Welcome to the Woman of the Week podcast, a weekly discussion that illuminates the unique stories of women leaders who are catalyzing change throughout the life sciences industry. You can check out all our podcast episodes here.
Armed with an undergraduate degree in English, Dr. Lauren Lazar entered the world of medicine to pursue her lifelong desire to be a doctor. After earning her M.D., eschewing the traditional path of clinical practice, she promptly jumped into the world of healthcare advertising and communications — and she hasn’t looked back since.
“As a doctor, even if you’re not treating patients day to day, what you’re doing is fundamentally important to a lot of people, and in the end, you’re affecting patients in everything you do,” she said. “It’s impactful. It still counts as helping people … even if we’re doing so in a corporate setting.”
This unusual path fits with both her creativity and scientific mind, or as she describes it a “bit of a right brain, left brain conflict.”
“Pursuing a course of science classes for pre-med alongside intensive writing programs — everything from Victorian literature to modern poetry — really gave me some much-needed balance during my undergraduate career,” she said. “Ultimately, I wanted to get as much education in the humanities as I possibly could before beginning a career as a physician. It was really critical to me to understand and empathize with patients before learning how to treat them.”
As executive vice president and medical director for the healthcare advertising agency Calcium, Lazar consistently pushes the boundaries of science and marketing to accomplish the strategic goals for clients’ brands — including crafting programs on up-and-coming platforms such as TikTok and Instagram, as well as heading up Calcium’s latest division Vitamin MD, which supports promotional medical education.
“I like to think more like a marketer with an M.D. versus an M.D. working in marketing,” she said. “Our new division Vitamin MD is leveraging a lot of next-generation innovation to help address this changing market and changing needs. We always want to push the boundaries and help our clients strengthen their scientific communications platforms as early in the product life cycle as possible.”
In this episode of the Woman of the Week podcast, Lazar talks about why she has no regrets about choosing a nontraditional M.D. path, the omnichannel trends influencing healthcare marketing and how she’s paying forward the advice she received from her mentor to the next generation of clinical marketers.
Welcome to WoW, the Woman of the Week podcast by PharmaVoice, powered by Industry Dive.
In this episode, Taren Grom, editor-in-chief emeritus at PharmaVoice meets with Lauren Lazar, M.D., executive vice president, medical director, Calcium.
Taren: Lauren, welcome to the WoW podcast program.
Lauren: Thank you so much. It’s been a pleasure to be here and thank you for having me.
Taren: It’s our pleasure. So Dr. Lazar, early on in your career you took an interesting turn, you earned an MD after receiving a BA in English with a 4.0 to boot. So why medical school after college?
Lauren: Yes. I was actually one of the rare English majors who went on to medical school from undergraduate. I think I really always had a passion for both the creative side and science and so, I think I had a little bit of a right brain, left brain conflict. But pursuing a course of science classes for pre-med alongside intensive writing programs and everything from Victorian literature to modern poetry really gave me some much-needed balance during my undergraduate career. And ultimately, I think I wanted to get as much education in the humanities as I possibly could before beginning a career as a physician. It was really critical to me to understand and empathize with patients before learning how to treat them.
Taren: Did you always want to go to med school? Did you always want to be a doctor? Was that always the plan?
Lauren: I think I did as early as I could speak. I had a lot of influence from one of my mother’s surgeons who told me that as soon as I was sort of speaking, and I always thought I wanted to be a surgeon. Got to medical school, decided that I didn’t want to be a surgeon after my clinical rotations but I did love the medical field and found another way that I really wanted to use all my education and training.
Taren: That’s fascinating. So aside from that who else kind of influenced your pathway? Because as you noted, it’s an unusual, most people go in and be premed. So it’s really was that interest in humanities and connecting the patient? Am I piecing it together correctly?
Lauren: Definitely. I can say, I never would have imagined, if you had asked me when I started medical school that I would have taken the path I did and that my career would be what it is today. But I think really, it couldn’t have been a more perfect fit for my background and my interests and liking to read and to write in the communications aspect of things. I think I always knew that one day I would probably combine medicine and the business world in some way. But I transitioned pretty early in my training and I took this path in the industry world in pharma and biotech marketing.
So, I think in some ways, I really get to combine the best of both worlds on a day-to-day basis, the communication side from that sort of English background and clinical information from my medical training.
