Hot on the heels of the biggest festival of creativity in the world – Cannes – I had the pleasure of being able to ask some searching questions to two of our own great creative minds here at Edelman, Esin Cittone, Creative Director based in London and Manuel Frank, Global Creative Chair for Health based in Berlin, about what drew them to the health sector and what keeps their creativity flowing.

Let’s start with the most important question first - WHY do you like working in healthcare?

Manuel: I always like the more complicated things! Because the healthcare environment is relatively restricted you have to use smart ways to get your message across. I love the chance to work with clients that are changing the world - for the better. Think about last year, when healthcare became everyone’s business – it is literally a life-changing sector! I also believe this sector will see the biggest innovations in the years to come – both scientifically and creatively.

Esin: I love healthcare as it’s necessarily human-centric… you can come up with insightful ideas that help create behaviour change in patients and healthcare professionals. It’s also very challenging as it can’t be too branded or commercial… but I like that challenge, for me it feels like putting a jigsaw puzzle together.

When working on skin cancer treatment, I ended up going to the doctor and getting 5 moles removed! Healthcare communications really does have an impact on people’s everyday lives – including mine.”

On the topic of regulations and restrictions, what are the big challenges that you face when working creatively in this sector?

Esin: Healthcare revolves around life-changing innovations – but when it comes to how we communicate about them we – both clients and agency teams – can be very cautious, worried about compliance, whether the idea is too “bold” or if it might create a negative backlash in a tightly regulated environment etc. We need to find the right balance between all of those things and not lose a good idea. Healthcare innovation deserves a communications approach that is just as radical.

“If we are doing something that’s never been done in the health sector we have to take risks and shake up how we communicate about it. We need to push ourselves, our clients and partners, to be brave.”

How is healthcare integrated into your daily ways of working as a creative?

Esin: We work on a ‘trifecta’ model – the Account lead, Strategy lead and myself come together to drive an account. Then, depending on the project we pull the right integrated team together to make it happen. I really feel as much a part of the healthcare team as the creative team. We have weekly meetings, and we have worked hard to integrate our healthcare and creative teams so it’s a more seamless process.

Manuel: All of the above. It’s really important for creatives to also build strong client relationships and to understand their business and what makes them tick.  I think we are very good at not working so sequentially, instead working more collaboratively with planners and creatives so that we form a creative brief together. For example, for some of our large clients, we have a leadership team, planners, research (Edelman Data and Intelligence), Digital and Creative – so 5 specialists – and we look at assignments together across these speciality teams.

We’re dying to know. How do you kick start your creative process?

Esin: We do a lot of reading, along with our own research. This is really important, so we can find a unique insight that we can turn into a ‘tension’ point for any campaign. The real key I believe is to have empathy with the patient. The ability to put yourself into other people’s shoes. Of course, we can never truly feel what a patient does but this empathy really helps to come up with a strong idea with the patient at the centre.

Manuel: I would absolutely agree. I would also say that as well as patients, we need empathy to understand others working in health, especially healthcare professionals. After what has happened in the last year, it is critical to understand how they must feel and how we can better reach and engage with them.

What makes a great idea? And how do you know if you’ve got “a winner”?

Esin: A really great idea is the unexpected one, innovative and bold, creates a cultural tension, is based on a strong insight, solves a business challenge and is simple to explain. I always like to do something ’real’, not gimmicky. Especially in health, a great idea is something that really helps our audience and hasn’t been done before. For example, we worked with Takeda to create a storybook for children and adolescents with ADHD called “Stories that Never Stand Still” – it was created with their own patient stories and illustrated, produced and designed by people living with ADHD to showcase the achievements of young people who are often misunderstood.

Manuel: You’ve captured everything in there! When it comes to the best ideas, data, empathy and trust are our biggest assets.

What creative healthcare ideas have you developed that you are particularly proud of?

Esin: Some of my recent favourites include ‘The Art of Detection’ for Roche which focused on encouraging detection of skin cancer, ‘Stories that Never Stand Still’ for Takeda which I mentioned earlier and ‘It’s More than Height – It’s Health’ for Novo Nordisk which helped encourage parents to monitor their children’s growth. These have been well received and I’m looking forward to what we have coming later in the year as well.

Manuel: I’m thrilled with our recent work with AstraZeneca on “CVRM, Patient Pathways” that was shortlisted for the Pharma Lions this year – we took inspiration from the original tube map to help visualise the ways diseases can intersect and produced a shareable resource for healthcare professionals which is actually improving patient outcomes.

Final question. It’s been a rollercoaster of a year for the health sector. What would you like to see change for health creatives over the next 12 months?

Manuel: I want us all to become better at speaking about our health work – it’s important, and as we have seen with Cannes this year, is also up there with the best creativity in the world. And I want more creatives to work in healthcare! Through our partnership, our creative team gets to work with people that we could never normally work within an agency. I’m learning so much from all of them – and we really enjoy working together!

“Bottom line: every creative that isn’t yet working in healthcare should have FOMO as it’s such a great space to work in!”

For more information about creative healthcare possibilities at Edelman, reach out to Eleanor Read.

Annie Tiranti is Associate Director in the London Healthcare team.