To read all of the 2018 profiles, click here.
The new influencers: Social media’s emergence has brought fresh voices to the forefront
By: Larry Dobrow
You may or may not be familiar with Dr. Bishal Gyawali, known to his 4,900 or so Twitter followers as @Oncology_BG. A Nepali-born oncologist trained in Japan who’s currently a research fellow in the department of medicine at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Harvard Medical School, Gyawali has a résumé that seems almost impossible for a 31-year-old. Among other pursuits, he serves as an editorial adviser to the British Medical Journal and has worked with the U.K.’s Institute of Cancer Policy and the Belgium-based Anticancer Fund.
Gyawali’s professional credentials might be key opinion leader (KOL) manna, but the way he wields the influence that comes with them is atypical. He’s active on Twitter, where he casts a skeptical, thoughtful eye on everything from highly technical oncology research to bigger-picture systemic issues.
“He has become a respected authority on global access issues and oncology treatment in low- and middle-income countries, and not just on Twitter or social media,” says Dr. H. Jack West, founder and president of the nonprofit cancer-education organization Cancer Grace and web editor for JAMA Oncology. “He’s young and didn’t come out of a training program that’s usually a feeder to international renown. There are ways to carve out your own place that didn’t exist even five or six years ago.”
Welcome to the era in which anyone can be a healthcare influencer. “We’re moving from three or four or five Ps — provider, payer, patient — to one: ‘people,’” says Sara Holoubek, CEO of strategy and innovation consultancy Luminary Labs. “As we move to a model where patients are empowered — where they have computer-grade devices such as smartphones and smartwatches that do some of the things you used to have to go to the doctor for — people are leading the charge.”
It’s a reality to which traditional health and media influencers are slowly accustoming themselves. It’s also one that seems alternately to dismay and confuse many of those same A-listers.
Social media gives new influencers a voice
The old guard may not have sought to exclude new and different voices from the conversation, but there was no obvious entry point for them in the pre-social media era. For better or worse, influence was largely defined by professional credentials.
“The high-profile media was very attuned to using these KOLs as their go-to voices,” says GCI Health CEO Wendy Lund. That effect, she notes, was amplified by other personal and professional associations. “Working with pharmaceutical companies allowed many of them to build their followings even more. And the institutions they came from — Johns Hopkins, Memorial Sloan Kettering, MD Anderson Cancer Center — did a great job building them up.”
Along those lines, “going viral” wasn’t yet a thing during the reign of the KOL. “There was a significant hegemony that exercised its power and control over the conversation,” says John Nosta, president of innovation think tank Nostalab and a member of the Google Health Advisory Board. “The industrial-academic complex controlled the story. People found validation of their ideas in that echo chamber.”
Gyawali himself is keenly attuned to fundamental shifts in the nature of influence in healthcare. “Ten years ago, only a few selected people working at topmost organizations — the so-called ‘big names’ — would control the direction of healthcare,” he explains. “However, with social media, independent, thoughtful voices got a platform to be heard.”
You gotta know what you’re talking about
However, clever use of social media hasn’t by itself elevated the influence of these voices. “They came from someone who was not a big name and, hence, was also aloof from the conflicts of interest that big names usually have,” Gyawali continues. “They had no big stakes in the game, so to speak, so they could be bold and courageous enough to call a spade a spade, because ultimately it was only the patient outcomes that mattered.”
Indeed, influence has evolved to include aspects of voice. But this has not changed one fundamental tenet of influence: You gotta know what you’re talking about. Jane Sarasohn-Kahn, a health economist who founded the consultancy Think-Health and writes for The Huffington Post and her own HealthPopuli site, is heartened by the turn back toward “trusted nodes” where scientific fact reigns supreme.
She recalls a recent lunch with the head of Italy’s minister of health. “There are algorithms in social media in Italy misinforming people about vaccines. So now you’ve got what amounts to the head of Italy’s NIH tweeting pro-vaccine messages, which can’t be a bad thing,” she explains. “In healthcare at least, we still live in a fact-based world.”
