Beyond standard healthcare branding

“The US has a long way to go versus other cultures in work-life balance.”

July 22, 2019

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First published on Authority Magazine

The US has a long way to go versus other cultures in work-life balance. The “American Way” is believing anything is possible…as long as you work hard for it. That belief is ingrained into our society. Shifting an entire nation away from that mentality is going to take time, effort, and baby steps. You add equality to this equation and the task feels almost daunting. How do we solve for both — making men and women, regardless of race, ethnic background, religion or sexual orientation, equally valuable while we redefine the guardrails of how we want to work? Talk about behavior change.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Carolyn Morgan, president of precisioneffect, the nation’s only healthcare advertising and marketing agency dedicated to working with companies seeking to change the standard of care, and a recently named ‘Top 100 Healthcare Agency of 2017’ according to Medical Marketing & Media (MM&M.). Since taking the helm in 2013, Carolyn has put her philosophy of “being for others” into practice, consistently leading the bi-coastal agency to 20 percent year over year growth, a rate that far exceeds the industry average, and achieving 18 industry awards honoring the team’s work in implementing stellar campaigns. She also successfully saw the agency through an acquisition in 2015 that has served to strengthen the organization and expand its offerings to help catapult clients to the top of the dynamic and competitive healthcare marketplace. Prior to becoming president, Carolyn managed the agency’s West Coast location for five years as managing director. During this period, Carolyn tripled billings, nearly quadrupled the staff, including the addition of key senior talent, and positioned the office for continued growth and success. Carolyn joined the agency in 2005 and has also held key positions in both account services and business development. Recognized as one of PharmaVoice’s 100 most inspiring leaders in lifesciences and Orange County’s prestigious ’40 Under 40’, Carolyn brings over 16 years of medical marketing expertise to the agency’s roster of biotech, pharmaceutical, device, and diagnostics clients. Prior to precisioneffect, Carolyn served as an account director at BBK Worldwide, a global patient recruitment firm. A member of the HBA, MassBio and Bentley Executive Club, Carolyn holds a bachelor of science degree in business communications from Bentley.

Thank you for joining us! can you share a story about what brought you to this specific career path.

I found agency life after I was fired from my first job in asset liability management software marketing at 22. While it was painful to my pride, being fired turned out to be a defining moment. It knocked me down, but I got up, put my crown on, and swore it would never happen again. I went to my first agency two weeks later and learned that hustle was rewarded. I was a natural in the frenetic pace and highly demanding agency world. It was clear that hard work was the only way forward and I never looked back.

I found my passion in healthcare after watching the light go out on two of the brightest stars I had met. One was one of the strongest girls I knew growing up who I knew was destined for greatness and the other was a boy from college whose smile made you immediately forget your worries and live in the moment. They died within six months of each other. It made me mad, sad, and want to know more, understand better, and do something! On the back of these losses, I found I had a knack for medical jargon and a huge desire to be a part of making lives better, even if I was behind the scenes. Not a day goes by that I am not motivated to help bring novel therapies to physicians and their patients.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?

People ask me often to point to a single example of the agency’s mission — helping companies change the standard of care. In medicine, we often find that introducing a new technology or drug isn’t enough, you actually have to do the hard work of initiating behavior change. The practice of medicine is born over many years of doing just that — practicing. So it becomes hard to fight the status quo.

A great example of overcoming the status quo was the work we did with Cologuard — an at-home stool-based test that screens for colon cancer. Colon cancer is one of the most preventable cancers if caught early. Yet, a third of patients do not get screened. We positioned Cologuard as a seamless, at-home option that lets you to learn if you need a colonoscopy. Based on our marketing campaign, which includes an omni-channel approach with arguably the most successful TV spot for a diagnostic test of all time, a Cologuard test is now being performed every 11 seconds around the United States. My dad just got one! It is a great example of how our mission and approach has helped to launch what is sure to be a billion-dollar brand.

Are you working on any exciting projects now? How do you think that will help people?

Always. We are so lucky to do what we do. We work hard to educate widely, communicate succinctly, and inspire change in healthcare. Right now at the agency we have teams working on initiatives that: save lives in multiple myeloma and chronic myeloid leukemia; extend remission and time to transplant in breast cancer and a rare childhood cancer; provide therapies in rare diseases previously underserved; and help parents feel safer every time their child with life-threatening allergies walk out the door. And there are many more examples — every day we are faced with exciting and huge communications challenges that truly change lives.