Taren: It’s fascinating. So let’s talk about that intersection of medicine and language and how that influences your role as a medical director or in executive position at an ad agency.
Lauren: I really like to think that my most important role within an agency is taking doctoral level research, information, complex language, sometimes confusing clinical data and really making it clear for even someone who has no scientific background for them to understand. And so within a creative agency, I feel that the real stars behind the show are those who are bringing amazing creative campaigns to life. And so those are our copy teams, our art directors, our technology department. I have the privilege of working alongside some of the most talented creative minds on a daily basis. And working together, we ensure that everything we communicate for our clients is not only highly accurate, but strategically delivered and probably most importantly, MLR approvable. Because we are always getting our materials sort of looked at by MLR and made sure that we are speaking correctly, that we are speaking in a way that will be FDA approval.
So, sometimes as the medical director, I am, unfortunately, the one keeping our team within the guardrails of pharma compliance and one saying, no. But I love to challenge myself to push those boundaries. I like to think more like a marketer with an MD versus an MD working in marketing and to really challenge myself to try to accomplish our strategic goals for the brands or for the therapeutic area, but with a marketing hat on with that clinical information.
Taren: That is fascinating. So just for our audience, so folks who may not know that acronym of MLR.
Lauren: Yes, so there is a slightly different acronym, depending on the client, the pharmaceutical company or biotech company, I tend to think of it as medical, legal, and regulatory review, but you will see terms like PMR, promotional review committee. It varies a little bit by client but basically, it is a team at the client who is responsible for going through any sort of promotional material that will go out to a variety of audiences. And in my role, it’s mostly HCP audiences and they look at it from a medical lens. So you’ll usually have a PhD, a PharmD or an MD on the medical side at the client. You will have an attorney usually from a legal side and then you will have someone with extensive regulatory background who’s looking at what we’re saying and how we’re saying it and how ultimately that will be perceived by FDA and OPDP.
Taren: And that’s all for patient protection, right. So that we’re not over promising a benefit or an outcome based on the therapeutic.
Lauren: Definitely, definitely.
Taren: It is safe. Okay, just so in case some folks on our audience may not have been familiar with that acronym. You’re working at the end of the spectrum almost the drug has gone through its development. It’s gone through regulatory approvals most times. How early on do you get involved in the process or does it involve or does it depend on the client like to set up like the promotional or advertising or communications, campaign for a product?
Lauren: Sure. So I would say, especially working at Calcium and some of the independent agencies, we have clients that may be big pharma and, like you’re stating, that have products already in market or about to enter the market, but we also have the opportunity to work with a lot of smaller companies. So we have clients who are really early in their product life cycle who may still be in clinical trials phase 2, phase 3, who are anticipating how they will bring a product to market, which has never been done by their company. And so sometimes they get to work on things well before this product, it could be three, four, five years out before that product will likely get approved.
And so, we do a lot of what we call the prelaunch work on the advertising side that can be sort of market shaping work. It can be really sort of setting up the disease state and how it’s perceived and everything that you do before a product enters the market really has to fall under an unbranded umbrella. So you’ll sometimes see that there is a website about a particular maybe rare disease, that doesn’t talk at all about a product, but it sets up what that problem is in the rare disease, whether there’s not a therapy currently available to address it. Whether you need to think differently because maybe there’s a new therapy that may be coming out that’s going to change the way that physicians have treated that disease historically.
And so a lot of that work is really interesting because you’re kind of re-educating a variety of audiences before the product will enter the market. But yes, we, our day-to-day have clients on complete opposite ends of the spectrum where I’m working super early or on products that have been in market for 10-15 years.
Taren: Excellent. Thank you for that. When we talk about products in market and reaching out to patients or even HCPs, how is that audience dynamic changed over the past five, six years, especially with the advent of so much social media? How does it change your strategy?
Lauren: I think that in terms of patient directed marketing and like I said, we don’t exclusively do all patient work. We do a lot of HCP work. We do a little bit of payer work. But much like the HCP side, social media has become increasingly important and it’s not just due to work where we are messaging from the manufacturer directly, but it’s also become an avenue for patients and for HCPs to share their experiences with one another. And so, we are seeing more and more clinical content that’s appearing on platforms, like Instagram, like TikTok. And even if our pharma and biotech clients are not directly utilizing these communication avenues, monitoring them can be really informative to overall brand strategies. And we do this regularly for all of our clients. We want to see what’s being said. What kind of messaging and communication is appearing there? Because even though it’s not necessarily within the scope of what we’re putting out directly, we need to understand our audiences.
