Brunet-García's Aerien Mull on Storytelling With Purpose in Health

Plus, a look at the agency's recent efforts addressing the overdose epidemic

Aerien Mull is SVP of creative at Brunet-García Advertising, an agency 100 percent focused on generating social impact by applying exceptional strategic creativity to solve some of the most complex issues facing our nation today.

She has over 15 years of experience in developing healthcare communication collateral and cohesive materials for a variety of healthcare clients, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). She oversees creative development of comprehensive advertising and communication campaigns that meet strategic behavioral change objectives and resonate with at-risk and disparate audiences.

We spoke with Aerien for our series Checkup, where we chat with leaders in the healthcare marketing space.

Aerien, tell us...

Where you grew up, and where you live now.

I grew up in Holland, Michigan. I now live in Jacksonville, Florida. 

How you first got into healthcare marketing, and what attracted you to it.

My first job out of U of M art school was with a healthcare technology startup. I loved the fast pace and all-hands-on-deck atmosphere. While half my job was design-related, I also got to utilize interests in science, business and reflection on human nature, which I think is what still attracts me to this market today.

My second job was as an art director with Brunet-García, where I still am today! At the time, 15 years ago, we were a small "multicultural" advertising agency starting to pick up statewide contracts to expand health and safety messages to Spanish-speaking and other diverse audiences. As the advertising industry began to more closely reflect the nation, inclusive representation and communication became the standard bar in the health communication space, and Brunet-García had a leg up on tackling complex challenges from a place of inclusivity and positive social purpose.

I've held almost every job title on the creative side of the agency as we grew over the next 15 years. In the past year, we've been working with HHS and the CDC on HIV prevention and treatment for underserved audiences, harm and stigma reduction for the national opioid crisis, and Covid-19 vaccine communication, among other campaigns. I love that every day is different, but with each unique and complex challenge that comes our way, we're putting beauty out into the world while improving access, understanding or outcomes. 

Something people might not know about the healthcare industry.

You'll have a deep and rich view into the personal lives of others! Choices about healthcare are deeply personal and complex—but also tied to ideals about community culture and traditions, which are absolutely critical to consider when crafting concepts and messaging. We have intimate conversations all the time with our audiences about sex, identity, relationships, drug use—you name it. A conversation that sticks out in my mind is speaking with a member of the Native American LGBTQ+ community about PrEP access, and the intricacies of coming out and access and stigmas related to HIV prevention both on a reservation and as an urban Indian. 

A recent project you're proud of.

We recently completed and launched the Stop Overdose Initiative for the Centers of Disease Control as part of a comprehensive strategy to effect change in the areas of harm reduction, treatment and recovery. We were able to work with them from inception on defining the areas of focus and shaping the unique approaches for each prong of the initiative.

Everything we produced was informed by interviews and focus groups with people who use drugs and their support systems, allowing us to create a truly audience-informed product that is relatable and attractive to our audience while still communicating the necessary information and gravitas of a national governmental authority. I'm particularly proud of the Lifesaving Naloxone and Risks of Fentanyl awareness efforts; however, the overall initiative has garnered over 2.5 billion impressions to date, which I believe is in no small part due to the informed strategy and visual quality we were able to infuse. 

Someone else's project in healthcare that you were impressed by recently, and why.

No one does health/beauty with a greater purpose better than Dove! It almost seems cliché to say, but the fact that they keep coming up with original content and campaigns that are so powerful while remaining true to core brand tenants is truly ovation worthy. I love how their recent reverse-selfie campaign tackles female self-confidence head on within the subtle relevant context of social media bullying without feeling negative. Real girls, real apps, real relatability. Bravo. 

A major challenge facing healthcare advertisers today.

A divided nation and lack of empathy. In the government space we spend a lot of time in, the changing winds of the country can mean funding switches that affect priorities. However, understanding for one another, and understanding that improving and nurturing the health of others improves our communities and outcomes for all is something that we all need to fight for. 

One thing about how healthcare is evolving that you're excited about.

Over the past decade, we have seen social purpose as it relates to health, safety and wellness seep into cultural and brand zeitgeist in an overwhelming way. Companies that seek loyal customers need to stand for something beyond themselves that connects with a vision of a better world. As a social purpose agency founded around 20 years ago on those principles, it's exciting to see the bar being raised in that regard. We finally are at a point where health equity also seems to be part of that equation. 

How healthcare can attract more creative talent.

Aside from flexibility, I think the one thing almost all creatives can agree on these days is fulfillment found working towards a greater purpose. Every successful, well-loved brand is generating content or initiatives that speak beyond products or services to ideas about identity or impact—some to great success (e.g., "You Love Me" by Beats by Dre). Healthcare can play that game as well, and does. We approach our healthcare problems from a storytelling angle, connecting core strategic truth with cultural resonance. With today's bombardment of communication there is no room for boring or invisible work. We challenge ourselves and our team to bring the same design sensibilities we use for a branding project to complex healthcare communications. 

What you would be doing if you weren't in healthcare marketing.

I think what attracts me about this field—understanding people and their unique problems—attracts me to a lot of other problems. When I was planning a wedding, I was ready to start my own wedding vendor management system. If you ask me today, as I'm home with my children for a hurricane day while working, I'm ready to start an on-demand nanny app.

Checkup is our weekly Muse series, publishing on Thursdays, where we chat with leaders in healthcare marketing. To learn more about Checkup or our Clio Health program, please get in touch.

Jessica MacAulay
Jessica MacAulay is a contributor for Muse by Clio. She's also a recent graduate of the University of Colorado Boulder's College of Media, Communication, and Information.

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