Reality-based research – do you know what it is really all about?

I Word Cloudam often asked to explain to both agency colleagues and clients what the Behavioral Insights team does, and how it differs from other kinds of research.

Here is what I tell them…

Years ago, one strategically minded agency leader thought that he could do a much better job helping his pharmaceutical marketing and advertising clients if he knew what was really said when physicians and patients got together for their visits. He was right. Years later, we have recorded over 4,000 office visits and 8,000 corresponding post-visit interviews with healthcare professionals in over 20 therapeutic categories, along with their patients and often their loved ones—creating a whole lot of words and actions to analyze. Now we have a much better understanding of physician and patient dialogue and behavior—and a lot of insight into what goes on during real-world interactions in healthcare.

Over time we have broadened our offerings, but overall, we conduct primary research in real-world settings that focuses on healthcare dialogue and behavior. We do this by accessing techniques such as ethnography to observe our targets in physicians’ offices, their homes and work places, and while on the go. We analyze the data with sociolinguistic techniques. By monitoring social media, we can even take a look at what they write about online in open forums, and analyze their dialogue. We know that when a person feels less inhibited by the constraints they often experience when talking with healthcare professionals in person, they are able to ask questions and raise topics they normally shy away from.

From years of studying human behavior, we also know that what people say they do and what they actually do are not always aligned. We have heard it all, from asthma patients saying their daily lives are not impacted yet they gave away their beloved pet and ripped out their carpets, to spinal cord injury patients saying they accept their condition, but refusing to put a ramp in front of their home. We look to get under the surface and understand what is really happening, where there are gaps in communication, and what the intended and unintended consequences of these interactions are.Dialogue

We don’t stop there. Does the term computational linguistics sound intriguing to you? If so, you’re not alone. We can take a look at millions of words by using industry publications and see what words are most often used together and the frequency of words used to help your clients describe and own the scientific and clinical story.

Knowing so many of my colleagues are curious by nature, I am guessing you really want to know what we learned from our many years of doing this research! Well, you don’t have to wait much longer because we have a white paper, Top 7 Insights from Years of Observing Real-world Healthcare Communication, coming out shortly from our very own sociolinguist, Katy Hewett!

Of course, you can also just ask us! In fact, if you work directly with clients, make sure to talk to us about how we can share these exciting and unique offerings with them, and discuss what benefits these different offerings have for your brand.

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More Than Just an Office Move…Much More

IMG_0576Winston Churchill once famously stated, “First we shape our buildings. Thereafter they shape us.”

Last week, our UK healthcare marketing agency moved into new purpose-built offices on London’s South Bank, and for the first time we are alongside our colleagues in other Ogilvy agencies. I believe Churchill’s view on how buildings inevitably shape us, and our behaviours, is going to be particularly relevant during this exciting new phase of our agency’s evolution.

Much work and planning obviously goes into any major office relocation, but never has this been truer than of the journey we have taken in designing our new office environment. Supported along the way by experts in office design, human behaviour, space planning and collaborative working, we believe we have moved our team into an environment that truly has the ability to change the way we work.

Some of the main themes – observed here already in our first week – relating to the way our buildings and environment shape us and our work include:

