Health is the Hero of our Time

von Carol Mason , AdForum (NYC)


Working on pharma accounts is often seen as restrictive. Some even describe it as the place where creativity becomes a formula.

But in our situation amid the global COVID-19 pandemic, health and wellness are suddenly in the spotlight. 

We asked Eric L Hu, VP Strategy, Customer Experience, at Havas Group’s H4B Chelsea to explain the pivotal role of biopharmaceutical agencies. Read his article below to discover that pharma is not only a hotbed of creative innovation, it also provides authentic purpose.

Eric L Hu
VP of Strategy, Experience Design Lead Havas

New York, Vereinigte Staaten von Amerika
See Profile

I vaguely remember feeling jealous whenever a “WFH” calendar invite was sent around. 

As a native New Yorker, there are few experiences more ominous than seeing an empty city; I know this, simply because I’ve never seen mine like this before. 

The anxiety I felt as the last “non-essential” businesses shut their doors, could only pale in comparison to that of the individuals closing them.

In moments of uncertainty, I find solace in the creative minds around me. My only wish is that there were more of us.

Last week, the UN released an open brief for creatives to help stem the spread of COVID-19. This needs to be a collective effort; if we want brilliant, capable minds to exceed our expectations tomorrow, we have to invest in their creative fodder today.  

This starts with health and wellness. 

Designing customer experience during COVID-19

This is a healthcare hero moment.


Doctors and nurses on the ground are facing a new enemy; under stress, misinformed, and often without proper protection, they are bound by an oath that is simultaneously putting themselves and their loved ones at risk. 

These days, most would agree that our niche within advertising is supporting those on the front lines; and we don’t have to adjust the kerning in our logos to do it. More than ever it is apparent how much value our work brings to the world. 

So what is it like working for biopharma during COVID-19? 

I always tell my clients that the best customer experience, especially during a crisis, should be frictionless. Whereas a brand like Coca-Cola emphasizes making moments iconic, my clients need to embrace the philosophy of invisible design, or step out of the way so patients can receive the medical attention they need and leave.

There is an immense emotional pressure that comes with facilitating time-sensitive patient-physician dialogues without burdening a strapped workforce. Our responsibility lies with providing continued  support, not driving sales. 

If we do our job right, we will have ensured that even our most vulnerable patients still receive their treatment while minimizing exposure to the virus.

And just like it shouldn’t take a crisis for us to appreciate the efforts of our healthcare professionals, it shouldn’t take COVID-19 to implement thoughtful experience design. 

The journey from consumer brands to customer health

After years of working on brands like Capital One, Mercedes-Benz, and Samsung, I found myself adapting what I’ve learned in comms planning, experience design, and behavioral science, towards the biopharmaceutical industry. 

As a customer experience lead in the Havas Group, my job is to help some of the world’s largest healthcare providers and medical researchers unlock the true potential of new media and emerging technologies. 

My goal is to enhance the way doctors provide care for their patients, and to eliminate the mental and physical barriers that stand in between patients and the best possible treatments available. It is my belief that these efforts are most successful if we can draw inspiration from a diverse talent pool.

Unlike many who spend their entire careers dedicated to the cause, that hasn’t always been my brief.

For years, I’d wake up wondering if my work would impact my industry. At the same time, I truly believed that it didn’t matter, because my portfolio would be iconic; surely there is no greater glory than working on the “sexy brands” worshipped in culture. 

After one too many layoffs due to budget cuts, and the stress of industry volatility, some of the luster began to wear off––it was time to consider something new. 

Despite an open mind, I was constantly reminded of public perception and what my mentors had cautioned; pharma is where creativity goes to die; akin to “selling out.”

Creativity for the collective good

Before I made the switch a year ago, I grew accustomed to every agency trying to come up with some variation of “finding purpose in everything we do.” 

To be fair, there are a number of inspiring shops that do just that: Purpose, Noble People, or OpenIDEO to name a few. Unfortunately, the reality is that many of these consultancies deal with the volatility of the market, and the same biases that charities face every day; if you are working on social impact, you are systematically limited in overhead, making it difficult to attract the best talent and afford premium amenities. More eloquently put in his TED talk, Dan Pallotta unpacks why the way we think about nonprofits is a major handicap.

Thankfully that isn’t the case for our category; instead, we leverage considerable resources to build a more ethical and equitable landscape that honors the consumer. 

Allow me to qualify such a hefty claim.

My former colleagues at Area 23 collaborated with Wavio to create “See Sound,” which harnesses the power of audio recognition and smart home technology to empower those with impaired hearing.

Our industry raises awareness around rare diseases that aren’t receiving enough attention. When statistics and traditional PSAs don’t get the job done, Mollie’s fund “free killer tan” and Nivea’s removable   magazine bracelet provide two unique and surprising approaches to preventing skin cancer. 

Our clients rely on us to educate doctors on the nuances among different treatments for a diverse patient population. They rely on us to prioritize how to shorten the distance between patients and the medical attention they require. 

Don’t get me wrong, I love consumer brands; few memories from my childhood compare the feeling of receiving a happy meal; I’m a sucker for Apple’s annual iPhone gimmick; There isn’t a day that goes by where I don’t remember what makes a Subaru, a Subaru. 

Brands are powerful, and having been a steward of many has presented incredible opportunities for me to engage creatively with the world around me.  Working in health and wellness has only accelerated my curiosity, despite originally being under the impression that it would stifle it. 

As we face the days ahead, I look forward to seeing how others like me will contribute towards building a space dedicated to our collective wellbeing.

This starts with health and wellness.