And so both HCPs and patients can serve as influencers on these types of platforms. There are specialists in many fields who are considered subject matter experts, and they have huge online followings. Some of them reach the hundreds of thousands in varying fields. Some of these folks may be younger. They may be newly minted physicians, and even residents can really attract a following, because they’re talking about a lot of topics in new and different ways and people are out there and they’re watching and they’re listening and subscribing.
And so, I think additionally, so that’s more on the advertising side. But from a promo medical education perspective, we are also seeing increasingly blurred lines between what we would consider traditional medical affairs efforts and their promotional counterparts. And so, from a medical affairs perspective, it’s really moving in an exciting new direction.
And our new division Vitamin MD, medical communications is leveraging a lot of next-generation innovation in that regard to help address this changing market and their changing needs. We feel that we always want to be pushing the boundaries and we want to help our clients to strengthen their scientific communications platforms as early in the product life cycle as possible.
So like I said, we have some clients whose product is so early that it could be years to launch, but we have this opportunity to work with them really early on. So not only in some of the sort of HCP-directed brand messaging, but even informing that that scientific lexicon, the earliest ways we will describe the therapeutic area of the product. And we’re very careful about how we’re talking about that product and ensuring that we use consistent language. Because what we set out at that very beginning phase, we want it to be able to continue and remain consistent until that product launches, so that we’re unifying our messaging across that timeframe.
Taren: That’s fascinating. Because I’ve been in this industry a long time and to hear the progression of some of these promotions as you said, the blurred lines between medical affairs and promo and this next-generation initiatives, it sounds very exciting. It sounds like you’re almost on the cutting edge of this next generation or what medical education, medical communications could be, especially with influencers. Traditionally pharma, especially big pharma companies have been very conservative in their approaches. Are the wall starting to come down?
Lauren: I think they definitely are and of course, it’s on a client-to-client basis. We do have some clients whose regulatory and legal teams are still hesitant. They are not ready to jump into those areas. We have some clients on the other hand whose med affairs departments may even have handles on Instagram or TikTok. So it’s very – I would say, we’re taking our first steps into uncharted territory in some regards. But definitely, we are seeing more and more of a push to try to reach our audiences where they’re getting information and to us, that’s what’s most important. And so, if those are the spaces where they’re getting information, we want to be there and we want to make sure that what we’re conveying is really on strategy and on brand.
Taren: Fascinating. And in doing so, you also have to work with the FDA which also has traditionally been very conservative. But we’re also seeing them take some leaps in terms of scientific breakthroughs. So is this also stemming to how they’re looking at communications, where you’re doing a little bit more lenient?
Lauren: I would say that definitely… maybe not more lenient overall, but they’re definitely starting to consider that there are many ways that are new and different that have never had to be monitored.
So a lot of the work that we’re doing in the digital space – we all know that that digital has really taken over across the board, no matter what kind of communications you’re talking about. But we’re seeing it come to light in new ways, whether it’s in KOL-led speaking programs that are on video that are living on platforms, that are accessible to specific audiences, that are accessible to the public. And so, I think everyone is at a point where we’re learning and growing together. Because we need to understand how we can determine what’s approvable in this ever-changing world.
Taren: And this ever changing world is really it’s about omni-channel communications now.
Taren: Right. It’s no longer just tiptoeing up to the line. We are fully immersed now, omni-channel. So how does that change the strategy when you’re going to set about looking at all the different constituencies for the product as well as all the channels for that product? It’s got to be like putting, knitting together like a quilt, I would think. Having to pull all those pieces together.
Lauren: It really is. I think every time we sort of approach tactical planning for the year whether we’re on the traditional advertising agency side or in our promotional medical education division and our healthcare PR division, there is a huge roster of initiatives that live across that omni-channel spectrum. And we tend to regroup internally many times before sort of speaking with our clients about it. Because there are just so many ways now that we can try to reach our target audience. There are innovative ways. Sometimes there are things we can do in-house. Other times they require third party vendors, but that really just thinking about every single way that we’re reaching folks, where they want information, where they have time to view it or to read it. And sometimes, even to hear it because we know that physicians are very, very busy. And each specialty really requires a unique lens. Not every specialty looks at information in the same way or seek their new clinical data in the same way.