  • New neighbour, new perspective: The office is designed with barely any ‘fixed desk’ positions. Everyone is encouraged to sit in a different place every day. This approach, although perhaps feared by some initially, has been a unanimous success. On a daily basis we hear about the benefit of drawing on new perspectives, “getting a different point of view,” or just learning from what someone else is doing. Fixed desking already seems a distant ”missed opportunity” from the past.
  • Collaborate, collaborate, collaborate: In our new space, IMG_0698gone are the days of endless banks of desks, replaced instead by a range of different zones and work settings: café tables, sofas, booths, work pods and benches. The single aim: drive collaboration. And it works. Provide people with the spaces to meet, share and grow and they do it…relentlessly. Already we see that what used to be achieved via 30 emails and half a day, can be improved upon by a 15-minute chat on the sofa.
  • Break the silos: Ogilvy Healthworld has long held the belief that the best work comes from channelling neutral thinking and big ideas that span all marketing disciplines. And yet the agency’s physical”geography” has in some ways lagged behind and remained siloed. Until now. The completely open-plan setting we now have does not speak of any ”divisions” or ”departments,” just of a truly integrated business. And it’s this integration that will in turn lead to even bigger and better thinking for our clients.
  • Be inspired: And finally, it’s amazing to see already the refreshed energy and passion that is derived simply by ”being” in a different place. We are lucky, yes, in being situated along London’s ”creative mile” on the South Bank, surrounded by leading arts and cultural establishments and an inspiring creative ”vibe.” And we are lucky too to have one of the most inspiring views of new and old London stretched out in front of us across the Thames. But these facts alone are not what drive the greatest levels of invigoration. The mere fact we are in a new space, with new and interesting stimuli, further supports the notion that new buildings, fresh environments, ”change” us.

So, in conclusion, we IMG_0607believe our new building genuinely has started to ”shape us” already, and will continue to do so. It feels like a rich and precious time for the agency and its staff to feed off each other in different ways and be inspired by our new environment to search for greatness for our clients and their brands.

We invite any current employees, future employees, clients and prospects alike, to come and experience this invigorating environment for themselves, and experience a little of what Churchill had in mind.

Check out more photos and videos of our brand new office here: Ogilvy Healthworld UK Twitter.

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Don’t Worry, Be Monkey

Three years ago, while living in Shanghai, I wrote about how the world would be witnessing two ancient, amazing theatres of faith and perseverance that test the extent of human endurance and also showcase how transmittable diseases can spread much faster in a small space of time, across huge geographies.

MonkeyThe first is the celebration of Chinese New Year, which is celebrated across China, Taiwan, Malaysia and Singapore as national holidays, but nowhere more so than in Mainland China. The mass exodus from cities to villages to celebrate the new lunar year involves nearly 600 million Chinese covering over 3.6 billion journeys in under 2 weeks in a grueling journey back to their hometowns, and back again. Compare this with just about 100 million Americans travelling domestically over the peak holiday season. 1

The second is India’s Kumbh Mela, an ancient pilgrimage held every 12 years in India, where the equivalent of the entire population of New York congregates daily to bathe in the sacred rivers to attain spirituality. The Mela itself is a huge planning exercise for various NGOs and health bodies who need to ensure that millions of people stay free from diseases and health risks. 2

Nearly 3 years on since my last write-up, as one gets ready for the whimsical yet wise Year of the Monkey that starts on February 8th and the Kumbh Mela reaches its auspicious 12-year cycle, it’s an opportune moment to think about how these two acts of faith invariably must have a health impact that affects hundreds of millions in just a matter of weeks.

In China, getting from one part of the country to another is an ordeal at this time. Stakes are highest on long-haul routes, and the train route from Beijing to Urumqi is about as long as they come. The trip will take over 40 hours and covers 1,998 miles to finally reach the northwest Xinjiang Province.

Passengers crammed in seats share their floor, bathroom and luggage space with the standing passengers. For the next 2 days, migrant workers rub shoulders with bubbly university students. Policemen, cooks and white collar workers face each other across cramped booths, and the combination of card games, grain alcohol, cigarettes and forced cohabitation offers an alarming chance of communicable diseases—especially when faced with travellers moving from one side of the country to the other, from all walks of life and backgrounds, alongside a lack of comprehensive vaccination posing some alarming questions. While there are no available facts on this, it is something to think about, especially if it’s giving a virus the chance to be carried from one end of China to the other in the approximately 3 billion+ journeys that are already taking place.

If one interprets the Monkey’s characteristics as an outlook for 2016, it would probably tell us to stop all this unnecessary banter about health and simply ‘Don’t Worry. Be Monkey.’ One can’t argue with thousands of years of celestial knowledge as simple as that.

