are, for me, the most rewarding element. It’s the personal connection and finding out what individuals find fulfilling that is truly interesting and inspiring. Whether understanding the motivations of colleagues, supporting clients to make a purposeful difference, or driving improved connections within the healthcare community as a whole, those personal connections are the ultimate reward for me in healthcare advertising.”
Personal connections and growing opportunities
Intimate topics of personal interest; interconnected personal psychologies; creative challenges to connect with people at the extremes of emotional and rational understanding; building personal connections. The theme is clear: health is meaningful and rewarding to us because health is personal.
Another interesting aspect of this ‘personal’ connection is how the potential for reward grows exponentially when you explore the theme some more.
Multiply the number of people in the world by the number of conditions they’ll deal with, by the number of interactions and experiences they’ll have in their health journeys, and you’ll find myriad moments to influence. The potential to do good is huge. Around each patient is a universe of family members and friends, clinicians, executives and researchers. Every discussion, debate and decision they have is a point at which we can have an impact on the most important aspect of life. That’s a lot of opportunities from which to gain a sense of satisfaction, to feel like our work is worthwhile.
And the opportunities continue to grow.
Covid-19 has piqued people’s interest in health
The Covid-19 pandemic is accelerating a pre-existing trend towards greater personal engagement in health. As well as increased focus on self-care (as documented by GSK here) we may also perceive a shift towards people being more invested in the health of others as part of a more general increase in community spirit (see ‘Coronavirus and the social impacts on Great Britain’, Office for National Statistics)
More people are now talking about, aware of and interested in health. It’s becoming a bigger part of our daily conversations. It holds increasing prominence in both our public consciousness and our private discourse. How wonderful to be able to tell people “I work in health advertising” and for more of them to have a greater appreciation of what that means.
Trends towards personalization
There is a growing expectation on healthcare systems and professionals to involve people in their health decisions. The NHS England guidance around shared decision-making, for example is part of a bigger drive towards universal personalized care (the long-term plan where personalized care will become the standard), and one example of how the role of healthcare communication will continue to grow in importance.
The past two decades have seen a boom in the development of targeted treatments and the encouragement of personalized treatment pathways. With gene therapies, deepening scientific understanding of individual’s biochemistries, and a drive towards greater health literacy among the general public, the likelihood is that healthcare is only going to keep getting more personal.
In advertising too, the idea that we can get closer to people and more intimately integrated in individual lives is an exciting prospect. You could argue that health, the most personal subject of all, is the ideal area for the application of personalized advertising.
A promising point of view
Since I discovered this industry (in the mid noughties), I’ve always enjoyed health advertising. It’s my personal niche: where my love of science and my passion for creativity combine. Like Louis and Rachel, you’re probably coming at it from a slightly different place than me. Even so, if you’re looking for more sense of meaning and fulfilment from your career, give this some consideration: with such diversity of interest and such huge potential, whatever your perspective, it’s pretty much a guarantee that there’s an aspect of health advertising you too would find extremely rewarding on a personal level. How many industries can claim that?
by Mike Brightley, with Louis Glynn and Rachel Hobson