4A's Partner Award Pushes Healthcare Agencies Into the Spotlight

November 30, 2015

Healthcare agencies are being given a place at the table at ad industry’s top award shows. And while not close enough to rub elbows with the Don Drapers and Peggy Olsons of the ad world, at least they’re being invited, writes Marylyn Donahue.

Slowly but surely healthcare agencies are being given a place at the table at ad industry’s top award shows. And while not close enough to rub elbows with the Don Drapers and Peggy Olsons of the ad world, at least they’re being invited.

It wasn’t always so.

As recently as 2013, Advertising Age asked: "Are healthcare agencies and their clients the last group in the ad world not to attend the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity (arguably the Oscars of the industry)?”

The problem? It’s the regulations, stupid. One insider describes it this way: “Imagine you're making a TV commercial for a new Nike sneaker, but you aren't allowed to talk freely about the sneaker. Instead, you have to show a pair of bare feet, and then tell the viewer he can solve his barefoot-ness by asking his doctor about Nike.”

But times change. And now (drum roll, please) the titular head of the industry itself - the  American Association of Advertising Agencies (AAAA or 4A's),  a 98-year old trade association has gone a step further. They’ve added a “Health & Wellness” category to their 2016 Partner Awards.

Launched in 2015 to replace the trade association’s longtime O’Toole Award, the 4A’s Partner Awards stands out in a crowded field of advertising competitions  (an estimated 3,000 are held each year in the US alone) for its focus on creativity inspired by collaboration.

“Time and again, we hear from our agency members about the many partners they are working with,” said 4A's President and CEO Nancy Hill. “While potentially challenging, we want to celebrate the unique opportunities that also exist within that dynamic.

“And with this year’s Health & Wellness category we have the opportunity to honor the collaboration between agencies and organizations that promote health and wellness. Entries can include campaigns for corporate branding, education and awareness, and OTC, lifestyle, devices and pharmaceutical products.”

It’s a big market.  In 2014, healthcare agencies garnered $4.3 billion in revenue up 10.3% from the year before.  Indeed, the healthcare agency industry itself is credited with one of the best comeback stories in all of advertising. In 2012, coming off a five-year slump and with a billion-dollar drop in annual drug advertising (a result largely of patent expirations and pessimistic pipeline predictions), the healthcare ad industry staged an astonishing about-face. Fueled by a rapidly changing healthcare environment, the arrival of new, highly costly specialty pharmaceuticals that demanded innovative strategies and elaborate marketing solutions to succeed in a crowded and intensely competitive market place, and its clients-the pharmaceutical industry- dropping $3.1 billion that year alone on direct-to-consumer advertising.        

“The pharma industry is roaring back from pharmageddon," exclaimed Kym White, global sector chair of Edelman's health business to Ad Age. “Global spending on medicines is forecast to reach nearly $1.3 trillion by 2018, an increase of about 30% over 2013, according to the IMS Institute for Healthcare Informatics.”

What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, and the rebounded agencies were more innovative and more diverse than ever before. In the interim many shops had changed the dynamics of their traditional deliverables, branching out into areas that emphasized collaboration.

All-told, it made for a perfect fit for the new 4As’ Partner Awards.  The brainchild of the 4As’ Chief Marketing officer Alison Fahey, the Partner Awards were intended to be a reflection of the times.  "We realize there are unique challenges that occur when individuals and companies with different personalities and cultures collaborate to achieve a common goal on behalf of a client,” said Fahey. "We wanted to salute those who put their egos aside for the greater good of creating meaningful work. As evidenced by the 4As Partner Awards 2015 winners, the very act of collaborating can elevate creativity to new levels. The jury did a great job of choosing the best creative collaborations in the marketing and communications industry."

The prestige of 4As’ Partner Awards can be gauged by its A-list jury, which in turn directly impacts the number and quality of the competition’s entries. After all, doesn’t everyone want to be judged not just by his or her peers but also by peers who are well connected?  (In light of full disclosure, Pharm Exec is media partner for the 2016 4As Partner Awards Health & Wellness category).

And while the Health & Wellness category does not have its own jury, there is a jurist who is an expert in the field-Kathy Deleany, Global Chief Creative Officer of Saatchi & Saatchi Wellness, and an award winner herself. Delaney is known for her almost uncanny ability to translate health stories into human interest ones. Her clients include Allegra and the American Heart Association.

Nor is Deleany a stranger to awards’ juries. In 2014, she served as president of the Health & Wellness Jury at the inaugural Cannes Lions Health. Previously, she was a Cannes Lions judge in 2010.  She’s also garnered her own share of industry accolades among which “The Most Creative Women in Advertising” given by Business Insider in 2013.        

“It's no secret that health and wellness marketing have been underrepresented in our industry’s award shows,” said Delaney recently.  “Despite the fact that health and wellness are no longer limited to healthcare plans and pharmaceuticals -our category now supports healthier food options at chain restaurants, mattress brands committed to improving the quality of our sleep, and yoga studios promoting a healthy mind and body -we are still often marginalized as a niche category responsible for less creative work.”

In general, the divide between health and wellness is understood as health entries falling under regulatory restrictions while wellness do not. 

Wellness for consumers has become the new green and Delaney firmly believes the industry is ushering in a new era of recognition for creativity,  “I have worked in all areas of advertising in my career,” added Delaney, “and I can’t imagine another category that has more of an impact on the lives of consumers than health and wellness. We market around the human condition with a sense of purpose, knowing that our work can result in something meaningful for consumers today who have never been more proactive and focused on their health and well being.”

To enter the 2016 4A’s Partner Awards submit entries by Feb. 12, 2016. Winners will be revealed at the 4A's Transformation Conference, March 22, 2016, in Miami, FL. For further details, please visit http://partnerawards.aaaa.org/