Moving from humanity’s largest migration to a side of Asia that reinforces the role of nature in Asian values, the ‘Ardh Kumbh Mela’ is set to take place by the banks of all the four rivers considered sacred by Hindus in India—Ganges, Yamuna, Saraswati and Godawari. Rivers have always held a special place in Hindu mythology, as these are considered to be the carriers of life and fertility. This fair is perhaps the largest and peaceful gathering in any religion around the world. It never ceases to amaze anyone who has visited during this time.

Mark Twain, the intrepid traveller that he was, visited the Mela in 1895 and best summarized it by saying, “It is wonderful, the power of a faith like that, that can make multitudes upon multitudes of the old and weak and the young and frail enter without hesitation or complaint upon such incredible journeys and endure the resultant miseries without repining”.

You can’t mention the Mela without hearing a comparison with the Burning Man, the offbeat American gathering that takes place in the Nevada desert. While they are vastly different in size, they do share the sameness that one would experience in temporary ”pop-up” cities that appear and disappear over a matter of weeks. In terms of healthcare data, medical tents that offer emergency services see about 5,000 patients across 10 medical tents a day. In all of this, though, at the Kumbh Mela, which can swell to 60 times the attendance of the Burning Man, health clinics are likely to utilize emergency medical services only once a day. That’s a remarkable display of how massive crowds can manage themselves relatively safely and get home in one piece. This however is only one part of it. The less spiritual fact is that rivers like the Ganges (considered extremely holy) are unfortunately filled with chemical wastes, sewage and even human and animal remains which carry major health risks by either direct bathing in the dirty water (e.g.: Bilharziasis infection) or by drinking (the fecal-oral route).

I refer to these two large-scale Asian events – the advent of the new lunar year and the Mela – because they act as a perfect mirror to what drives this wide populace in its multitudes of pilgrimages and celebrations. A perfect diaspora of what represents humanity in all its colours, shapes and forms. It is at once tangible in its tribulation and intangible in providing confidence and enlightenment. The health risks are real, but not enough to keep hundreds of millions of Chinese from seeing their loved ones again, or for tens of millions of Indians to reconnect with their inner spiritual self. A ritual that has gone on for millenia.

When we interpret the world around us knowing such a mass of humanity is going to such levels of endurance, I believe it offers us a chance to understand what drives us against such odds and risks. Maybe it’s within these individuals, each striving to get home or to a new spiritual plane, that the bigger picture can be seen. Health is rational, emotions are not.

So in this age of Aquarius, while millions strip off their clothes to soak in sacred muddy rivers halfway across the world, and an entire population crams into trains, buses and any available transport to get home to see loved oneslet’s pause and say, ”What’s to worry? It’s all Monkey.”

“Gong Xi Fa Cai” – Happy New Lunar Year of the Monkey.


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Follow Me on Instagram

Social media presence is no longer an afterthought for companies and organizations. All brands from every industry have a presence across numerous social media platforms, and are actively interacting with their customers. So why is the healthcare industry behind the curve?

The biggest barrier to breakthrough into social media for healthcare companies seems to be patient privacy, aka HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act). Keeping patient information confidential proves to be difficult on social media platforms everyone can use. Additionally, the FDA requires fair balance in any post a company makes, meaning stating benefits with potential risks. This past summer, Kim Kardashian promoted a drug called Diclegis, used to treat morning sickness during pregnancy, on her Instagram account, and only stated the benefits of the product. The FDA immediately issued the drug company a warning by the FDA, and required it to take down the post, but not before nearly 46 million followers saw it.1

How are drug companies supposed to interact with their audience with such limited options and strict HIPAA regulations? The trick is education. Social media can be a great way to spread awareness about public health issues. Unique campaigns such as the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge went viral for this reason; 440 million people alone viewed thesevideos on Facebook.2 Because the Ice Bucket Challenge was an unbranded campaign determined to raise awareness of a disease, and not a promotion for a product, the organization avoided FDA regulations. Limiting self-promotion and focusing on ways to help your audience certainly takes away some of the barriers discussed earlier. Giving your audience key content can drive a brand home. Video tutorials on how to take a drug, product demos for medical devices, and infographics highlighting wellness tips are just a small sample of the endless possibilities to create meaningful content. Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, etc, can all be an endless hub of constantly updated information a consumer can use to become more aware of their condition, leading to a healthier life.

