Intouch's Susan Perlbachs on Craft and Recruitment in Healthcare
With more than 20 years of experience in healthcare, marketing and the digital space, Susan brings a fresh, relevant perspective to inspire teams to deliver highly effective creative for both U.S. and global brands, for healthcare professionals and consumer audiences.
Her healthcare background includes global and U.S. launches in almost every major therapeutic area, for professional, DTC and DTP audiences. She is proud of recent Intouch work including the award-winning Vyvanse professional campaign "Erase the Line" for the Chrysalis Initiative, "Data Points to Rare" for Rare Disease Day 2021, "The Last Plaque" for Psoriasis Cure Now, "Fierce for Connor" for Kindness Over MD, and "Defuse the Ticking Lyme Bomb" for Global Lyme Alliance.
We spoke with Susan for our series Checkup, where we chat with leaders in the healthcare marketing space.
Susan, tell us...
Where you grew up, and where you live now.
I was born in Seattle and grew up in the burbs not far from there. I now live in the West Village in Manhattan.
How you first got into healthcare marketing, and what attracted you to it.
I never anticipated that I'd get into healthcare advertising. Frankly, I didn't know it existed for a long time. However, post 9/11, when agencies were going under, a number of colleagues made the shift and enticed me to join. My first month, I wasn't sure I'd stay. As a writer, learning to read clinical studies, annotate and route lengthy pieces was overwhelming. But as the weeks went on, I was fascinated and compelled by the strategy behind it all. It engaged my brain differently that selling Wonderbras or tires. I grew to not just love it, but prefer it.
Something people might not know about the healthcare industry.
This industry is populated with the smartest, most curious people you will ever meet. There might be smart people working on Skittles, but these people are doctor smart.
A recent project you're proud of.
We recently produced "Erase the Line" with our fantastic client Jamil Rivers, who founded The Chrysalis Initiative. The campaign highlights outcome disparities in breast cancer treatment, including the fact that Black women are more likely to die from breast cancer even though there's a lower incidence compared to white women. The campaign encourages Black women and other disparate groups fighting breast cancer to register for the BC Navi program. The program provides tools to recognize and combat racism in care including 1:1 coaching, a patient-curated provider directory, access to a patient community and other resources.
I'm proud of this campaign because we work in healthcare, but rarely discuss the systemic racism that exists in the healthcare system. This campaign doesn't mince words or talk around the issue. It doesn't worry about what the providers of care might think of it. "Erase the Line" showcases the cold, hard facts that many do not want to see or discuss.
Someone else's project in healthcare that you were impressed by recently.
I love the recent Phexxi campaign. The opening line, "Welcome to my vagina," ensures that if you were distracted when the commercial began, you're not anymore. Celeb Annie Murphy is great, but wasn't even necessary—the idea could have stood on its own. So many brands use celebrities and think it means they don't need an actual concept. A celebrity is not an idea! The sets are great; the nods to anatomy are inspired.
A major challenge facing healthcare advertisers today.
Blending in. More brands are launching every day. Therapeutic categories are crowded. We all have less attention span than ever. A piece of advertising that doesn't get noticed is the most expensive ad you'll produce.
One thing about how healthcare is evolving that you're excited about.
Craft. When I first started in healthcare, the bar was pretty low with regard to creative and the craft that went into execution. That's changing—and is of the utmost importance. Craft is one more tool at our disposal to get our audience to take a closer look instead of overlooking it altogether. We hear a lot about share of voice, but craft helps us achieve share of mind.
How healthcare can attract more creative talent.
This industry is small. Forget six degrees of separation. It's typically one degree. And the answer isn't to tap general agencies because we are already doing it. At Intouch, we started something called The Copy School. Via paid media and word of mouth, we get folks who wouldn't have otherwise considered a career in healthcare advertising to give it a shot and learn more. We train them in the nuts and bolts of what is required to be a healthcare writer at Intouch. It's not a portfolio school, so to ascend the career ladder they'll still need to hone some conceptual savvy. But this is a great way to get diverse, out-of-the-box talent into the mix, ready to ascend and shine.
What would you be doing if you weren't in healthcare marketing?
I always wanted be Carrie Mathison from Homeland.