The worry, of course, is that healthcare influence could splinter in a manner similar to the way political influence has splintered. “More [influencers] is better. The problem is that more isn’t necessarily smarter,” Nosta says. “In health and not in health, we’re seeing the emergence of influence that is incorrect, ignorant, and dangerous. Look at vaccines and autism, where both scientific and social fraud have been perpetuated upon humanity.”
And then there’s concern about pharma, always the last in line when it comes to embracing innovation in the realms of marketing or communication.
That’s why Holoubek was so encouraged by Sanofi’s response when Roseanne Barr more or less blamed Ambien for racist comments she tweeted. A few hours after Barr made the claims, the drugmaker responded in a tweet from its Sanofi U.S. handle: “People of all races, religions, and nationalities work at Sanofi every day to improve the lives of people around the world. While all pharmaceutical treatments have side effects, racism is not a known side effect of any Sanofi medication.”
“It’s what any other brand in any other industry would have done, and it reflected so positively on the brand and on the company,” Holoubek says. “Ten years ago, a pharma company would have ignored [Barr’s mea culpa] or maybe a month later issued a very formal statement. So maybe pharma and healthcare are learning how to dance that tango.”
Given the importance of the social media platforms upon which the new breed of influencers conduct their conversations and air their concerns, it’s no surprise those companies have pressed forward with formal health units. “Organizations used to live in their bubbles, but they’ve gotten smart and are embracing partnerships with unexpected partners. Tech companies have incredible data and the reach to do this,” Lund says. Asked if she considers those companies to be the proverbial elephants in the room, she responds, “I see them as the intrigue in the room.”
Here comes Amazon
Which leads us to the feverish speculation about Amazon’s eventual place in the health-influencer ecosystem. When the company announced its joint venture with Berkshire Hathaway and JP Morgan, its influence was felt in the form of immediate plunges in the market value of pharmacy benefit managers, or PBMs, (Express Scripts, CVS Health) and insurers (Aetna, Anthem) alike.
Nearly a year after the announcement, few specifics have been presented, but it almost doesn’t matter. Amazon announced the purchase of online pharmacy PillPack in June, pharmacy and drug distributor stocks followed the same pattern of as PBMs and insurers. The day news of the deal became public, CVS Health, Rite Aid, and Walgreens collectively shed $12.8 billion in market value.
“[Amazon] has the muscle to make anything from a speculative concept into a reality,” West says. “For insurance, this could be the equivalent of going from place-based phones to person-based phones.”
It doesn’t hurt that Amazon enjoys a degree of awareness matched by few companies in the history of humankind. “Amazon and healthcare — that’s the kind of thing that will stick to the roof of consumers’ brains,” Nosta says.
However, when asked to predict the healthcare influencers of 2023, even the most ardent futurists hedge. “Five years ago, we did not see Amazon becoming a player in this space,” Holoubek notes. “Factor in that sometime in the next five years we’re definitely going to have a recession, and it’s pretty much impossible to say who the influencers will be.”
West agrees. “We’re like dinosaurs with an ice age coming. Lots of ill-prepared dinosaurs are going to go extinct,” he says. “Healthcare is so staggeringly inefficient right now that there is too much opportunity to do things better. But I don’t think anyone knows how that will affect influence.”
Nosta ventures a prediction of sorts. “I’m not gonna tell you who [the influencers of 2023] will be, but I’ll give you the initials: A.I.,” he quips. “The volume, source, speed, and veracity of data is increasingly beyond our ability as humans to assimilate. As terrifying as it might sound, the arbiter of information will be technology itself.”
Gyawali, on the other hand, speaks hopefully about the continued rise of individuals not formally associated with legacy organizations. “I’d hope the influence of big journals would dwindle because of the [rise of] open-access journals and preprints and social media. Independent, conflict-free, thoughtful voices will continue to have the most influence.”
Who influences the influencers?
By Tracy Keim
VP of consumer marketing and brand, 23andme
The most inspirational and influential person in healthcare isAnne Wojcicki, CEO of 23andMe.