Though social media is not the definitive answer to improved patient engagement, it can easily become a major component in communicating with target audiences. Like most technology, social media is perpetually evolving, and should now be a required marketing tool for healthcare.

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  1. Thomas M. Burton, The Wall Street Journal; “FDA Sends Warning Letter After Kim Kardashian Touts Morning-Sickness Drug”, viewed 2/3/2016;
  2. Ngan Ton, Mavrck; “The Social Media Statistics That Fueled The Biggest Topics of 2014”, viewed 2/3/2016;
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Top Picks From CES 2016

Author Pic CES

Ogilvy CommonHealth’s Ashley Evens (left) and Nelson Figueiredo (right)

Ogilvy CommonHealth’s Ashley Evens, senior engagement strategist and Nelson Figueiredo, VP, director of technology, applied their experience as a healthcare communicators to identify the most impactful technologies from their year’s CES.

Each year, technologists, strategists, start-ups, major manufacturers, and consumers gravitate to Las Vegas for CES. This is becoming the premier event to showcase new consumer electronics, technology, and products. With the growth of healthcare as a key technology topic, CES is also an important venue for healthcare brands and influencers.

Ogilvy CommonHealth’s Ashley Evens and Nelson Figueiredo spent several days on the floor at CES and have curated the following list of products and technologies to watch:

CaptureProof: like HIPAA-secure Snapchat…only better

CaptureProof is a new HIPAA-secure platform for sharing media and data between patients and providers. CaptureProof allows doctors to monitor patient progress and symptoms, triage via media, consult colleagues, and link to wearable devices and EHRs.

It’s recently been used in pilots for remote physical therapy (reducing in-person appointments by 75% and resulting in an overall cost savings of $7,500 per patient) and its diagnostic capabilities are currently being studied by the Epilepsy Monitoring Unit at MAYO Neurology.

Currently an invite is necessary to set up an account. However, we’re in discussion about the various ways brands and agencies can utilize the platform and looking forward to developing partnership opportunities with them.


Holograms still have show-stopping power

With the exception of Shaq walking the showroom floor, preordering robots, when it comes to show-stopping power, hologram technology still reigns supreme.

The Kin-mo booth caused the steadiest stream of pandemonium and buzz at the event, literally, stopping hordes of people in their tracks and compelling them to ask questions and snap pictures and video.

Here at Ogilvy CommonHealth we’re exploring the practical application of Holograms in medical education and are working on making the technology less cost-prohibitive for use in the field.

Holograms from CES2016

Meet flic, the wireless smart button that could revolutionize the way patients communicate with providers

Flic is a small wireless button that you can stick anywhere. It can be programmed to send data and commands to apps on Android or iOS devices.

Swedish developers, Shortcut Labs, designed flic with simplicity, accessibility and safety in mind. It’s currently being used to streamline everyday tasks like controlling your connected home, selecting entertainment and ordering food and taxis.

But the ease of use makes it an intriguing solution for things like symptom reporting and tracking between patient and provider, treatment adherence, atmospheric or environmental controls, and accessibility for patients with limited mobility.

VR was king at CES and controller tech is on the rise

This year the Virtual Reality headset manufacturers exhibiting at CES were too numerous to count and VR environments demoing experiences in space, tech, automotive, entertainment, health and fitness were among the most engaging booth draws on the showroom floor.

While everyone seems to agree that VR is going to revolutionize medical education, it’s recent advances in VR controllers and the impact that they might have on rehabilitation and treatment methods that we found most inspiring at CES this year.

Two groups in particular, 3DRudder and Rink, are leading innovation in foot and hand controls, respectively, and are excited to explore applications for their devices in the healthcare space. Each offer the opportunity to gamify the treatment process in new and exciting ways and extend mobility exercises into the VR realm.