And so we tend to map out the target specialists for most brands. There may be one specialty type, but we have other brands where targets could be fivefold, where so many potential types of physicians could be prescribers for that product. That we’re doing that kind of mapping of the HCP behaviors across multiple specialties. And then folks across our team and our tech department and our strategy department are really looking at how those specialists consume information, how they want to get that information and what the optimal time of each engagement is. So we have it down to exactly how many seconds or minutes most folks who are willing to engage with content before they’re going to turn it off. And so we want to get our messaging in in that timeframe to make sure we’re maximizing our opportunities with HCPs or other audiences.
Taren: Wow. In the olden days, it would be like putting together a nice ad campaign. And in doing so, so through this whole transition, not only is it specialization on the HCP side but I would think you also need some specialization on your side. So you need digital strategies. You need folks who are really well-versed in social media. How does that change the dynamic in terms of putting together a team?
Lauren: Absolutely. And one of the things that really drew me to Calcium when I joined several years ago was the idea that we wanted to form an integrated strategy department. So folks didn’t just live in a medical department or a brand strategy department or a digital team. So everyone who works across strategy is under the umbrella of integrated strategy. And so we work together every day and we’re in meetings together because we want to ensure that folks from every one of those strategic disciplines are seeing projects when they get kicked off, are getting to provide feedback at every step along the way. Everyone are on routes as these materials go through the agency. Everyone is getting to sort of voice what’s important? What they are seeing from their lens and making sure that it’s crafted appropriately as it goes through all of those levels and every department.
And this is something that I think, not every agency does. Some agencies are still very at a point where medical may live separately. Medical may just be the kind of scientific fact checkers, and that was something I never wanted my department to be. And so, when I had the opportunity to come on board and to craft a medical strategy department here at Calcium, I wanted us to be part of that integrated team. I didn’t want us to be siloed and end just kind of the fact checkers or the consultants. We are team members. We are day-to-day on all of these brands.
Taren: Fantastic. I can see what an advantage that is to be completely integrated. You touched upon Vitamin D. Tell me about this division within Calcium a little bit.
Lauren: Absolutely. So I guess about a year ago, we decided to formalize an offering that we call Vitamin MD Medical Communications. And so, we are a division under Calcium that really supports promotional medical education. We had realized that over the years we were really doing a lot of the work that a traditional promo med-ed shop did. We had never formalized the fact that we were doing it. We had never really separated out from the traditional agency work. And so at Vitamin MD, we really can work with clients who are already on the agency roster who may need either medical affairs or promo med-ed support on their brands. We also have some clients who exclusively need that promotional med-ed support and aren’t necessarily needing the agency support at this point in their product life cycle.
So it’s been an exciting opportunity. I co-lead this division with my partner, Brad Quosig. It’s been super interesting to see how clients are finding us. They’re seeing what we’re doing. We were just given an award for our innovation last year. We really want to bring cutting edge support to some of these traditional med affairs and medical education efforts that maybe never had as much creativity or as strategic event applied to them. And, like I said before, we’re seeing blurred lines in this area and things that med affairs would never be able to do we’re starting to see those walls fall down.
Taren: What do you think is driving that?
Lauren: I think that overall clients are starting to work towards more integrated and unified goals and so, I think rather than separating out even on the client side that we have marketing departments and we have medical affairs departments, they’re starting to really unite towards the common goal of supporting the scientific lexicon. Because whatever is done in med affairs, ultimately will translate to the marketing side and so, giving those folks on the medical teams support earlier on and really allowing them the greatest strategic and to some extent, the ability to apply that marketing hat is only going to help the entire organization. And I think as that becomes more acceptable and that even though traditionally budgets are separated between the marketing teams on the client side and the medical teams were seeing some level of sharing at some of our clients, which is really interesting. And I think can only help the overall goals of everyone involved.
Taren: Interesting. I would say, unprecedented, the budgets.
Lauren: It is a new time. And I think as we go into 2023, we’re going to see this even more. We’re able to do some pretty amazing things in areas that were traditionally seen as a little bit boring. They were very bound by restrictions. It was all about the data and it was just data, data. We’re starting to think about how we present that data. How can we make it more compelling? And especially from a creative agency side, how can we even inform things like clinical slide decks or speaking events and make it really pop. Make it really convey information in a way that they’ve never done before.
