McCann Health's Josh Grossberg on Building On-Ramps for Creative Talent to Try Healthcare

Plus, the hunger in the industry for work that 'doesn't look like pharma'

Many years ago, Josh Grossberg thought he was going to be a professor of analytic philosophy. Then he realized he didn't love doing that, so he pivoted to advertising. Some say they couldn't be more different. But in each case, you're trying to get people to see the world a certain way. In one case, it's to understand why trees make noise when they fall in the forest. In the other, it's why you really need to use Charmin.

Over the course of his career, Josh has sold everything from potato chips to rocket ships as the digital guy, the direct guy, the big brand guy, the activations guy, the minority marketing guy and now the health guy.  

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


Josh, tell us...

Where you grew up and where you live now. 

When I was a kid, I lived in a tiny little town in Massachusetts known for apple orchards and Shakers. Now, as mandated by every advertising cliché, I live in Westchester, New York, with my kids.

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

I was working at McCann New York and a piece of business I was running was connected to a piece that was in McCann Health. Matt Eastwood told me about all of the opportunities in health and pulled me across. Covid happened soon after, and it really reinforced to me what Matt had been saying.

Brands everywhere these days are all looking to demonstrate their purpose. But the clients we're talking about in health have that purpose built in. I'm not convinced potato-chip brands are really trying to save disadvantaged children in the developing world. But I am confident that cutting-edge oncology research is. 

Something people might not know about the healthcare industry.

There's a real learning curve to understand the legal and regulatory guard rails. But once you do, clients are hungry for work that helps them stand out. I am constantly amazed at how many clients have said, "But don't make it look like pharma." In fact, it happens so often that I'm also constantly amazed anything anywhere ever does manage to look like pharma.

A recent project you're proud of.

Frankly, I don't really like looking back on the things we've already done. For me, the best part of the whole process is when you have an idea that you just know is really good. At that stage, I can't stop telling people about it. But after that, it's just hard work to make sure the idea is as good in the real world as it is in your head. So you can do the next one.

That said, there are a number of very clever ideas that our creative teams are working on that I would really, really like to tell you about but can't yet. And by the time I can, we'll probably be onto the next thing.

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

Every one of us has had a client ask about using NFTs in the past year. But the best use I saw was the Non Fungible Testicles, a NFT project to encourage men to check themselves for cancer. They were NFTs that lost value if you didn't check on them. Such a simple and smart use of the technology that's kind of the opposite of how everyone else was using it.

A major challenge facing healthcare advertisers today. 

A shortage of talent. We literally can't staff qualified candidates fast enough. I had a friend from a consumer agency with a healthcare client call me to ask if I knew any HCP writers. He didn't understand why I laughed at him.

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

Maybe it's because every brand is trying to save the world. Or maybe it's just because healthcare clients seem to have budgets that nobody else does. But it seems like more and more agencies are playing in this creative space. And all that competition is putting pressure on agencies to make diamonds. Look at how much strong work is coming out in health.

There's a reason "The Bread Exam" won everything. SickKids has been raising the bar on hospital advertising for years. "Sick Beats." There are a million of them. If you want to get noticed now, you have to do work that's as good as those. And that work is as good in anything in any other category. 

How healthcare can attract more creative talent.

First, I think there's been a little brother thing going on with the industry for years. It was never as glamorous as consumer advertising. But now, more and more people want to get into it. We just need to help them do it. We're busy waiting for people who already know how to do it to show up. But if we can train people to use Photoshop, we can train them to apply their skills in a new sector.

So, we have to provide on-ramps for the people who want in. Exactly why IPG Health has a program to train writers in the skills they need to work in health. The other thing is we can't be satisfied with mediocre work. Yes, we have a ton of regulatory stuff to deal with. But we also have clients who are literally saving the world. Those two things kind of balance out. So, we have to give creative people the opportunity to make creative stuff with a real purpose. If we do, they will flock to the industry.

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

I always wanted to be a decadent billionaire. I'd probably try doing that. 

Checkup is our new 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.

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Jessica MacAulay
Jessica MacAulay is a senior broadcast journalism student at the University of Colorado Boulder and a contributor to Muse by Clio.

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