Sensum, the marketing industry’s new emotions experts

Turning emotions into data, measuring advertising’s effect on the subconscious, tracking the cognitive unconscious, things that used to be qualitative can now be quantitative thanks to Belfast-based Sensum.

They’re already working with some of the biggest media companies and agencies in the world to measure the effectiveness of messages, customer engagement, and usability.

Whether it’s a live event, or a product that needs to be tested for implicit response, new packaging, or a video message, Sensum has the platform and technology you need to capture the real-time emotional response from your audience.

They’re also the creators of the EmoCam.

CES is proving to be a venue for innovators and entrepreneurs to showcase their solutions for healthcare. As the empowered patient and modern physician begin to leverage new technology for better outcomes, there is an increasingly more important role for connected medicine, wearables, and mobile technology to help us live healthier lives.

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Stuck in My Head

6608547When I was younger, “great creative” meant a toy commercial with a catchy jingle that was easily memorized. If I happened to be in Toys”R“Us with my mom, I should be able to strategically bust out the jingle while running up and down the aisles. As you can imagine, Mom was unamused by this behavior and was rarely compelled to buy toys I sang about.

While my mother wasn’t heavily influenced by these commercials, I was. I took the ads with me to daycare, and later to school. My classmates and I would hum the chipper tune during nap-time, or screech the whimsical words as we somersaulted through woodchips in gym class.

As I got older I realized that while I initially gravitated towards these ads because of the memorable jingle and the headspinning graphics, another exchange was occurring. It went beyond connecting a product to a consumer. These ads became a part of my lived experience and they helped facilitated human connections – emotionally, physically, mentally, and on occasion, spiritually.

These ads have stayed with me as I have grown up (if asked, I can still sing quite a few) and are a fundamental reason as to why I decided to work in an agency. I’m starting to begin to understand the complexities of creating great creative. The extreme challenges present when staying true to a powerful concept that aligns with the client’s needs and brand goals but isn’t easily forgettable. Most importantly, great creative doesn’t only pertain to children’s toys or consumer goods.

I still believe great creative makes you feel. It takes a snapshot of shared human experiences, of being flawed, of overcoming, of loving, of suffering. Overall great creative should be brave, and it should make you think. It should transcend the relationship between product and consumer, and connect with the audience on a human level. Below are links to recent creative that I believe has accomplished that.


Agency/Producer: Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO

Campaign:Mog’s Christmas calamity



Agency/Producer: Langland



Agency/Producer: Tinker Taylor

Campaign:#itswhatwedo – Maggie


Agency/Producer: Velocity Films

Campaign:The Reader

One life 2

Agency/Producer: Bleu Blan Crouge

Campaign:One Life


Agency/Producer: Ogilvy & Mather India


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How Saying Thank You Can Transform Your Career

ThankYou 200x149

How did you feel the last time someone truly thanked you?
Not just the mumbled thanks for holding the door or handing you a tissue: a true, heartfelt expression of gratitude.

Being thankful can help others and it can help us. Grateful people reported fewer aches and pains and were more likely to engage in healthy activities, according to a study published in Personality and Individual Differences.1 A separate study found that gratitude can lead to increased self-esteem and better relationships with team members and supervisors.2

In addition to the happiness boost that comes from focusing on the good things in your life, saying a simple “thank you” can also bring a huge boost to your career. Recognizing the contributions of your colleagues helps to build stronger, more dedicated teams, and leads your peers to look to you as a leader. Gratitude, like praise, can help to reinforce positive behaviors, leading to a culture of success within your team and organization. Gratitude is also a great way to “pay it forward,” building good will for those moments when you need others to help you achieve your goals or take a risk for you.

Expressing gratitude can also help you to build a professional network. Recent research has confirmed what we have all known for years—that saying “thank you” to a new acquaintance increases the likelihood that he or she will share contact information with you, helping you build your professional network (and make a new friend!).3

So how you can implement gratitude in your career? The first step is simply recognizing that business is a team sport. Has a supervisor taken time out of their day to answer your questions or train you for your next big move? Did a colleague stay late to help you meet a deadline? A sincere, heart-felt thanks can make someone’s day.