Taren: Really fascinating. And as we go into 2023, are there any other trends that you’re tracking? Because the process has been pretty tried and true in terms of healthcare communications and marketing, but you seem to be really pushing the envelope. What else should we be looking forward to?
Lauren: I think we’re going to see quite a bit around a couple of different topics. So, I think over the past couple of years, obviously, health equity has been really informing. Everything we’re seeing at Congresses it’s been informing how our clients are setting up clinical trials, how they’re addressing audiences. I think that is going to continue to be a theme for so many years. The patients who were represented in trials did not represent the full population of the areas in which they lived and of the countries that were studying. And so, I think really shifting the lens to look at that more is going to be really, really important.
I think overall, this trend towards influencers and not necessarily that we’re all going to be on TikTok and Instagram promoting pharma marketing, but really seeing how those folks who have those shades of influence, have the ability to then reach out to audiences that weren’t typically targeted. And so, I think a lot of the time we’re forgetting folks in fellowship, folks in residency. Some of the newly minted physicians who tend to look towards their older colleagues for information. I think we’re starting to see some reversibility on that end, where you do have some of these more young newer physicians who have seen things because they’ve had the ability to apply technology as they were learning in their training. And they may be starting to teach some of the physicians who have been in practice for longer periods.
Taren: That’s interesting. I like the reversibility of that. That’s fascinating. You’ve worked with a number of different agencies and I’m going to ask you to Sophie’s choice here, to identify maybe one or two of the most powerful campaigns you’ve been involved with, like something that stands out for you?
Lauren: Absolutely. I think that over the course of my career, I’ve had a unique opportunity because as a physician on the marketing side and the medical communication side, I would never obligated to specialize. So most physicians go into clinical practice, you go into your specialty and you stay there for 20, 30, 40 years of practice, and you become super expert in that. But a lot of times you miss what’s happening on the margins and other specialties. And so I’ve gotten to work on everything from rare disease to oncology to vaccines and it’s really fascinating. I think, but if I had to choose really the most memorable campaign, it was probably the HCP launch and re-launch of the F/TAF-based Gilead HIV portfolio. And that portfolio and the campaign that evolved from it was a bridge campaign. It quite literally incorporated a Golden Gate-style bridge into every products HCP creative. And so it really unified the portfolio with the design and it showcased the strength of the F/TAF or Descovy-based backbone of therapy in treating HIV and antiretroviral therapy.
What I loved about it was it was a high science, incredibly rigorous and data-centric therapeutic area. So I got all of that good scientific background and got to really used by medical chops, but it was brought to life with beautiful and compelling creative. And it was just so nice to work on something that we would launch over years because there were so many products in their portfolio. But everything had such unifying creative that was adapted to each brand’s unique characteristics and what it set out to do in the marketplace.
Taren: Wonderful. Thank you for sharing that. That is a powerful campaign. You’re now sitting in the executive suite. Lot of lessons learned to get there. How would you describe your leadership style?
Lauren: I tend to think of myself as someone who probably learns best by listening, rather than always being the central voice in a room and definitely in a creative agency that can make me an outlier. But I really try to lead by this example. I try to tell those folks I mentor, always listen and always try to hear the things that are not necessarily being talked about directly. Because if you listen to some conversations, we have a lot of very vocal folks who work in marketing, you’re going to hear some things just by taking away what’s kind of living in the spaces between those thoughts. And so I try to let the folks I mentor take on as much independence and as much responsibility as they seek.
I’ve been lucky enough to work with some amazing junior staff who have tremendous passion for the work we do. And once they are comfortable, they run their own meetings. They act as their day-to-day contact on their own assigned brands and they just sort of run with their passions. Because I know that folks really love to take ownership and I loved that as I moved up the ranks in my career that my managers trusted me that once I knew the brand and I could support from a medical strategy perspective, it was my brand. And I was the person responsible for it. So I think it’s sort of a combination of giving folks that independence, but also sort of teaching them how I like to take in a lot of what’s going on in a really busy and often bustling kind of world we live in where there’s a lot of chatter. There are a lot of folks with strong opinions.
Taren: Well, not only within the agency, but also on the client side because not to reuse that metaphor you use earlier about the bridge, but you have to be that bridge back to the client and who oftentimes has very strong opinions.