Anne brings data to the table — whether it’s genetic data, lab data, or health data. Anne encourages the public to access, understand, and benefit from their data when it comes to healthcare. She advocates for the consumer, and believes you are your strongest advocate.
Many of us don’t know that we can ask for our health records or get access to our genetic information. We cannot continue to live in fear or in the dark when it comes to our health. Anne’s changing the way we look at ourselves through genetics and advocacy. That is inspiring.
By Alexandra von Plato
CEO, Publicis Health
I have the distinct honor of calling Nick Colucci, chairman of Publicis Health, my most important mentor. As a boss, coach, role model, and friend, Nick always can be counted on to tell me what I need to hear and show me what it means to lead with my heart, head, and hands. As a true servant-leader, Nick has nurtured a small army of healthcare agency and network leaders, including many women, now serving as presidents, CMOs and CFOs. I’m grateful and proud to count myself among them.
By Debbie Renner
CEO, SSCG Media Group
I’m extremely fortunate to have had two phenomenal mentors at critical stages of my career — Carol DiSanto, past president of CDM Group, and Josh Prince, current CMO of Omnicom Health Group. Carol and Josh are not only incredible mentors, but also extraordinary human beings. It is from both of them that I learned, early on in my career, the importance of leading an organization with grace, respect, humanity, and gratitude — something that I continue to value above all in my role as CEO of SSCG Media Group.
As we continue to evolve and transform as an organization — this is something that will never change.
By Susan Isenberg
Global sector chair, health, Edelman
I’ve been honored to work with many outstanding women and men dedicated to health over the course of my career in health comms, but the most lasting impact has been by the person who helped carve the position I have the privilege to hold now — Nancy Turett.
Nancy’s passion for the power of the health industry to change lives was boundless. She instilled in me a career-long appreciation for the role of communications in transforming ideas into engaging actions that positively impact the health and well-being of people, as well as inspire and motivate our own teams.
By Jillian Janaczek
EVP, managing director, and New York market leader, Burson Cohn & Wolfe
I can’t think of a person who has influenced me more than BCW CEODonna Imperato.
Donna has been instrumental in teaching me the nuanced world of healthcare communications. Leading by example, Donna is fearless in her pursuit for innovation, which is critical to the ever-evolving health landscape.
One of the things I most admire about Donna is that she advocates for her people. She puts her team first and foremost, something I have tried hard to emulate as healthcare practice head and plan to continue in my new role as BCW’s New York market leader.
As the first woman to lead a top three firm, Donna is an inspiration — not only to me but to many.
By Michael Sneed
EVP, global corporate affairs, and chief comms officer, Johnson & Johnson
My grandmother, Laverta Johnson, began her journey as a nurse graduating from the Kansas City School of Nursing in 1932. She returned to Chicago and in the late 1940s she and my granddad opened the first rehab center on the west side of Chicago to serve the African-American community.
As a young boy, I learned the value of service to others that my grandmother instilled in all of her grandchildren. She believed then, as I do now, that health and wellbeing are keys to a strong and productive life in service to your family and society as a whole.
By Mike Hudnall
CEO, WPP Health & Wellness
The person who inspired me most in my career is John Zweig, former chairman of WPP’s healthcare and specialty comms sector. I will always treasure the years I worked with him. John showed us every day how to be a great human, leader, and friend.
He reinforced why our work in health is so important, but also reminded us that individually we aren’t as important as we think we are. Most importantly, he taught me that if I unleash our collective power of will, then we truly can change the world. Thank you, John.
By Jim Weiss
Founder and CEO, W2O
I was hired at Hill+Knowlton Strategies in May 1987 by Laura Leber, a client, friend, and powerhouse influencer herself. But Beverly Simons is our north star. A genuine mad woman from the golden age, she’s one of the first, best, and most prolific healthcare communicators who shaped this field and mentored so many of us.
She was all about hard work, perfection, client service, and results. She treated us like the pros we strived to be. It was 24/7, and I loved every minute of it. I’m forever grateful Bev inspired and pushed me to #MakeItHappen and #BecomeTheBest I could be.