Ogilvy CommonHealth also offers a great way to say thank you through the You Earned It! program. This program was created to allow team members to reflect on the contributions necessary to achieve a great outcome and publicly recognize colleagues. According to Darlene Dobry, managing partner, the program has been tremendously successful across all units and skill centers. “It is great to see how infectious the program is. People reach out to thank others and the feeling spreads. It is particularly nice to see people reaching out across departments to thank people they don’t always have a chance to work with and building lasting collaborations.” So the next time a colleague does something great, send them some YEI points and your heartfelt thanks.

“Thank you” may be two simple words, but the recognition and appreciation encapsulated in that short phrase has the power to transform you, your colleagues, and your organization.

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1. Hill PL, Allemand M, Roberts BW. Examining the pathways between gratitude and self-rated physical health across adulthood. Pers Individ Dif. 2013;54(1):92-96.
2. Chen LH, Wu CH. Gratitude enhances change in athletes’ self-esteem: the moderating role of trust in coaches. J Appl Sport Psychol. 2014;26(3):349-362.
3. Williams LA, Bartlett MY. Warm thanks: gratitude expression facilitates social affiliation in new relationships via perceived warmth. Emotion. 2015;15(1):1-5.

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Machines Learning Marketing

Self-driving cars, Facebook auto-tagging photos, Netflix recommendations, and targeted advertising—what do all of these have in common? These technologies have all undergone significant advancements in recent years due to an explosion of computing power and advancements in computer’s ability to learn, or “machine learning.”

While it sounds like a futuristic term, machine learning is the science of getting computers to act without being explicitly programmed. For example, let’s imagine a CRM program where data has been collected on customer’s interests, demographics, and engagement with previous campaigns. Based on previous interactions with customers, we can create predictions of how these customers will interact in future campaigns.

While the technology has existed for quite some time, significant advances in scale and computing power have allowed this technology to flourish. Companies including Amazon, Google, IBM, and Microsoft have all developed user-friendly machine-learning capabilities to complement their growing web service and cloud offerings. While some user interfaces are more intuitive than others, the goal is to allow users to upload data and allow the computer to extract valuable insights.

The marketing field is certainly taking notice. Marketers who have begun to use these technologies are asking questions such as, “What type of user will click on this ad?” or “How likely is this user to return to my site?” One popular use of the technology is to determine the probability that a user will respond to a direct mail or email. Based on previous information gathered and past user behavior, machine learning can identify who is most likely to engage in certain activities. Instead of blasting a direct mail out to 10,000 people blindly, we can really hone in on the users that we think are going to respond and customize a solution for them.

Another use is detection of click fraud in online advertising. Marketers certainly do not want to pay for 1,000 clicks when 980 of them are spam. While there can be numerous types of fraud, a computer can differentiate these types of spam and determine if a “real” person actually clicked on their ad. These technologies can realize significant savings for advertisers, and certainly distinguish advertising platforms and publishers.

Of course, there are still significant challenges to overcome. In the case of ad fraud detection, because click-through rates tend to be quite low, a significantly large amount of data is needed to accurately predict user action. Another issue is the growing complexity of these machine-learning models. As predictions tend to become more accurate, the complexity of how the computer arrives at an answer is increasingly unclear. Most recent machine learning algorithms have been labeled “black boxes,” as computers are performing millions of abstract calculations that are too vast for the user to analyze.

As machine learning solutions become user friendly and easy to implement, marketers should certainly start thinking of how they can apply machine learning to find new insights about their business.

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Social media: does it affect our mental health?

Social media does it affect our mental health 195x130Can you remember the days before DM, hashtags and emojis? When we had to call our friends on their landlines to arrange when and where to meet, hoping they would arrive at the right time and right place?

It’s hard to believe that 10 years ago Facebook had only just been founded and Twitter hadn’t even launched, and yet social media is now an established phenomenon that most of us can’t imagine living without.