Taren: Sometimes the ownership of the brand really lies in the agency, because those marketing folks come in and out and they rotate within the pharma co or biotech co. So you will all become the champion of the brand. So how do you sometimes manage those difficult conversations when you know you’re on the right path? You know you’ve got the right strategy and somebody comes in from the client and says, “yeah, I think maybe not?”
Lauren: So it is definitely a careful path to trod. I think I always tell my team that we really want to put our clients first and we are going to try to provide them the best strategy, the best information that we know how. But there are also times when we have clients, who really believe strongly in going another direction. And being on the side of the agency, ultimately we are client service-oriented. We need to fulfill the needs of our clients. We can strongly put forth what we believe, but at the end of the day, sometimes the clients are going to want to go in the direction that they strongly believe in. I think we ultimately have to support that once we’ve done our due diligence, we’ve given them as much of our opinion and what we believe to be the best path forward, sometimes you do have to sort of take a step back and realize that what’s most important is that client relationship. And we would never want to bruise that client relationship. So obviously we want to act as partners, but we also sometimes just need to support what the client wants to do if they strongly believe otherwise.
Taren: Yes, that’s very diplomatically said. If you could wind back the time machine, is there anything you would tell your younger self as you were going through your career? Anything you say, ‘you know what, wish I could have done that differently or taken that path instead?’
Lauren: That’s a really great question. I think that if I could wind back the time machine, I wish I could tell my younger self that no career choice, not even medical school limits you or defines you. I think that my younger self along with so many others who have an MD after their name, really saw my career as something that needed to fit neatly into a predetermined box. That once you became a doctor with quotes around it, there was only one kind of doctor. There was only one kind of physician and they were the clinical practice type. And that somehow by doing anything, otherwise would be failing myself, my family, my clinical training. I think, after years of sort of working through the industry and having taken another path that, the truth is some physicians thrive in other settings. It might be industry and marketing like I chose to pursue. It might be academia or research or government, but there are a lot of physicians out there who are doing other things other than traditional clinical practice.
And no matter which setting you choose to contribute to, I think it’s really important for not only the person who’s chosen that path but those around them to really recognize that your work is so important. Even if you’re not treating patients day to day, what you’re doing is fundamentally important to a lot of people and even in the end, you’re affecting patients in everything you do. It’s impactful. It still counts as helping people. I know everyone always says they want to go into medicine to help people. We’re still helping people even if we’re doing so in a corporate setting or academia or other ways.
I think that’s why so many of us chose to pursue medicine to begin with, but I wish I could tell my younger self that that’s absolutely okay. And that you’re not making a bad decision by choosing not to practice, your just making a different decision.
Taren: I love that. That’s great advice to yourself. And so let me ask you, has there been speaking of advice, anybody who’s had a particular influence on your career as a mentor or somebody who’s given you some pretty good advice themselves?
Lauren: Absolutely. I think my first manager in pharma marketing when I was working for Sudler & Hennessey was Dr. Barbara LePetri. And to this day, I still ask myself what would Barbara do when I approach tough problems or difficult clients? And I still try to emulate everything that I learned from her and everything she did, the way she spoke to clients. In my earliest, non-clinical days, I really look to her as to what I should become as I developed this career that I was taking on. She was also an MD who had transitioned into pharma marketing. She had this innate ability to make teams feel confident and at ease and educated on all the nuances of every discipline she touched, and was just remarkable to watch and to learn from her. She also led by example, that there was a true career path out there for non-clinical physicians. She proved that you never stopped learning and growing even as your career progressed, because even as she was very senior in her career, she was my manager, she was always learning something new. She was always getting to work on a product or a brand or therapeutic area that she didn’t necessarily have the background in. But she showed me that, every day this is going to be a constantly changing set of therapeutic areas and you’re always learning something you didn’t know the day before. So I really appreciate Dr. LePetri, I think looking to her really allowed me the confidence to keep going in this career.
Taren: That’s wonderful. Thank you for sharing that. Speaking of advice, you talked a little bit about some of the advice you provide to some of your junior staff about taking those moments to listen in between what’s being said. What else do you advise those and do you consider yourself to be a mentor?