According to this study cited in Forbes, more than half of the US workforce is unhappy. Why do you think that number is so high?

Two reasons spring to mind. The first is that a lot of people aren’t lucky enough to find their true passion so their job is just that: a job. That sucks. Who wants to show up to that every day? That is a grind. Finding the thing that makes you excited to go to work is a game changer.

The second is the always-on accessible nature of our world. For some it is just too much. Case in point, I am typing this while coming home from skiing while my husband is driving and my two sets of twins are in the back seat. For me, because I did find my passion, I don’t mind doing extra work. In fact, I love it. That said, I make a conscious effort to turn it off. We all need breaks and I tend to be pretty passionate about being present. It is the single greatest gesture of respect you can give.

Based on your experience or research, how do you think an unhappy workforce will impact a) company productivity b) company profitability c) and employee health and wellbeing?

An unhappy workforce tends to be a broad-brush statement. I find it is more likely that you are dealing with an individual or a small group who are causing sparks that turn into fires.

In an effort to truly support each employee and tamp down those fires, you need to figure out what’s causing the spark. Is a one-off moment or a chronic issue? If it is a one-off moment it can certainly impact your employee health and wellbeing — and often, after investigation, you learn that the employee(s) feels frustrated, unheard, or misrepresented. By listening and showing them you are hearing them and helping them to solve for both the immediate situation and for the future, the situation typically resolves. On the other hand, if it is a chronic complainer, these folks tend to have a big impact on both productivity, employee health and wellbeing, and if left unchecked — on profitability. These team members tend to think no one else can do it right or constantly point to “process” as the offender. Other team members start to decamp, become demotivated, and seek other things to occupy their time. To overcome this challenge, I first research the offending issue, is it systemic and something larger we need to contend with or is this an isolated issue? Once that is determined, I enlist said team member(s) in mapping out the solve, which often makes them feel like a champion for change and invested in the outcome ultimately solving two issues at the same time.

Share 5 things that managers and executives should be doing to improve their company work culture? Please include a personal story and/or example for each.

1. Know the health of your culture: It needs ongoing checkups — ask your team often and be prepared to make change.

2. Know who fuels it: We are always looking for more Tiggers and try not to allow Eeyores into our woods.

3. Know what drives it: We know benefits are awesome and are always updating ours to reflect the market, but what brings people in the door and gets them to stay is a universal, purposeful mission.

4. Know how to communicate: People always remember how you made them FEEL not what you said.

5. Know how to sum it up: For us, it is a culture of “wecentricity.” Our formula of “U+I = we makes the work and the experience of doing it that much better.

What can we do as a society to make a broader change in the US workforce’s work culture?

The US has a long way to go versus other cultures in work-life balance. The “American Way” is believing anything is possible…as long as you work hard for it. That belief is engrained into our society. Shifting an entire nation away from that mentality is going to take time, effort, and baby steps. You add equality to this equation and the task feels almost daunting. How do we solve for both — making men and women, regardless of race, ethnic background, religion or sexual orientation, equally valuable while we redefine the guardrails of how we want to work? Talk about behavior change. The good news is that we are talking about it and you see steps forward everywhere — more attention and a more conscientious approach to equality. You also see better maternity and paternity leaves being rolled out (we just announced ours and I am thrilled). Vacation policies are changing; more employees are working from home or on flex schedules. It is all happening, just slowly. We will get there but we have to keep moving in the right direction. One of my favorite Simon Sinek quotes “Work hard, play hard” sounds terribly unhealthy. I think we would all be a lot healthier, happier, and find greater balance in our lives if we learn to work smart and play always. Let’s move towards this. Happy employees love your company, which makes others love it too.

How would you describe your leadership or management style? Please provide a few examples.

Agencies are a people business. You have to know your teams. We have recently grown a lot and I am sensitive to wanting to promote an open-door culture and transparency. To encourage a two-way dialogue and ensure each employee gets to know me on a personal level, I meet with each person to ask what makes them happy, how we can improve, and what they’d like to know. Knowing what is on everyone’s minds is very important; you hear trends, opportunities, and surprising fun facts.

