Edelman's Aimee White-Charles on the Role of Trust in the Pursuit of Health Equity
Aimee White-Charles is the U.S. Lead of Health Sector Strategy at Edelman. She joined the firm in April 2001 and currently oversees the strategic planning capability for the firm's Health practice in New York. From insights to ideas, from message and narrative development to program architecture, Aimee helps clients arrive at a program that drives their business, connects with stakeholders and compels attention.
Currently, Aimee leads the strategy for Edelman's Health Sector in the United States, partnering with a multi-disciplinary team of specialists including Creative, Digital Health, Data and Analytics, Earned Media and Entertainment to create integrated programs and campaigns.
She has worked with organizations from biotech to large pharma; and in multiple therapeutic categories including: smoking cessation, Alzheimer's disease, infectious disease, metabolic and cardiovascular disease and asthma. Her campaigns have included signature corporate programs, digital engagement efforts, FDA approvals, Rx-to-OTC switches, product launches, private-label blunting and disease awareness.
Aimee began her career with tenures at agencies Ruder-Finn, Cohn & Wolfe and Cairns & Associates. She lives in Fairfield, Connecticut, with her husband, tween daughter and two large and ill-behaved dogs.
We spoke with Aimee for our series Checkup, where we chat with leaders in the healthcare marketing space.
Aimee, tell us...
Where you grew up, and where you live now.
I spent most of my childhood in a small town called Oxford, Connecticut. After time spent in Boston and New York, I decided to return to my home state. These days, I call Fairfield, Connecticut, home.
How you first got into healthcare marketing, and what attracted you to it.
I grew up in a highly medicalized household because my mother lived with a progressive neurological disease. Her initial diagnosis came well before the "empowered patient" movement that so many of us take for granted today. As that movement developed, I saw firsthand the way access to information and stories about people like her changed the experience of her disease and her ability to advocate for herself. I saw how information about new treatments gave her hope and how she used that information to be a partner to her providers. And as my role in her care grew, I followed her lead and used all that was available to me to be her advocate. When presented the opportunity to work in healthcare, I felt it was a way for me to tell stories and share information that could have a similar impact. I knew I'd found my professional passion.
Something people might not know about the healthcare industry.
Much is made about healthcare being a regulated industry. I think too often people think that stifles creativity. My experience has been the opposite; and I hope the work coming from Edelman's health sector will show time and again that creativity is alive and well in our space.
A recent project you're proud of.
With our client partners at AstraZeneca, we recently launched "Up the Antibodies," a campaign featuring Jeff Bridges that brings to light the ongoing pandemic experience of immunocompromised Americans. So many of us have been able to move toward normalcy at this point. Despite being fully vaccinated and boosted, many immunocompromised Americans haven't felt safe enough to do that. "Up the Antibodies" encourages them to explore if an extra layer of protection that might help them get back to what they love.
Someone else's project in healthcare that you were impressed by recently.
Gosh, so many. If I can pull from my own agency's body of work, I was moved by "The Unspoken Curriculum," a campaign for The Boris Lawrence Henson Foundation focused on how anti-Black bias in schools contributes to the growing mental health crisis. Schools should be part of the solution, not part of the problem. I love the thought-provoking humanity of this work.
A major challenge facing healthcare advertisers today.
I'd like to broaden this out beyond "advertisers," because our industry is about so much more than ads. This year, Edelman sharpened our trust lens on health; and we found that trust is an actual determinant of health. In fact, we found that when it comes to taking action for one's health, lack of trust is as big a barrier as cost. That's fascinating. While our industry is limited in our ability to change the costs of innovation and healthcare, the building of trust between different health ecosystem stakeholders is absolutely a dynamic we can impact. And the way that intersects with health equity is a huge challenge that every person working in our sector should be keeping at the forefront of strategy.
One thing about how healthcare is evolving that you're excited about.
Hands down, the greater focus on health equity. Specifically, I'm excited about the evolution from talking about it to acting decisively and at scale to improve it.
How healthcare can attract more creative talent.
Stop talking like an exclusive club and start talking like a welcoming community bonded by the opportunity to make an impact. I think for a long time, people in healthcare sector marketing and communications liked to make our jobs sound really hard—or maybe ourselves really special?—by pointing to all the regulations we must work within. We are sending the signal that the regulations are a barrier to doing incredible strategic and creative work. Untrue! At the end of the day, we have the opportunity to welcome more great creative minds to our professional community if we start talking about what's possible instead of what's not allowed.
What would you be doing if you weren't in healthcare marketing?
It's hard to say; this work has become such a part of who I am. But when I think about retiring someday (far away), I think about writing. There's a book in me somewhere, I'm convinced.