Lauren: I definitely do and I have the opportunity to really work with a lot of folks who are just starting their careers after a terminal degree. So we have folks who are joining us from with PharmDs, with PhDs, with MDs and I always try to tell them and I think probably the best leadership advice I’ve ever received was that it is absolutely okay even in this role where you’re coming you’re the PhD or doctoral level person in the room to say, I don’t know. I think that especially as medical directors and strategists our team members within the agency and even clients look to us for the answers. We’re always the person in the room they wanted to know what the answer is, what does the data say. They are always kind of looking for the absolute from us in a world of uncertainties in the marketing side. And many times, especially when you’re more junior in your industry career, you feel that you ought to know the answers because that’s what you are hired to do and you’re somehow failing to perform if you don’t know. I try to advise all my mentees that we, as the clinical team are going to constantly be barraged with questions that no matter whether we’re presenting a medical background or we’re on a client call, we’re doing a workshop either at the client or at the agency, we’re always going to get many, many questions. It’s just the nature of our role.
We have all the tools we need to find the answers, but we don’t always know them on the spot. And if we’re not absolutely certain then we need to kind of own that and empower ourselves to do what’s right by our clients, instead of our egos. And so, it can take years to build trust, but only a moment to lose it. I never want my team members to answer a question, just because they feel that they ought to know it and to not be confident that their answer is correct. So I like to tell them, saying, I don’t know, is a perfectly acceptable answer. And it’s really our field and we touched so many different therapeutic areas. We work across so many different brands.
I think it’s a sign of maturity and professionalism so long as you’re following it with accuracy by informing them with a response leader. You don’t always have to produce the answer on the spot because you want to be sure that you’re always giving them the right information, not just the fastest information.
Taren: That’s great advice. Most people wouldn’t say, I don’t know. Because you’re right because it makes you feel vulnerable. But you said it very eloquently, it takes years to build trust but a moment just to lose it. So that is great advice. So when you don’t know just admit you don’t know and then get back, right?
Lauren: Exactly, exactly.
Taren: This has been a great conversation. Thank you so much for covering so many of the trends that we’re going to be looking forward to in terms of communications omni-channel outreach. I love the bit about influencers because I think that’s something that people look at, but they don’t quite understand. So thank you for putting some context around that. Now my final question to you is, what is that wow moment, that either change the trajectory of your career or has left a lasting impression on you, can you name one?
Lauren: I think that if I were looking back on my career, probably the moment that changed the entire trajectory was the day that Rob Rogers and Louisa Holland from WPP took a chance on a clinician with no industry experience, desperately wanted to break into pharma marketing. And they hired me into the strategic planning department at a time when I really had no idea what strategic planning. I think I actually Googled the term in order to attend the interview because I wasn’t sure what the job was. But they told me that they had every confidence that I could learn strategy and they wanted me to just bring all my clinical expertise to them and that I would learn the strategy. That was something I could do over time, and they thoroughly believed I could do it. I think with their support and that of Dr. LePetri, who we talked about earlier my first manager, they gave me extensive mentorship and all the tools that I would need to learn and grow into my role. So I’m forever going to be grateful to them for taking that chance on me. I really try to do the same for the newly minted scientists, pharmacists and physicians who want to follow a similar path into our industry.
We get to talk a lot at different conferences and mentoring events and I have the opportunity to work with our interns and junior staff. But I think a lot of the time coming from either academia or a clinical setting, it is so difficult to sort of break in with that first role because you don’t have the three-plus industry experience years that most require. I think when folks are able to look beyond that and say, we have someone who has done an exceptional amount of work in a certain area that we can teach them the rest. They can learn this as they go but just being willing to take that chance and so, I think that was really the moment that changed the trajectory of everything I would do.
Taren: Lauren, thank you so much and you mentioned Rob and Louisa’s name, it brought a smile to my face because I know both of them. You just brought back some happy memories in my interactions with them. So thank you so much for that. And thank you for sharing that wow moment.
Lauren: They’re wonderful people. I still get to meet with them sometimes even in my career now and it just brings me back to the earliest days. They haven’t changed a bit and that’s for the better.
Taren: That’s wonderful. So it’s nice to see that continuity. So thank you so much. This has been such a great conversation and giving us as I said, a view as to what the future is going to look like, especially we talked to so many folks who are involved in the early stages of biotech drug development or AI and technology to speak to somebody so well-versed in what’s happening in the marketing space right now. It has been such a pleasure. So thank you so much for being part of our WoW podcast program.
Lauren: It’s been a pleasure. Thank you so much for having me. It’s been wonderful to talk with you.
Thanks for listening to this episode of WoW, the Woman of the Week podcast. For more WoW episodes visit pharmavoice.com.
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