Success is a team sport and people often forget that — we have worked hard to instill a sense of team into our organization and have recently revamped our entire culture to reflect that sentiment. Our culture is one of wecentricity — the joyous dynamic of drawing on diverse talents to dream big, tackle huge and solve elegantly. 2019 will see the values of wecentricity threaded through the employee experience from onboarding to day-to-day interactions to impromptu merry-making at wecentric moments.

I am also aware that it is my responsibility that to keep the business growing, I must always be growing. And, luckily, I am an eager student — I listen to podcasts daily about other entrepreneurs or inspiring people, I read two books at a time; one for work and one for pleasure. I enjoy learning every day in our business — a new therapeutic area, a new mechanism of action, a new channel to reach our target audiences. It is this constant learning that keeps me engaged and excited to go to work every day. All of this learning recharges me and drives my passion to make us better than we were the day before.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Please share a story and/or example.

I am extremely grateful to my parents because they instilled in me a sense that nothing was out of my reach. I never thought I couldn’t. And in moments that I wavered they’d simply ask, “Well, why can’t you?” It gave me confidence and optimism. And those have been huge assets.

I am also hugely grateful to my mentor and the boss who set me on my current trajectory. When I joined the agency 14 years ago, he quickly noticed my determination and abilities and tagged me as his successor. He didn’t just hand me the keys to the agency. We had just recently acquired a new agency on the West Coast and he said, “Go show me what you can do.” So, my husband and I moved to California and I worked hard to reformulate that shop and set it up for success. Together, with a strong team around me, we put in the work to make it what it is today — one of the largest healthcare advertising agencies on the west coast. I made a lot of mistakes and learned a ton in the five years that I ran that shop (I also had two sets of twins while there!) and when I came back and became president of both coasts, I felt ready…and super excited about what was to come. And all of this is attributed to the person who recognized my ability and gave me the opportunity to fail, succeed, learn, and grow.

How have you used your success to bring good to the world?

I believe in giving back in small ways, big ways, and ways I haven’t thought of yet.

I personally work hard to show my kids how kindness can change the world and encourage us to participate in local efforts where they can see firsthand the results of what they do. I was particularly proud that my kiddos pooled their allowances this Christmas to help those in need. From a business perspective, I participate in mentoring and never say no to a meeting or helping others in any way that I can.

At the agency, I have looked for ways for us to consistently give back and dedicate agency time to doing so. Our pro-bono account, LifeBox, is dedicated to raising awareness and funds for safer surgery throughout the developing world and we have been working with its leaders since day one to reduce unnecessary surgical deaths.

In the past year, we have created 23 disease awareness efforts for a wide range of diseases from Duchene’s muscular dystrophy, vascular Ehlers Danlos disease, Parkinson’s and more. We celebrated nurses, staged a virtual march for colon cancer screening and encouraged everyone to be just a bit nicer on World Kindness Day. The agency also participated in countless charitable activities from packaging seedling kits to support STEM, to creating fleece blankets for dialysis patients.

As I look to the future, I have teams currently thinking about how we can do an employee give back day this summer in all three of our locations and what other pro-bono account we should be adding to our roster.

Provide an example of your favorite life lesson quote and share how it is relevant to your life.

“People don’t remember what you say, they remember how you made them feel” — I say this almost daily and try to live by it. I truly believe that if you are available and present with people they feel it. It is hard with everything coming at you every minute of the day, but I try, truly try, to be conscious of my presence. Am I in the here and now? With my family — two sets of twins and my husband — I want them to feel how important they are to me. With my teams at work, I want them to see how much their concerns matter to me, and hopefully they take that back to their teams in turn.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that could bring good to the most amount of people, what would it be?

Wow. This was a big question. My movement is going to feel surprisingly small but I think it could have a large impact. Manners and kindness. We drill it into our kids but as soon as they (and we) become adults we feel like we don’t have to have manners any more. What if we went back to a place where it was expected? What if we open doors for our elders, say please and thank you every time it was warranted, gave up our seat more often? What if we pay for a cup of coffee for someone behind us, not for the recognition but for the smile? Or make eye contact and smile when you walk by someone? I try to do these things daily and it both delights and saddens me to see the look of surprise I get. Imagine if we all behaved this way? People remember how you make them feel…what if we collectively tried to make each other feel good instead of ignoring each other or tearing one another down?

Thank you for all of these great insights!