By Leerom Segal
Cofounder and CEO, Klick Health
I’ve always been inspired by virtuosity in every form, and whenever we’re looking at a new space, first seek to find renegades that can influence our thinking. At an early age, my father taught me that being entrepreneurial means you have to have a bias for action and a strong work ethic. Klick cofounder Peter Cordy illuminated the importance of creativity, and I’ve always enjoyed hacking problems with our other cofounder Aaron Goldstein. In fact, a theme that has been consistently true at every stage has been the degree to which mentors have helped us see around corners and boldly imagine how to conspire with the future.
By Anne de Schweinitz
Global managing director, healthcare, FleishmanHillard
MaryEllen O’Donohue, currently at WE Communications, may not think of herself as a mentor to me, but she is. When I took my first agency job in 1999, MaryEllen was leading the North American healthcare practice.
I met her just weeks after starting at a major biotech pitch in California. I was clueless about the agency world and she was completely in it, very talented and fiercely determined to win.
She was also incredibly warm, funny, and deeply human. She remains a shining example to me of the profound impact one person can have when they bring their whole self to the job every day.
By Keri McDonough
Senior team lead, Biosector 2
Those who courageously evolve while holding onto what’s uniquely theirs inspire me most. Wendy Brennan, director of community outreach for Senator Liz Krueger, and Peg McCormick, consultant, patient partnership, CAR-T and cell therapy at Autolus, have done just this throughout their careers. While running a patient advocacy group and expanding access to mental health coverage, Wendy taught me how to remain vigilant and calm in the face of entrenched political and social barriers. When leading a global MS franchise’s advocacy work, Peg showed me how to balance visionary and realistic expectations for pharma and advocacy collaboration. Both women exemplify the possibilities for careers fueled by intellectual curiosity, kindness, a strong moral compass, and a drive for meaningful change. Mentorship is a gift and I am so grateful for their generosity.
Health influencers are an allegory for world of disruption
Modern life is changing so quickly and in so many ways that it is difficult to keep up, but fundamental issues around health and wellbeing are being disrupted more than anything else.
It’s a subject area our sister title MM&M tracks on a daily basis, while PRWeek dips in and out. But it’s an environment where some of the most disruptive and compelling storylines are playing out, from national healthcare provision, to the discovery of new life-changing drugs, to healthier lifestyles for some and a more sedentary existence for others, to hot-button issues such as drug pricing and the increasing impact of patient power.
All these aspects and more are represented in PRWeek and MM&M’s third annual Health Influencer 50 list.
The lineup reflects the rise of disruptive and nontraditional health players such as Amazon, Apple, Google, Wal-Mart, JP Morgan, and Facebook, as well as innovative agency operators including Klick, Deloitte, and Evoke in and amongst more established names from the big holding companies and independents.
As new players enter the marketplace and disrupt established ways of doing things, you can be sure smart and effective comms and marketing will be more important than ever.
You can also bank on PRWeek and MM&M being there to track these developments and analyze what it means for communicators, marketers, patients, payers, brands, and enterprises alike.
Steve Barrett is VP/editorial director of PRWeek
HI50 challenges health’s hegemony
Pharma marketing types are no doubt familiar with the four Ps, a rubric that contextualizes pharma vis-a-vis its fellow stakeholders in the healthcare value chain: provider, payer, and patient. Lately some have even added a fifth P to the mix — policymaker.
But this beloved mnemonic may be in for a downsizing. As Sara Holoubek tells MM&M’s Larry Dobrow this month, “We’re moving from three or four or five Ps to one: people.”
“As we move to a model where patients are empowered, people are leading the charge,” Holoubek adds.
It seems fitting that, as new entrants seek to overturn healthcare’s familiar and, in many ways, inefficient business models, this decades-old convention also would be turned on its head and by those seen as outsiders a short time ago.
Our third annual Health Influencer 50 list includes many such examples of doers challenging the healthcare hegemony. Five years ago, most of us did not envision Amazon becoming a dominant player in this space. Yet there they are.
