Monday, February 27, 2012

Be Inspired.

The #TwitterBlackOut mobilized in the course of two days. Twitter posted a justification for its move to censor Tweets on a Thursday. By Friday, the Twitter blackout had been organized by members of the Twittersphere. The organization and implementation of a global shutdown of one of the Web’s most highly trafficked sites occurred in less time than it takes to fly to Australia. I think that’s pretty amazing.

So what does that mean for a creative like me?

For one thing, social media has changed the way we concept (come up with ideas). In the past, after being briefed on a project, creatives might go sit somewhere, toss around a ball, thumb through a magazine, and hope to get inspired.

Now, we hop onto any number of social media sites and look at what other people find exciting. Just last week, my partner and I were tasked to come up with the look and feel of a client’s unbranded marketing campaign. So we went online and looked at sites like Pinterest, Twitter, and Facebook. The resulting colors were inspired by a sports team uniform I saw on a friend’s virtual pinboard. The design was influenced by an old album cover someone had Tweeted about.

When it comes to healthcare advertising, it is often difficult to use the social media tactics other industries take for granted. But that’s no excuse for ignoring the world of social media. Even if the regulatory hurdles make it difficult to implement, we can still find inspiration in what we read and see.

How has social media affected your approach to work?


Monday, February 20, 2012

Referencing—a Necessary Evil?

In the wonderful world of pharma advertising, copywriting has its challenges. Surprisingly, describing diseases and medicines are not at the top of the list.

The real challenges are those that send shivers up and down the spines of even the most seasoned writers, such as referencing. This is the process of finding information to substantiate pieces of advertising, and then backing up the facts with specific sources (think college research papers). When faced with this prospect for the first time, many writers see it as a kind of brutal hazing—welcome to pharma!

So why do we need to reference? Because the FDA says so. If you’re writing something that states that shortness of breath is a symptom of heart failure, you’d better be able to prove it with reputable research. Referencing accurately is an important and required part of the writing process, and the FDA does sometimes ask to see where the facts came from.

It’s the writer’s responsibility to make sure that their source material is correct. I’ve heard that some agencies hand off written pieces to their account team so they can track down the backup. This seems ridiculous to me. Since the writer wrote the piece, he or she knows where the facts come from. So why wouldn’t we be the ones to reference our own work?

In the past, my opinions about who “owns” the referencing process has gotten me into trouble with writers who’d rather have a root canal than go through this potentially painful process. But, as an extrovert, I believe that this responsibility rests squarely on the writer. Yes, it’s tons of work. And yes, it can be frustrating. But it’s the best way to ensure you’ll be able to look your client squarely in the eye and confidently tell them that all your information is kosher. And though references and annotations are invisible to the consumer, they’re crucial to the client’s legal, regulatory, and medical responsibilities. Not to mention an agency’s reputation.

When it comes to referencing, I’ve been teased that I “drank the Kool-Aid.” Perhaps. Or maybe it’s just that I like being able to stand behind every piece I work on and know that when it comes to accuracy, it’s bulletproof. If that’s “drinking the Kool-Aid” bring that pitcher right on over.


Monday, February 13, 2012

Wander into the Wanderlust Hotel.

As part of our Designing extrovertic initiative (see my previous Designing the Service Business Model post), our ECD Tom Millar gave us a quick overview of the principles of good design. Most of this was new to me. (I have zippo artistic talent and as a kid was so bad at arts & crafts that my mother wouldn't even let me use scissors in front of my younger sister—so I appreciated the refresher!)

As we learned, one of the key elements of good design is purpose. Everything should have a reason for being there. But something having a purpose doesn’t have to be synonymous with it being utilitarian. The beauty of good design is that it can be creative while also being useful.

The collateral advertising for the Wanderlust Hotel in Singapore is a prime example of this. The pieces transcend their usual function to resonate more deeply with the core purpose of Wanderlust’s clientele. I was exposed to an example of their collateral work during a Designing extrovertic field trip to an exhibit at AIGA’s NYC branch entitled AIGA 365/Design Effectiveness.

The winning Wanderlust collateral, designed by Foreign Policy Design Group, really stood out. I was especially impressed with how they reinvented the "almost-useless conventional in-room directory," to quote their AIGA presentation. The designers discerned that the room directory could serve a higher purpose than merely correctly locating the hotel gym. Foreign Policy Design Group understood the personality traits of the prototypical Wanderlust guest and their desire for personal growth through exploration. The room directory is a direct reflection of this.

The type of guest who checks into the Wanderlust hotel is "curious and interested in discovering, engaging and immersing in new experiences." So the in-room directory was morphed into an itinerary, full of useful local information including "area maps, train and bus maps, local shops and restaurants as well as thoughtful blank pages for notes and sketches."

The reimagined in-room directory led to a redesigned check-in procedure. As the exhibit notes detail, the itinerary has "improved the check-in workflow, converting a laborious and dreaded check-in process into something fun, a talking point." This proves that one small design element can trigger a cascade of changes that lead to an improved overall brand experience. And the results? The hotel has been featured in core travel publications including Travel & Leisure, has appeared on almost 500 blogs, and its room occupancy rates have risen.

I wondered, could we create a similarly transformative effect by applying this principle to our clients’ patient materials? Can we reimagine a healthcare brand's collateral? What happens if the patient pamphlet becomes a pathway leading towards health, rather than merely a way to convey basic product information? Could infusing a higher-order purpose into a pamphlet set off a cascade of changes leading to better health? 

What do you think? 


Monday, February 6, 2012

How to Engage Better in 2012.

You want people to:

• Do something?
• Feel something?
• Remember something?

Tell ‘em a story.

Because stories are the currency of human contact. They’re how we connect with people, ideally at the edge of their seats, breathlessly waiting to hear what happens next in the story.

Think about it. From cave dwellers’ drawings to Bollywood’s latest blockbuster, we humans’re hardwired for stories.

That lesson solidified for me recently when I sojourned to a seminar by a master storyteller Robert McKee. It was part of extrovertic’s Conference Attendance Program (our firm encourages each of us to venture out, and absorb then share interesting ideas so we can all benefit).

What’d I learn? Stories’re a healthy way to convey the emotions and conflicts in the healthcare world to:

• Our agency partners
• Clients

The hard part? Those prickly problems that’re particular to pharmaceutical marketing. Specifically, keeping the story honest, medically accurate, legally legit, and on point.

Speaking of which, here are 3 pointers to help you keep your story on point, even if you’re not writing healthcare copy like me:

1) Your story needs conflict. A story without conflict is not a story; it’s a sleep aid. Better have a defibrillator handy.

2) Your story has to manage expectations. The original ending of Fatal Attraction had the psychopathic woman (played by Glen Close) commit suicide. Research showed that audiences were angry – they wanted justice. Or, as the researcher said, “They didn’t want to see her done, they wanted to see her done unto.”

3) Your story can’t waste time, especially if it’s a joke. Like when the taxman visited the rabbi. He said,
“Is David Gold a member?”
“He is,” replied the rabbi.
“Does he attend?” asked the taxman.
“He does,” said the rabbi.
“Did he donate $10,000?”
“He will.”

Resolve to be more engaging in your presentations with a story. You may find that 2012 will have a happily-ever-after ending.