The wonder of social media has benefited modern society greatly and revolutionised the way we communicate. On the surface, these platforms may seem harmless but in reality, some research has found that they may actually be detrimental to our mental wellbeing. On the flip side, social media can provide people living with mental health problems a platform to communicate freely and connect with others who can provide support.

So should we be limiting our use of social media for a better quality of life, or is it actually providing some with a much-needed outlet? We hosted a panel discussion at Social Media Week in London, where experts shared their insights on this very topic.

An interesting theme that was raised during the discussion was personal identity and the effect that social media has on how people regard their place in the world and define themselves. Dr Linda Papadopoulos, a psychologist, revealed that nowadays it’s not just the people we know who help to shape our identity—having an online profile means that validation can come from complete strangers with no real vested interest in us. This constant feeling of being assessed by others can have a negative effect on our mental health and make us want to always make a good impression, even to those who don’t know us.

Another thought-provoking point that was highlighted, by the panellist and blogger Mark Brown, was that having immediate access to carefully crafted selfies means that we are the first generation to know exactly what we look like and how we come across to strangers at all times. More and more we are presenting ourselves as near to perfect as possible, but the truth is that we don’t always know what’s going on behind a filtered online persona. Stories that we see in the media about suicide that link to the use of social media highlight that a self-curated online identity can so easily conceal the saddening reality.

While there were discussions around the negative effects that social media can have on our lives, Chris Cox, Communications Director at Mind, emphasised how social media forums, such as Elefriends, provide platforms for people to communicate freely about their condition. They also give people an opportunity to connect with others who can relate to them or who can provide comfort and counsel.

So is social media a good or bad thing for mental health? Because social media is such a new and emerging area, it’s difficult to say at this point, but what is clear is that, used in the right way, it can be a valuable resource that exposes us to information and people who we would have never been able to access before. As our panel concluded, social media is neither good nor bad; it’s a tool to amplify the voice of the people.

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Learning to Speak Agency

Learning to speak agency Thumbnail 130x130When I started at my first agency, after 10 years at a medical journal, I knew there would be things I would need to learn. I knew the work would have a different focus, and there would be more people and more steps involved in going from manuscript to finished product. But I was not prepared for the flood of unfamiliar acronyms and jargon I encountered. Sure, I understood what a word-for-word (aka WFW or W4W) was, I knew that “stet” meant I had been overruled, and I could expand NCCN without even looking it up. But what in the world did “PRC,” “AFP,” or “CTA” mean?

Fortunately, I had extremely helpful team members and colleagues who got me up to speed on all the new terminology, and within a month or two I was rattling off cryptic acronyms with the best of them. But as I gained more experience in the agency setting, with different accounts, different clients, and eventually different agencies, I realized that even within the insular world of agency life, there was incredible variation. It’s only been five years (and three different clients) for me so far, but I’ve already heard more than six different terms used to describe the committee each client has to review work for medical accuracy, legal risk, and regulatory compliance. And what do we call those hardworking folks who take our beautifully constructed print and digital pieces out into the field? No, not “reps”—they’re COSs, FMLs, TBMs, AEs, ARMs, and probably hundreds of other titles I’ve yet to come across.

There’s not much we can do to stem the tide of terminology that comes at us from clients, regulatory bodies, professional associations, and our own organizations. Each agency, each client, each branch of healthcare, each disease state, comes with its own lexicon that we must master. We are in the business of communication, and so it falls to us to absorb the unique language we find ourselves awash in, and learn to harness its power and beauty to shape our clients’ messages in a way that will captivate, educate, and effect change.

Still, language doesn’t need to be an impenetrable barrier, keeping out the uninitiated and insulating the inner circle from the rest of the world. Let’s make sure we’re taking the time to explain unfamiliar terms to new team members, keeping tools like style guides and cheat sheets up to date and easily accessible, and above all, talking to each other—across accounts, departments, and disciplines—about what has worked for us, what our challenges are, and what opportunities we have to explore new paths and keep growing as creative entities. And don’t be afraid to ask questions—especially if you’re new. We promise, we won’t laugh when you ask what a “job bag” is.

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