Amazon wisely hired Harvard surgeon turned health policy expert turned The New Yorker writer Atul Gawande to head up its JV with Berkshire Hathaway and JP Morgan, then bought pharmacy upstart Pillpack, whose CEO and cofounder, T.J. Parker, also makes our list.
And healthcare now welcomes a new cast, including fellow HI50 members Apple, Wal-Mart, and 23andMe.
To be sure, plenty of influence is still concentrated in the traditional four Ps, represented by the likes of GSK, Bayer, and J&J. And on the agency side, you’ll find stalwart marketers ranging from Klick Health to Weber Shandwick.
Like the challengers, plenty of pharma vets working for these native healthcare organizations are leveraging their understanding of customers and passion for people to accelerate the path toward a consumer healthcare experience.
To those who long for the old days, who view disruption as sacrilegious, I say, “Get used to it.”
It’s a good bet that no one entity will have a lock on the essential qualities that underpin a Health Influencer. People — with a capital P — will level the playing field for decades to come. Those pharma and agency players who fail to adjust may wake up one morning and wonder where their influence went.
Marc Iskowitz is the editor-in-chief of MM&M
Partner Content: Making Self Care a Priority is Not Selfish
By: Wendy Lund, CEO, GCI Health
One out of two women reading this article is not making the time to focus on her health – which one are you?
Do you write “Get flu shot” at the bottom of your to-do list every year, but never manage to cross it off? Do you postpone scheduling health screenings because you’re too busy balancing work and the needs of others, and there simply aren’t enough hours to get it all done?
If this sounds familiar, you aren’t alone. When GCI Health partnered with Redbook magazine and HealthyWomen, we polled more than 1,000 women between the ages of 30 and 60 about health habits for themselves and their families. We found that nearly half just don’t make their own health a priority.
This is because women feel caught between their health goals and what others expect of them. While we’re often the ones making the healthcare decisions for our families, we’re not quite as proactive when it comes to taking care of ourselves. Thirty percent of the women we surveyed skip regular health screenings, citing their job as the main scheduling conflict. A whopping 80 percent feel like there’s no way to delegate their family’s healthcare, and more than half admit that they feel stressed out even thinking about it.
It can all start to feel like a vicious cycle. When you don’t take care of yourself, it negatively impacts your ability to care for your loved ones. Our survey revealed that women who don’t make time to get their important screenings, like mammograms, pap tests, eye exams and blood pressure, end up having more health issues later in life.
At GCI Health, we’re committed to partnering with HealthyWomen to turn these statistics around. We kicked off the #BeHealthiher movement to encourage women across generations to prioritize their wellness and, for the past year, we’ve been giving them tools to become a “healthier her” for themselves, their families and society. We’ve also been reaching out to employers and encouraging them to make sure their employees, both women and men, are taking time to address their health and schedule doctor appointments.
As cold and flu season ramps up and hectic holiday schedules leave us with even less free time, prioritizing your health is more important than ever. As our survey also revealed that 97% of women say their stress levels are moderate to high, here are a few ways to slow down, check in and take better care of yourself.
Don’t Be Afraid to Delegate. If you have too much on your plate at work or at home, ask for help. Give yourself permission to let go of tasks that are standing in the way of healthier habits.
Schedule that Checkup. Don’t wait for a window of opportunity, make one. Schedule a doctor’s appointment and communicate your availability to your bosses, colleagues and family. Having it on the calendar is a mental commitment that will make you feel more accountable to your health.
Take a Mental Break. Don’t be afraid to slow down when you’re feeling overworked, sick or stressed. Go for a walk, meditate or take a day off work if you need to recharge. You’ll be more focused when you return.
Get Social. Posting a photo of your self-care moment on Instagram, Facebook or Twitter could inspire others to prioritize their health. Join the conversation by using the hashtag #BeHealthiher.
Remember, even small steps like these can help you take a more active role in managing your own well-being. When you put your health first everything else falls into place – so don’t wait!