Grey's Ron Lewis on Tackling Health Inequity and the Growing Distrust in Science
Ron Lewis is group creative director within Grey's health and wellness practice. Over the past 15 years, Ron has led the execution of digital concepts for various brands spanning multiple therapeutic areas, including neurology, oncology, men’s and women’s health, cardiovascular, respiratory, diabetes, circulatory, eye care, and smoking cessation.
No matter the category, Ron is known to shepherd the creative through its evolution from strategy, concept, UI/UX, design, and approvals, all the way through to the shoot, build, launch and optimization.
Over the years Ron has served as a visiting instructor at Miami Ad School and at Pratt Institute. In his spare time, Ron volunteers as a mentor for aspiring young professionals from underserved communities and runs DiverseCreatives.com, an initiative he co-founded in 2020 for creatives of color in the ad industry.
We spoke with Ron for our series Checkup, where we chat with leaders in the healthcare marketing space.
Ron, tell us...
Where you grew up, and where you live now.
I grew up on the Caribbean island of Barbados and currently live in Brooklyn, New York. I moved here in 2001.
How you first got into healthcare marketing, and what attracted you to it.
Like many, I fell into healthcare advertising. One of my first freelance gigs early in my career was making website updates for the intranet of an ad agency. Once my freelance time was up, the head of the department told me her husband was starting up a print production department at a pharma agency. I met him and ended up working at the agency for seven years. The environment was supportive and the subject matter was new, interesting and challenging. I moved up from a designer in the production department to an art director supporting brand teams and kept going from there. After getting to meet real patients on one of my first shoots, I felt like I was making a true difference, so I kept doing it.
Something people might not know about the healthcare industry.
Many people outside of the industry don’t understand the rigor and standards to which creatives in the health space are held. The joke to those outside the industry is seeing a commercial that lists way more side effects than the condition the drug is meant to treat. Very few understand that one person is unlikely to experience all of them and it’s more of an honest disclosure of the type of side effects that have been experienced by different people at different times in clinical trials. Imagine if all products were held to similar standards of transparency.
A recent project you’re proud of.
I am proud to have been a part of the Janssen team that produced the Emerge Tremfyant campaign. The work was born out of true patient insights and it was a great example of the agency and clients aligning on executing a vision that was both authentic to the patient and unique compared to the other creative in the category.
Someone else’s project within healthcare that you were impressed by recently.
I like what the #BlackHealthNow initiative is trying to do. There is a lot of health inequity and not enough people or brands are doing anything about it or even talking about it. This initiative is having bold conversations that need to be had around people of color who are suffering and in many cases dying at higher rates just because of access, or the lack thereof.
A major challenge facing healthcare advertisers today.
There is a lot of distrust in the air. Distrust in science. Distrust in medicine. Distrust in corporations. Distrust in the privacy of personal information. While this has always existed, now it’s amplified to a whole new level through the lens of the pandemic. Advertisers now have to compete with many more “experts”—that have substantial followings and media outlets—to try to re-establish some trust between the consumer and their brands.
One thing about how healthcare is evolving that you’re excited about.
With the advent of more accurate self-diagnostic at-home tests, screening kits, digital trackers and attachments for your wearables, people have more agency over their health than ever before. We all remember a loved one putting the back of their hand against our forehead to gauge if you had a fever; now we have tech at home for that and so much more. We have always wanted the control over our own health, and now we are moving to a time where there is a long list of at-home self-diagnostics with the option of directly sending the results to healthcare professionals. The home is becoming the point of care for so many, and the pandemic has definitely accelerated this trend. If we keep developing more at-home screeners for the worst types of diseases, and everyone is afforded equal access to these technologies to allow regular monitoring and early detection, this could lead to a future where we can focus more on prevention than treatment.
How healthcare can attract more creative talent.
In the same way we put the best creative minds towards solving our client challenges, we need to do the same for showcasing and communicating the impact that great ideas can have for the people in need of life-saving treatments. Within the last year I’ve seen some very interesting and moving work while participating in award juries—work that isn’t as easy to come across otherwise. We must be better at showing creatives, both in and outside healthcare, the full range of our creativity and not let the clichéd pharma commercial of someone running on a beach with a dog be the only representation of healthcare advertising.
What would you be doing if you weren’t in healthcare marketing?
I’m an entrepreneur at heart, always working on side projects like books, inventions and apps, so I’d be running my own maker studio to push out ideas and products and see how people feel about them. There are so many avenues for creativity, I’ll just keep opening new doors.