Elmwood's Meg Beckum on Design's Critical Role in Healthcare
Meg Beckum is an award-winning designer, writer and executive creative director at Elmwood New York. Working in publishing and branding for more than two decades, Meg has developed identities, campaigns and experiences for some of the world's most recognized brands. Her philosophy is simple: Design is power. She believes whole-heartedly that design is a potent tool for businesses and society—creating real value and meaning in people's lives.
We spoke with Meg for our series Checkup, where we chat with leaders in the healthcare marketing space.
Meg, tell us...
Where you grew up, and where you live now.
Oh wow, this is a touchy subject for me. I'm having a real geographic identity crisis right now—or more likely it's a midlife crisis. I grew up down south in Georgia. During the week, I reside in Westchester—like a lot of other 40-something New York creatives. And on the weekends, we're upstate in the western Catskills. I'm not really fit for the country or the 'burbs—so currently I'm trying to figure my way back to Brooklyn.
How you first got into healthcare marketing, and what attracted you to it.
It's been a journey. I started my career in journalism and publishing. After five years, I took a major pivot and went to art school to study design. Out of school, I got a job at a brand consultancy. Believe me, I never grew up thinking, "I want to work in branding and marketing." It just sort of happened. Luckily, I think it's a good fit for me—it combines my penchant for storytelling and design. As for healthcare, it has always been an interest. A lot of creatives want to work on the sexy stuff like fashion, beauty and booze. But I like the crunchy, complex wicked problems. Healthcare is so systematically broken in this country, and I genuinely believe design and creativity can make a real, palpable difference in the industry. Midcareer, I had the opportunity to work with Planned Parenthood and that experience opened my eyes to such rich and meaningful work. In my current post at Elmwood, I work with all sorts of clients—but healthcare brand development remains a large focus and interest of mine.
Something people might not know about the healthcare industry.
I think there's a misconception that healthcare marketing is boring and conservative. But I've met some of the most creative and innovative people in this industry—people who are fundamentally making the world a better, more equitable place. Is there any issue more consequential than healthcare? I don't think so.
A recent project you're proud of.
I love our studio's recent work for Preparation H. It was led by my awesome colleague and creative partner in crime, Krista Oraa. Collaborating with our longtime friends at Haleon, we reinvigorated the brand's expression with a design system built on humor and candor. It's not just silly or absurd for marketing's sake, it's meaningful work that challenges a common stigma associated with personal health. Hemorrhoids is a terribly uncomfortable health condition that many people feel too embarrassed to address or treat. This creative work faces into that tension, opens an honest dialogue and empowers folks to seek help. It also feels delightfully fun and fresh in today's heavy times.
Someone else's project in healthcare that you were impressed by recently.
I was just in London for IAA's Global B2B Brand Summit, and I met Kristin Fallon, head of global brand for GE HealthCare. She shared On The Frontlines, a GE HealthCare series that featured journalist Mikey Kay traveling the globe to document the healthcare industry's response to Covid-19. As the pandemic surged, Kristin built a small, agile "news" team to capture what she knew would be a historic moment for her organization and the healthcare industry at large. It's a powerful example of raw, authentic storytelling. In marketing, we often focus too much energy on manufacturing "human stories." In the meantime, our brands are living in extraordinary times among extraordinary people. We're so consumed by internal processes and objectives that we miss the real story. Kudos to Kristin's team for getting out in the real world and tuning into the stories that matter.
A major challenge facing healthcare advertisers today.
Trust. There has always been a lack of trust in our country's healthcare systems, but the egregious missteps from the government and public health policymakers during the pandemic will have lasting consequences. I fear that people will become less likely to listen to experts or to engage in maintaining their own health. If healthcare companies are truly committed to bettering public health—as many claim to be—they will have to take on issues beyond medical care, including education, poverty, racial inequity, food systems and climate change. As communicators and brand stewards, we need to push our clients to think beyond selling products and services. The most meaningful and relevant brands know this, face into complex societal challenges, and genuinely contribute to solving them.
One thing about how healthcare is evolving that you're excited about.
The healthcare community is starting to understand and appreciate the power of design. As healthcare models become more consumer-centered, design is being leveraged to radically and rapidly change how healthcare is delivered—making it simpler, more accessible, more human, and more affordable. There's never been a better time to be a designer.
How healthcare can attract more creative talent.
At the end of the day, most creatives want to make meaningful work—work with consequence. We need to stop talking about campaigns and output and do a better job lauding the massive potential for imagination and design in healthcare.
What you would be doing if you weren't in healthcare marketing.
I'm a big fan of working with my hands. If I've learned anything, it's that there's too much talk and not enough action. I don't have the skills—and I certainly don't have the patience—but I fantasize about being a baker. I love the idea of waking early, prepping the kitchen, kneading the dough, and making beautiful bread. But like every job, I'm sure it's not all pies and cookies. Someone must clean up the mess and sell the baguettes, right?